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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 1/5/2017

Guests: Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, Jason Kander, David Frum, Felix Salmon, Julian Epstein, Pete Buttigieg

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELLDate: January 5, 2017Guest: Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, Jason Kander, David Frum, Felix Salmon, Julian Epstein, Pete Buttigieg ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Well, Rachel, I was watching your show, and I would say I don`t know everything about your process. But I do know that you and not executives write your scripts and segments. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That is -- that is -- that is true. Although, you know, if anybody wants to come in and help on -- tomorrow night, say a block, I could take (INAUDIBLE). MELBER: You could take a little help from your friends. Good night -- MADDOW: Thanks Ari -- MELBER: Rachel, good night -- MADDOW: Good to see you then -- MELBER: Good to see you -- MADDOW: We do have a lot of breaking news tonight. Donald Trump has picked his new director of national intelligence. Former CIA Director James Woolsey who is big news when he became an adviser to Trump. Well, tonight, we can tell you he abruptly announced he`s quitting, and this is of course on the eve of Trump`s much hyped meeting with the current intelligence directors. Also tonight, Trump complaining that reporters learning any details about this briefing show evidence of some kind of politicization of intelligence which is what this whole fight is about. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, UNITED STATES: I don`t think that we`ve ever encountered a more aggressive campaign to interfere in our election process. STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC: He has no doubt there was interference from Moscow. CLAPPER: Hacking classical propaganda, a disinformation, fake news. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have full faith in the conclusions of the intelligence briefing? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, Obama is the centrist on this. And you know, on one side you have Senate Republicans -- SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think what Obama did was throw a pebble. I`m ready to throw a rock. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`d move on to boulders, though. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, on the other side, you have Trump. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Grow up, Donald, grow up. Time to be an adult when you`re president. MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a difference between skepticism and disparagement. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the media lies to make it look like I`m against intelligence when in fact I`m a big fan. STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: Very strange for the future commander-in-chief to use sarcastic quotations about the intelligence agencies he will soon rely on to keep enemies from killing us all. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: In breaking news tonight, details leaking on what is inside the intelligence briefing Donald Trump will receive tomorrow on Russian hacking. And here`s one detail. Election night cheers for Trump at the Kremlin. Nbc News has learned senior Russian officials celebrated Trump`s election win, according to what the U.S. calls "international intercepted communications". U.S. officials also saying Russian intentions went beyond the would be presidents in 2016 and targeted the Obama White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and top American companies. That`s all in our new reporting tonight. Why? Officials say Russia wanted to hurt the nation`s democratic process and get back at the Obama administration for it questioning Putin`s legitimacy. And these anonymous leaks also come on a day when of course intelligence chiefs were speaking out on the record. As DNI leader James Clapper said he has little respect for Julian Assange, the man Donald Trump has been citing as a reliable source about the Russian hacks. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Clapper, how would you describe Mr. Assange? CLAPPER: Well, I don`t think those of us in the intelligence community have a whole lot of respect for him. (END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: Trump has invoked Assange, who did an hour long special on "Fox News" just this week. Today though, Trump walked back his remarks a bit, saying that "while the press likes saying I`m in agreement with Julian Assange -- wrong, I simply state what he states. It is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I`m against "intelligence" when in fact I am a big fan." Well, the people can make up their minds or their minds. And tomorrow, intelligence chiefs will try to impact Donald Trump`s mind and show him why their reporting and research and evidence is according to the intelligence officials, superior to the fugitive publisher behind WikiLeaks. For more, we want to get right to it, so I have Jack Rice here; a former CIA special agent and terror expert as well as investigative reporter Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News. Who is also co-author of a relevant book here "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War". Jack, your thoughts on those developments I just detailed. JACK RICE, FORMER CIA SPECIAL AGENT & TERROR EXPERT: Well, I`m not shocked by this. If we look at what`s going on here, this isn`t about the Democratic Party. This isn`t exclusively just about this election. This is about something far bigger. This is something that goes back for multiple election cycles. And we have to remember, in the end, the Russians don`t like or hate any of them. This is about the Russians for the Russians. We have 17 independent intelligence organizations in the United States, have all come together at the same time and said, look, this is what the Russians did, this is how they did it. And to some degree, this is why they did it. To simply sit back and say, well, you know what? I like the results, so it`s cool, it`s OK, it`s not. And the problem is that we don`t even know the extent of it to simply sit back and say, well, you know what? It`s good enough, I guess, because it`s not. And you know, I think we have to stand up and realize this is not about party, this is about country. MELBER: You say it`s about country, the president-elect saying tonight it`s about politics. And I want to be very clear with viewers, we report on what Donald Trump says and does. We report based on other sources and we report when he is directly critical of our reporting which I know becomes a stack of things. But I want to be transparent. Donald Trump calling out and upset with Nbc News based on the reporting, I will put up what he`s saying. "How did Nbc get an exclusive look into the top secret report he Obama was presented. Who gave them this report and why? Politics." Michael, your view of Donald Trump`s criticism there that if investigative reporters at Nbc News are getting this kind of material or sourcing, that in itself, he alleges it`s some kind of politics? MICHAEL ISIKOFF, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, YAHOO NEWS: Well, look, you know, the politicization of this issue has reached unbelievable heights at this point. But you know, this is going to be an extraordinary briefing tomorrow, because you`re going to have not only Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, all presenting a united front to the president-elect. Basically telling him he`s been wrong about everything he`s been saying about this Russian hacking. And you know, Clapper`s testimony was pretty strong today. He made it clear that the intelligence has only gotten stronger since that statement of October 7th that supports the conclusion that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the election. He made it clear that it went beyond just the cyber attacks on the DNC and the John Podesta e-mails and included what he described as a multi-facetted campaign of disinformation, propaganda, fake news, use of social media. And he also said -- and this is going to be -- this is a particularly fascinating angle that it included the use of RT, the Russian government propaganda station that was -- he wrapped it in as part of the entire Russian government campaign here to disrupt our election. And what`s particularly fascinating about that is, Trump in all likelihood is going to have his soon-to-be national security adviser sitting in on the meeting. That`s retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn -- RICE: Yes -- ISIKOFF: Who flew to Moscow in December 2015 for the 10th anniversary -- RICE: But see, Michael -- ISIKOFF: Galore of actually sitting next to at a dinner table with Vladimir Putin. MELBER: Jack, go ahead. RICE: Well, Michael, and I want to add into that. I mean, again, what we really have to look at here and we have to figure out is that this isn`t just about attacking one particular party. The problem is, is what we have seen from Donald Trump is really a desire to not just be willfully ignorant. His unwillingness to actually listen to the briefings themselves, but it`s almost purposeful in nature. And when you see a disparagement at a level which is extraordinary. I mean, you have to contemplate. People who work in the intelligence community, just like people who work in the military, work in the State Department and journalists who work around the world, they risk their lives, they risk the lives of their families, they risk the lives of their assets. And they do this for country. MELBER: Right -- RICE: When you have a man -- MELBER: Right -- RICE: Who has never risked anything in his entire life to be sitting on some ivory throne someplace and talking about this without any true understanding, any willingness to be as ignorant -- ISIKOFF: Yes -- RICE: As absolutely possible is simply outrageous -- MELBER: Well, to your point, Jack -- RICE: To those of us who have worked and continue to work. MELBER: They call it human Intel for a reason, which is, there are a lot of humans involved -- ISIKOFF: Right -- MELBER: And that`s why there`s beyond a tone deafness. There`s sort of an ignorance in the way Donald Trump has talked about it or in the echoes in the whole rest of it. Clapper hit that today, I mean, he talked about how skepticism is expected and warranted and nobody saying that an incoming president shouldn`t have all of his rights -- his or her rights to address and change the intelligence community. Having said that -- RICE: True, but there`s one aspect -- (CROSSTALK) MELBER: You just settle -- let me just -- let me finish, Jack, let me -- RICE: Yes -- MELBER: Finish. So having said that, that`s part one. Part two is Clapper was saying there is that and then there is going on to disparagement. Let me play that -- RICE: Right -- MELBER: And get your response on the return. Here`s James Clapper today. RICE: Please -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLAPPER: I think there`s a difference between skepticism and disparagement. I have received many expressions of concern from foreign counterparts about, you know, the disparagement of the -- of the U.S. intelligence community or I should say what has been interpreted as disparagement of the intelligence community. (END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: Jack, what did you think of that moment? RICE: I would agree absolutely. And again, I see this as more than simply willful ignorance. This is about using ignorance as a badge of honor. And the idea that if I have more intelligence, it somehow makes me less capable. And the less that I have, the more capable that I am.  And the -- 

ISIKOFF:  Ari --

RICE:  Problem is the whole concept of what we do in the --

ISIKOFF:  Yes --

RICE:  Intelligence business is provide information so you can come up with the most logical conclusions.

MELBER:  Michael, you get the --

ISIKOFF:  Yes --

MELBER:  Last word. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes, I was just going to say that said, it is worth pointing out that there is going to be a public report released next week.

And Clapper said he wants to push the envelope and publicly disclosing what the evidence is.  And I think that`s going to be very crucial to resolving whatever lingering doubts people have.

Because it is -- it is worth seeing the evidence.  We should see the evidence.  We are -- it is right to be skeptical of the intelligence community.

They have certainly been wrong before.  It is -- it is certainly true that in this case, the confidence level that intelligence professionals have expressed about this conclusion is pretty strong.

But I think, you know, when we see the evidence next week, that`s going to be the key.  We need to see that public report --

MELBER:  Right, you make an important point and no one is saying the CIA should get automatic deference.

I will point out though where we began the segment, Donald Trump is both saying nothing is good enough.

And then when there is reliable reporting based on intelligence sources of what is happening.

He calls that itself politics and attacks journalists and others for dealing with it.

So, he is setting up a catch 22.  I don`t know that trying to respond to him working the refs is going to satisfy anyone but certainly more transparency is welcome.

Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, we are over time, so thanks again for joining.

Coming up, the CIA giving Trump everything it has as evidence as discussed about the hack.

But what do Republicans do if Donald Trump won`t believe it.  Also, a Congressman now saying tonight -- this is pretty interesting, that Donald Trump`s team is looking at ways to ask Congress to pay for a wall on the southern border.

That means your money, not Mexico`s money.  We have the updates straight ahead.



BIDEN:  Grow up, Donald, grow up.  Time to be an adult when you`re president.  You got to do something.

Show us what you have, you`re going to propose it in a legislation, we`re going to get to debate it.  Let the public decide.  Let them vote in Congress.  Let`s see what happens.



MELBER:  Back to that late breaking news I mentioned before the break.  Former CIA Director James Woolsey announcing he`s quitting his role advising the Trump transition.

"Effective immediately, Ambassador Woolsey is no longer a senior adviser to the President-elect Trump or the transition."

This is his office saying it.  In a news statement which wishes Trump and its team great success.

Neither Woolsey nor the transition team is elaborating in public on why they have grown apart.

But in a new interview, Woolsey basically cast the separation as something that it had already begun, saying he didn`t feel like he was really an adviser anymore anyway.

He was last seen at Trump Tower in early December.


JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY:  I didn`t want to fly under false colors.  I have been an adviser and felt that I was making a contribution.

And I strongly support Mr. Trump for president, did since early September, and I wish him well.

But I`m not really functioning as an adviser anymore.  Just felt like things had come to the point that I ought to make sure that nobody gets a false impression.

I didn`t want to be claiming that I`m something I`m not. 


MELBER:  Now, whatever the reasoning, the timing is obviously notable.

This was no kind of quiet Friday news dump departure or an exit over the holidays that just occurred which would have been low key. 

Woolsey is bowing out on the eve of what might be the most controversial hyped intelligence meeting of any transition team in the modern era.

That is because as you probably know by now, Trump has repeatedly criticized the intelligence chiefs that he`s meeting with tomorrow.

Even suggesting they weren`t ready for this meeting based on that little snafu over a two-day debate about the scheduling of the meeting.

Now, those chiefs will meet with him fresh from their testimony in the Senate today where they rebutted publicly Trump`s charges that they`re wrong about Russia`s interference in the election.

And one day before he briefs Trump on the issue, the Director of DNI there James Clapper reinforced his office`s view from October that the Russian government directed these hacks.

Now, much of this story has been out there for weeks, if you watch the news, you`ve heard a lot of it.

But if you listen closely to one part of today`s testimony, Clapper emphasized how the Russian effort went beyond just hacking e-mail.

And he cited something that`s been covered repeatedly right here on THE LAST WORD.

Pointing to Russian`s campaigns inclusion of not only disinformation but what he directly called fake news. 


CLAPPER:  This was a multi-facetted campaign.  So, the hacking was only one part of it, and it also entailed, you know, classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You stated that the report soon to be released will discuss the motive.  Would you care to give any kind of preview today?

CLAPPER:  I`d rather not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I didn`t think so -- 

CLAPPER:  There are actually more than one motive.


MELBER:  Meanwhile, the night, Trump continued to use his platform to engender doubts about all this evidence.

He tweeted: "the DNC would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia.

So, how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers?

What is going on?" That`s what he asked.  Now with Donald Trump the question may be rhetorical but there are answers.

Investigative sources tell Nbc News the FBI didn`t need physical inspection of the DNC`s servers because it already had the relevant forensic data in a process they call upstream collection.

And that is how the FBI says it told the DNC it had been hacked.  If you take Trump at his word, he just doesn`t know how any of that works.

Add it to the list of valuable lessons for Donald Trump in tomorrow`s briefing.

Joining me now is Jason Kander; a former military intelligence officer in Afghanistan and an outgoing Secretary of State in Missouri.

And David Frum; reporter, senior editor for "The Atlantic".  Thank you both for being here.  Jason, your thoughts on everything we just learned.

JASON KANDER, SECRETARY OF STATE, MISSOURI:  Well, it`s pretty clear that what is actually happening here is that the president-elect is conducting a misinformation campaign against the American intelligence community.

And when we talk about the American intelligence community, we should remember that this is not just folks who wear ties and testify in front of Congress.

The vast majority of the intelligence community is the military, it`s the army, it`s the Navy, it`s the Air Force, it`s the Marines.

It`s the sons and daughters of our country who are risking their lives, and that`s who the president-elect -- is not just saying he doesn`t believe, but is saying cannot be believed -- 

MELBER:  And Jason, you`re making a serious assertion there that this is not a new president who is misinformed or unclear.

You`re saying he`s knowingly conducting misinformation, that`s your view?

KANDER:  I`m saying he doesn`t like the answer, so he`s trying to say that the people who are giving him the answer cannot be believed.

And that makes us less safe. 

MELBER:  David, that would certainly raise the culpability of the president-elect if true, if provable.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  Yes, we -- I`d like to widen the aperture on this a little bit. 

And maybe bring what maybe a harder teaching for some of the liberal listeners to this program.

Because we need to look at this as James Clapper said from the Russian point of view and not just the American.

What are they doing? Russia is running a shooting war in Europe right now against -- in and against the Ukraine.

The first great power shooting war on the European continent since 1945.  Ten thousand people dead, hundreds of thousands displaced.

They are systematically interfering in the politics of the countries in the band between Germany and Russia.

Substituting pro-western, pro-democratic reasonably honest governments in places most people don`t pay attention to like Moldova and Romania with more authoritarian and more corrupt governments that tilt in their interest.

They interfered in the British election in the Summer of last year.  They are playing the French election right now.

They are playing in the German election right now.  They are very clear that they want to break up both NATO and the European Union.

There`s a lot of suspicion that they were supporting the Scottish separatists to break up of the United Kingdom.

By the way, Scotland is where the British have their major nuclear base in Scotland would be -- an independent Scotland would be a non-nuclear power.

So, Scotland exited the United Kingdom, Britain would cease to be a nuclear power that could stop Russia.

That is the context in which they have tried to reshape the politics of the United States.  There`s no -- this is a story with many secrets but no mystery.

It`s not puzzling what is going on here.  Donald Trump campaigned as a candidate sympathetic to the Russian point of view on issues like Ukraine, like Syria, like the bust-up of NATO, like the bust up of the EU.

Russian foreign policy in every case, and a violation of in some cases 70 years of American foreign policy.

Of course they liked him and of course they tried to help him. 

MELBER:  Well put, Jason, your thoughts on that, the geopolitical part of this and the notion that all of this sort of -- what you were calling earlier misinformation is an outcome rather than a driver if it does reflect Donald Trump having being critical of NATO, having praised Putin so many times.

And the other big question mark because of Donald Trump`s sudden usual, refusal to release his tax returns.

The looming questions over how much his personal financial empire is funded or boosted by Russian or Kremlin-linked financiers.

KANDER:  Well, there`re two things here.  The first is that Vladimir Putin is as David points out doing this for a reason. 

And in this case, you have to ask yourself how many times in American history a presidential election may end up resulting in the United States essentially switching sides in a war.

Because that`s what Vladimir Putin is after.  And furthermore, over the course of all of our lifetimes, we have all whether we voted for the president or did not vote for the president, lived under the sense of safety that the president of the United States was the most powerful person in the world.

And if the president of the United States ends up deferring national security decisions to the leader of Russia, then what that means is that Vladimir Putin in a couple of weeks may actually become the most powerful person in the world.

And I don`t think anybody who voted for Donald Trump was probably voting for that. 

MELBER:  Right, you`re making the argument that he would be the de facto most powerful leader of the world --

KANDER:  Yes --

MELBER:  If not as the saying used to go the leader of the free world.  Jason Kander --

KANDER:  All right --

MELBER:  Thank you very much for joining tonight and sharing your expertise --

KANDER:  Thank you, Ari --

MELBER:  David Frum, stay with us for the next topic.  We have some developing news about what some members of Congress are saying about who would pay for the Trump wall.

It might not be Mexico.  Also tonight, an exclusive interview with a brand new candidate who wants to head the DNC, he`ll tell you why when he`s here.



TRUMP:  We are going to build the wall 100 percent and Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

They don`t know it yet, but they`re going to pay for the wall.  We`re going to build the wall and Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Who is going to pay for the wall?

AUDIENCE:  Mexico!

TRUMP:  One hundred percent. 


MELBER:  They don`t know it yet but they`re going to pay for it.  Does that apply to Mexico or the United States?

Well, the story tonight, Republican Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana saying now that Republicans on Capitol Hill are working on possible ways to fund Trump`s border wall with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

If you are watching this program inside the United States, I`m talking about your money.

On the other hand, there are other sources on Capitol Hill telling Nbc News that Republicans have not been approached by the Trump transition team to appropriate funds yet.

That`s the state of play, it`s pretty simple, so, I`ll bring in our analyst Felix Salmon; senior editor at "Fusion".

And back with us, "Atlantic" senior editor and former George W. Bush White House official David Frum.  Welcome to you both.


MELBER:  Felix, what`s going on?

SALMON: There`s a law which George W. Bush passed ten years ago which authorizes construction of the wall.  And the republicans are saying hey we have this wall passed in congress already ten years ago.  There was no expiry on this laws.  So, let`s just go and build this thing.  Let`s not wait for Mexico to pay for it, because of course they never will. 

We`ll just put it into an appropriations bill, force the democrats to pass it and then we`ll get $10 billion to build the wall. 

MELBER:  And why do you think republican house members are even talking about this yet?  The kind of thing that some people are going to go, the wait, we have to pay for it, Americans? 

SALMON:  I think there -- I mean its $10 billion, which is not huge in the  context of the federal budget.  And they want to do things.  They want to make changes.  They feel they could have this mandate and they want to move fast.  And a wall is pointless, right, from an immigration perspective.  We have more Mexicans leaving America than entering America.  I mean what are we trying to do, keep them in with a wall?  There`s no policy reason to build this wall. 

It`s a political piece of theater but we are entering four years of political theater and this is all part of that. 

MELBER:  David, as a student of the different wings of the conservative and republican movement, what do you think is really going on here?

FRUM:  Well let me say, I start as someone who believes the United States does need a much more restrictive immigration policy than it has.  And like Felix, I believe, I`m a naturalized U.S. Citizen so I`m talking --- thinking critically about U.S. immigration policy may be one of those jobs that Americans just won`t do.  The George W. Bush era appropriation builds about enough fencing to cover a little less than half of the distance of the U.S./Mexican border, about 700 miles. 

And it`s probably not the most useful thing you could do.  It`s a powerful symbol. Where fencing has been built like between San Diego and Tijuana, and that`s a relatively short stretch.  It makes a difference.  But the reasons republicans have been attracted to the wall building is they wanted do security at the boarder so they don`t have to do it at the work place.  And the workplace is the place that really makes a difference.  If you want to really crack down on illegal immigration, the most important thing you could do is to change immigration law so that if your factory is polluting in some way or you`re violating labor standards, in some other way. 

No one has to show that you knew you were doing something wrong.  If it turns out that the people you say I thought they were 18 years old and it turns out they were eight years old, that the law does not have to prove did you know that they were eight year olds.  You`re just -- you`re guilty of the fact.  With immigration enforcement, the state is required to prove that the employer knowingly violated the law.  These are not criminal offenses, they`re administrative offenses. 

Knowledge is not essential.  Just say if it turns out that anyone who works for you is illegal, you pay a fine and not the small fine that are levying today but substantial fines. 

MELBER:  I did not know we were going to get into the mental requirements of strict liability offenses.  I feel like I`m right back in law school David but --

FRUM:  But that`s what it`s about. 

MELBER:  I know it`s about -- let me --

FRUM:  If you want to stop illegal immigration, strict liability is the way you do it. 

MELBER: I hear you.  And there are complexities to that.  The question about this symbolism is you build a wall and who pays for it.  And I was out on the road during this campaign season.  That was a huge applause line.  I spoke to Trump supporters who believed the wall would be built.  I also interviewed many as a reported who said, it doesn`t matter whether he really builds it or it`s all the way across the country.  We like that he was willing to do something. 

Now take a listen to Donald Trump during the campaign when he had that big meeting in Mexico with President Pe¤a and said they didn`t get into funding. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  We did discuss the wall.  We didn`t discuss payment of the wall.  That will be for later date. 

MELBER:  Felix, getting Mexico to pay for it was always part of the applause line, though. 

SALMON:  Right.  Yes.  It`s a great applause line, right?  It`s an awesome applause line.  And did he really expect anyone to believe that?  I don`t know that people believed it because they wanted to believe it.  Probably.  Is he maybe going to send Mexico some big sort of novelty check invoice to Mexico City and say, here, pay us $10 billion?  And then eventually like he can -- he said -- he has any number of pieces of political theater he can do. 

There is no political actor -- and I`m using that word in a very literal sense -- who is more theatrical than Donald Trump.  So, this is all about theater.  And if you try and sort of pass the specifics of what he`s doing, you`re missing the point.  What they`re doing is they`re saying, we`re going to build the wall and next time they go we`re going to get Mexico to pay for it.  And to David`s point, this has got nothing to do with immigration. 

This has got nothing to do with like optimal policy to some kind of immigration reform ends.  This is all about just trying to get the headlines and get all of the stuff people like you and me on television talking about it, which is what we`re doing. 

MELBER:  Well not -- that is true in the beginning when it was a sales pitch.  I don`t know that he wants before he even gives us an (INAUDIBLE) speech to back down with the point of saying Americans have to pay for this.  But yes, there`s a lot of different stories swirling around on how they`re going to do it.  Felix Salmon and David Frum, thank you both for joining. 

FRUM:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  Coming up next, why the Trump transition team is gathering names of government workers who might not agree with future Trump policies. 


MELBER:  The republican house`s attempt to gut ethics rules got lots of attention leading to a dramatic backtracking when congress was sworn in Tuesday.  But republicans pushed another plan in into the rules package that did passed this week, a rule that gives congress the power to directly target and cut salaries for individual agencies and employees separate from the annual budget process.  Now, why is that important?  Well it means that even if there`s general funding for, say, the Environmental Protection Agency, congress then has extra power to come back around and cut money from specific parts of the EPA. 

Now republicans say  there`s nothing nefarious about targeted spending cuts. They know that while congress hasn`t had this power since the early 80s, it was used for decades at earlier points in history. 


KEVIN MCCARTHY, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FOR CALIFORNIA`S 23RD DISTRICT:  I think it gives us an opportunity really thinking about what this election was about, that they want to see change.  And this is a big rule change inside there that allows people to get at places they hadn`t before.  And we put it in there to last a one year.  And we`ll look back it again a year from now to see how well it worked and others but it will be a nice pilot program for change. 


MELBER:  And sure, on paper this is just a one-year option to target funding.  But let`s also connect the dots here in this Trump transition era.  This rule comes right after reports that Trump`s aides were specifically requesting names of people at the energy department who work on climate change.  And separate reports that Trump aides also asked the state department for details on jobs and programs that were specifically devoted to advancing gender equality. 

So if you combined one, a new rule that can cut salaries for specific workers, and two, new lists of employees working on issues like climate change or gender equality, you have the ingredients for a chilling effect on federal workers or, worse, the ingredients for a purge.  So, to the rule makers getting all these ingredients together, please know we see you.  And this new rule still requires approval from the entire house and senate to become operative. 

Joining us now for more context, Julian Epstein, a former chief minority counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, very experienced in this matters.  What do you see happening here? 

JULIAN EPSTEIN, FMR. COUNSEL TO THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well talk about the gang that can`t shoot straight Ari.  First we have this week a republican congress that tries to exempt itself from the ethics rules, the very first thing it does.  The second thing it does is to try to take us back to a very dark period in the American history, the McCarthy era where congress could punish ordinary Americans if they didn`t conform to the hard line views of the ruling party.  In this case it would be civil servants that wouldn`t conform to the hard line views of the Republican Party. 

MELBER:  So you`re worried this rule could be abused to target federal workers? 

EPSTEIN:  That`s the purpose of it.  It goes back -- this goes back it`s so-called Holman rule in the late 1800s.  It`s been tested, it`s been declared unconstitutional.  It`s a bill of attainder by the federal courts.  But that`s exactly what could happen Ari.  So, if at the department of energy for example, the best climate scientists in the world issue a report on climate change that the new secretary of energy doesn`t like, the secretary of energy, parenthetical that you couldn`t even remember the name of the agency. 

Or that hard liners on the hill don`t like, they could simply zero out all the salaries and punish the scientists for issuing a report telling us about the dangers of climate change.  If for example the republicans didn`t like the fact that you`ve got civil servants working on women`s rights at the state department, international women`s rights, what they could do is identify who`s working on them and zero out all their salaries.  Punish them for their political views.  It`s an extremely dark Putin-esque view of democracy and our democratic values. 

And it`s been challenged.  There was a case, and you`re probably familiar with this Ari.  As an attorney the Lovett case in 1943 where congress did exactly this.  They identified 43 -- I beg your pardon, 39 federal employees who they didn`t like their views on and they try to fire them by zeroing out the salaries, the Supreme Court looked at it, they said wait a second, congress doesn`t this that power.  Congress can`t punish people for their political views that happened to be federal employees by firing them or cutting out their salaries. 

Congress can`t do it.  It doesn`t have the due process apparatus in able -- to be able to do that.  And these federal employees are entitled to due process.  So, this has been tested in the courts and it`s been declared unconstitutional.  But if you think we`re not getting back in to that McCarthy era as you pointed out at the outset of this segment Ari.  The Trump transition team has already started taking names. 

MELBER:  Right. 

EPSTEIN:  They`ve started taking names of the climate scientists at the department of energy.  They started taking names of department of state employees who are working on women`s international rights.  I mean this is a process --

MELBER:  So, final question.  Yes, we`re almost out of time. 

EPSTEIN:  Sure. 

MELBER:  Do you view this on par with the ethics rule and that citizens should try to press congress on this?  They have to hear about it? 

EPSTEIN:  Absolutely.  I mean I don`t even know how to equate these two things.  One rule which says congress is going to exempt itself from ethics rules and can be free to engage in all kinds of unethical behavior with very few checks, that`s awful for our democracy.  Another rule that says congress can punish people if they don`t conform to the ideology, the strict hard line right extremist views --

MELBER:  Right. 

EPSTEIN:  -- of the Republican Party, we`ll punish you by taking away your jobs.  That`s a kind of a very dark throwback to the McCarthy era as I said.  That`s equally troubling in terms of our democratic values.  And this is just -- the strict constitutionalists, the people that said they believe in the constitution.  Where are they now? 

MELBER:  Julian Epstein, you get the last word on this topic.  Thank you very much.  Coming up, everything we now know about that terrible Chicago crime that was streamed live on Facebook.  And after that, we will return to some politics on the democratic side.  A new candidate entering the race to run the DMC. 


MELBER:  We turn now to Chicago where charges have been filed in that horrific beating of a young man.  Four people have been arrested and charged with several serious felonies, hate crimes, aggravated kidnapping and battery after that disturbing video which they streamed live on Facebook showing them beating and torturing a mentally disabled white teenager. 

NBC`s Blake McCoy has more on this story from Chicago. 


BLACKE MCCOY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The horrifying images have now been seen around the world, an 18-year-old with mental health challenges tortured, his clothing and hair slashed with a knife, his head pushed into a toilet, forced to drink the water.  The accused, four African-Americans, did not hide their faces in the video streamed live to Facebook, taunting the white teen with racial and political expletives.  Tonight reaction from the Whitehouse. 


JOSH EARNEST, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  They do demonstrate a level of depravity that is an outrage. 

MCCOY:  The victim`s grandmother tells NBC news she`s too upset to watch the video. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don`t want to watch him suffer.  I know he did. 

MCCOY:  Investigators confirm the victim went to school with one of his assailants, Jordan Hill.  The victim`s parents dropped him at a suburban McDonald`s to meet Hill for a sleepover last weekend.  Hill then allegedly drove him in to the city in a stolen van.  Investigators say the 18-year- old was being held captive in one of these homes on Chicago`s west side.  He was found Tuesday afternoon wandering and disoriented about a block away. 

KEVIN DUFFIN, CHICAGO AREA NORTH DETECTIVES COMMANDER:  He is able to escape when a downstairs neighbor calls the police complaining of all the noise upstairs. 

MCCOY:  Among the charges announced today against the two men and two women who are sisters, a hate crime, aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint and battery with a deadly weapon.  African-American community leaders are appalled. 

UNIDENTIED MALE:  You see the racial slurs there, you see the insults there.  And he has a disability.  You know, it`s a hate crime all the way. 

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE:  I hope god speaks to their souls and shows them the right way. 


MELBER:  A tough story there.  Now coming up in politics we have the new name in the running to head the DNC.  He`s here for an exclusive interview, next. 


MELBER:  We have some of the best breaking news I can give you in all the anchoring we`ve been doing and here for the past several weeks.  This is breaking good news from an MSNBC family member.  Sam Stein and his wife Jessica welcoming a new baby boy into the world Tuesday night, now Sam just shared his reaction for the first time with us tonight.  This is Sam Stein on fatherhood.  "Everyone says this precise moment is unlike any other that you experience, that bringing a child into the world gives you a sense of exhilaration, love and fear that`s unmatched by anything else.  They were absolutely right."  Welcome to the world Jamie Alfred Stein.  A big congratulations to mom and dad and thanks for sharing with us. 



BERNIE SANDERS, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  I don`t know the mayor of South Bend.  I know Tom Perez, and he`s a very decent guy.  But what you need right now is a total transformation of the Democratic Party. 


MELBER:  Senator Bernie Sanders has a big following among the democratic grassroots.  And when it comes to who should lead the party he says he`s not informed about the mayor of south bend or excited by the Obama pick in the race, Labor Secretary Perez.  Sanders already gave his coveted endorsement for new DNC chair to Keith Ellison.  The progressive Minnesota congressman and Sanders decided to get into the race early and back a fairly prominent name. 

There`s nothing wrong with that, but it is the kind of endorsement that Sanders criticized in the presidential primary when they said too many people were lining up behind the Clinton name before the democratic process played out.  That`s the argument of some lesser known candidates for DNC chair since the race is still two months away and one of those candidates is the Mayor Sander`s says he didn`t know about.  Pete Buttigieg, a democrat who won an executive position in a pretty red state in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. 

He also served for seven months in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves plus graduated at Harvard and throw it in, he was a Rhodes Scholar.  For democrats seeking new voices, it`s probably a background worth knowing.  And if you don`t know, now you know.  Joining us now for an exclusive interview about his DNC race is Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend.  Why do you want to be DNC chair and are you older or younger than you look? 

PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  Well the answer to the last question is not for me to say.  But I`ll tell you why I`m getting into the race. I believe that there needs to be a voice that has more of a local perspective because the solutions that our party needs aren`t going to come from Washington.  And I think that the experience that you get in this part of the country as a mayor, not only working for the city but also politically building on the ground, that kind of organizing is exactly the sort of thing that our party needs more of looking forward. 

MELBER:  Can I ask you -- this is the real question I have when I looked at your background.  I thought, OK, you`ve already won this mayorship early on.  And you have an incredible background.  As someone who study politics, I`m wondering why does he want to go to the DNC which is not always a politically advancing as compared to pursuing a higher office. 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well I guess I believe in going where you can make yourself useful.  And look, I love my job.  I love serving as mayor of my hometown.  But like a lot of others, I think everything changed on Election Day.  Certainly how I see the world, the political world and how I fit in.  And I think nothing could be more important, nothing could be more consequential than organizing the opposition in the face of what`s going to be the most monstrous presidency of our lifetimes, not to mention what`s going on in congress, what`s going in the states. 

And I think it`s particularly in the states that allowed the most important political decisions that can hurt everyday Americans are going to happen if we don`t have an organized opposition. 

MELBER:  You look at the issues right now, not just in America, but around the world, the anger over what are perceived as bankers and global elites making decisions that can ruin lives and economies.  You look at BREXIT.  You look at the real intensity behind both Trump and Sanders.  I want to ready something you`ve said recently.  Some democrats "participate in the fiction that if we just turn back the clock and get rid of trade, everybody can get their manufacturing jobs back.  There are a lot of people who think their lost their jobs because of globalization when they actually lost their jobs because of technology." 

That sounds solid, but what are you offering people on the jobs agenda then for the Democratic Party? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well I would point to the experience of South Bend.  Look we`re not done make things, not by any means.  And we have found ways not through any old trade but we have found ways where for examples in South Bend I`ve got union auto workers making vehicles that are being sold all over the world.  Workers can win in the future if we`re not afraid to face it.  But there`s not going to be some silver bullet for that. 

We have always been the party of fairness.  And that includes economic fairness as well as political fairness.  We`ve got to stand up for that.  And I think that`s a kind of message that will resonate across many people, including a lot of the people that we as a party seem to have struggled in my part of the country to connect with in this last election. 

MELBER:  And  what do you think you could bring to the fight against Donald Trump as DNC chair that the other candidates could not? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well again, I hope it doesn`t sound too audacious for somebody my age, but I would really say experience.  The experience of somebody`s who has been an executive, a mayor, who has to pick up the trash and plow the snow and run a $300 million budget in a thousand person organization accountable for results every day.  I think my military experience doesn`t hurt, including frankly some cyber and counter intelligence training, which I`m sad to say is highly relevant right now for anybody who wants to lead the DNC.  But it`s not just the --

MELBER:  Right. 

BUTTIGIEG:  -- about me.  It`s, you know, we`ve got to get out of talking about the politicians and even the party organizers as though we`re what`s most important.  What`s most important is people`s lives. 

MELBER:  Right. 

BUTTIGIEG:  The more we can have a conversation about that, the better we`ll be as a party. 

MELBER:  Well I`m not in to prediction business Mayor Pete but I feel like we`ll be hearing from you again.  Thanks for joining tonight. 

BUTTIGIEG:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  I`m Ari Melber and thanks to you for watching.  You can always email me at  Don`t go anywhere though.  Our live coverage continues in to the 11th Hour next.