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Whitaker oversees Mueller investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 11/21/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Nelson Cunningham, Donna Ladd

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  And happy, happy turkey -- pre-turkey. 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  You, too.  You, too.

REID:  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it. 

All right.  Thank you all for joining us this hour.  I`m Joy Reid.  Rachel has the night off. 

Well, Donald Trump surely is aware of the stunned outraged response, even from his lockstep political allies in the Republican Party over his decision not to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Now, we learned last week that the CIA has concluded the Saudi crown prince almost certainly ordered the killing.  Yesterday, the president ignored the CIA`s conclusion in a bizarrely worded statement saying essentially, never mind what the CIA says, maybe he did, and maybe he didn`t. 

Answering reporter questions yesterday before jetting off to Mar-a-Lago for the Thanksgiving break, Trump inaccurately claimed the CIA had, quote, nothing definitive on the prince`s involvement.  He also said he was standing with the kingdom, because he did not want the U.S. to lose out on economic deals with Saudi Arabia.  He denied the support had anything to do with his long-standing ties with the Saudis, even though he bragged several times during the campaign about his love for the Saudis and how many apartments they bought from him. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Saudi Arabia, they make a billion dollars a day, a billion dollars a day.  I love the Saudis.  Many are in this building. 

Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them.  They buy apartments from me.  They spend $40 million, $50 million.  Am I supposed to dislike them?  I like them very much. 


REID:  Trump was not shy in the campaign trail about his business ties with the Saudis.  And today, even after a torn-up criticism for his bizarre statement of support for the Saudis, an undercutting of the CIA`s conclusion, he doubled down with his total support for the kingdom with a 7:29 a.m. tweet thanking Saudi Arabia for falling oil prices, let`s go lower. 

Now, it`s worth noting for the record that the president also backed away from his campaign rhetoric about how much he loves doing business with the Saudis.  He told reporters, I don`t make deals with Saudi Arabia.  I don`t have any money from Saudi Arabia.  I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia.

Which conveniently ignores Trump`s long deal making history with that country dating back to the 1990s.  This is a picture of the Trump Princess a 282-foot luxury yacht, that was one of Trump`s prized possessions in the 1980s before he had to give it up.  As "The A.P." notes in 1991, as Trump was teetering on the brink of personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash, he sold his 282-foot Trump yacht Princess to a Saudi prince for $20 million.  Four years later that same prince bailed Trump out in a $325 million deal for Trump`s money-losing Plaza Hotel. 

In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations in New York City for $12 million, the biggest purchase in that building to that point.  The buyer: the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

And that is to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in Saudi spending at Trump`s hotels in New York City and D.C. just since he became president.  So, yes.  Thank you, Saudi Arabia.  Let`s go lower. 

Now, of course, going lower has never been a problem for this president.  Nor has siding with another country over the high confidence assessment of his own intelligence agencies. 


REPORTER:  Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference of 2016.  Every U.S. intelligence agency concluded Russia did.  What -- who -- my first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe? 

TRUMP:  My people came to me.  Dan Coates came to me, and some others.  They said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia. 

I will say this, I don`t see any reason why it would be.  So, I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. 


REID:  So, of course, the question why Trump remains so sympathetic to Vladimir Putin remains the $64 million mystery.  Yesterday, Trump submitted his written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller on the subject of any potential collusion with Russia during the campaign.  Those answers did not address any questions on the topic of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice while he was in the White House. 

The special counsel`s team is presumably poring over the president`s answers.  As expected, we have not heard anything in the way of response from Team Mueller.  We did hear from the special counsel today in a filing about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.  Papadopoulos pleaded guilty about lying about his contacts during the campaign with a professor who said that Russian had thousands of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.  Papadopoulos had already asked the judge in his case to delay the start of his prison sentence which he has -- his due to begin serving. 

And today, Mueller advised the judge to reject that request and make Papadopoulos report to prison next week as scheduled.  In a six-page filing, the special counsel noted, quote, as a part of a favorable plea agreement, the defendant waived his appeal and did not file a timely notice.  The defendant received what he bargained for and holding him to it is not a hardship.  So, we saw a tough line from Mueller today regarding Papadopoulos. 

But as for the president, we have yet to see whether Mueller will press for a sit-down interview and whether he is willing to subpoena Donald Trump in order to get answers related to possible obstruction of justice. 

Today, the president`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed, I can`t tell you Mueller has given up on obstruction.  As for any potential subpoena, he said, quote, I think he would not win a legal battle if he did that and I think it would consume months.  Even made the president`s position clear, if Mueller does issue a subpoena, the president will refuse to cooperate. 

The person who could stand between Mueller and any potential presidential subpoena is the man currently in charge of the Justice Department, Donald Trump`s hand-picked not Senate-confirmed choice to serve as acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker.  Well, today in New York, Whitaker was asked by reporters for his reaction to the latest report in "The New York Times" that the president of the United States wanted to use the Justice Department to go after those he deemed his political enemies, James Comey and Hillary Clinton. 


MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I mean, I can`t thank him enough.  It`s humbling to be a part of it.  So thank you. 

REPORTER:  Can you answer a question if you have had a discussion with the president about investigating Hillary Clinton or James Comey? 


REID:  Not a lot of answers there.  Though we continue to have new details about the man running the Justice Department, the kind of details that might come up in a Senate confirmation hearing, which instead are coming out through dogged reporting by the press and public pressure from watchdog groups, that`s how we learned about Whitaker`s myriad of past statements attacking the credibility of the Mueller investigation and his past work hawking products for a company that was fined and shut down by the government, as well as his last job before joining the Justice Department last year as the sole employee at a conservative nonprofit called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust or FACT. 

That nonprofit`s primary work in 2016 was to stir up controversy about Hillary Clinton.  Whitaker`s own newly released financial disclosures show that he was paid more than $1.2 million in the past few years by this group that does not reveal its donors.  But they paid him the money for -- what they paid him for, the money we don`t know.  Those donors are secret.  Meaning, we do not know if the man in charge of the Mueller probe has any conflict of interest. 

We also don`t know what`s going on behind closed doors with regards to Whitaker`s oversight of the Mueller investigation.  If Matt Whitaker were hindering the Mueller inquiry, right now, as we speak, would we even know? 

That is the subject of the latest op-ed by Nelson Cunningham, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.  In it, he writes, there is no real time mechanism to compel disclosure of any interactions between Whitaker and Mueller.  Yes, some day under the regulations, we may learn details of Mueller`s interactions with Whitaker and of any effort to interfere.  Some day, Mueller will present a report in which he can outline any way in which his investigation may have been shaped by Whitaker. 

That some day will come only when Mueller is ready to close up shop, and the person he`ll tell is the attorney general himself.

And joining us now is Nelson Cunningham, former federal prosecutor, also a veteran of the Clinton White House and a former Biden staffer on Senate Judiciary. 

Mr. Cunningham, thank you very much for being here.

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Thank you.  It`s a pleasure to be here. 

REID:  Thank you.

So, let`s go over what you wrote in your op-ed, which will disturb a lot of people.  The fact is, is that Donald Trump`s main beef with his former attorney general, of course, was that Jeff Sessions recused himself, presumably stopping him from impeding the Mueller probe.  Now that Donald Trump has his Roy Cohn, presumably, his Matt Whitaker, is there -- is it possible that Whitaker could simply shield from public view his own obstruction of the Mueller probe? 

CUNNINGHAM:  Yes.  So the way the regulations are set up that govern Robert Mueller`s appointment, the attorney general only is required three different stages to make any kind of disclosure of what interactions he`s had with the special counsel.  First, when he appoints the special counsel, second, if he fires the special counsel, and third, upon the conclusion of the special counsel`s investigation. 

At that point, he would be required to describe any instances he had made, he had had with Mueller, where he overruled Mueller or he curtailed Mueller or he stopped Mueller from moving forward, but only once Mueller`s investigation is complete and Mueller has submitted his report.  Months or possibly years from now. 

REID:  Meaning that if he does anything up to short of firing him, if he says to Mueller, you can`t go into Donald Trump`s finances, you have to limit your inquiry into these areas.  You can`t do that.

Congress wouldn`t even know about that? 

CUNNINGHAM:  Congress would not know about it.  Whitaker, of course, would have no interest in leaking this out.  And Mr. Mueller, himself, is famously tight lipped and he`s also a rules follower.  He might chafe.  He might be very upset his discretion is being limited.  But he follows the rules. 

REID:  Could Whitaker, even though he is acting, and there`s a lot of question about whether or not his appointment is even constitutional, whether or not it could stand.  Could he, despite that, fire Mueller? 

CUNNINGHAM:  Yes, he could.  There is no question in my mind that at least right now while he is the acting attorney general, the second that he took that job, he took over supervision of the Mueller case from Rosenstein who he had as his deputy only because Jeff Sessions was recused.  Whitaker took over the control of it, and under the regulations, he has the ability to call Mueller in, shape the investigation, and certainly, yes, to fire him. 

REID:  At the same time could he also impede investigation into his own dealings at the company, for instance, that he used to work for which was allegedly being investigated?  Could he do that as well at the same time? 

CUNNINGHAM:  Well, he could.  I think at that point, ethics watchdogs would begin to -- and those in the Justice Department, themselves, would begin to really buck and rear at the notion of an attorney general blocking an investigation into himself. 

REID:  Then I guess the other question would be, let`s play this out all the way.  Let`s just say, that a future Congress, maybe not this one, were to respond to the firing for instance of a Robert Mueller by saying let`s go back to the independent statute, because that then is controlled by Congress.  Could that independent counsel absorb the Mueller probe and still complete it?  . 

CUNNINGHAM:  Yes.  So, Robert Mueller, if he`s smart, before the midterms - - because he knew there was likely to be a change coming.  If he were smart, he would start bullet proofing his investigation.  Part of it by passing off the investigation to other professional prosecutors, like my old office the Southern District of New York, which you remember is handling the Michael Cohen investigation. 

REID:  Sure.

CUNNINGHAM:  There are other -- the national security division of the Department of Justice is now hiring the Russian troll part of the investigation.  So, Mueller has already bulletproofed parts of the investigation by giving it to other professionals in the department.  If a new prosecutor were named at a later time, all of the materials that Mueller had put together would be given to that new prosecutor.  In fact, some of the same agents and some of the same professional prosecutors who are on Mueller`s team could go straight to that prosecutor and pick up right where they left off. 

REID:  Lastly, before we let you go, let`s just say that Mueller was dismissed, could a deputy prosecutor in that office -- could another prosecutor as a whistleblower just go to Congress and say, this is what we got in. 

CUNNINGHAM:  Yes, they could.  Mueller`s people are famously operated under strict ethical guidelines.  They`ve kept their mouths shut.  They have not leaked. 

It would be a new thing to leak to Congress or the press, anything that is happening with them.  But those would be extraordinary circumstances. 

REID:  Yes, it would indeed.  Nelson Cunningham, thank you very much.  Really appreciate it. 

CUNNINGHAM:  What a pleasure.  Thank you. 

REID:  Thank you. 

And despite the fact that the president decided to do an end run around the Senate for now and install a loyalist as acting A.G., the black box that is Matthew Whitaker`s track record as a federal prosecutor and public official is steadily getting a dose of daylight, thanks to the free press. 

In recent days, a whole bunch of Matt Whitaker`s past is getting an airing, from his mysterious non-profit, to the revelation that Matthew Whitaker once applied for a judgeship on the Iowa Supreme Court while bragging about his football career.  When asked how he would, quote, enhance Iowa`s Supreme Court, Whitaker cited his, quote, senior season on the football team. 

Suffice it to say, Matt Whitaker did not make it onto to Ohio`s state Supreme Court.  But now, add to the list of Matt Whitaker`s dirty laundry, something that is anything but funny.  "The Washington Post" dug into Whitaker`s tenure as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa where he was known for his extraordinary efforts to, quote, obtain unusually stiff sentences for people accused of drug crimes. 

In Matt Whitaker`s five years as U.S. attorney in Iowa, his office, quote, was more likely than all but one other district in the United States to use its north -- authority to impose the harshest sentences on drug offenders.  One federal judge in Iowa did the math.  On Whitaker`s watch, the U.S. attorney`s office in the Southern District of Iowa used what are called enhanced sentences, in 84 percent of relevant cases, compared with 26 percent nationwide. 

Of the nonviolent drug offends sentenced on Whitaker`s watch, one of them was a mother of five, Raeanna Woody.  When Ms. Woody was arrested for the third time on a nonviolent drug charge, Matt Whitaker, quote, decided to make an example of her.  He gave this mother of five a choice.  Quote, spend the rest of her life in jail or accept a plea bargain sentence of 21 to 27 years. 

She took the deal.  And then a federal judge later read Matt Whitaker the Riot Act over it, saying he and other prosecutors misused their authority and forced the court to hand down a sentence that was way too long for the crime.  President Obama ultimately commuted Miss Woody`s sentence after she had served 11 years, and now, Matt Whitaker is the top law enforcement officer in the nation, for who knows how long. 

We can watch and wonder what he might be doing behind the scenes when it comes to the Mueller investigation.  But in public, he`s going about his business as attorney general even as his approach to justice spills into view headline by headline. 

Joining us now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor at Georgetown University. 

It`s great to have you here, Paul. 


REID:  So, this -- you know, we know that we previously had an Attorney General Jeff Sessions who had a very certain disposition towards drug crimes, towards legalization and towards sentencing.  He wanted it to be as harsh as possible on the sentencing side.  With Whitaker, we have examples of him using his authority to make sentences harsher.

  What does that mean for criminal justice reform?  Is that even possible with this man sitting in the A.G. chair?

BUTLER:  Yes.  So, this case, Ms. Woody, she was a non-violent drug offender.  She didn`t even touch the drugs in this case.  All she did was drive the actual drug dealer around. 

When I was a prosecutor, we probably wouldn`t have even wanted jail time in that case like this.  This is a mother of five, someone who is working for a drug dealer to support her own addiction.  We would have tried to put her into a treatment program. 

Whitaker, on the other hand, he did what unethical prosecutors do, he threw the book at her.  He said, if you go to trial and we win, you`re going to be in jail for the rest of your life for this very minor role. 

You know, when prosecutors do that, they throw the book at people to try to coerce them to plead guilty to a harsh sentence so that they don`t go to trial.  They don`t make prosecutors go through the trouble of going to trial.  They`re acting more like bullies than responsible law enforcement officers. 

Joy, when Eric Holder was the attorney general of the United States, he expressly forbid prosecutors from doing what Matt Whitaker did. 

REID:  You know, it`s interesting, because criminal justice reform is one of the few, so often, you have Democrats and Republicans agreeing that it should be done.  What in theory is the argument against it?  What was the argument for throwing a book at a mother of five, for making an example of someone by putting a mom in prison for 21 years?  What argument are people making why that`s a good idea? 

BUTLER:  You know, what Whitaker is he wanted to make an example of this mother of five, I guess, to send a message to anybody else out there that he is tough on crime.  Well, what responsible prosecutors are is smart on crime.  This is a man who believes in winning at all costs.  He is very hyped about the adversarial system and to him winning means getting convictions and putting people under the jail. 

That`s really against the values of the Justice Department, which are about fairness and equality under the law.  There`s a famous slogan, the Justice Department wins when justice is done.  Not when there is a conviction.  I wish that Matt Whitaker will live according to that. 

But, Joy, you know in this conflicts of interest, his ethics, his lack of understanding of the values of the Justice Department, the rule of law, he`s like a lawyer version of Donald Trump.  Our justice system is in poor hands. 

REID:  And what are the risks that somebody with that disposition has also expressed views that would advocate the prosecution of Donald Trump`s political adversaries?  I`m thinking of Hillary Clinton here. 

BUTLER:  Yes, again, he doesn`t under the norms.  It`s about power to him.  Since he`s got this access to Donald Trump, again I think we have every reason to expect, that instead of Rod Rosenstein getting briefed by Mueller, now, Matt Whitaker is getting briefed.  And he might be marching to the White House and telling Donald Trump everything that Mueller has told him. 

REID:  Wow.  That`s why the curse, may we live in interesting times.

BUTLER:  Indeed.

REID:  It`s considered a negative. 

Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, law professor at Georgetown University and author of the book "Chokehold."  Check it out.  Thank you very much for being here. 

BUTLER:  Always a pleasure, Joy. 

REID:  Thank you.

And up next, we look in on the Senate candidate who insisted that she has nothing more to say.  The Senate runoff in Mississippi just ahead. 


SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  I put out a statement yesterday.  We stand by that statement. 

REPORTER:  Could you expand on it why you said it?  What you meant by it and why people in the state should not see it as offensive? 

HYDE-SMITH:  We put out statement yesterday.  It`s available.  We stand by that statement.  I put out a statement yesterday, that`s all I`m going to say about it.  We stand by the statement.  That`s all I`m going to say about it.  I put out a statement yesterday.



REID:  Believe it or not, the 2018 midterms are still not over.  There`s still one U.S. Senate seat left to be decided in this year`s election.  And it`s in Mississippi. 

This is a race where neither the Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith nor her numbered challenger Mike Espy got more than 50 percent of the vote on November 6th.  Now, they`re facing off again in a runoff election on Tuesday. 

Now, because this is a statewide race in Mississippi, the Republican ought to win.  She ought to be able to win in her sleep.  And maybe she might do better in her sleep, because Senator Hyde-Smith has been trying to explain her public joking remarks about public hangings, aka, lynchings. 

Also, her comments, definitely joking about making it more difficult for liberal students from certain schools to vote.  Ha ha.  Comedy. 

Companies like Walmart have been asking the senator`s campaign to return their donations.  And then we got this, the photo of Cindy Hyde-Smith smiling wearing a Confederate soldiers cap because why not?  Last night, Senator Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy appeared in the one and only debate of this election, the only one that for Hyde-Smith would agree to. 

In this debate, she made clear right from the get-go what she believes this election is all about. 


DEBATE MODERATOR:  Senator Hyde-Smith. 

HYDE-SMITH:  Thank you for watching and listening to this debate tonight.  And thank you, Farm Bureau, for putting this debate on.  There`s two other big events coming up next week on Monday fight the night before the election on November the 26th.  The president of the United States is coming to Mississippi to campaign on my behalf.  I encourage you right now to go online at and get those free tickets. 


REID:  That`s how she started last night`s debate, hey, everybody, enough about me, the president is coming to Mississippi. 

In addition to the senator`s request there be no studio audience at last night`s debate no press beyond the moderators, you might want to know the debate last night was being organized by a private Mississippi farming organization with an all-white board that has given Senator Hyde-Smith awards in the past.  Not to mention campaign contributions. 

And the senator used her time in the debate to remind the only television camera in the room over and over and over again about just how conservative she really is. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there a balance that should be struck between the Second Amendment rights and gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings? 

HYDE-SMITH:  You know, this is a big difference between my opponent and I, I am a lifetime member of the NRA.  I have been endorsed by the NRA.  And certainly school violence is a terrible thing.  That is about mental health. 

When it comes to Second Amendment rights, bill the U.S. senator to protect you. 

I`ve always said, this is not about me.  It is about you the Mississippians.  It`s about the things that you care for, the things that you believe in, like lower taxes, less government, less regulation, supporting our military and our veterans. 

It is about protecting our unborn children.  It`s about abortion.  My opponent has already gone on record to be pro-abortion, abortion on demand.  There is a clear difference between the two of us. 

You know, we have conservative values.  That`s what`s going to be on the ballot next Tuesday. 

Tonight, you have heard two clearly different, opposite differences between me and my opponent. 


REID:   I wonder what she actually thinks about things.  We do not know how it will affect the Mississippi race.  Cindy Hyde-Smith said she was sorry if her remarks about public hangings offend anyone. 

She would ask voters to come out and vote for her Tuesday, November 22nd, which is not an actually real date.  The 22nd is Thanksgiving. 

No Democrat has won a Senate race in Mississippi in more than three decades.  Before the debate, the political newspaper "Roll Call" did the unthinkable.  They moved the Mississippi Senate race from solid to likely Republican.  Now it`s up to the voters of Mississippi and to history. 

And joining us is Donna Ladd, the founder and editor of the "Jackson Free Press" in Jackson, Mississippi.  Her paper has been breaking news on the Senate race all along. 

Ms. Ladd, thank you so much for joining us tonight. 


REID:  So I watched this debate last night in which Senator Hyde-Smith addressed the public hanging comments when she said were meant to be an expression of regard.  And then I -- you know, I watched the entire debate when she just kept coming back to guns, abortion, and Second Amendment and repeating the response to her hanging comments was just using it as a political cudgel against her. 

Am I wrong in thinking that`s an argument that would work in a state like Mississippi? 

LADD:  It absolutely would work.  I mean, it`s kind of politics as usual, the, quote, conventional wisdom that sometimes Democrats have used in their strategy.  This assumption that, you know, Mississippi is conservative, solidly conservative, that`s who we are. 

And there`s always been an attitude if we`re not that, then we can leave.  And that`s something that many people now are fighting because we don`t think that that is true or that it should be true. 

REID:  Right.  Obviously, your paper was in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson being where Medgar Evers, you know, lived and died.  It was a place where he fought really hard to register African-American voters, lynching, the history of Mississippi.  A lot of it is quite dark territory. 

LADD:  Right. 

REID:  However, one of the things the Trump era has meant is that for a lot of -- you know, not a lot of, you know, every white American, but for some, this idea of calling out racism has been turned around for people to say that doesn`t affect me anymore.  I can say what I want to see.  I can do whatever I want to do, if you think it`s racist, so what?  And that that`s kind of what Donald Trump has emboldened. 

I wonder why wouldn`t that argument that she`s making -- that you are using this as politics.  It doesn`t matter.  I mean, why wouldn`t that work? 

LADD:  Well, I think it can work.  It may work.  That`s something we can`t know right now.  But it`s a math question, because at the same time that she`s doing that the very things she is doing and the race baiting, Lee Atwater type strategies of trying to depict Espy as a criminal for something he was exonerated for, at the same time she`s using those things, other people are really disgusted by them. 

And to be honest with you in a way I have never seen as a Mississippi native or since I have been pack -- back in the state, that people are speaking out and white people are speaking out.  I interviewed a white Republican woman last night for a piece that I`m working on about conservative women who are kind of changing their minds about things.  And she`s disgusted with Trump and supporting Espy. 

I mean, there`s people are out there and it`s an interesting time to see if the strategy is going to backfire this year or at least sometime in the next few years. 

REID:  We know that Alabama had an impact, emboldened African-American voters, particularly black women, and it`s had an impact -- it caused a lot of people to have a lot of hope.  If you look at the states with the most black voters by percentage, Alabama, Mississippi, states like South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, there`s a lot of black voters there.  So, in theory, these states should be winnable for Democrats. 

But is Mississippi going to be more of an Alabama where the backlash to all of this environment that you`ve seen in Georgia and Florida helps Espy, or are we going to see a repeat of where the people who want to make sure that Espy isn`t governor are just more numerous? 

LADD:  Right.  You know, it`s anybody`s guess to me, because there`s so many people -- particularly African-Americans, but a lot of whites who are so outraged by these kinds of comments and then the way that she did or did not respond to them.  It`s so distasteful.  Espy says it gives us a black eye that`s self-inflicted, right? 

So I think it could go either way.  I mean, I think people are -- certainly people who would vote for Espy are very excited now.  And one of the concerns is that the turnout was going to drop after Thanksgiving, right?  On the other hand, I mean, she`s certainly going for this idea I think of activating even a former Chris McDaniels supporters they have both beaten who is more conservative. 

So, she`s going straight for that jugular, you know?  We`ll see.  It`s exciting to see everybody upset and inspired by it.  But I don`t know what this turnout is going to be. 

REID:  Yes.  Well, I have to tell you, saying that Mississippi can go either way, that in and of itself is new, novel, and revolutionary, frankly.  So, the fact that it`s not clear is interesting news.  We will definitely be watching that. 

LADD:  That`s right.  We need two parties.  We need two parties, you know, and -- 

REID:  Yes.  Absolutely.  Donna Ladd, I`m sorry.  We`re out of time, founder and editor of "The Jackson Free Press" -- thank you so much.  Thank you for spending Thanksgiving eve with us and all your great reporting. 

LADD:  My pleasure.  Thank you. 

REID:  Thank you. 

We`ll be right back. 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good evening.  Nearly all the votes have been counted in the 1974 midterm election.  And as we saw last night, it was a very good year for the Democrats.  The House of Representatives in the 94th Congress will be more than two-thirds Democratic, 291 Democrats will be there for sure, a gain of 43 seats, the biggest majority in a decade.  Two races are still undecided. 


REID:  That was November 6th, 1974, 90 days after President Nixon resigned, 60 days after Gerald Ford pardoned him, which set the stage for Democrats to pull an epic route of Republicans in those 1974 midterm elections. 

In the House that year, Democrats won the biggest majority in a decade.  The Democratic margin of victory was even more apparent in the popular vote.  In 1974, Democrats beat Republicans by more than 8.7 million votes, a record that has stood for 44 years, but is now in danger of being shattered because as the votes continue to roll in, more than two weeks after election day, Democrats are now ahead of Republicans by more than 8.6 million votes, just a hair behind that Watergate-era Democratic victory margin. 

Now, new NBC News data shows Democrats won 53.1 percent of all votes counted while Republicans earned 45.2.  So far, Democrats have a net gain of 38 House seats.  And that number can still go up. 

Witness California`s congressional district 21, which Hillary Clinton carried by more than 15 points in the 2016 election.  Where incumbent Republican Congressman David Valadao was declared the winner on election night.  But California is notorious for being slow when it comes to vote counting, and now, this race is looking like it might not be over after all.  As votes have continue to come in since election night, the Democratic challenger T.J. Cox now trails by fewer than 500 votes, that`s less than half a percentage point.  There are still thousands of votes to be tallied in this race from different counties that favor both candidates. 

And tonight, FiveThirtyEight has changed the projection from lean R to lean D.  So as Rachel says, watch this space. 

We also have breaking news to report out of Georgia in the 7th congressional district, which is currently held by Republican Congressman Rob Woodall.  The state finished its recount requested by the Democrat who is behind by a mere 419 votes.  Tonight, that Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux has officially conceded, as the recount brought in more votes for Woodall. 

That brings us to the one lone House seat that NBC has not yet called, in Utah`s 4th congressional district.  Two-term Republican Congresswoman Mia Love looks poised to lose her seat.  As votes have come in over the past several days, the Democratic challenger Ben McAdams has taken the lead and declared victory. 

Love has not yet conceded.  She did release a cryptic statement thanking her voters for all the support and says she plans to give a statement after the Thanksgiving holiday.  The midterms elections may have been 15 days ago, but they are still not over. 

Again, watch this space.


REID:  It was panned as flat fiction, a spooky, swift-told lascivious tale, that is not art, not a single character, major or minor.  It`s anything more than a caricature or cliche.  It`s an example of extremism.  It is even irresponsible.

Irresponsible extremism.  This is not art.  The object of this flaming critique, the author whose book that set up such apoplexy was the late Fletcher Knebel. 

According to Wikipedia, fight me, they do know things, Mr. Knebel was the source of the, quote, smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics. 

We remember him for his irresponsible lascivious flat fiction that sent Washington, D.C. atwitter in 1965.  "Night of Camp David" is a dystopian thriller that followed the U.S. senator trying to convince everyone in the president`s circle that the president is unfit for office.  Which is why these troubled times, Rachel had occasion to bring up "Night of Camp David" on the show, like a senior official in the Trump administration revealed that there have been whispers within the cabinet about having the current president declared unfit and removed from office. 

Say what you want, but critics of 1965, "Night of Camp David" is back.  It got released anew this week with a brand new cover and an audio book version, a swift, told, lascivious tale of an imaginary American president from half a century ago brought back for our time. 

As Rachel likes to say, history is here to help. 

And joining us now, I`m pleased to say, is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian who is also here to help. 

Thank you very much for being here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I`m doing my best.  I love the great opening. 

REID:  Thank you.  I love that kind of flowery language and the critique. 

BESCHLOSS:  Especially the lascivious.  I thought that was --

REID:  You got to bring words like -- 


REID:  I love a $17 word. 

Let`s talk about this president, the state of him.  He`s now been taken to task by the chief justice of the Supreme Court after Donald Trump said on Tuesday in reaction to a 9th circuit stopping his administration asylum restrictions.  He called him an Obama judge.  He then gets rebuked by John Roberts. 

What is the important significance of that? 

BESCHLOSS:  We`ve never seen anything like this before.  You know, we`ve seen confrontations between presidents and chief justices.  Abraham Lincoln and his first inaugural, criticized the Dred Scott decision and the chief justice who was for it, whose name was Taney, who had sworn him in. 

Franklin Roosevelt did the same thing with Chief Justice Hughes in 1937 that helps strike down a lot of New Deal legislation.  So there was an angry relationship between them. 

But you never had a situation where the president repeatedly tried to get Americans to think that the judiciary, there was something wrong with it.  It`s illegitimate.  It can`t be trusted. 

Obviously, Roberts felt part of his job was to make sure that Americans and others can believe in his branch of government. 

REID:  So, you know, I`m not convinced Donald Trump knows about the 9th Circuit.  Let`s just be blunt, right?  But you said --

BESCHLOSS:  I think he`s been told that gets him in trouble. 

REID:  People were saying, he`s been told.  He`s in trouble. 

So, this is a part of what Roberts said in response to that, because Donald Trump said he was a Obama judge.  He said we do not have Obama judges, or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.  What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.  That independent judiciary is something we ought to all be thankful for. 

Call me a bit skeptical because I`m not so sure that John Roberts is right.  We can predict with dead certainty how at least four judges are always going to vote.  We know how the liberal judges are going to vote and we know how the five conservative judges other than sometimes him.  So, how is -- how is he correct about that? 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, one of the reasons he is saying it that because in recent history.  You know, Bush v. Gore, there is a strange correlation between the justices having voted for Bush, the Republican people, the Democrats voting for Gore. 

But there are exceptions.  You know, John Roberts was the one who strained to find this very creative way that allowed the Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare.  But I think we always have to be skeptical of these justices not being too independent, especially with Brett Kavanaugh who came to the court very indebted to Donald Trump and maybe a little bit nervous about crossing him by, you know, ruling against let`s say, Trump in a subpoena case or a new version of U.S. v. Nixon. 

REID:  Yes.

BESCHLOSS:  But I`m glad Roberts has said this, he`s now sort of put himself on the spot and we`re going to watch very carefully whether the Supreme Court is full of independent justices or people who do operate sort of robotically, as you`re saying. 

REID:  Roberts is the new candidate. 

BESCHLOSS:  I think.  It remains to be seen, but it would be nice to think that`s true. 

REID:  I would love somebody interview him what he thinks about voting rights that -- 

BESCHLOSS:  I think we`ll know about that within a couple years. 

REID:  Yes, absolutely.  Thanks very much, Michael Beschloss.  Always a treat.  Happy Thanksgiving. 

BESCHLOSS:  Happy Thanksgiving to you, Joy.

REID:  Thank you very much. 

And we`ll be right back.  


REID:  In 1863, you needed a magnifying glass to read "The New York Times."  It cost 4 cents on Sundays. 

Most of the left column on this day in October of 1863 was saved for updates about the civil war.  It was ripping a big gaping hole through the center of our democracy over the issue of slavery. 

Here are some of the headlines.  Recovery of wounded, 13,000 casualties.  Long streets corps utterly routed. 

In the fall of 1863, the Union was on defense.  They had just lost a major battle in Georgia.  More than 34,000 people died in just that one battle. 

The civil war was a crescendo.  The nation was close to tearing itself irrevocably apart.  It was an open question whether the country would emerge was one nation or two. 

But in the midst of all that despair, the president went looking to impart a little hope.  And so printed right next to all those updates about the death and destruction caused by the war was a proclamation that as president of the United States of America, quote, the year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and helpful skies.  In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, peace has been provided with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed.

  Needful diversions of wealth and strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship.  The ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements.  No human counsel has devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. 

It has seemed to be fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving. 

In October 1863, while the nation was busy fighting a civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued that Thanksgiving proclamation, asking the country to come together and take stock, to be thankful and hopeful in a time marred by conflict and war. 

And it is because of that mellifluous and profound piece of writing from our 16th president that we celebrate Thanksgiving today as a national holiday. 

Now, if you track the mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving table through winding path of history, you wind up here on the front page of that paper with the presidential proclamation. 

Our American landscape obviously looks a little different these days.  Instead of dispatches from the battlefields of American states and casualty reports in the tens of thousands and wrenching debates over freedom versus enslavement, our newspapers today are filled with wildfires and troops at the border and wondering when the next indictments will come down. 

But even in times of national strife, in times of national division, we still do set apart the day to take in the fruitful fields and helpful skies with one heart, one voice as a whole of the American people. 

And it`s probably the understatement of the decade to say that`s not often an easy lift.  But here`s to the attempt and here`s wishing you a happy, peaceful, and hopeful day of Thanksgiving. 

We`ll be right back.


REID:  Programming note.  Last week, MSNBC premiered a new project hosted by the great Rachel Maddow.  It`s a documentary about Richard Nixon called "Betrayal."  If you missed it, do not worry. 

"Betrayal" tells a fascinating story about Richard Nixon, but it`s not about Watergate.  This is something Nixon did on his way to the presidency, back during the election of 1968. 


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Nixon leads in the polls, but his White House dreams are haunted by LBJ`s progress towards ending the war. 

MARK UPDEGROVE, LBJ FOUNDATION:  Nixon worries about the prospect of an October surprise, that peace is being negotiated, that it`s in hand, and that it boosts the prospects of Hubert Humphrey. 

MADDOW:  Mid-October, Lyndon Johnson fuels Nixon`s worst fear. 

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Who is that speaking?  Dick, is that you? 


JOHNSON:  Hubert, are you on?


MADDOW:  In a conference call, LBJ updates the presidential candidates confidentially on a big breakthrough in the negotiations.  North Vietnam at last is willing to talk with South Vietnam. 

JOHNSON:  This is in absolute confidence because any speeches or any comments referring to the substance of these matters will be injurious to your country. 

JOSEPH CALIFANO, JR.:  After all this work all year, Johnson finally had a package that the North Vietnamese would accept, and he was selling it to the South Vietnamese. 

MADDOW:  Nixon gets a top secret briefing from the commander-in-chief on his progress towards peace.  And what does Nixon do?  He betrays the president and the nation. 


REID:  What Nixon did with that information, how he got away with what President Johnson called treason and what his actions cost, thousands of Americans and Vietnamese, are the subjects of a TRMS special report called "Betrayal".  You can catch it this Friday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, on MSNBC.  Definitely watch, and DVR it so you can watch it again.

That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ali Velshi, sitting in for Lawrence O`Donnell. 

Hi, Ali.  How are you?

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