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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donell, transcript 2/3/2017

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Jeremy Stahl, Jay Inslee; Frank Bruni, Eugene Robinson, Ana Marie Cox

22:00:00] MADDOW:  On Monday, have an excellent weekend.  Go Pats. 

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. 

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Our breaking news tonight.  The most important ruling yet by a federal judge on the president`s executive order on immigration.  This ruling really is the crushing of the president`s executive order.  It was a complete defeat in court today for the president in a ruling written by a Republican judge. 

Also tonight, who calls Donald Trump a bloviating ignoramus and a political sociopath and is now no longer working at FOX News?  Bill O`Reilly is of course still working at FOX News, and he has now revealed that he told Donald Trump they`re going to try to impeach you.  And at the end of two weeks of the Trump presidency we find ourselves wondering every day, what if President Obama had done that? 


BOB FERGUSON, WASHINGTON ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Judge Robart`s decision effective immediately puts a halt to President Trump`s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Politics has become a much bigger subject than the Super Bowl. 

JON STEWART, FORMER "DAILY SHOW" HOST:  We have never faced this before.  Purposeful, vindictive chaos. 

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN":  Every day something new is happening. 

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS":  How anti-social do you have to be to not get along with (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Australia? 

TRUMP:  We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It might be good for banks and it might be good for Wall Street, but it isn`t good for consumers. 

O`BRIEN:  It`s rumored that Melania Trump has decided not to live in the White House at all.  Yes, man, Donald Trump is keeping immigrants away left and right. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  There is a report that as many as 100,000 legitimate visas have been cancelled now. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are now embarked on a more serious policy confrontation with Iran. 

TRUMP:  They`re not behaving. 

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Today`s sanctions really represent a very, very strong stand. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Iran is playing with fire, they don`t appreciate how kind President Obama was to them.  Not me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His belligerent tweets I think are going to get us closer to war. 

SPICER:  This weekend the president will be shifting the operation of the White House down to the Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago. 


O`DONNELL:  And our breaking news tonight, the opponents of the president`s executive order on immigration now have the decisive court order they have been trying to win since these illegal cases started being brought last weekend. 

On Monday, the state of Washington became the first state to sue Donald J. Trump as a defendant for the president`s executive order banning entry to the United States from seven countries.  On Wednesday, the governor of Washington appeared on this program to discuss the case, having no idea that just two days later, the federal judge handling the case would issue an historic ruling forbidding the enforcement of that executive order, by, quote, "federal defendants and all their respective officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and persons acting in concert or participating with them." 

Judge James Robart who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush said in a written ruling that this temporary restraining order is granted on a nationwide basis and prohibits enforcement of the executive order at all United States borders and ports of entry pending further orders from this court.  Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson said this about the judge`s ruling. 


FERGUSON:  Judge Robart`s decision, effective immediately, effective now, puts a halt to President Trump`s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order.  I want to repeat that, it puts a stop to it immediately.  Nationwide. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, Jeremy Stahl, senior editor at Slate, and Jonathan Alter, MSNBC political analyst and a columnist for the "Daily Beast." 

And Jonathan, there is a report now that finally the federal government on the administration`s side has surrendered officially to this federal judge.  The Customs and Border Protection are now telling airlines to allow these passengers to board. 

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, the administration has to implement the judge`s decision, but they will appeal.  You can expect that they`ll do so and probably on an expedited basis.  They`re going to try to get an appellate court to go back to their position.  And it seems, because there have been different decisions in different courts, in Massachusetts court had a slightly -- you know, somewhat different finding on this matter recently.  But this could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

So this is what happens when you have sloppy, ill considered, basically incompetent policy making being done on the fly, you get these situations where more than 60,000 visa holders are in this crazy kind of limbo, which this judge found does what he called irreparable harm to the United States because you have businesses. 

[22:05:12] Microsoft, Amazon and Washington state were involved in siding with the challenge to this policy because they are suffering from this policy.  It`s not just the individuals who can`t get on a plane to come into this country.  It`s businesses and the United States as a whole, not to mention our democratic values. 

This is a big decision.  It can`t be attacked by Trump as a political decision because it`s a Republican judge, so he can`t say it`s some liberal judge who`s done this to me.  And we`re headed for a lot more litigation on this matter before it`s settled. 

O`DONNELL:  Jeremy, you have been following how these previous judicial orders have been being enforced and finding that there really hasn`t been much follow-through in the agencies at the border, at the airports, to actually enforce the previous orders.  This one is a much wider ranging order than any of the previous ones.  What do we expect in actually upholding the judge`s order at the border? 

JEREMY STAHL, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE:  It`s a completely wide ranging order.  It seems like a decisive temporary order and it`s going to be apparently implemented and enforced the way that the previous orderings had not been.  Reuters is reporting already that airlines are telling them that they had a conference call with the Customs and Border Protection Agency.  And the Customs and Border Protection Agency said we are going back to the old rules that were in place before this executive order took place. 

Now that is a breaking report and it`s something that I just saw before coming on here.  So it`s not definitive, but it`s what Reuters is reporting, and they`re usually pretty solid. 

O`DONNELL:  But, Jeremy, in your reporting prior to tonight, isn`t that exactly what has not been happening as a result of these judicial orders? 

STAHL:  That`s why this order and how the administration is responding to it is such a big deal.  Previously they had used a ridiculous legal loophole to justify not responding to court orders that pretty much demanded the exact same thing.  What they had said before is that the previous court orders only applied to valid visas and said we revoked all those visas so they`re not longer valid, which is a ridiculous circular logic and they`re finally realizing this and I think backing down. 

O`DONNELL:  And Jonathan, we have one U.S. attorney in one of these court cases say in open court that they -- as soon as these judges started to rule, they revoked 100,000 visas of people who were in these countries waiting to board aircraft and that`s why we had lawyers in some of these foreign countries taking passengers to the airport every day trying to board planes in compliance with federal court orders and there`s no information in the foreign airports that they`re allowed to board planes. 

ALTER:  And remember Sean Spicer was saying just a few days ago, it`s only 109 people who are affected by this.  So the number is variant whether it`s 60,000 or 100,000, but a tremendous number of people around the world who are affected by these decisions. 

The sweeping nature of this order is very striking.  You know, the judge is not leaving a lot of wiggle room.  It wasn`t one of these kind of gray areas.  He kind of slam-dunked the government on this one, and they will appeal, but it`s a little bit hard to imagine that an appellate court will reverse this. 

O`DONNELL:  The White House press secretary has just released a written statement saying, "At the earliest possible time the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the president which we believe is lawful and appropriate.  The president`s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people." 

Jeremy, we had immigration lawyers last weekend rushing into federal courts around the country in their clothing from dinner parties they were at and all sorts of different things, sitting there, in those courts, scribbling out handwritten arguments and in effect briefs in the most high speed emergency style we have ever seen, that were prevailing, that were winning.  You would think that the U.S. Justice Department with their armies of U.S. attorneys around the country, their office in Seattle, would have been ready for a ruling that didn`t go their way, especially since every ruling so far hasn`t gone their way.  And be ready with a much faster legal response as opposed to just a press release. 

[22:10:07] STAHL:  Well, the legal response so far has been to try to exploit ambiguities and loopholes as the administration saw them in the previous court orders in the previous restraining orders.  And as Jonathan said, there is not much room for a wiggle room there.  It`s very little ambiguity as opposed to before.  I had been speaking with one of those attorneys that you were talking about who had filed a court -- a lawsuit in Los Angeles where a court order was issued, again restraining this and saying that immigrant visa holders should be allowed into the country, into Los Angeles. 

The administration was not upholding it because there was some wiggle room in that order.  And I spoke with her this morning and as of this morning she believed that the only way she was going to get her clients on a plane was booking the charter plane and -- because airlines were not letting people on.  Now airlines are saying, we are going to let people on planes. 

O`DONNELL:  And Jonathan, we saw the acting attorney general of the United States fired this week because she said this -- it looked to her like this was not a lawful executive order and she could see no legal theory by which to defend it.  And it turns out her replacement has not yet found a theory to defend it. 

ALTER:  Because it`s hard to imagine what that theory is.  There are a lot of constitutional scholars who believe this is unconstitutional on its face.  And that, you know, it clearly has discriminatory intent and that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.  So, you know, we don`t know where this is going, except in one respect, Lawrence.  Donald Trump will issue some kind of tweet tomorrow morning.  He usually issues tweets early on.  And God knows where that`s going to go. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, you`ve created the perfect introduction for our constitutional scholar who will join us next. 

Jonathan Alter, Jeremy Stahl, thank you both for joining us tonight.  Stay with us for more on this breaking news.  Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe will join us with his reaction to this stunning nationwide opinion written in a lawsuit brought by -- first by the state of Washington, that lawsuit was joined by the state of Minnesota.  These two states have now prevailed against the president of the United States. 


O`DONNELL:  We continue our breaking news coverage tonight of this important ruling from Seattle -- from a federal judge in Seattle, a Republican judge appointed by George W. Bush striking down President Trump`s executive order on immigration.  There is this passage in the judge`s conclusion. 

"Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of three equal branches of our federal government."  The judicial branch, has exerted its power once again tonight over the president of the United States." 

[22:15:07] We will be right back with constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. 


O`DONNELL:  And the most important ruling yet in the legal challenges to President Trump`s executive order on immigration.  Tonight in Seattle federal judge James Robart wrote in his order, "The court concludes that the circumstances brought before today as such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tri-part government." 

The court`s intervention was in effect to strike down the entirety of the president`s executive order. 

We are joined now by phone by Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School professor. 

Professor Tribe, what is your reaction to this opinion tonight? 

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR:  I think it was historic and I think it was correct.  Clearly the administration has a different view, but I think when the dust settles, even a nine-member Supreme Court that included Neil Gorsuch if that`s the way it turned out would agree that this order, on its face, is lawless, it violates due process, it`s religious discrimination thinly disguised, in violation of the establishment clause.  It has numerous infirmities as a matter of Fifth Amendment due process. 

And what`s really striking about the order is a couple of things that I think haven`t yet been mentioned.  One is that the court recognized that the states have standing on behalf of their citizens and in particular on behalf of their universities, state universities, in particular, because of the way in which the sweeping blacklist of people from seven designated countries prevents individuals from returning to the United States with visas that had otherwise been issued. 

That`s important partly because it recognizes the standing of state attorneys general in the context where that`s in part a question of first impression, although a Texas court that stayed the DACA order by Barack Obama, took a similar approach.  It`s also extraordinarily important to note that the government`s cancellation of 60,000 to 100,000 visas in the dark of night, as it were, secretly, while litigation was being mounted in behalf of people who were being detained or sent back to their countries of origin was something that was done basically behind the backs of the courts. 

And now the question is, in what way can this order effectively resurrect visas that essentially were killed by the Trump administration?  On the one hand, it`s possible to understand this order as automatically bringing back to life those visas.  On the other hand, if you`re one of the people who wants to come back to the United States and you have a visa the that the government told you it had cancelled, you may be in something of a quandary and something must be done to clarify the situation in order to give the decision of this court its full human impact. 

O`DONNELL:  Professor, I really want to go back over this one point because it`s so unprecedented in my experience from where I sit. 

[22:20:05] And that is, we have a group of cases ongoing in federal court, being brought in different jurisdictions, first Brooklyn then Boston then Virginia and Seattle, Los Angeles.  They are about visas.  That`s part of the evidentiary base of the case. 

TRIBE:  Right. 

O`DONNELL:  And secretly, unbeknownst to any of the judges in any of those cases, the government which is a party to the case, reaches into the evidence of the case and changes the evidence in effect by revoking these visas.  I can`t think of anything like that that a party like the federal government in cases like this would even conceive of doing under the watch of a judge. 

TRIBE:  Well, it would be very much as though President Nixon had decided to burn the tapes, while his lawyer was arguing that he had a right not to reveal them.  You know, we have had examples of gangsters destroying evidence while the government is trying to pursue them, but usually they don`t occupy the Oval Office.  That`s really quite remarkable.  I guess we`ll soon be asking, what did the president know, and when did he know it?  Was it Bannon -- who was it that directed all of this to happen?  We didn`t yet have a full secretary of state representing the administration, although I have to go back to the chronology to see when Tillerson was actually confirmed and when all of this happened. 

It`s all happening so fast, that I have confess I`m losing track a little bit of who was on first and who was on second.  But it will all get straightened out and it will get straightened out in a way that I cannot imagine makes this administration look anything other than lawless. 

O`DONNELL:  Professor, it looks like in the chronology as we have it now that those visas were revoked before Rex Tillerson took the oath of office.  They were revoked around Monday possibly, but you`re right, we`re going to get the autopsy on that and see very clearly who reached into the State Department and ordered that to happen. 

When President Trump was inaugurated, there was a lot of talk among, say, states like California, the attorney general of California saying, you know, states are going to be the resistance, the attorney generals of the state of New York saying that the attorney generals would be the resistance against this president.  For a lot of us non-lawyers, it wasn`t easy to understand what that meant.  I think to you constitutional scholars it seemed clear, but now tonight, we are seeing what that kind of of legal resistance can mean. 

TRIBE:  You know, and Laurence, if I can interrupt for a second.  This is only the first of many such events.  I mean take the sanctuary city situation, where it looks like the president is trying to yank money from states and cities that don`t submit to the attempt on its part to discover all of the undocumented immigrants and potentially deport them. 

When states and cities say, you know, you can`t make us affirmatively cooperate, you can`t commandeer us under threat of taking all our money away, they are invoking classic states rights jurisprudence of a sort that used to be the favorite of the conservatives. 

I think we`re going to learn that states rights can be part of a democracy, sort of part of an experiment in liberty and equality as well. 

O`DONNELL:  Professor Laurence Tribe, thank you very much for joining us tonight on this historic night in this -- in the middle of these amazing cases.  Really appreciate you joining us. 

TRIBE:  Well, thank you for calling, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Tonight`s ruling is a huge victory for the ACLU which has been in there in these courts fighting these cases around the country.  We`re joined now by phone by Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. 

Mr. Romero, did you expect that Seattle was going to be the place where the most sweeping, blanket ruling would finally be issued and one that as far as we can tell tonight is being accepted and now most importantly enforced by the administration? 

ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU:  It`s wonderful.  It`s wonderful.  The leadership from the attorney general in Washington state, joined by his colleagues in Minnesota, really is significant for the litigation, not just out of that state, but for across the country.  We have four lawsuits in various jurisdictions looking at the Muslim ban.  And no one ever knows we may have filed the first one, but we never know, which is the first one to really register on the merits, nor will we know which one is ultimately the one to go before the Supreme Court. 

What is clear is that we`re going to need this volume of litigation in many jurisdictions to keep the pressure on the Trump administration. 

[22:25:05] And so the fact that attorneys general are jumping in, the fact that there are other public interest law groups, like the National Immigration Law Center and the ACLU, bringing these cases, it will serve us because ultimately clearly the law is on our side.  And the more that we can rob the Trump administration of momentum and ball them up in court and pepper them with these lawsuits as often as we can, the less likely they`ll have the energy to implement the orders. 

O`DONNELL:  And one thing we have seen in the sequence of this judicial rulings is the first one in Brooklyn was relatively narrow, the next one in Boston seemed to be a little bit broader.  The Los Angeles rulings seemed to be the broadest ruling of all. 

ROMERO:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  But then it ran so enforcement difficulties and then finally Seattle becomes the blanket ruling that is very clearly directed by the judge to cover all 50 states and you have to wonder how much did the judge in Seattle, being the last one to rule in this sequence, benefit from being able to see all these previous incremental rulings leading up to his. 

ROMERO:  And I think then the judges in other jurisdictions will leap frog off of the decision in Seattle.  As other judges rule, they`ll get comfort from the ruling in Seattle, and I think we`ll likely to see the jurisprudence evolved, the public opinion is certainly on our side.  Already there are Republican members of the Senate, who are saying that the ban is not just un-American, but it`s also unconstitutional.  And so we need to put as much wood on this fire as we possibly can to make sure that this ban is not implemented and it continues to be struck down. 

O`DONNELL:  And have you ever said -- I want to go back to this point we talked about with Professor Tribe.  Have you ever seen a situation where the government in a case like this the U.S. attorneys will be a party to a situation where a branch of the government would in effect destroy the evidence in the case by revoking these visas -- the pending visas of the people whose rights were argued for in these courts? 

ROMERO:  Sure.  We saw it in the Bush years, when all of a sudden these videotapes of harsh interrogation techniques and torture were ordered to be destroyed like Commander Rodriguez.  This is nothing new.  When the government finds itself back against the wall, and there`s evidence that might jeopardize their cases, all of a sudden we find that evidence might be destroyed.  It is not necessarily surprising here. 

O`DONNELL:  Anthony Romero, thank you very much for joining us, I really appreciate it. 

ROMERO:  You bet.  Thank you very much. 

O`DONNELL:  And we`ll be right back. 


[22:30:51] O`DONNELL:  We are back with our breaking news coverage of a decisive judicial ruling in the state of Washington, in Seattle, by a federal judge.  A federal judge, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, has struck down President Trump`s executive order on immigration.  This federal judge`s decision is more comprehensive and wide-ranging that any previous decision made in the last week by any of the other federal judges in the other jurisdictions. 

We`re joined now by phone by the governor of the state of Washington, Jay Inslee. 

Governor, you were with us two nights ago, just basically announcing the beginning of this litigation without any idea of what the next moment in it would be, and here we are, 48 hours later, with a decisive ruling by this court, finding every single point of your argument to be valid and carrying the day against the president of the United States. 

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON:  Yes, and I got to tell you I`m proud that Washington state had led the nation and helped the nation preserve basic American values and not allowed a president in Washington, D.C. trample on those values and that`s what this was.  And by the way, this is a decisive decision, judges don`t do this, courts don`t do this lightly.  It was a very powerful decision, it clearly recognized that imposing a religious test on admittance to the United States is antithetical to the most basic value and our Constitution. 

The court also interestingly was very -- I believe impressed with the fact that the Homeland Security Department could not show -- the Donald Trump administration could not show a single case out of 700,000 refugees that have been admitted since September 11th that were involved in a single act of terrorism against an American.  So this is not just a constitutional in the sense of a religious liberty or intolerance standpoint, it`s one also, at least in my book, and a commonsense standpoint, that you don`t issue an executive order banning, you know, students, Microsoft employees, Boeing employees from traveling to these countries where the countries did not attack you and did not impose executive action on the countries that did attack you. 

So this was a powerful decision.  It is a big night for the country and thank goodness the geniuses set up a system of checks and balances and this is when we need it more than ever with this president. 

O`DONNELL:  And Governor Inslee, you`re a former member of Congress and, pardon the expression, a politician, and I`d like to get just a political reaction from you out of the simple fact that Judge James Robart, who wrote this opinion was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, most of the judges who have been ruling on this previously have been appointed to the bench by President Obama.  The political dynamics of this decision being written by a Republican judge, what -- do you think that matters? 

INSLEE:  I think it does in the public perception of this.  Obviously, the constitution ought to be blind to party.  I think people do appropriately feel heartened that a Bush Republican appointee has made a decision in favor of the Constitution.  It has happened many times in the past.  You know, Warren Burger certainly made a lot of decisions in "Brown versus Board of Education," that some of the folks in the party of whom appointed him, you know, may not have been in the Warren court, certainly, made decisions that their party didn`t agree with. 

But you get courts that do follow their very strong commitment to the Constitution.  I think that`s what happened tonight.  And I`m glad it happened in Seattle.  And I`m glad it`s nationwide.  The whole country deserves this.  And by the way, I talked about this a little the other night, but the reason this is an important decision, too, in my book, is it was a state as a plaintiff. 

[22:35:03] This was not just one unfortunate immigrant whose own life was damaged.  The whole state interest was damaged here, we -- the whole state of Washington has an interest in religious liberty, the whole state has an interest in a functioning economy, where we sell our technological goods around the world.  The whole state has an interest in national security so we don`t give ISIS a recruitment poster so having a victory for a state is a big deal in my book. 

O`DONNELL:  Governor Inslee, thank you very much for joining us -- 

INSLEE:  You bet. 

O`DONNELL:  -- Wednesday night in bringing the nation`s attention to this case and coming back for us again tonight on this victorious night for the state of Washington, you, your attorney general.  Really appreciate your time tonight. 

INSLEE:  Bob Ferguson.  Great job, Bob. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Governor. 

INSLEE:  Thank you. 

O`DONNELL:  We`ll be right back. 


O`DONNELL:  And so the first two weeks of the Trump presidency come to a dramatic end tonight.  And the question that keeps coming up every day of this presidency is, what if President Obama had done that? 

Eugene Robinson, Frank Bruni and Ana Marie Cox will join me for a review of the first two weeks. 


[22:41:20] O`DONNELL:  In this week`s episode of "What If Obama Did That?" we begin with half-day Friday.  The president of the United States punched out of the White House today at 2:24 p.m. when he boarded the helicopter that would take him to Air Force One for his weekend vacation in Florida as president.  No one at FOX News has commented on how lazy the president is as they did virtually every time President Obama touched a golf club or a basketball.  And no one at FOX News is complaining about the cost of round- tripping Air Force One to Florida for nongovernmental purpose. 

And one of the most nagging critics of President Obama`s use of personal time has been completely silenced by the Trump White House.  This is typical of tweets Donald Trump sent every time President Obama used Air Force One for vacations.  "President Barack Obama`s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  Unbelievable."  Good thing that guy is not around anymore to criticize President Trump`s flying down to Florida for the weekend. 

And in other "What If Obama Did That" news, it has been revealed that not only did the White House issue a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews being exterminated by Hitler, but according to Politico, the State Department wrote a statement that day that did specifically commemorate Jewish victims and that statement was blocked by the Trump White House. 

"What If Obama Did That?"  What if President Obama refused to mention what happened to Jewish people in the holocaust?  And would not allow the State Department to mention what happened to the Jewish victims of the holocaust?  Would impeachment hearings already be underway? 

A few Jewish organizations expressed their disappointment and corrected the historical record but they refrained from any condemnation of the president.  What if Obama did that?  How many organizations would have condemned him personally?  What would the prime minister of Israel have said?  Do you really think Benjamin Netanyahu would have remained silent about this as he did for the Donald Trump administration?  Or do you think Benjamin Netanyahu would have said that it revealed something sinister about the Obama administration`s attitude toward Israel and the Jewish people? 

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, pretends to be nonpartisan but they swooned for candidate Donald Trump when he appeared at their national conference last year.  AIPAC did not condemn the president for neglecting and now it turns out refusing to mention Jewish suffering in the holocaust but today AIPAC did release this statement praising the president`s new sanctions against Iran.  AIPAC applauds the Trump administration`s announcement today sanctioning an additional 14 individuals and 12 entities for their support of Iran`s maligned activities. 

The Trump administration claims that new sanctions target 25 individuals and entities associated with Iran`s ballistic missile program and at the end of the leakiest first two weeks of a presidency, some pharmaceutical company CEOs revealed today that in their private meeting with the president, he seems to reverse his campaign pledges about controlling drug prices. 


TRUMP:  If we negotiated the price of drugs, we would save $300 billion a year, OK?  No, think of that.  And we don`t do it.  You know why?  Because the senators and the congressmen and all these people get campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical companies.  With me, I don`t get anything, we`re going out to bid, folks, believe me. 


O`DONNELL:  "The Washington Post" reports today that the CEOs attending that private meeting with the president this week say that the president did not say a word about trying to control drug prices. 

[22:45:08] Joining us now, Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist at the "New York Times," Ana Marie Cox, senior political correspondent for MTV News, and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. 

And Ana, where to begin?  And feel free at the end of these first two weeks to begin anywhere you want but I`m going to offer up that last point about the pharmaceutical company saying, we got in a room with him and he didn`t say a word about our prices.  And there he was telling his supporters every day on the campaign trail that he was going to get in there and negotiate those prices with drug companies and control those prices in effect. 

ANA MARIE COX, MTV NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, you know, I mean, it`s sort of to me like, you know, there`s that saying, I think it`s Maya Angelu that, you know, when someone tells you who they are, believe them.  And we`ve seen that with Trump, right?  Like a lot of what`s happened, we were told not to take literally, just seriously, I can`t remember what the divide was, he`s gone ahead and done.  But it seems like basically if anything he wanted to do that sounded remotely appealing to people on the other side of the political spectrum, it seems like that`s the stuff he`s not going to do.  Anything that`s horrifying he will do. 

And I did come up with some stuff that you didn`t mention.  I don`t think you mentioned the raid, the botched raid in Yemen, which was -- and that, you know what, let`s just say that tragedies happen and that we don`t really know exactly what happened there.  What`s astounding about that raid is the decision to do it was made over dinner with political consultants in the room. 

Can you imagine -- to go back to your question about what if Obama had done it, if Obama had made a decision about a military raid with Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett weighing in, I don`t think, you know, I believe we would probably have some hearings on that. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  And Gene Robinson, to continue the "What If Obama Did That", tonight apparently we`re learning that the video released that was supposed to be this raid was actually video from another raid 10 years before. 


O`DONNELL:  And -- I mean we could easily do the hour with "What If Obama Did That?" 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  What if Obama did any of this stuff, Lawrence? 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Anything. 

ROBINSON:  You know, look, I think -- I think the contrast between the way President Obama and other presidents were viewed and the way this president is viewed is going to emerge -- it`s going to dawn on people and sink in, I think, with time.  But in terms of the first two weeks, you kind of have to pick greatest hits, right?  I mean, there`s obviously -- or un-greatest hits.  There`s obviously the travel -- the Muslim travel ban and refugee ban, which was just an amazing affront to our values, I thought.  There was the prayer for Arnold Schwarzenegger`s ratings at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Remember that?  And then of course there was the rupturing of our relationship with Australia, which really, really took some creativity, I think, that`s a hard thing to pull off. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Frank, this is the White House in which Frederick Douglass is still alive? 


FRANK BRUNI, NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST:  I was going to say I loved Gene`s litany just there, but one of my favorite moments, favorite being used in a different way, of the week was his meeting with a very small group of chosen black leaders in the White House for Black History Month.  He turned Black History Month into Trump appreciation day, and he sat there and rather than doing what you would expect in paying tribute to the struggles and hardships of black Americans through time, he talked about his own struggles and his own hardships.  What he deals with in terms of, quote-unquote, "fake news," biased journalism. 

I mean, a mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. immediately became a story about how Trump had been victimized by erroneous and quickly corrected news reports that a King bust had been removed from the Oval Office.  And what I continue to be absolutely mesmerized and appalled by is that the degree of self-congratulation, the magnitude of self-congratulation existed on the campaign trail has migrated totally into the Trump administration.  And we`re looking at and listening to a president every day who does nothing so energetically as praise himself, and it just -- it changes one`s entire view of the presidency and I think it really undercuts the moral authority of the office. 

O`DONNELL:  Gene, your groan -- 

COX:  And if can just -- 


O`DONNELL:  Let me -- Ana, I think we have to go to Gene Robinson`s groan when Frank talked about the president meeting with these so-called leaders.  Go ahead, Gene. 

ROBINSON:  That was -- what can you say about it, Lawrence?  I mean, Frank -- 

O`DONNELL:  You can just groan.  If you want to leave it on the groan, Gene, that`s OK. 

ROBINSON:  Frank said it eloquently, it was -- it was amazing.  I did -- I was on the air the other night, I did invite President Trump, I`d be happy to take him over to Anna Costa here in Washington and to walk through Frederick Douglass` house, which is part of the national parks system now and maybe we could -- it could be a learning moment, maybe. 

[22:50:15] BRUNI:  He even talked to them about what an unexpectedly high percentage of the black vote he`d gotten once black voters listened to him.  He got 8 percent of the black vote.  He continues to live in this alternate fact world where we all sit here today mourning the Bowling Green massacre. 

O`DONNELL:  Ana, go ahead. 

COX:  Yes, well, actually, I mean, this is sort of bringing some of these things together, which is his alternate fact world and the constant assuaging of his ego, the harping on his so-called accomplishments of ratings, of attendance, of his voting record, of people who turned out or didn`t turn out to vote for him.  Remember he`s also acclaimed credit for black people not turning out.  That he considers that a sign of his success.  This all comes together -- 

BRUNI:  So they both voted for him in record number and stayed home in record numbers all because of him. 


COX:  Right.  Exactly.  So this all comes together in a way to make the authoritarianism possible, it`s another step towards that because it insulates him from the ramifications of his actions.  You know, when he lives in this bubble where he is, you know, blessed and special and can do no wrong, he doesn`t hear what we have to say, what we the people have to say.  He doesn`t pay attention.  He just -- he thinks it`s all fake news, right?  And that`s a very fundamental tenant of democracy. 

ROBINSON:  Ana, it sounds as if he doesn`t care what anyone has to say because his staff has been busy talking to him through the press.  There`s been a torrent of leaks, and I think unprecedented in a new administration.  All these stories sourced to senior administration officials just kind of trashing the way this White House is operating and the way this president is operating. 

BRUNI:  The leaks are really fascinating because we`re just two weeks in, and that is a measure of the internal dissent. 


O`DONNELL:  And it`s the first two week -- 

BRUNI:  The number of people -- yes. 

O`DONNELL:  Normally the most leak free leaks of a president`s life. 

BRUNI:  Right.  Right.  Right.  But this is a completely disorganized, chaotic operation.  And I think it`s only going to become more so and it`s going to really undercut everything they try to do.  But the people closest to Trump have that much doubt about him and that much of an interesting undercutting him by leaking to the media, that`s a very, very scary sign. 

O`DONNELL:  So the leaks are an astonishing thing to see in the first couple of weeks and also the job approval numbers are just astonishing, as a new CNN poll tonight saying 64 percent disapprove on job approval, 32 percent approve the travel ban, 67 percent disapprove, 33 percent approve.  The border wall, 79 percent disapprove, 29 percent approve.  This is among millennials ages 18 to 34.  That`s the most extreme disapproval he`s getting and we see that disapproval in the streets. 

But the other overall numbers are also negative all the way through these polls, Ana, and the one thing we know about presidential polls is this is the high point.  Historically, the first two weeks, that`s the high point in your presidential polling for the rest of your life as a president. 

COX:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  It only goes down from here. 

COX:  And you know, we shouldn`t be -- presidents shouldn`t govern completely according to polls, right?  Like sometimes the right thing to do is not the popular thing to do, I think we can all accept that.  But, you know, it`s a good barometer for kind of, like, just a general sense of where you`re headed.  And the unfortunate thing here is that Trump is not just going to believe this stuff.  I mean, he`s already dismissed -- he`s obsessed with watching cable news, but he dismisses cable news.  It`s actually a really sick relationship, I think, in some ways like he has with the media. 


COX:  It`s like a picking a scab or hem or something.  I mean, I wish I could come up with a less gross metaphor, but it`s a pretty gross relationship.  I think, you know, it concerns me because again, I think of all of this, including the leaks, including his obsession with fake news, as being a pathway to disruption of democracy.  Because I would say these leaks aren`t about undercutting Trump necessarily in the sense that they`re about people inside the White House who want to save democracy, who want to protect what we have as a country, I think they`re just like out to get each other. 

You know, like this is just a sort of, you know, "Lord of the Flies" situation, which isn`t going to help anyone.  It`s not -- it`s either going to help Trump do what he wants to do, and it`s not going to help us as a country kind of prevent Trump from doing what he wants to do in a democratic sense. 

O`DONNELL:  And Frank, Politico is reporting tonight in a speech this week in Arizona, Bill O`Reilly is leaking some of his personal communication with Donald Trump, including him telling Donald Trump that he believes that they`re going to try to impeach him.  And we also learned in that speech that Bill O`Reilly used to call him Mr. Potato head and now has to call him Mr. President?  It sounds like -- it sounds like O`Reilly resents that switch. 


[22:55:09] BRUNI:  I don`t even know what to say to that.  I mean, they are two men who -- 

O`DONNELL:  If I can leave you speechless, my job is done. 

BRUNI:  Yes.  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  All right.  We`re going to have to leave it there.  Frank Bruni, Ana Marie Cox, Eugene Robinson, thank you all for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

Coming up, the latest on tonight`s breaking news from Seattle, a federal judge basically crushing the president`s executive order on immigration. 


O`DONNELL:  We`re back with more of our breaking news coverage of this federal judge`s order in Seattle tonight, basically shutting down the president`s executive order on immigration.  And back with us is Jeremy Stahl, senior editor at Slate. 

And Jeremy, you were originally coming on the show tonight to talk about how the federal judges` orders that have preceded this one have largely been ignored at the border by the people who are supposed to be observing those orders.  And what you see in tonight`s order by this federal judge is he seems to be aware of that and he is locking down every possible way that the administration could wiggle out of enforcing this.  He very specifically says that this ruling is on a nationwide basis, which is normally implicit in federal judge`s rulings, but he realized he has to put it in English, and the way he issues this restraining order, he says it`s against the federal defendants and all of their respective officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and persons acting in concert or participation with them. 

And Jeremy, you can just see that he`s trying to nail down every possible escape hatch the administration might try to find in this ruling. 

STAHL:  It`s the entire order, it`s definitely comprehensive.  The administration obviously realized that and that`s why at this point for the moment, they`re backing down.  The Department of Justice has already said they`re going to appeal this.  But at this point, this ruling seems like it`s going to -- basically the restraining order is going to -- the stay is going to stay in place, another hearing will be held in a few weeks and at that point, this lawsuit is going to advance and I think in the next few days, you`re going to see streams of people who were previously affected and blocked from coming into this country, just pouring into airports.  And they`re going to remain in a legal limbo for the foreseeable future, because until this is decided by a top appellate court and most likely the Supreme Courts, there`s a slim possibility that, you know, this could go the other way and at that point they would lose the ability to re-enter the country. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  So that`s the risk, Jeremy, the risk for them really is, once they`re in this country, they have to think very seriously about the risk of leaving this country if they want to come back to this country. 

STAHL:  That`s right.  The administration had argued this completely legally bogus that if you were in the country, your visa was valid, and if you were not in the country, your visa was invalid.  And they even let people in today who had flown in today who, when their visas were abroad, they were invalid.  And today when they arrive in the country on a Lufthansa flight, they were valid.  So people are going to want to stay.  People are not going to want to risk it.  And this is going to -- this is still a long road ahead. 

O`DONNELL:  Jeremy Stahl, thank you for your important reporting on this today and staying with us tonight in our live coverage of tonight`s developments, really appreciate. 

STAHL:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  "ALL IN" with Joy Reid who`s in for Chris Hayes is up next.