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Trump makes surprise trip. TRANSCRIPT: 12/26/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Karine Jean-Pierre

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 26, 2018 Guest: Karine Jean-Pierre

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Thank you. Have a good night.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. And happy day after Christmas to all of you. Also known in the U.K. as Boxing Day. And here in the U.S. as day one of Kwanzaa. So keep on celebrating if you`re still holidaying.

Now, if you`re one of the 800,000 or so federal workers who had today off not because it`s part of your holiday vacay but because the government is partially shut down, today is not a great day. The #shutdownstories has become a place where federal workers worried about paying the rent or making sure their kids had Christmas presents, or just working without pay period, have gathered on Twitter to share their stories.

Donald Trump has stories, too. Before jetting off to Iraq for his ever visit to that combat zone, he continued to insist the government will remain shut down unless and until he gets the American people to pay for his wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. Shutdown stories not withstanding.

And just like he changed his mind who was going to pay for the wall, Trump seems to have also changed his mind whether or not we defeated ISIS, which he said we had done, and then said other countries would do the defeating. And now, after meeting with commanders in Iraq, he`s saying that he has a new, secret plan for how the defeating will get done, kind of like his secret plan to defeat ISIS during the campaign, only the 2018 government shutdown version.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had an incredible meeting that lasted for about an hour, and you have no idea what we`ve come up with. You`re going to be so happy. You`re going to be so happy.


REID: The White House was eager to push out pictures of Trump getting love from the combat troops on their social media, perhaps a welcome distraction from the story in "The New York Times" today, suggesting a doctor may have written up Trump`s bone spurs excuse for getting one of his five draft deferments during the Vietnam War as a favor to Trump`s father, Fred. The now deceased doctor`s daughter say they remember their father talking about it, although there is no written record.

So for all the drama of Donald Trump this Christmas week going after the Federal Reserve chair, then complaining about his treasury secretary as the Dow plummeted and Secretary Mnuchin placed personal calls to the heads of major U.S. banks from his vacation in a Mexican resort and managed to freak out the markets even more by getting off those calls and reassuring everyone there is no liquidity crisis when no one had been thinking there was, to the Dow roaring back today and Trump turning up in Iraq.

For all of that drama, the thing about this president that remains the most jarring is his, let`s shall we say, complicated relationship with the troops. This is a president for whom "The Washington Post" has a permanent fact check tally has that surpassed 7,500 lies since he took office. That`s not even a definitive count.

Different methodologies will get you different numbers. But the bottom line is that this president consistently says things that are simply not true. On big things, like whether a wall is actually already being built along the 2,000 mile plus U.S. southern border. Or even about little mundane things.

On Friday night, as we barreled toward the government shutdown, the president tweeted out this photo of himself, with caption, some of the many bills I`m signing in the Oval Office right now. Look at that stack of binders. It`s taller than he is, so many bills to sign.

Very quickly, Internet detectives zoomed in on the bill Trump was purporting to sign, and came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, a blank sheet of paper. Now, we can`t confirm it was actually blank. It could have been funky lighting and zooming on photo on Twitter can reveal only so much. But here is one thing that is absolutely true and incontrovertible, Donald Trump most definitely did not sign a giant stack of bills on Friday. How do we know this?

Well, for the simple reason there were no bills for him to sign. Yes, he did sign two bills that day, including the criminal justice reform bill earlier that day and the big ceremony, but Congress didn`t pass a whole lot of other bills on Friday. Most of them had already gone home, which means Donald Trump had someone stack a whole bunch of empty folders on the resolute desk and took a picture of himself pretending they were bills to sign, which is kind of funny ha-ha but also funny weird. Why go through all that trouble to pretend you`re working? I mean, you`re the president, man. You`re supposed to be presumed to be working.

And then he appeared to do it again. On Monday, president Trump tweeted another Oval Office picture. This one labeled Christmas Eve briefing with my team working on North Korea.

But MSNBC`s Capitol Hill correspondent Garrett Haake noted that he hadn`t seen a marine in front of the West Wing all day, the sign the president is in the building, which made him wonder if the photo was actually even from that day. And a photo editor for "The New York Times" new service did some digital wizardry and determined that the newspaper on Trump`s desk was the "Sunday Times", not Monday, which sometimes the Sunday cross word hangs out on my desk for days and I don`t finish it not because I can`t, because I don`t feel like it. Maybe the president just hadn`t found time to figure out an 18-letter analogy for flatulence or something.

But then, barely an hour later, Trump seems to have done it a third time. This time, he tweeted that he was in the Oval Office and just, quote, gave out a 115-mile long contract for another large section of his wall, which is just like not something a president does, handing out building contracts in the Oval Office. And nobody seems to know where the 115-mile number came from.

And Garrett Haake is still there, saying nobody at the White House can give him any information about this, and again, it does not appear that the president was even in the Oval Office at that hour. Also, not for nothing, but it`s not clear what such a contract would be for, since on Friday, Trump tweeted out a drawing of a supposed border fence that no one has seen before. One of his Republican allies in the Senate, James Lankford of Oklahoma, told NBC News, quote: The president put out a between of a picture with spikes on top of fencing. That`s not even in the conversation. That`s not even one of the designs the border patrol has proposed.

But Mick Mulvaney, Trump`s new incoming chief of staff and all purpose multiple job holder went on TV this past weekend and insisted that the 30- foot metal spikes plan was the plan and had been all along, even though Trump was talking about a concrete wall for literally years.

And yes, the president says and tweets untrue things all the time. But the past few days have been a cornucopia of weird going out of his way lies about small, easily checkable things. It`s disorienting when a president does that, and also, they don`t normally do that, especially when it comes right after Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned in protest, followed quickly out the door by the government`s point man on ISIS, and then it became clear that the president never actually read the defense secretary`s resignation letter, because when Trump saw on TV what the letter said about him, he pushed Mattis out the door two months early, blowing up a planned smooth transition, and installing as the acting Pentagon chief a former Boeing executive, who had no government or military experience until he became Mattis` deputy.

Meanwhile, Turkey, whose autocratic president reportedly convinced Trump to withdraw from Syria over Mattis` objections, announced that Trump had accepted to an invitation to visit Turkey next year. And the White House said, no, he hadn`t, he hadn`t accepted.

And Trump`s treasury secretary caused that panic about the nation`s banks for seemingly no reason. And his handpicked, possibly not constitutional, acting attorney general appears to have lied about his college football career, which believe it or not, is probably not the most embarrassing scandal to hit Matt Whitaker during his few weeks in office. And Trump went to Iraq and told U.S. troops that they were, quote, no longer the suckers of the world and announced a super secret, great new plan to defeat ISIS, which he said was already defeated. Oh, and he kind of told a 7- year-old girl that Santa isn`t real on Christmas Eve. But who`s counting?

Oh, right, "The Washington Post", "The Washington Post" is counting. A poll out today for Morning Consul find that Donald Trump`s approval rating has hit its lowest number in the poll has matched that number after his response to the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, he`s back under 40 percent.

So are things more chaotic than ever with this president or has he sort of redefined abnormal? But it`s not even clear what that even is anymore.

Joining us is "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne, and Ned Price, the spokesperson for the National Security Council under President Obama.

That`s a lot to go through, so I`m going to let the two of you have at it. I`ll start with you, E.J. There`s so much weird going on in the Trump White House that the thing about him pretending that during the shutdown he`s hard at work, something Ruth Bader Ginsburg actually is, it sort of compounded to weird. What did you make of this weekend?

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, the thing that really struck me is, there was one lie he might have told that would have been gracious, which is not insulting that little girl for believing in Santa Claus. And the only lie he can`t bring himself to tell is about Santa Claus. He lies about absolutely everything else.

And I think it was really striking. He can even go to Iraq and lie to our troops about their pay. You know, he said you haven`t had a pay raise in years, I gave you one. None was true. They had gotten pay raises, and it wasn`t as big as he told them.

So, there`s something kind of really disconcerting about even our troops, there`s something sacred about the obligation of a commander in chief to our troops, and he turned that into a political event. I think we are seeing a president who does feel the pressure of the investigation, and I think that`s why we`re in this shutdown, because he is focused, I think, on keeping a third of the Senate, you know, trying to stay in office, if that impeachment day comes. The people who are going to hold those guys in line are his base, and the talk show hosts.

So, he`s going all-out, and we`re having a shutdown over a minuscule part of the budget on a wall that`s imposed by about 2/3 of the American people.

REID: Yes. And, you know, Ned, it strikes me that the media is so polls towards normalcy and has this sort of compulsion, right, with all the great media people that was standing on the panel, that they want it so badly, that Donald Trump gets credit for doing something he`s supposed to, right, going and visiting the troops. But when he gets there, and he`s popular with a lot of military people despite the things he`s done. You know, there are people there in MAGA hats, but he tells them the U.S. is no longer the suckers of the world.

Are we the suckers the world? The American military history is generally portrayed by presidents as pretty grand.

NED PRICE, OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Joy, you`re exactly right. I think we saw in clear view today the tendency to normalize this president. I mean, let`s put it in perspective. It was undeniably a welcome thing that he visited the troops two years belatedly but that he visited troops.

But I think we have to remember, this is expected of the president. It is literally in his job description as commander in chief that he cares for the well-being, the welfare, even the morale of our men and women who are deployed overseas in harm`s way. That we`re celebrating this, that we`re giving the president a pat on the back, something that should be perfunctory, I think says a lot about this administration and it says a lot about this president in particular.

I think we can`t lose sight of the fact that there has been a consistent pattern, today aside, of this president degrading, maligning, taking aim at, and even leveraging the troops for his personal and political benefit. It started in the campaign trail. The gold star families that he went to war with, Senator John McCain, I prefer war heroes who weren`t captured. He did so when he summarily banned transgender troops on Twitter. He did so when he failed to provide condolences to those four fallen soldiers in Niger. He didn`t so until it actually became public that he had failed to do so.

He did so when he authorized the deployment of thousands of troops to the U.S. border just prior to the midterms to galvanize his political base. And I think most recently, he did so last week, when he pushed, when he essentially fired Secretary Mattis, the first enlisted marine to head the Department of Defense. He fired him two months early, essentially because Mattis had the gall to outline a vision for America`s policy that presidents for the past 70 years have adhered to.

So, look, I think President Trump should get credit for what he did today, but we can`t lose sight of this broader pattern with this president and their military.

REID: Yes, I mean, there`s this thing, E.J., when Donald Trump wants to surround himself with generals. He stacked his cabinet with them. General Michael Flynn left disgraced, ended up pleading guilty to a crime. You obviously had Secretary Mattis, who is now out. He had a secretary in the national security adviser position.

So he loves to have generals around, but he has a weird way of thinking about the military, almost as if they were part of a business transaction. The quote from today where he said the U.S. is no longer the suckers of the world and goes on to say, America shouldn`t be doing the fighting for every nation on earth. A lot of Americans agree with that.

But then he goes on to say, not being reimbursed in many cases at all. If they want us to do the fighting, they have to pay a price. Sometimes that`s also a monetary price, so we`re not the suckers of the world. We`re no longer the suckers for folks and people aren`t looking at us to be suckers.

The U.S. military aren`t mercenaries that you pay to go fight around the world, but that`s how he thinks about it.

DIONNE: He`s turning us into hessians, the people back in our history.

REID: Right.

DIONNE: I mean, we did -- it is true that George H.W. Bush, essentially, America did get reimbursed for a lot of our costs in the war in Kuwait when we threw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. But you`re right, he turns everything into two things. One is a straight-up business proposition, which governing is not. Government is not -- is like doing a business, and it`s not like doing business the way Donald Trump did business, a lot of business people would be insulted by calling that a normal business.

But the second thing is, he has an obsession with the words strong and weak. If you go through Trump transcripts, he uses strong in the strangest ways, and he uses it often. And it`s -- you know, Erdogan said strongly or Putin said strongly, and I think he surrounds himself with the military because he wants to convey that image of strength.

When deep down inside you look at all of this erratic stuff he`s doing, and I think "strong" is not the right word to be charitable to describe Donald Trump.

REID: His approval numbers are weak, right? And when it came to firing Mattis, he didn`t do it himself. If he`s such a tough guy, why not do it himself and wouldn`t even call people and fire them?

PRICE: He had his secretary of state do it. But this is a pattern we`ve seen with this president. He won`t do the dirty work. He takes the credit.

Just as he took the credit for demolishing ISIL before he said Turkey and others in the region would take care of the remaining pockets. He`s taken credit for the economy until the stock market turns south, now you don`t hear him talking about the economy. But he has a tendency to take credit and deflect blame.

And I think that`s what we saw with Secretary Mattis, someone who didn`t deserve that, for the storied career, for all that he has given, not only this administration, but success of the administration. He was pushed out the door, not by Donald Trump but Donald Trump`s secretary of state.

REID: Yes.

DIONNE: And it`s about loyalty, that loyalty is a concept he only understands if it`s loyalty to him. It`s not loyalty the other way. And I think the most disturbing thing about pulling those troops out, whether you were for or against their deployment in the first place, we are leaving the Kurds defenseless. We have -- we are showing no loyalty to people who gave up a lot of lives, a lot of treasure. They fought that war against ISIS, and we are going to leave them to the mercies of the Turks.

This is not a good thing for the United States of America to do.

REID: He said he didn`t even know the guy who was leading the fight against ISIS, who now also left in objection to his policies.

"Washington Post" columnist, E.J. Dionne, (INAUDIBLE), Ned Price, veteran of the Obama National Security Council, thank you both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

REID: And a quick update for you now on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was only last Friday when Justice Ginsburg had a portion of her left lung removed to take out two cancerous nodules. Doctors say there`s no evidence of remaining disease elsewhere in her body. But this was a serious surgery. It was no small thing at all.

But luckily, while the woman lovingly dubbed the "Notorious RBG" by her many fans is physically diminutive, she`s also super tough. But you knew that by her workouts.

NPR`s Nina Totenberg reported that on Friday afternoon, shortly after her surgery, Justice Ginsburg cast a decisive vote against the president`s immigration ban. By Friday night, she was sitting up in a chair and calling friends who said she sounded strong and pretty chipper. By Sunday, she was up and working from her hospital room. And on Christmas day, RBG went home, where she`ll spend the rest of the holiday recuperating.

As Julie Cohen, who directed the movie "RBG", told Rachel this Friday, Justice Ginsburg was taking a page out of Sandra Day O`Connor playbook, scheduling a cancer treatment before a long holiday, so she get right back to work.

And Justice Ginsburg has an unbroken track record to keep up. She`s never missed a single day of oral arguments in her 25-plus years on the bench. The next oral arguments are January 7th. We will them up to you. The smart way to go is always bet on RBG. She`ll be back at that bench.

Watch this space.


REID: The first 200 or so people arrived without warning on Sunday. Asylum seekers dropped off by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement at the bus station in El Paso, Texas. A couple hundred more arrived at the bus station on Christmas Eve, and then more on Christmas Day. Left in a parking lot to fend for themselves.

Over the holiday, a local shelter called Annunciation House issued an emergency call for volunteers and financial assistance to meet the needs of the asylum seekers suddenly left on El Paso`s doorstep by the Trump administration. The president`s border policy has been marked by manufactured chaos, by a stunning lack of detectible concern about the harm being done to migrant families, including some very young children, and by a breathtaking nonchalance about even the appearance of leaving hundreds of women and children to spend Christmas in a local bus station.

The Trump administration`s border policy has also been marked by outright tragedy. On Monday, on Christmas Eve, the body of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin arrived in Guatemala for burial. She died the first week of December in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protections, at a hospital in El Paso. By late on Christmas Eve, shortly before midnight, another young child, also from Guatemala, had died in the custody of U.S. Border Protection.

According to authorities in Guatemala, Felipe Gomez Alonzo was 8 years old. He had been picked up with his father on December 18th, a few miles outside of El Paso, and initially diagnosed with a cold. He was pronounced dead in a hospital in New Mexico at 11:48 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Immigration officials have promised to investigate how it happened. How a second child, in less than a month, died in their custody.

But parts of the official statement today sound a lot like the rhetoric coming from Fox News personalities about immigrants coming from South and Central America and scary sounding invasion and caravans, supposedly making America dirtier and bringing crime and very particularly disease. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen today has issued a statement that read in part, our system has been pushed to the breaking point by those who seek open orders. This crisis is exacerbated by the increase in persons who are entering our custody suffering from severe respiratory illnesses or exhibit some other illnesses upon apprehension. Quote: It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by the long and dangerous journey.

She adds, I have personally engaged with the Centers for Disease Control to request their experts investigate the uptick of sick children crossing our boarders to prepare and to treat these children, unquote.

Interesting talking point. Meanwhile, ICE, which Nielsen also runs released more than 500 asylum seekers today. In El Paso, with the shelter system is beyond strain, with another 500 expected tomorrow.

Joining us now is Julia Ainsley, NBC News national security and justice reporter.

And, Julia, is it -- I mean, am I wrong in thinking that the talking points coming out of Secretary Nielsen sound an awful lot like the accusations on a certain Trump loving cable network that immigrants are bringing disease into the United States?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY & JUSTICE REPORTER: Certainly talking points they`ve heard from a while. The same talking points that reporters got today when we did a press call with DHS officials, that we`re seeing an uptick in immigrants but immigrants who are sick. But I think the point that gets left out of this is, of course, you`re seeing more immigrants who are sick when more immigrants are waiting weeks if not months in order to cross into the United States, those who are trying to cross illegally are being told to wait and those who have to cross illegally are going to very remote locations where up until now, they haven`t had access to medical care.

And that`s another reason why Jakelin Caal found herself in and that`s another reason why this young boy Felipe Alonzo had to go to four different processing facilities, who was moved from one to another. And then taken to a hospital, discharged for some reason, we don`t understand. He still had a high fever. There`s a lot of things that get mixed up when you have this culture that is kind of built around chaos and not the resources that are going into address that chaos.

REID: Well, built around chaos but also built around kind of cruelty. You know, there`s a sense in which, you know, the cruelty kind of is the point, the more cruel the system is, the less people want to come, but people are still fleeing, but the cruelty meets them when they get here.

AINSLEY: Right. I mean, when I talk to people that are not political appointees, those on the ground, with customs and border protection, they say they had a deterrent after deterrent, new things they`ve had to learn on the fly. We know this administration doesn`t give them a lot of heads up, whether they are going to be separating children or they`re going to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico, or they`re not going to allow only 40 in a day. And it really hasn`t brought down the numbers. In fact, it`s just created more chaos, more cruelty.

And we talk about do they want the cruelty, how that plays. I mean, that definitely, you have to start to get into some sick mindsets of people that want this cruelty. But there is this very strange way that they talk about this. Our heartbreaks, but it`s because of that decision by Congress and by court. So, it seems --

REID: Put the blame to the parents.

AINSLEY: They`re definitely blaming the parents, but there`s sort of a talking point, I think a connection that they pretty much overtly want to make that these -- the cruelty, any kind of empathy that we should have for these people, we should think that it`s because of Congress, the laws that they have made that are attracting these people here. They`re not talking about the desperation and economic drivers that would make them want to make that journey. And it`s obvious they`re still coming, even with all these practice measures.

REID: So, we -- you know, Jakelin Caal Maquin`s death I think sort of riveted or shocked a lot of people, and to have another child, Gomez Alonzo, also die. Do we have a definitive cause of death? Do we know what he died from?

AINSLEY: They have not given that. There will be an autopsy. We know that he initially was diagnosed with a common cold at the hospital, and then he had a 103 degree fever. Obviously, it was more than that, but he was still discharged.

So, I asked officials today, could they be looking at medical malpractice at the hospital. They said every medical decision made is at the heart of the investigation and hopefully we`ll get more answers out of that. But I think what we`re seeing here is not just these two cases in isolation. We`re seeing the product of a system that is keeping children longer than any immigrant, no matter their age is supposed to stay in border protection processing facilities.

They`re supposed to go to ICE family detention, but as we`re seeing this administration has not made the choice to free up bed space. And in order to do that, they would have to take fewer families internally that they arrest in the United States and hold there before they`re deported.

REID: Yes, it was Adam Serwer who wrote a column called cruelty is a point. I keep thinking about that column a lot.

Thank you very much. We really appreciate your reporting. Julia Ainsley, excellent work. Thank you, our national security reporter.

OK. Much more to get to tonight, including an intriguing new development in a mystery court case linked to the Mueller investigation. That`s next.


REID: While many of you were unwrapping presents and refusing to change into daytime clothes all day yesterday, the Mueller investigation took one giant step closer to having a date with the Supreme Court. If, and it`s an if, if this happens, it will be the legal equivalent of Batman versus Superman, or Clash of the Titans, or Frodo and the fellowship of the ring versus the armies of Mordor. And it`s happening at warp speed.

It involves that mysterious case kicking around the lower courts since August. It`s entirely under seal, so it`s hard to know exactly what`s going on, but we do have reason to believe that it`s linked to special counsel Robert Mueller. In part, because the only judge to recuse himself was a Donald Trump appointee, who had been bound to recuse himself from any case involving Trump and the Russia probe. But this case has been super weird. For one thing, they`ve gone to great links to keep it completely under wraps, even clearing up a whole floor of a courthouse so nobody could see what was going on.

Reporters did manage to spot two of Mueller`s top prosecutors slipping into that clamped down courthouse, which gives us a good idea this has something to do with Mueller. But what? Here`s what we know for sure. It involves a company owned by a foreign country, a company that has been subpoenaed by a grand jury. A company that has told that grand jury, tough luck, we`re not going to hand over what you want from us, because we are owned by a foreign government, and that would violate that foreign country`s laws.

Lower courts have ruled this corporation has to pay fines for every day that it doesn`t comply. And last week, the D.C. Court of Appeals sided with the lower courts and held the mystery company in contempt. That might have been the end of the story, game, set, Mueller. Except not so fast, because on Saturday, just as everybody was finishing their last-minute holiday shopping, that mysterious company, owned by a mystery foreign government, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. They took it straight to Chief Justice John Roberts, who, 24 hours later, pushed the pause button on the lower court`s ruling, issuing a stay until the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.

Now, we`ll find out on New Year`s Eve if the Supreme Court will step into the fray. Frodo, guard the ring, don`t let Gandalf get it. No, to (INAUDIBLE).

OK. Well, if the case does go to the Supreme Court, this will make history. It will be the first time the Supreme Court hears a case that`s entirely under seal. We could be headed into completely unchartered territory, folks. Thank god RBG is on the mend.


REID: They`ve been busier than Santa`s elves. I`m talking about Robert Mueller and his SWAT team of prosecutors. Just in the run-up to Christmas alone, they were at the red hot center of the sentencing of the president`s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. They also gave their two cents on the fate of Donald Trump`s short-term national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, and they were front and center during that smack-down with the judge who said he couldn`t hide his disgust for Flynn`s crimes and agreed to push back Flynn`s sentencing until early next year, so maybe he could think about what her he could do to help out the government to earn a life sentence.

So this has been anything but relaxing holiday season for Mueller and his team. And despite the government shutdown, they are not slowing down at all. Just today, we learned that the special counsel`s team has been locked in even nor talks with Michael Flynn. Part of the deal Judge Emmet Sullivan gave Flynn was that Flynn would have to stay within 50 miles of D.C. But now, Flynn wants to travel to his home in Rhode Island, too. And he`s lobbying the court to give him more leeway, name checking Robert Mueller, saying the special counsel`s office is OK with it.

Not confident this particular judge is going to be enthusiastic, do watch this space. And suffice it to say, Mueller has been burning the midnight oil this holiday season.

And joining us now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and professor at Georgetown School of Law.

Good to see you, Paul.


REID: So, let`s talk about Michael Flynn for a second. This guy is pretty bold. Pushing back when you get a very little light -- no jail time, and writing a memo saying, oh, I was entrapped, maybe, taking it back in court, now saying I would like to go home to Rhode Island. Is that normal behavior for somebody who is under this kind of plea deal?

BUTLER: It`s not, but it`s also not normal behavior for somebody to plea guilty and then have your lawyer saying, well, the FBI made me do it, which is why Judge Sullivan went off on him last week. And so, the lesson was, dude, chill. You know, you have a very good position now, you were the national security adviser. You lied to the vice president and to the Congress, and now you`re being prosecuted and the prosecutor isn`t even asking for jail time?

REID: Right.

BUTLER: This is the deal of the century and dude is trying to mess it up.

REID: And he keeps pushing his luck. It is extraordinary to ask for anything. He should just say thank you. But now, he`s like, I want to go to Rhode Island.

What could he possibly be offering that Mueller could be so lenient, that he could get away with what looked like some shenanigans here?

BUTLER: You know, so one of the things we know is that Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner were running buddies, especially involving international escapades. We know now that Mueller has given Flynn all this credit, again, as Judge Sullivan made clear last week, what Michael Flynn did was really, really bad.

And so for him to get credit now from Mueller, he must have come up with something really good, with something -- with someone even higher up in the food chain than the national security adviser. That means the president, Don Jr. or Jared Kushner.

REID: Right.

BUTLER: And so, again, I think Jared Kushner is a likely subject now of the Mueller investigation.

REID: So we have these two things going on at the same time. We have -- the sentencing of Flynn is out there. We have all that we have seen from Manafort and Cohen, all the people that have given up the ghost willingly or unwillingly that had to turn on Donald Trump. But in the case of Flynn, he is still out there to be sentenced. It looks like the judge wants Flynn to go back and give more, that maybe he doesn`t think he`s given enough to earn no jail time more.

BUTLER: Yes. So, you wonder what the more is. So, a couple of things, one is that judge saw more evidence from Mueller than we did about what Flynn had done that cooperated, that provide substantial assistance. So maybe the judge knows something we don`t know, maybe the judge thinks there`s more that could be done.

Flynn is in kind of a difficult position, in that typically you want to stay out of prison, so you give up all your information right at the beginning. You can, Rule 35, which means after you go to jail, you can still help and get your sentence reduced. But most people prefer not to go to prison at all.

So, again, the question is, does Flynn have something else, and the judge is saying you better come up with something or you`re going to jail. Now, typically, you know, that`s a little bit of a concern, because he`s a snitch now. Flynn is a snitch, and one of the concerns of snitch is it`s in their self-interest to help prosecutors. And sometimes they do that in ways that are unethical.

REID: Just in the way you`ve seen this judge act towards Flynn, would you be surprised if he ignored the Mueller recommendation and still gave him jail sometime

BUTLER: Not at all. So, one of the things that Judge Sullivan made clear is, OK, there was this agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant, Michael Flynn. But when you plead guilty, you have to plead guilty because you are guilty, and not because someone promised you something.

What the judge is doing is saying, I`m a co-equal branch of government. So, Robert Mueller, he kind of represents the executive, but in this case, the judge has the last say. So the judge can totally ignore the agreement that Flynn made with the prosecutor and do what he thinks is in the best interest of justice.

We know that he thinks that Michael Flynn betrayed his country, because he was the national security adviser. He was in cahoots with the Russians, or at least lying to the highest level about what they did. That`s a big deal.

REID: That`s amazing. I`m surprised he isn`t like, thank you, sir, I`ll do whatever you want.

Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, professor at Georgetown School of Law -- thank you very much.

BUTLER: Always a pleasure. Happy Kwanzaa.

REID: Yes, happy Kwanzaa. First day of Kwanzaa today.

And up next, did the Democrats learn anything from the 2018 election to help win back the presidency in 2020? And don`t they kind of have to end the 2016 primary fight first? We dive in to the 2020 preview and check out the strategery already in progress, next.



REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Let`s continue to show up here, let`s continue to get behind Josh and others who have been here every single day so that we can witness with our own eyes, testify in our own words back to our fellow Americans what is happening here. But the fact that you are here is producing the change that these kids so desperately need. We`ll be back here again and again until Tornillo closes down.


REID: Congressman Beto O`Rourke spent part of his holiday week in Tornillo, Texas, at the tent city where 2,500 children are being held by the U.S. government. Congressman O`Rourke is only a congressman for a few more days. He gave up his congressional seat so he could run for the U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz.

And he came out as close as a Democrat could give in really red Texas. Since then, Beto, I think the part of the country that pays attention to politics, is pretty much on the first nickname basis with him at this point, has barely budged from the national spotlight. Not only has he spent the past week both at Tornillo and at home in El Paso monitoring the government`s handling of migrants at the border, but this week, he published a sharply worded, widely shared essay criticizing the president over the government shutdown.

Ted Cruz`s campaign manager responded to that piece by issuing this warning. Quote: I`ve read every single word that O`Rourke has uttered in public life. He`s never, and I mean, never talked like this.

Pointing to other potential candidates such as Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Cory Booker, he continued, quote: you better pull your britches uptight and buckle your shoes, because Beto O`Rourke is running for president.

Now, it should be said that Beto O`Rourke has not confirmed whether or not he is actually going to run for president. But there are clues pointing in that direction. "The New York Times" reports he is among other Democrats who have been making repeated overtures to African-American voters and activists, a group Democrats had difficulty getting Obama level turnout from in 2016.

There is another clue that O`Rourke may not just run but is already being seen a stiff competition by supporters of other candidates. He lately has been feeling pushback from some Bernie Sanders` aligned progressives who say he is too centrists to be the Democratic nominee.

In a brand new poll, "USA Today" and Suffolk University asked Democrats and independents across the country which potential candidate would excite them the most if they decided to run. Beto O`Rourke placed fourth in that new nationwide poll, behind Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Who is at the top of the list, the potential candidate Democrats and independents say would feel most excited to see run, according to this new poll? Someone entirely new. Beto may be new, but apparently not new enough.

So, what does it mean for Beto O`Rourke and any other Democrat who may consider running for the top job? Who`s even spent a slightest amount of time in the national spotlight? And what does it mean that as of now, Democrats and independents nationwide are still hankering for someone they haven`t heard of yet?

Joining us now is Karine Jean-Pierre, who`s already laughing, senior adviser to

Great to have you with us, Karine.


REID: I mean, the thing about it is Democrats are always searching for the new thing. Republicans fall in love and Democrats need to fall in love. Right now, someone they don`t know is who most people want. Is that a function of not having some of the other exciting candidates like Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum in the conversation and maybe want them there, or are people more like let`s wipe the slate clean and that run a new person?

JEAN-PIERRE: I think that what it means is that when I look at these polls, it`s not so much of who you think could win, right, or who they are going to vote for. It really is about who they would like to see.

And I think people are in a place of I`m open. It`s a wide open game field. I think folks are really trying to figure out our members, we did a poll. As we talked about recently, Move On did a straw poll, and it was very similar as to the unknown. Who is the unknown? Who do we want?

In that poll, Beto O`Rourke was number one but nobody broke 16 percent.

REID: Right.

JEAN-PIERRE: So I just think that we`ve seen an energy from the Democratic space since 2016 that has not died down, that has shown up in special elections and shown up in off year elections. And it continues.

I think folks are waiting to be inspired. They are waiting to see what is out there. And so, I think whoever the folks who jump in, they have a lot of work to do.

REID: And a lot of work to do with African-American voters. African- American voters are loyal to the Democratic Party, very consistent with turnout, especially black women. But this year, let`s put up this poll here. African-Americans didn`t turn out in really strong numbers for Hillary Clinton. She got 88 percent of the vote, which is not difficult for Democrats.

A lot of people stayed home. When asked who they`re excited about, we`re going to put this up here, who people would be most excited about? Black and white voters don`t really agree. Sixty-six percent of African- Americans say they are excited about Joe Biden. Only 49 percent of white voters.

Beto has less name ID obviously, but white voters considerably are more excited than black voters. Bernie Sanders is the other way around. You just go down that list, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, some of the people don`t have a lot of name ID, right? So, Kamala Harris is above water in terms of African-American voters being more excited. But it does seem like there is just a lot of kind of openness as you say but also a difference in opinion between black and white voters.

JEAN-PIERRE: There are, and I think it`s open -- we have to be really real here. In the last two years, the people who have been under attack by this president that 1600 Pennsylvania constantly attacking vulnerable communities have been black people, have been women, have been immigrants, have been people of color over and over, LGBTQ communities. And so, of course, that community, our community is much more energized and much more aware because they are living this horrific presidency day after day after day. So, they`re not taking any of these for granted. And in our democracy, not just the rule of law and our institutions are being attacked, but voter suppression. People can`t vote.

You know, the cornerstone of our democracy free and fair election is under attack in the past two years. I mean, for several years but certainly in the past two years. I think that is why people are very aware of what is happening because they are under attack. It doesn`t surprise me that there is such a big kind of cutting difference between white and black voters.

It doesn`t surprise me that Biden does so well with black voters. He was the vice president of the first African-American president and incredibly successful. And like you said, he has name ID, Bernie Sanders has name ID, and, of course, the black candidates are going to do better. So, I think that is what I`m seeing there.

REID: The interesting thing is he actually beat someone new that (INAUDIBLE) with black voters. African-American voters are very pragmatic. You didn`t see a switch even to Barack Obama until he proved he could win in Iowa. So, the African-American vote will follow that streak. So, it strikes me that progressives going after Beto O`Rourke and saying that he`s less progressive or more -- I`m not sure that that works with African- American voters just like the attacks on Harris. I don`t know that that moves black people.

JEAN-PIERRE: It is counterproductive. It doesn`t -- it`s demonizing the character or the candidate. It makes no sense at all, because it`s not going to effect black voters because they are going to want to hear from you. They are going to want to -- are you talking about the issues that matter to us? It`s not social justice issues they want to champion in on that as well.

But economy, education, just getting food on your table. Those are the things they want to hear. That`s the beauty of having this contested primary because people are going to have to articulate that. They are going to be challenged. And it`s going to be interesting to see.

REID: There is a great piece out for those who have not checked it out where he is talking about candidates going to the black community. Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren has been doing it a lot lately. Sanders is trying to sure up his support. Beto O`Rourke has been doing it, O`Rourke, Julian Castro.

Is that going to be what this is about? Especially when you talk about South Carolina being so important and you have potentially two candidates.

JEAN-PIERRE: So, kudos to those candidates because they have been paying attention to what`s been happening in particular these past two years. You have to energize the base. Who is the base? Yes, young people, yes, women, but also people of color, women of color, black women who came out in Alabama, in Virginia, in New Jersey, on November 6 this year. So, that`s where the game is.

REID: Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE: And also, clearly, they got to get new voters and they have to get independents, as well.

REID: You know, as Beyonce said, you must be that person if you causing all this conversation. They are causing a lot of conversation. He sure is causing a lot of conversation. But people might be worried about him.

Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser to, always great to see you.

JEAN-PIERRE: Always good to see, Joy.

REID: Happy Boxing Day. Merry Christmas.

JEAN-PIERRE: Merry Christmas to you.

REID: Thank you very much.

We`ll be back.


REID: Tomorrow at 4:00 p.m., on the sixth day of the government shutdown, the esteemed United States Senate will convene. The Senate will open a session. Officially, they will be there to consider the short term spending bill passed by the House back before Christmas.

Unofficially, we can tell you that almost nothing will happen. Senators have been told they will get 24 hours notice of any actual vote. The Senate will be open, waiting, considering officially.

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

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

Good evening, Ari.