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The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 2/27/2017

Guests: David Frum, Jonathan Alter, Nick Confessore, Richard Stengel, Jay Rosen, Steven Brill, John Schindler

Show: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell Date: February 27, 2017 Guest: David Frum, Jonathan Alter, Nick Confessore, Richard Stengel, Jay Rosen, Steven Brill, John Schindler

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: But if -- right now like it was in Delaware right now, Connecticut Senate is tied, it`s even.

And there are two seats up for grabs. One of them is considered to be a safe Republican seat, the other one is considered to be a safe Democratic seat.

But if either party can pull off an upset, if one of those races can swing the other way, it will change which party controls the Senate in the state of Connecticut.

Oh, it`s all very exciting. We`ll keep you posted. Watch this space. That does it for us tonight, we`ll see you again tomorrow, now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening, Rachel, I am happy to report that the mystery has been solved.

It was not Warren Beatty`s fault. It wasn`t. I mean, it was clear. I kept watching the reruns last night and then the close-ups on the, you know, HDTVs.

You could see what it said on the envelope that he had. That it was for best actress and then he didn`t want to read what was on that.

And you could tell he was kind of showing it to Faye Dunaway, about to say we got a problem and she said the name of the movie she saw -- but it wasn`t -- it wasn`t his fault --

MADDOW: My favorite part of it was that she was going to be like teasing him for going so slow.

O`DONNELL: Right --

MADDOW: Yes --

O`DONNELL: Right, so the "Daily News" has cracked the case and the guilty party is going to be on the cover of the "New York Daily News" tomorrow morning.

Here`s a look. Here`s a peek at the guy who got it wrong. He apparently was in charge of the envelopes -- we`ll take it down.

It`s too painful. It`s too -- I don`t want -- it`s too -- look, it`s his one moment on television on the cover of a newspaper in his life and the short of that moment is the better for him because he was the guy.

MADDOW: Although --

O`DONNELL: He is the guy with the envelopes.

MADDOW: Although famous is famous, right? Maybe --



MADDOW: Forever be known for this one thing.


MADDOW: Yes, thank you --


MADDOW: Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: It wasn`t Warren`s fault, OK, let`s just -- let --

MADDOW: Fair enough --

O`DONNELL: History show.

MADDOW: Let`s --


MADDOW: Adopt --


MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel. So, Donald Trump discovered today that health care policy is complicated.

During the campaign he always said that repealing and replacing Obamacare would be simple and easy and can be done very quickly.

And that`s because the only health care expert Donald Trump knew then was this guy, his personal physician who put in writing the lie that Donald Trump would be the healthiest president in history.

That doctor just made up that lie and signed his name to it. That`s the kind of health care expert Donald Trump was accustomed to dealing with before becoming president of the United States.

And that is why President Trump and Republicans in Congress are trapped in a nightmare of their own making in their desperate and confused attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

And they`re trying to do that. That huge legislative endeavor. While the air of scandal and incompetence thickens around the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From talking to my constituents over the last week during recess, one of their greatest fears of this president is that he`s going to get us engaged in war.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC: Republican and Democratic leaders in the house, they are split over how to go forward investigating President Trump and his advisors over alleged ties to Russia.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don`t have any evidence that would -- of any phone calls. It doesn`t mean they don`t exist, but I don`t have that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We haven`t obtained any of the evidence yet, so it`s premature for us to be saying that we`ve reached any conclusion about the issue of collusion.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How many people have to say that there`s nothing there before you realize there`s nothing there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support a special prosecutor on Russia?

TRUMP: Thank you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support a special prosecutor on Russia?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for asking --

SCHIFF: Is this all make believe? I don`t understand exactly what the president is trying to say except to deflect from the poor way he`s running the administration thus far.


O`DONNELL: Special prosecutor. Since Richard Nixon was driven out of the presidency by the work commenced by a special prosecutor. The words "special prosecutor", those two words are the worst words a White House can hear.

And as the Trump White House embarks on its second month, only its second month, the calls for a special prosecutor to look into Trump ties to Russia have spread from Democrats to Republicans.

And so today in a White House covered by clouds and scandal and rank incompetence, the most ignorant, incoherent and incompetent president in history walked into a room full of governors to tell them how he plans to bankrupt the federal government.

And by extension the states who depend on the federal government. Of course, there was no hint that the president understood that everything he was saying would bankrupt the federal government.

But all of the governors knew what they were hearing. The president was proposing massive increases in spending and massive tax cuts along with a new tax increase on some imported goods.

A tax that the president erroneously seems to believe would be paid by foreign countries when, in fact, it would be paid entirely by American taxpayers.

The president proved to the room his utter ignorance of everything that`s happened in the world since World War II when he suggested that the reason the United States no longer wins wars the way we used to is that we just don`t spend enough money on them.


TRUMP: We have to win. We have to start winning wars again. Let`s just say when I was young in high school and college, everybody used to say we never lost a war.

We never lost a war. you remember. Some of you are right there with me and you remember, we never lost a war. America never lost. And now we never win a war. We never win. And we don`t fight to win.


O`DONNELL: Of course, when Donald Trump was in college, he was the only student there who did not know that we were losing a war.

Every day that he was in college, we were losing the Vietnam war. Donald Trump managed to get a doctor to say that he had bone spurs that then allowed him to escape the draft and possible service in Vietnam.

Those bone spurs never inhibited Donald Trump`s physical activity before or since the Vietnam war.

And his utter obliviousness to the Vietnam war today surely helped convince most of the governors in the room that he was as divorced from reality as his speech was.

There was even a moment in his speech today when he left his prepared remarks to announce that he, alone among Americans had just discovered that the health care system in this country is complicated.

And that repealing and replacing Obamacare is not going to be as easy as he thought. We`ll have more on that later in this hour.

The president said he will talk more about his proposed budget tomorrow night in an address to Congress, but he did not actually promise more detail.

President George W. Bush appeared on "The Today Show" this morning and Matt Lauer asked him about the travel ban the Trump administration continues to try to rewrite into a new executive order.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all.

I mean, the bedrock of our freedom -- a bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.

MATT LAUER, HOST, THE TODAY SHOW: And you were for or against the ban. You were against the ban?

BUSH: I am for an immigration policy that`s welcoming and that upholds the law.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, David Frum; senior editor for "The Atlantic", Jonathan Alter; Msnbc political analyst and columnist for "The Daily Beast".

And Nicholas Confesore; a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter for the "New York Times" and an Msnbc contributor. David Frum, I want to go first to you on what President Bush had to say this morning.

You were a speechwriter for President Bush in his White House. Your reaction to what he told Matt Lauer about the travel ban.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, that`s him all over. I mean, one of the -- I mean, he made such an effort in his administration to establish the war on terror was not the war on any particular religion.

And in fact, one of -- one of the weirder things that or things that struck English speakers as weird.

Has used the term evil doers to describe terrorists came about because of an attempt to find a word in Arabic that would not be offensive to Arabic sensibilities and then back translates that into English.

So, that was him. That was the authentic man.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Alter, the budget talk that the president gave today was the most incoherent budget talk ever given by anyone who`s taken the oath of office as president.

With all of those asides that Trump does when he`s -- when he`s giving a speech, no real specificity.

He doesn`t seem to understand what the Republicans in the house -- what -- in the Congress are doing as opposed to what he talked about during the campaign.

JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, you know, you got to look at the people he`s appointed.

And the bad news is he appointed a guy named Mick Mulvaney, a tea party congressman to be head of his Office of Management and Budget.

And the indications are that the president`s budget is going to be an extraordinarily conservative document which slashes, not just trims, but slashes and eliminates many social programs.

So, we`re going to be arguing all through the spring, winter and spring about this budget. Tax reform isn`t until August they`ve said. Obamacare repeal ain`t happening for reasons we discussed.

So, we`re going to be obsessed about this budget and it`s going to make Ronald Reagan`s budget in 1981 which caused a huge storm in Washington look like a picnic.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what some of the Republicans in the House are saying about this budget.

This is Charlie Dent who`s -- appropriations committee in the House. He said "the president will propose and the Congress will dispose. We`ll look at his budget but at the end of the day we in Congress write the appropriations bills.

And I am not one who thinks you can pay for an increase in military spending on the backs of domestic discretionary programs which constitute 13 percent or 14 percent of all federal spending."

And Nick, the problem there is if you`re not looking at discretionary programs, you have to look at the so-called entitlements.

They`re really big items, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Donald Trump promised in the campaign never going to touch Social Security or Medicare.

NICK CONFESSORE, NEW YORK TIMES: Look, here`s the problem. Trump is not an American conservative, right? He`s just --


CONFESSORE: Not. He promised to defend entitlements for middle class people, Social Security and Medicare, exactly.

So, the problem is that to balance the budget or to expand spending on the Pentagon on the backs of the EPA or the National Endowment for the Arts -- it`s impossible, right?

And he`s saying I`m going to have it all, right? I`ll have the entitlements. We`re spending on defense, I`m going to cut the taxes and regulation and cut taxes. It`s impossible to do.

O`DONNELL: David Frum, is the -- is the ultimate move here going to be, yes, cut the National Endowment for the Arts and cut all these things that Republicans -- some Republicans have always wanted to zero out and eliminate?

And increase military spending and just put the rest of it on the deficit. Just don`t pay for it, just increase that spending.

FRUM: Well, Donald Trump`s essential business method was to borrow money and not pay it back.

Which can be a very powerful, wealth-creating effect for the individual. And he`s often recommended that approach to the United States.

That the United States could borrow money and not pay it back. And so I think there are -- that probably is the plan.

You know, the traditional Republican answer has been that you can -- there`s a lot -- there are lot of ways to find savings inside Medicare without changing the nature of the benefits, but by squeezing providers.

But that means you have to get into the actual details of program administration. You have to think about how the health care delivery system in the United States works, and as we learned today, it turns out it`s complicated.

O`DONNELL: Yes, here`s more from "Politico". This is Republican Congressman Steve Womack and he says "trying to sort for a deficit in the hundreds of billions of dollars cannot be accomplished through deeper cuts in discretionary programs without terrific harm to both the economy and a lot of innocent people."

And Jonathan, that`s not what you will hear from most Republicans. They`ll leave out the part about possible harm to the economy or innocent people.

But if they`re honest about the numbers, they will just point out mathematically the numbers don`t exist in discretionary spending to try to do this sort of thing.

ALTER: Right, but they don`t care about deficits when a Republican is in the White House.

Remember when George W. Bush was in the White House, Dick Cheney said quote, "deficits don`t matter". They only care about irresponsible spending when Democrats are in the White House.

So you can expect them to run up the deficit to pretend that the numbers add up even when they don`t. To use what they call "rosy scenarios of economic growth" that will somehow take care of these deficit problems.

And they`re also -- remember, they only have a two-vote margin in the Senate. So, it doesn`t require a lot of defections for them to just get slam-dunked on all of these things. And the president`s political capital is rapidly depleting.

O`DONNELL: But Nick, I remember a presidential candidate running against the national debt and running against the deficit that adds to the national debt and his name was Donald Trump.

CONFESSORE: Well, you know, politicians are sometimes not always consistent with their promises and keeping --

O`DONNELL: Really? Oh, OK --

CONFESSORE: It happens sometimes. George W. Bush also ran on getting rid of debt or at least of not spending too much, and he did, of course, right? I think --

O`DONNELL: Yes, but in fairness, George W. Bush, as a presidential campaigner in the year 2000 did not see al Qaeda coming obviously and coming to the World Trade Center and hitting Washington.

So, he had a war on his hands that he wasn`t --

CONFESSORE: Absolutely --

O`DONNELL: Anticipating as a candidate. But still when the time came, they funded that war and cut taxes.

CONFESSORE: Here`s the problem. We have -- you know, been in an age of austerity kind of as it is for the last eight or five, six years because of the sequester. So many agencies are already operating at the bone. You just can`t squeeze that much --

O`DONNELL: Right --

CONFESSORE: At the lemon to accomplish all these things he wants to do. He can`t --

O`DONNELL: But David, again, there`s a long list of things that many Republicans in Congress would be happy to see zeroed out.

And so it`s -- if you want to preserve the program, you could look at it and say, well, there`s nothing else we can cut from it. But if you don`t care if that program dies, there`s more you can cut from it.

FRUM: Look, there are a lot of programs that Republicans have ideological objections to that they`d be happy to cut.

But they tend to be pretty small. And so they don`t have a big budget impact. Now, they feel still strongly about it regardless, but they don`t have the big budget impact.

If you want to make a big budget impact, then this is the thing that President Obama wrestled with in 2009 and 2010.

You have to -- the way to do it is to bring American health care costs into line with the rest of the developed world. If we -- if the United States were spending on health care what -- these are figures you`ll remember.

We talked about this five years ago. What Norway or Switzerland were spending, who are the next runners-up in the developed world, you could have the entire defense budget for free.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Alter, quickly, before we break here. The air of scandal surrounding the White House while they`re trying to legislate. What does that do? What kind of a drag does that put on the legislative action?

ALTER: The considerable one because Washington can only do one thing at a time.

And Trump who is a master at distraction is now going to be a victim of distraction because when he wants to keep focus on, you know, cutting food stamps or whatever it is he`s going to be doing in the next few weeks.

The stories are often going to be about Russia and he`s going to have a problem getting his message across.

O`DONNELL: Jon Alter gets the last word on this round, Nick Confessore, Jon Alter, thank you both for joining us tonight, appreciate it.

Coming up, Donald Trump`s big budget proposal tomorrow night probably will not have as much detail as he has been promising. And the pressure for a special prosecutor continues to grow around the Trump White House.


O`DONNELL: Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today that he is reviewing current Justice Department policy toward state laws on marijuana and deciding whether or not to crack down on marijuana in states that have legalized it.

The Attorney General says he has not yet made a decision. But we have a new Quinnipiac poll finding that 71 percent of Americans oppose a federal government crackdown on marijuana in those states.

Twenty three percent support it. Even a majority of Republicans, 55 percent oppose a crackdown. Up next, the investigation of Trump world and Russia.


O`DONNELL: The first big crack in the Republican congressional wall of defense around the White House is Darrell Issa.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Independent prosecutor and --


And Jeff Sessions should recuse himself the same way Loretta Lynch recused herself.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: You`re right that you cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who was an appointee.

You`re going to need to use the special prosecutor`s statute in office to take not just to recuse.

That`s -- you can`t just give it to your deputy that`s another political appointee. You do have to do that.


O`DONNELL: Congressman Darrell Issa followed that up today with a written statement on why he believes we need a special prosecutor to investigate Trump world`s connections to Russia.

"An investigation is not the same as an assertion of specific wrong-doing. It`s following the facts where they lead so that the American people can know what may or may not have taken place.

Any review conducted must have the full confidence of the American people which is why I recommended an independent review."

The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, held an unprecedented press conference today in which he discussed what the committee has been finding in their investigation.


NUNES: I don`t have any evidence that would -- of any phone calls. It doesn`t mean they don`t exist.

But I don`t have that and what I`ve been told is by many -- by many folks is that there`s nothing there.


O`DONNELL: "Axios" reported today that Congressman Nunes was one of several government officials including CIA Director Mike Pompeo who was asked by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to talk to reporters.

Quote, "to try to discredit a "New York Times" article about Trump campaign aides` contact with Russia." Nunes seems to have delivered on that request in his press conference today.

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee didn`t discuss any evidence because he says the committee hasn`t received any evidence. But he did say this.


SCHIFF: On the basis of conversations that the chair and I are having with intelligence officials, we can`t draw any conclusions and nor should we. We shouldn`t be prejudging where the facts lead.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Richard Stengel; managing editor of -- former managing editor of "Time Magazine" and he has -- who has also interviewed Vladimir Putin when he was with "Time Magazine".

He last visited Russia in 2016 when he was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. He`s now an Msnbc contributor.

And back with us, David Frum. Rick Stengel, the notion of a White House reaching out to the intelligence committees and the House and the Senate saying please help defend us to the "New York Times" and others about this story.

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Highly inappropriate. And in fact, the fact that the chairman actually made those phone calls show that they have an inherent conflict of interest and they can`t be independent and impartial in the investigation.

O`DONNELL: David Frum, what`s your reaction to these developments?

FRUM: Well, I have a -- I am here with a special commercial message, which is please stop talking about a special prosecutor.

The special prosecutor is a law enforcement official whose job it is to go find if crimes are committed.

It`s not illegal for an American citizen to have conversations with a hostile foreign intelligence agency. It`s inappropriate, it`s unethical, it`s a security risk, but it`s not a crime in most cases.

So, this is -- this is a trap. It takes us down a path of legality. The thing we want to know is are there security risks inside the White House? It`s not a crime to be a security risk. It`s just dangerous to have them inside the White House.

So, I plead for people to think not in terms of a special prosecutor under the special counsel law, but of an independent commission run by intelligence professionals that has the power to identify security risks and to recommend that they`d be excluded from government and to go fast.

Because you don`t want to wait for the legal process, you want to get security risks out of the government fast.

And that is the higher up that person is positioned, the closer to the office of the presidency that person is, the more important it is to get them out of office fast.

O`DONNELL: David, quickly, just to complete your public service announcement, who do you want to appoint to that commission?

FRUM: That, it will have to be appointed by Congress. And I don`t have a lot of confidence in Congress right now.

But public pressure is an amazing thing. That the kind of people who should be running it are people who have served at the highest levels in the intelligence community. Professionals, not lawyers.

O`DONNELL: So, Rick Stengel, a commission which I will now sketch into shape with appointees coming from the leader -- the Democratic leadership of the Senate, the Democratic leadership of the House and an appointees coming from the Republican leadership of the Senate, Republican leadership of the House.

And I think David makes a very good point that the limit -- the problem with the special prosecutor at this stage is the limitation of the focus is on crime and nothing but crime.

And if the special prosecutor doesn`t find crime, that special prosecutor might actually end up revealing nothing.

STENGEL: Yes, I mean, I won`t get into the statute, these laws passed after Watergate difference between independent counsel --


STENGEL: Special prosecutor. The key word is independents --

O`DONNELL: Independent --

STENGEL: Here, right? So, whether it`s an independent commission like 9/11 or an independent prosecutor, that`s the key thing.

But the thing I would add in my public service announcement is that the investigation has to be larger than just the connection between Trump world and Russia.

Russia has been trying to invade our domestic space and influence our elections since 1982 which is in that great "New Yorker" article this week.

They have been knocking on the door and finally they got someone to answer the door -- Donald Trump.

And the ramifications for our democracy are huge. The investigation can`t just be about Trump, but about how they`re doing this and how Trump responded.

Because Trump has played into their act. He has been what Lennon(ph) called the "useful idiot" to their efforts which no one has done since 1982.

O`DONNELL: David, go ahead.

FRUM: I won`t disagree with that. I mean, I agree with Richard Stengel, those are things that we want to know and there should be books written about them.

But right now, right now, there are people in the West Wing with access to all kinds of secret information including the names of American agents inside other countries who may be security risks.

And you have to exclude them and you have to do it fast. So, I don`t want members of Congress on this commission.

I want professionals but the commission must be appointed by Congress, but make it go fast, find the risks, identify them and isolate them from power.

O`DONNELL: So Rick, I think we could probably -- we could all agree that an investigative priority would be the connections of people currently working in the White House and working back from that transition officials, where apparently there was a significant amount of contact and then campaign officials.

STENGEL: See, the other thing that people forget to mention is that during the campaign, Donald Trump, candidate Donald Trump quoted from "Russia Today" articles, quoted from "Sputnik" pieces that are Russian propaganda.

That famous Sidney Blumenthal reference that he did was from a "Sputnik" piece. How Russia has infiltrated our campaign space is a very dangerous thing.

And I agree with David, there`s an actual security risk right now that needs to be investigated.

O`DONNELL: Rick Stengel, David Frum, thank you both for joining us tonight, appreciate it.

FRUM: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the White House Correspondents` Dinner is now officially a canceled TV series.



MATT LAUER, AMERICAN TELEVISION HOST: Did you ever consider the media to be the enemy of the American people?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it`s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power whether it would be here or elsewhere.

One of the things I spent a lot of time doing was trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press.

LAUER: Right.

BUSH: And it`s kind of hard, you know, to tell others to have an independent free press when we`re not willing to have one, ourselves.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: President George W. Bush on the Today Show this morning. Joining us now, Jay Rosen, media critic and professor of journalism at New York University, he`s the author of "Press Think: A Blog about Journalism." Jay, so now for former presidents, the first question is, did you ever think the media was the enemy of the people?

JAY ROSEN, PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yes. And President Bush gave a very good answer. He said it`s hard for me to persuade foreign dictators about the importance of an independent press when we are dismantling it, ourselves. You know, when the press used to accompany the president on foreign trips, one of the most important things that would happen is that the American press would get up and ask questions of the president and the foreign dictator he was with. Or the foreign government he was meeting with.

O`DONNELL: Contentious questions.

ROSEN: Contentious questions.


ROSEN: And the point was to prove to others that American democracy lives wherever the president lives. And now we`re kind of reversing that.

O`DONNELL: And the -- to go to the weekend developments on the White House correspondent`s dinner, something that has been highly controversial within the business for a while. First, every celebrity in Hollywood pulled out. Just a complete boycott, no stars going to the first Trump White House correspondents` dinner and once Donald Trump realized that he would have no supporting Hollywood cast in the audience, he decided to pull out.

And, you know now we have -- I`m not sure what`s left. But in fact -- in fact, what`s left is the essence of it before it was completely corrupted by the Hollywood influence and that is they give awards to White House correspondents and reporters and these are hard-earned awards that deserve attention and never get any attention.

ROSEN: Right.

O`DONNELL: Because everybody`s looking at the movie star over there or waiting for the comedian to talk.

ROSEN: Right. Well as it grew into this monstrosity, the awards to journalists and the college scholarships to young people got overwhelmed by --

O`DONNELL: It`s like a dozen kids who go up on that stage and receive scholarships that change their lives.

ROSEN: But no one would even know them.


ROSEN: So, it became something else. One thing it became was, look how important we are, we can get the president to come. Another thing was, look at how glamorous our profession is. We have all these movie stars. And then a third thing I think, it was sort of saying, look, we tussle with each other, there`s fights, there`s tensions but we`re all on the same business, so we should be able to have a laugh and clink our glasses because we`re really all part of the same world.

All of those things have become inappropriate with Trump in office.

O`DONNELL: And it took Donald Trump, apparently, for most of the media to finally see this.

ROSEN: It did, although he quit them before they quit him.

O`DONNELL: Well, a lot of them were quitting, though. A lot of them were canceling parties.


O`DONNELL: You know, Bloomberg, Vanity Fair, the parties are being cancelled, none of the -- the tables weren`t sold yet so we don`t know what the turnout would have been.

ROSEN: But what about the WHCA, itself? What about the White House Correspondents Association? They are still acting like its business as usual. They still want the normal access, the normal routines, the normal dinner. And I think that was a mistake.

O`DONNELL: Well, they can get a smaller room this year.


O`DONNELL: Jay Rosen thanks for joining us tonight. Appreciate it. Coming up, Donald Trump finally admits what we all always knew. He doesn`t know anything about health care. He admits it just when the congress was hoping he did.

And an NBC news exclusive report reveals that the first military mission ordered by President Trump was a total failure.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You`re going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost and it`s going to be so easy.


O`DONNELL: He gives so much better speeches when he`s wearing the hat. On the campaign trail in October, Donald Trump called repealing and replacing Obamacare so easy. Today at the White House with no hat, Donald Trump said this.


TRUMP: We have come up with a solution that`s really, really, I think, very good. Now, I have to tell you, it`s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.


O`DONNELL: No. Nobody knew. Donald Trump`s comments came after the Washington Post reported last night that Ohio governor John Kasich tried to convince Donald Trump not to make drastic changes to Obamacare. The Washington Post reports that during a meeting last Friday, "at one point senior adviser Jared Kushner reminded his father-in-law that house republicans are sketching out a different approach to providing access to coverage. Well, I like this better, Trump replied."

Republicans continue to disagree on what should be in the Obamacare repeal. Tonight, the head of the republican study committee, Mark Walker, said he would not support the draft republican plan to repeal Obamacare. The plan would get rid of Obamacare subsidies based on income and replace them with tax credits based on age.

He called it, a new health insurance entitlement with a republican stamp on it. Joining us next, Steven Brill who literally wrote the book, the most definitive book on Obamacare, he will join us here on the day that Donald Trump finally admitted that health care is unbelievably complex.



TRUMP: Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.

BARACK OBAMA, FMR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Health care is complicated stuff. And the hospital executives who are here and the doctors who are here and the consumer advocates who are here can tell you.


O`DONNELL: And Steven Brill can tell you, he wrote a book about it. Steven Brill journalist and author of America`s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics Backroom Deals and the Fight to fix our Broken Healthcare System. Steven`s also on MSNBC contributor. So there`s Donald Trump finally admitting what we`ve all known for many, many decades, anyone who ever applied for health insurance.

STEVEN BRILL, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Listen, I felt bad. I spent two years writing a book about such a simple subject, but the only thing I can think of is you know, I`m one of those people who doesn`t think that Trump is anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is. But he apparently is wealthy enough that he`s -- and healthy enough that he`s never seen a hospital bill.

He`s never seen an insurance company`s explanation of benefits. Something I`m sure you`ve seen a lot of.

O`DONNELL: Right. Right.

BRILL: And you know you can`t decipher them. The healthcare is -- I mean I`ve written about antitrust law, you name it.


BRILL: It is the most complicated subject --

O`DONNELL: Right. International trade, whatever you want --

BRILL: Because we have twisted ourselves into a pickle with our healthcare system.

O`DONNELL: And the republicans and the president have now done it on the policy. It feels like if you go by the sound you`re hearing, that they have painted themselves into a corner they don`t know how to get out of. Let`s listen to Chuck Schumer talking about where he thinks the republicans are now.


CHUCK SCHUMER, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES: I predict the discord in their party will grow as republicans turn to Washington after this last week of angry town halls. I believe the odds are very high. We will keep the ACA. It will not be repealed.


O`DONNELL: Steven, he first said something like that, in my memory, to Rachel Maddow in this building shortly after the election and he was -- it was more --

BRILL: Like the day after.

O`DONNELL: It was more of a hunch. He`s sounding much more confident about this now.

BRILL: Well that`s because he understands the way you understand it.

O`DONNELL: He`s been through it.

BRILL: That it`s hard to do and there`s a lot of moving parts and you can`t just take one part out and expect the thing to keep going. I mean just to give you an example. One republican plan says that they`re going to allow the insurance companies to charge the elderly five times as much as young people. The current regulation is three times as much.

The same plan says that when they give tax credits, they`re going to give tax credits to the elderly that are twice as much as the tax credits that go to the young people. How does that compute? How does that work? They might not even know it because it`s, you know, a couple paragraphs down.

O`DONNELL: And so enter John Kasich to the White House who apparently was saying the kinds of things to Donald Trump that he wanted to hear about here`s, you know, you can keep insurance for kids on their parent`s policies up to age 26. You can keep the pre-existing conditions piece.

You can keep, you can keep, you can keep. And maybe John Kasich never quite said you can keep that by keeping Obamacare and Jared Kushner at some point heard enough and realized that his father-in-law was drifting way, way far away from where the congressional republicans are.

BRILL: That`s right. Nor have the republicans explained how when they appeal -- when they repeal Obamacare what they`re going to do with the billion dollars worth of taxes that are in Obamacare. I didn`t see that in his budget. I don`t know what his budget assumes about that.

O`DONNELL: Right, yes because Obamacare has about 15 taxes in it.


O`DONNELL: They raised together a significant amount of money.


O`DONNELL: And if you repeal it, all that income to the treasury --

BRILL: I say billion I meant a trillion. Yes.

O`DONNELL: Yes. All of that is gone.


O`DONNELL: And gone forever but, again, I mean, it`s not clear, because there`s been no specificity, I`ve never heard a republican say here`s what we want to do to the tax pieces in Obamacare.

BRILL: The only thing I can tell you for sure is when he does it, he`s going to declare victory. It`s what a lot of people said we should have done in Vietnam, you know, just declare victory and get out. He`s going to declare victory, he`s going to say there are just as many people covered.


BRILL: We`re spending less money.

O`DONNELL: OK. That brings us to last night`s New York Times, historic New York Times TV ad at the Oscars. Let`s take a look at it.


O`DONNELL: And truth is more important now than ever and that`s going to play into both the dimensions of this debate and the outcome. You`ve long held that when I was trying to figure out how will they do this, how will they do this, you basically said on the show, well in the end they`ll just lie about what they did.

BRILL: Now the problem they`re going to have is even though the president has just discovered this is really complicated.


BRILL: And really hard to understand, people will understand when the insurance policies they buy for, let`s say, a premium that doesn`t go up that much in cost, it`s not going up in cost because the benefits have been cut back. The deductibles have been raised. People will get that. The thing about health insurance is as complicated as it is, the cost, the toll on individuals, every consumer, every person in this country, is really clear.

That stuff`s not complicated.

O`DONNELL: And -- and that`s when -- when you have statements going out there as Donald Trump has done, as Kellyanne Conway has done at different times saying no one who`s a current beneficiary of Obamacare will suffer in any way, in the end of their story, if they pass a bill, they`re simply going to have to lie about that part.

BRILL: Yes. And you guys could do a town hall every night with people who have been hurt by it.

O`DONNELL: Right. I used to pay this, now I don`t have anything.

BRILL: I mean you could do a town hall in the Yankee Stadium.


BRILL: For people who have been hurt by it.

O`DONNELL: Steven Brill thanks for joining us once again.

BRILL: Sure enough.

O`DONNELL: In this perennial subject is going to be with us for the rest of the year at least and tonight. Coming up the Trump administration is still calling the raid in Yemen where we lost a Navy S.E.A.L. a success, but the father of that Navy S.E.A.L is not so sure. And now a new NBC news report cites multiple government officials saying the raid obtained no usable intelligence information.


O`DONNELL: Bill Paxton always knew better than most of us that life was fleeting. That you just never know when the end was coming, Bill was 8 years old when he convinced d his father to bring him to see the president of the United States in person for the first time. He`ll never forget that first moment of seeing John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

He waved to the president. A big Texas wave,Bill was waving hello. He didn`t know that he was also waving good-bye. Later that day in Dallas, the president was shot in the back of the head. Bill told me that story late one night when we were working together on the HBO series, Big Love.

In Bill`s telling, it felt like it happened yesterday. The lead actor in a TV series should be the captain of the cast and crew. The cheerleader who helps everyone get through their day. That`s who Bill Paxton was every day that I worked with him. He taught us all a lot.

He always brought humility and respect to his work and never had a second of not being deeply grateful to be there. Bill started as a member of the crew on film sets and worked his way all the way up to director and number one on the call sheet as an actor. He knew how to do every job on the set and everyone knew that, but he always deferred to the judgment of the people who were doing those jobs.

Bill Paxton brought big love to the set of Big Love every day. Yesterday, his family announced that Bill died on Saturday from complications from surgery. He leaves his wife, Louis, and his son, James, and his daughter, Lydia. Bill Paxton was 61 years old.



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell him that on behalf of the president, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I`ve said before, was going to save American lives.


O`DONNELL: Sean Spicer today was speaking to the father of a Navy S.E.A.L. Who was lost in Yemen, speaking to him through the press at that briefing today. He said that this afternoon, but tonight, NBC news is reporting that multiple officials say that the raid in Yemen in which that Navy S.E.A.L. was killed, "has yielded no intelligence of value."

In an interview with the Miami Herald the father of the Navy S.E.A.L. says he refused to meet the president when his son`s body was returned to Dover Air Force base. Bill Owens, a military veteran, himself, told the newspaper he, "cringed at the thought of having to shake the hand of the president who approved the raid in Yemen that claimed his son`s life." And asked, "why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn`t even barely a week into his administration?"

Joining us now is John Schindler, National Security Columnist for the New York Observer and former professor at the U.S. Naval War College. John, what do you make of the evaluations of this raid as we understand them at this point?

JOHN SCHINDLER, NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST FOR THE NEW YORK OBSERVER: I think the raid was clearly badly executed. Well-intentioned but badly executed. What happened, we don`t know how high up the chain of command the mistakes began, but clearly this was a raid that should have been curtailed but wasn`t.

Chief Owens died as being reported, 25 or more civilians died as well. This is not a happy situation.

O`DONNELL: And we do know there are reports of how the decision was made that the president made the decision --


SCHINDLER: -- in effect at dinner instead of in the formal setting of a situation room briefing or a formal briefing by everyone who you would want present for such a briefing. Do you think -- and was basically General Flynn making -- as the national security adviser -- making the presentation. Do you think that`s part of the problem here?

SCHINDLER: Oh, I think it clearly is, and I`m not big about Monday Morning quarterbacking. Mistakes happen. But clearly the Flynn, now former Flynn, nexus with the president probably had something to do with this and was probably not very productive and I think we need to move on from that and just be glad it probably won`t happen again.

O`DONNELL: And when you read what the father of this Navy S.E.A.L had to say in that Florida newspaper, he is deeply upset about this and questioning it at every level.

SCHINDLER: Yes, look, he as an American citizen, Chief Owens`s father has the right to do this. We`ve been through this before, back in 1993 after the Blackhawk Down incident in Somalia, one of the fathers of one of the two army delta operators who received the Medal of Honor for that posthumously refused to shake President Clinton`s hand. I thought that was childish.

I think this is a little bit childish, frankly, too. I hate to say that. But that is their absolute right as American citizens and grieving parents. I don`t know if that gets us any closer to the resolution of what really happened here.

O`DONNELL: Quickly before we go I just want to mention a letter now signed by 120 retired generals and admirals tonight --


O`DONNELL: Criticizing the White House apparent budgeting in which they would be making major cuts including cuts from the state department. They`ve signed a letter. It includes David Petraeus, Mike Hayden, saying, quoting Jim Mattis and saying "as Jim Mattis said while commander of U.S. Central command, if you don`t fully fund the state department, then I need to buy more ammunition. Fascinating to see them emerging as --


O`DONNELL: -- as defenders of the state department budget and others.

SCHINDLER: And this is -- thank you for bringing this up, Lawrence. This is absolutely nonpartisan. All these former generals and admirals understand the state department is a critical underpinning of American security worldwide. And the current administration`s efforts to defund elements of what the state department does to give to the department of defense is something I don`t know anyone who supports this outside the White House, frankly.

This is not rational decision-making in a national security sense and I`m very pleased to see this letter and I`m pleased to see you mention it.

O`DONNELL: It`s kind of extraordinary because it`s easy to get departments to rival each other in that --


O`DONNELL: -- attempt to get vigorous slices of the pie. But to see people with a defense department background coming forward and saying don`t do this to state is extraordinary.

SCHINDLER: Yes generals, admirals, top civilians in the pentagon fully understand the critical part the state department plays in all of this and they don`t want to see that defunded in any way, shape or form.

O`DONNELL: John Schindler gets tonight`s last word. Thanks for joining us John.

SCHINDLER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: MSNBC`s live coverage continues in to the 11th Hour now with Brian Williams, that`s next.


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