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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 3/31/2017

Guests: Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Tim Mak, Nicholas Kristof, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Naveed Jawali

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 31, 2017 Guest: Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Tim Mak, Nicholas Kristof, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Naveed Jawali   [22:00:00] RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:

That does it for us tonight.  Now it`s time for a special edition of "THE LAST WORD."  March Madness, a look at this very chaotic month in the very young Trump presidency.  Good night. 


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The now attorney general spoke twice with the Russian ambassador encounters he later did not disclose. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Do you still have confidence in the attorney general? 


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I have now decided to recuse myself. 

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Donald Trump was up early this morning rage tweeting.  He is now accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones during the campaign. 

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI DIRECTOR:  There was no such wiretap activity. 

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS:  Will the president apologize to President Obama? 

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Let`s not get ahead of ourselves. 

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR:  I have no information that supports those tweets. 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR:  A historic moment on Capitol Hill today. 

COMEY:  The FBI is investigating whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia`s efforts. 

SPICER:  The answer is continues to be no. 

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Today I briefed the president on the concerns that I had about incidental collection. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was done to give Trump ammunition to cover his crazy tweets. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Do you feel vindicated by Chairman Nunes coming over here, sir? 

TRUMP:  I somewhat do.  I must tell you, I somewhat do. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Now we know he went to the White House to get that alleged information. 


REID:  At least three senior White House officials were involved in sharing intelligence documents with Devin Nunes. 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  It raised a profound question why they were not directly provided to the White House. 

MADDOW:  Michael Flynn is asking for immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony in the Russia-Trump scandal. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Well, this morning President Trump tweeted Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is the a witch-hunt.  An excuse for big election loss by the media and the Democrats of historic proportion. 

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Is the White House concerned that General Flynn has damaging information about what occurred during the campaign with respect to Russia? 

SPICER:  Nope. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  We`ll see. 


REID:  Good evening.  I`m Joy Reid in for Lawrence O`Donnell.  And welcome the our special edition of THE LAST WORD.  "March Madness, The Month It Was." 

A new poll today found that fully one-third of Americans give Donald J. Trump an F for his performance in office in his first 71 days.  Much of that letter grade has been earned in the unbelievably historic and at times hysterical month it was. 

It began with Trump accusing President Obama of tapping his wires in Trump Tower.  And days later in a very public humiliation of the president, FBI director James Comey was compelled to say there is no evidence to support the Trump claim.  And oh, by the way, the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign for possible collusion with the Russians to tip the 2016 election in their favor. 

Then there is the one-man drama that is House Intelligence Committee chairman and former Trump transition member, Republican Devin Nunes.  He tried to help Trump find evidence to back up his surveillance claims and instead triggered a torrent of questions about him.  Like, why is he working with the Trump White House instead of investigating it?  And who let him on to White House grounds?  It`s a story so strange that even fellow Republicans today say they couldn`t write this novel. 

And we haven`t even yet mentioned the debacle that was the defeat of Trumpcare.  Over the course of the next hour, we`ll bring you a team of experts.  We`ll get to the bottom of what happened in investigations today.  What is the next shoe to drop?  And with Donald Trump at war with the intel community and with his own party, what, if anything can he do to stop the serial crises engulfing the White House? 

But we begin with new developments in what`s arguably the most stunning new story of the month.  Donald Trump`s former national security adviser Michael Flynn seeking immunity in order to testify to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. 

The president defended Michael Flynn`s immunity requests, tweeting, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch-hunt, an excuse for a big election loss by the media and Democrats of historic proportion."  Exclamation point. 

Doing some damage control, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later explained that the president was only trying to convey his desire to see Michael Flynn testify. 


KARL:  Back in December, he said if you are guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?  So does the president think that Mike Flynn is guilty of a crime? 

SPICER:  I think he believes that Mike Flynn should go testify.  He thinks that he should go up there and do what he has to do to get the story out. 

KARL:  With or without immunity? 

SPICER:  Well, I mean, that`s up to him and his lawyer to decide.  He`s saying do whatever you have to do to go up to make it clear what happened.  Take whatever precaution you want or however your legal counsel advises you. 


REID:  NBC News was first to report that the Senate intelligence Committee is not willing to make an immunity offer to Michael Flynn.  At least not yet. 

[22:05:07] A senior congressional official said Michael Flynn`s lawyer was told it was wildly preliminary and that immunity was not on the table at the moment. 

And the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, said, quote, "There is still much work and many more witnesses and documents to obtain before any immunity request from any witness can be considered."  But the congressman also ominously said this.  "We should first acknowledge what a grave and momentous step it is for a former national security adviser to the president of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution." 

Congressman Schiff finally went to the White House grounds to review those intelligence documents that prompted House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes to hold his stunning press conference last week.  Meanwhile, Chairman Nunes is trying to knock down reports in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" that his sources for those intelligence documents came from the Trump administration. 


NUNES:  Those reports are mostly wrong.  There is -- there are -- I mean, this is something that I`ve known about for a very long time.  From people who were not affiliated at all with the White House or anybody there.  The challenge was finding a place to be able to view this information, to be able to get my hands on this information.  So I think what`s in the stories is there is a lot of innuendo.  There are people that probably knew about this.  Knew about me being there.  But the fact of the matter is that doesn`t make them the source of my information. 


REID:  Well, an exclusive interview that is airing on "A.M. JOY" both Saturday and Sunday, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi had some tough words for Devin Nunes. 


REID:  Let`s talk about Devin Nunes who is leading the House Intelligence Committee at the moment.  Do you think he has creditability now as the leader of that investigation? 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER:  No.  I think that he not only has lost all credibility, I think he has tarnished the office that he holds.  He has brought discredit to something that is a very, very serious position in the Congress. 


REID:  And joining us now are Michael Isikoff, chief investigative reporter for Yahoo! News.  He has interviewed Michael Flynn in the past.  David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Tim Mak, senior correspondent for "The Daily Beast." 

And I`m going to start with the last first I introduced.  Tim Mak, Devin Nunes tried to explain away what he did.  He did this interview in which he is trying to say that he, going to the White House to view those intelligence documents, was perfectly normal, despite the fact that he did it in the dead of night.  Here is Devin Nunes. 


NUNES:  I held a press conference and said here is what I found.  Has nothing to do with Russia.  And I`m going to go over to the White House now and I`m going to brief the president.  So that`s not sneaking around.  That`s not hiding from anyone.  That`s being very transparent.  I would say maybe too transparent in this case because I could have just snuck over to the White House and went in quietly and told the president and nobody would have known about this.  But I thought it was best that the American people know. 


REID:  Tim, is any of this normal protocol for a member of Congress, a chairman of an Intelligence Committee, to go into the White House to view anything this way, the way that Nunes did it? 

TIM MAK, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST:  Not at all.  I`ve talked to a lot of folks who have worked on the House Intelligence Committee.  It is extremely unusual to go to the White House to view documents.  Now it`s regular procedure to good to the FBI, to go to the NSA, to go to the CIA to review executive branch documents.  But it is very, very unusual to get a White House grounds seemingly in the middle of the night in order to meet with sources and review documents. 

Now the chairman`s story changes every single time he makes a statement.  You know, first it was that Trump himself was incidentally collected.  Then he said well, maybe that`s not right.  And then he said, I`m actually not sure exactly what I saw and will have to review the documents.  He said he wanted a serious investigation into the extent of Russia`s ties if there exist any.  The extent of Russia`s ties to the Trump campaign.  Now it appears he`s not all that interested.  Every time the chairman speaks about Russia, his story on this changes. 

REID:  And David Corn, it appears that the ranking member of the committee, Adam Schiff, is pretty sure of what he saw.  He saw apparently the same documents in the White House.  This is what he had to say today. 

And he said, "Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures, and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees.  The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House." 

David Corn, it appears that the ranking member is not confused about what he saw. 

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  No.  He is a former federal prosecutor.  He knows how to handle document secrets and how to deal with other government agencies doing an investigation, which Nunes doesn`t seem to have my awareness of how to proceed. 

I mean, think about this, Joy.  He`s gone from being basically the chairman of an investigation to someone who should be a witness in the investigation.  That`s just not a good narrative arc for him. 

REID:  Yes. 

[22:10:06] CORN:  And, you know, the story has changed.  The story about what`s in the documents changed the first three or four times he told the story.  And we still have no idea if there is anything in those documents that really warrant investigation.  Schiff said no.  But that they may just have been minor injuries.  And yet you see day after day the White House, Sean Spicer and other people who are trying to divert attention from the real thing, the Russian connection, you know, going on about how this is a gigantic civil liberties case, as if they ever cared about that.  And still nobody ever than Nunes has come forward and said there is even a problem here. 

REID:  Yes.  And Michael Isikoff, let`s talk a little bit about Michael Flynn`s situation.  This sort of very preemptive request for immunity from either of the committees of the FBI.  You`ve interviewed Michael Flynn before.  His counsel had this very interesting tweet.  Robert Kelner who represents him.  Back in November tweeted the following. 

"A prediction.  Donald Trump will make novel and unusual use of the president`s pardon power, an underutilized tool of political power."  That may mean nothing at all.  But what do you see in this very preemptive request for immunity from Michael Flynn? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  Well, look, it`s really hard to say at this point because Michael Flynn has potential exposure on multiple grounds.  Many of which are not directly related to the central focus of this investigation.  His work for Turkey, which he retroactively registers with the Justice Department only in March for work he was getting paid half a million dollars with starting in August. 

You know, there are potential Foreign Agent Registration Act issues there.  There is the whole question of the money he had gotten from RT and Russia when he went to Moscow.  Did he disclose all that?  Did he put it -- disclose it as part of his security clearance form?  So we don`t know whether this request for immunity is because he is concerned about something involving his conversations with Kislyak or the Russian investigation or something else. 

It`s really hard to, you know, ultimately at this point say where this goes.  But, but, I got to say, at the end of the day, if the committee is - - are going to do their job, they`ve got to hear from Michael Flynn.  He is the one witness -- 

MAK:  Well, the thing is -- 

ISIKOFF:  He is the one witness, he is the one witness who was centrally involved during the campaign on national security measures with Russia and was talking to President Trump and can answer a key question.  When he had those conversations with Kislyak, was he authorized by the president-elect to have them? 

REID:  Yes. 

ISIKOFF:  Or was he freelancing acting on his own? 

REID:  Yes. 

MAK:  The thing is, though -- the thing is though, that a request for immunity is not necessarily any indication that you`ve done anything wrong.  You can talk to Democrats or Republicans in the House and Senate Intelligence Committee.  I was just talking to -- 

ISIKOFF:  Absolutely. 

MAK:  Just talking to a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Quigley, he is no fan of Flynn and he is certainly interested in getting to the bottom of these ties.  And he said, look, I may not particularly like Flynn, but I can`t look at this request for immunity as any sort of indictment or any sort of admission of guilt.  And furthermore, he predicted the House Intelligence Committee is just going to be like the Senate Intelligence Committee.  He thought it was very unlikely that they were going to give any sort of immunity to Michael Flynn. 

CORN:  Well, there`s -- 

REID:  Go ahead, David. 

CORN:  Often what you have in these cases, those of us who are old enough to remember, like Michael and I, you go back to the Iran contra days, and there was a big debate whether the committees would give immunity to Oliver North while the FBI and the Justice Department were investigating him.  I mean, Tim is reasonable.  Mike Quigley is reasonable.  Mike and I would be reasonable and say this is no indication of guilt. 

It was Donald Trump who said, you know, just a couple of months ago, why do you need immunity for unless you have done something wrong? 

REID:  Yes. 

CORN:  And there are -- and also, but I think a key thing to add to what Mike just said is the conversations that Flynn had with Kislyak and maybe other Russians before the election.  There is indications that he did talk to the ambassador before that while the hacking and the leaking perhaps were going on.  Was he sending -- 

REID:  Which was going on. 

CORN:  Was he sending any signs to the Russians?  You`ll get a deal with us which would give them incentive to carry out this covert operation. 

REID:  Yes.  And Mike, the question is about whether or not that`s illegal.  But go on. 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  No.  I was saying, but let`s stipulate, they`re not going to have testimony from Kislyak. 

REID:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  So, you know at the end of the day they are -- 

CORN:  There might be intercepts, though. 

ISIKOFF:  There might be.  And whether they`ll ever get them and be able to disclose them is a whole another matter.  So I think at the end of the day, it is likely he probably will get immunity from the committees. 

REID:  Yes.  And as we know from the case of John Dean back during Watergate, that doesn`t necessarily mean you won`t be prosecuted just because you get immunity from the Congress.  So tick-tock.  It`s going to be very interesting. 

[22:15:02] David Corn, Tim Mak, and Michael Isikoff, thanks very much for joining us. 

ISIKOFF:  Sure thing. 

REID:  Thank you. 

And coming up next, early in the month, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions was being accused of perjury, Donald Trump took to Twitter to put out that fire by starting another.  And of course he did it by returning to his birther roots and accusing his old nemesis, President Barack Obama, of something that isn`t true.  Remember this classic? 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Three weeks ago I thought he was born in this country.  Right now I have some real doubts.  I have people that actually have been studying it.  They cannot believe what they`re finding. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So you have people now down there searching in Hawaii? 

TRUMP:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And they cannot believe what they`re finding.



REID:  March Madness earned its name in the early hours of March 4th.  A Saturday morning that should have been unremarkable.  And then Donald Trump tweeted, "Terrible!  Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.  Nothing found.  This is McCarthyism," exclamation point. 

And so ignited the entirely self-created controversy that has engulfed the Trump White House and the House Intelligence Community, and even Paul Ryan. 


SPICER:  We put our statement on Sunday saying that we would have no further comment. 

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Have you seen any evidence to support the president`s claim that he had been wiretapped by the previous president? 

NUNES:  Yes, I have not.  I mean, I have not seen that evidence. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration? 

SESSIONS:  Look, the answer is no. 

NUNES:  I don`t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.  Going to take the tweets literally.  And if you are, then clearly the president was wrong. 

[22:20:07] TRUMP:  And I said, wait a minute, there is a lot of wiretapping being talked about.  I`ve been seeing a lot of things. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  And he said that President Obama ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower.  Do you believe -- 

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER:  No.  That`s what I said.  We`ve cleared that up.  That we`ve seen no evidence of that. 

TRUMP:  As far as wiretapping by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps. 

COMEY:  The department has no information that supports those tweets. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  He said that there is no information to support the allegations that the president made against President Obama. 

SPICER:  At this time.  As Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one in a series of hearings. 

NUNES:  This is information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to know about incidental collection. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Do you feel vindicated by Chairman Nunes -- 

TRUMP:  I somewhat do.  I must tell you, I somewhat do. 

NUNES:  I had to brief the speaker first. 

RYAN:  He had told me that like a whistleblower type person had given him some information. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you encourage him to then go tell the president about it? 

RYAN:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  At least some White House officials had to be involved in him getting information. 

SPICER:  I cannot get into who those individuals were. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Did the president direct anyone in this White House or in his National Security team to try to find information or intelligence to back up his accusation about wiretapping? 

SPICER:  I don`t -- I`m not aware of anything directly. 


REID:  And joining us now, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof and "Daily Beast" contributor Rick Wilson. 

So, Nicholas, it`s been a very interesting attempted misdirection this month where Donald Trump gets up and tweets, I was wiretapped.  And now you`ve got up until today Sean Spicer really, you know, getting angry at reporters for not following that story instead of the story about Russiagate. 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES:  I never would have thought I`d be sympathetic to Sean Spicer.  But I must say watching him try to explain the tweets, it reminds me of the time I was in North Korea.  And this poor North Korean officer was trying to explain how there have never been any crime ever in North Korea.  And when you`re trying to compare the White House spokesman to a North Korean spokesman, boy. 

REID:  Yes. 

KRISTOF:  That is a problem for the country. 

REID:  Yes.  And Rick Wolf, I mean, I compared him to Baghdad Bob.  You know, there are no -- 


REID:  There are no infidels in -- 

WILSON:  American base. 

REID:  In Iraq.  There are no American attacks.  It is not happening.  And he does that day after day after day.  But now, you know, it is becoming absurd.  And this insistence, this demand by Spicer that journalists waste their time chasing a story that has already been debunked.  Is there a part of the country where that is working, where the narrative for people who support Donald Trump is that narrative and that they`re not even paying attention to Russiagate? 

WILSON:  Sure, and there`s a responsibility on the part of elements in the conservative media who have decided that they`re going to defend Trump until the last dog dies.  And so they have postured and postulated that there is this gigantic conspiracy where thousands and thousands of intelligence agency officials and workers would be willing to engage in a broad sweeping illegal conspiracy which landed any of them with felony charges if they were discovered to illegally wiretap Donald Trump. 

This is an absurdity of the highest possible order.  And it takes somebody who is a psychotic level Trump apologist or someone who has completely decided that they`re going to monetize this.  I think, you know, we`re looking at guys like Sean Hannity who have decided they`re going to bellow and yell about this until they fall over to try to make this into a story where none exists at all. 

They are desperate to change the subject.  And the louder they scream about the incidental collection, the by-catch from the NSA stuff, the more you know that their panic has set in.  It`s deep and it`s permanent. 

REID:  And it`s more than that because now have you`ve have implicated the chairman of the intelligence -- the House Intelligence Committee who has used his time as a representative of that committee and as a member of Congress to go searching for evidence to back up Donald Trump`s claim.  Such that we have a new gate which is -- 

WILSON:  Well -- 

REID:  The gate about him, about Devin Nunes. 

WILSON:  Sure. 

KRISTOF:  I mean, it looks -- yes. 

WILSON:  Let`s be even more clear about that.  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee conspired actively with White House staffers to access information in order to engage in a political pushback for crimes that are -- for malfeasance that is alleged on the part of Trump campaign officials and others in the course of this -- and the Russians in the course of the 2016 elections. 

This is a guy who has really stepped well beyond the bounds of his office and well beyond the bounds of propriety in this case. 

REID:  Yes.  Nick. 

KRISTOF:  Yes.  I mean, I do think that, you know, in the campaign, we had these allegations of mishandling of classified information by Hillary Clinton.  Well, right now we have Devin Nunes who clearly mishandled classified information. 

REID:  Sure. 

KRISTOF:  And seemed to have engaged in a cover-up on behalf of the White House.  And one of the things as you know, Joy, that you learn as a journalist is that when officials begin screeching and get terribly upset and try to squelch testimony, that`s when you know you`re getting close to something that they care deeply about that they don`t want out. 

[22:25:14] REID:  Yes. 

KRISTOF:  And the imperative has to be for us as journalists then to take that bait and push even harder. 

REID:  Yes. 

KRISTOF:  Because I do think that we`re getting closer to something that they deeply don`t want us to unferret. 

REID:  Well, absolutely.  To the point, Rick, where you now have the president of the United States tweeting from his official Twitter account, not from the POTUS account, from his personal account that Mike Flynn should ask for immunity, calling it a witch-hunt.  Calling the investigation a witch-hunt, excuse for big election loss, which by the way is a RT Russian talking point.  That could be read as an improper instruction to the Justice Department to give him immunity, could it not? 

WILSON:  Look, I`ll leave that to the attorneys out there.  My gut says it probably is that kind of signal.  But I think the Justice Department, you know, below the level of Jeff Sessions is probably going to look at something like that with a great degree of skepticism.  There are serious professionals inside the FBI right now who are pursuing this investigation just as obviously going to look at any sort of impropriety by this president particularly with a very sort of gimlet eye.  And I don`t think they`re going to go out and -- 

REID:  Yes. 

WILSON:  And accept that sort of order from him.  But it is inappropriate, of course.  And this is because he is intemperate and unhinged. 

REID:  Yes.  You trust the Justice Department on this? 

KRISTOF:  I do think that the FBI is genuinely mounting a thorough investigation.  I think that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to attempt it.  The problem, though, is that these are investigations that are closed, behind closed doors. 

REID:  Yes.  You`re right. 

KRISTOF:  And this is an issue of immense importance for the country. 

REID:  Yes. 

KRISTOF:  We need transparency.  That can only happen with an independent commission can. 

REID:  Absolutely.  Nick Kristof, thank you very much for being here. 

And coming up, the craziest tweet Donald Trump sent this month that wasn`t a conspiracy theory, about being wiretapped by President Obama, and the problems that it will cause for the rest of his presidency.  That`s next. 



[22:30:46] TRUMP:  I`m proud to support the replacement plan released by the House of Representatives.  And we`re going to take action.  There is going to be no slowing down.  There is going to be no waiting and no more excuses by anybody.  I think we`re going to have a tremendous success.  It`s a complicated process.  But actually it`s very simple.  It`s called good health care. 


REID:  Eighteen days.  That`s the Trumpcare March Madness.  Trumpcare was born and died all in the month of March.  18 days.  That`s how long it took Donald Trump to give up on passing a health care bill.  Major pieces of legislation can take months or even years to get done.  The 1986 Tax Reform Bill took 323 days from introduction to being signed by President Ronald Reagan.  George W. Bush`s Medicare overhaul took 166 days.  Obamacare took 187 days. 

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan`s repeal bill was introduced on March 6th and 18 days later Donald Trump demanded a vote on the bill despite it not having enough Republican support to pass and then this happened. 


TRUMP:  We couldn`t quite get there.  We`re just a very small number of votes short.  And I`ve never said -- I guess I`m here, what, 64 days?  I never said repeal and replace Obamacare.  You`ve all heard my speeches.  I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.  I have a long time. 


REID:  And joining us now is Indira Lakshmanan, the Washington columnist for the "Boston Globe."  She is also at the Pointer Institute for Media Studies.  And back with us is our friend Rick Wilson. 

OK.  Let`s remind Donald Trump what he did actually say about repealing and replacing Obamacare during the campaign.  Here he is. 


TRUMP:  My first day in office, I`m going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability.  You`re going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost.  And it`s going to be so easy. 


REID:  So, Indira, was the level of that sale equal to the level of work put in by the Donald? 

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BOSTON GLOBE WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  Well, obviously not.  And you pointed out the number of days that many important pieces of legislation took to get through.  I mean, it was actually 18 months worth of work on Obamacare before it fully got voted on.  So there were all sorts of debates about it before it even got crafted into legislation.  And so the fact that his attention span was basically, like, OK, you guys wrote this, 18 days, once he couldn`t get it in 18 days, that`s it.  He is done, he`s washed his hands up, and he`s moved on. 

That isn`t so smart, it seems, in terms of if you want the get things done.  But what has really struck me about this is the president lashing out against the Freedom Caucus of the Republican Party.  This does not seem like a great strategy because you can be the boss and the CEO of a company and your word in a family-run company is the only thing that matters.  But in government you actually need allies.  You need Congress to be with you.  You certainly need your own party to be with you. 

REID:  Yes 

LAKSHMANAN:  So to lash out at them, many of them have pushed back. 

WILSON:  Right.  And look, he -- I mean. 

REID:  Yes. 

WILSON:  Donald Trump is now promising -- after he`s gone to war with the Freedom Caucus, he is now promising he`s going to bring Democrats in which would obviously move any potential legislation wildly to the left where even a very poorly crafted bill for the AHCA was.  So he is going to end up alienating not just the Freedom Caucus, but frankly, a lot of the main line Republicans who have also sort of staked their political branding for the last several years on repealing and replacing Obamacare. 

REID:  And you know -- 

WILSON:  The difficulty here is he has no clue how to do this.  He is bad at being president. 


REID:  Well, I mean, and I want to show you guys just what that attack looked like, in case you have forgotten in all these blur of the other things Donald Trump has tweeted.  He tweeted this week, "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don`t get on the team and fast.  We must fight them and the Dems in 2018."  Then he went on to tweet directly at Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Raul Labrador, let`s repeal and replace. 

Now this is after he has said he is moving on and not doing health care anymore.  One more beat.  "The New York Times" reported the Trump attack on the Freedom Caucus was actually by design.  It wasn`t some accident.  It wasn`t him just being impulsive and says that Mr. Trump`s advisers have become more involved in his free form Twitter feed in the last few weeks. 

[22:35:05] Stephen Bannon, Trump`s chief strategist, has counseled a tough tone with the rebels instructing his staff to use Twitter`s rhetorical prod to keep the party in line. 

Indira, is there any evidence that if Donald Trump were to spurn this maybe 29, 30 members of the House that there is any reason Democrats would come and provide him the margins he needs to pass anything?  Why would Democrats come in and rescue him? 

LAKSHMANAN:  Right.  I don`t see it.  I don`t see the percentage in this for him at all.  And you know, they`ve got to come up with a governing strategy as I said, and if you can`t get your own party in line, why would you expect that the other party would cross over?  He`s been pointing fingers since the health care, since he was unable to repeal and replace.  He`s had to blame it on everyone other than himself. 

REID:  Yes.  And Rick, I have to -- 


REID:  Before I let you back in I got to play the responses of some of these members of -- listen.  I don`t agree with them ideologically.  But I think George Will and agree on this.  They appear to be the only Republicans who recognize that they belong to a coequal branch of government with the White House, that they don`t work for the White House. 

WILSON:  Right. 

REID:  Let`s play three of the members starting with Justin Amash.  Take a listen. 


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER:  It may allow a child to get his way.  But that`s not how our government works. 

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER:  We`re trying to help the president.  But the fact is you got to look at the legislation.  And it doesn`t do what we told the voters we were going to do, and the American people understand that.  That`s why only 17 percent of the population supports this legislation. 

REP. TED YOHO (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER:  I don`t work for the president.  I don`t work for the leadership.  I work for the people that sent me here. 


REID:  Rick Wilson, they tried to pass a $1 trillion tax cut disguised as a health care bill that got 17 percent support.  That means even Republicans hated the bill. 

WILSON:  Yes.  And look, free market Republicans hated the bill because it was basically just a different set of giveaways to the insurance companies and to pharma.  And the Freedom Caucus guys hated it because it didn`t look bold enough.  It was too gutless.  And the rest of the Republican caucus hated it because it looked too heartless. 

The thing was a hot mess from the get-go.  But Trump was trying to sell what Trump always sells, which is sort of a flatulent mass of his own fantasy about what the product is.  So he got out there.  He talked fast.  He said things like oh, don`t pay attention to the details.  We`re just going to do something great together.  Well, this guy is entirely contingent, he is entirely impulsive.  And at the end of the day, the voters weren`t buying it. 

REID:  Yes. 

WILSON:  And the members of Congress on the Republican said no, we`re not going to go and do -- we`re going to set ourselves on fire for a bad bill that has bad outcomes both politically and policy wise for this guy who is a snake who will turn and bite us on the ass in a hot second, which he did. 

REID:  Yes.  Memo to Donald Trump, the Freedom Caucus is the Tea Party.  They specialize in going after other Republicans.  They`re not afraid of you, man. 

Rick Wilson, thank you very much. 

WILSON:  All right. 

REID:  Indira, stand by. 

WILSON:  Thanks. 

REID:  All right.  Coming up next, the worst thing Donald Trump did this month could be the one thing that no one is talking about.  We`ll tell you what that is and who is paying the price for it next. 



[22:41:08] TRUMP:  As far as the wiretapping I guess by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps. 


REID:  Merkel`s face.  That was Donald Trump on Friday, March 17th.  Now on that very same day in Mosul, Iraq, a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting the Islamic State may have killed as many as 200 civilians, which if accurate would be the highest civilian death toll in a single incidence since the First Gulf War. 

The day before, on March 16th, a U.S.-led air strike in Syria killed 49 civilians after hitting a building in a religious complex.  And as the "New York Times" reports, the United States launched more attacks in Yemen this month than during all of last year. 

Well, the last month the U.S. military presence in the Middle East has grown significantly with the "L.A. Times" reporting that the Pentagon quietly dispatched 400 Marines to northern Syria.  And in Iraq nearly 300 Army paratroopers were deployed recently to help the Iraqi military. 

These developments may be part of the secret plan to defeat ISIS that Donald Trump talked about on the campaign trail.  But as Indira Lakshmanan writes about in her most recent column in "The Boston Globe," "President Trump is earning a reputation as a boss who wants a quick fix and doesn`t care -- doesn`t much care how you got there."  And Indira is back with me. 

So, Indira, "The Guardian" wrote this week that Trump earlier this year ordered the review of the rules of engagement set by his predecessor Barack Obama which had insisted on the near certainty that there would be no civilian casualties before any airstrikes could be sanctioned.  And that there are mounting concerns that the very fact that reviews have been ordered may have already led to the threshold being ordered." 

Are we being less careful in your view in terms of trying to avoid civilian casualties under Donald Trump? 

LAKSHMANAN:  Well, so there is one thing which is whether the actual rules of engagement have changed yet.  And what we know this week from the Pentagon is they have not.  The head of Central Command actually testified before the House Armed Services Committee and said they haven`t changed the rules of engage.  However, that`s different from the tone that is set from the top.  And Donald Trump has made it very clear that he is all about defeating ISIS.  Do it.  Do it quickly.  Get it done.  He is about delegating to the Pentagon. 

Whereas President Obama was criticized some would say rightfully for being really a micromanager when it came to the issue of ISIS and Syria because he didn`t want to get us dragged in to another quagmire in the Middle East. 

Trump has kind of swung the pendulum very radically in the other direction.  And that means that low-level ground commander, Americans who are there supporting Iraqi troops, are able to call in strikes in a way that they were not able to before.  And so this is where we have these concerns of this incredibly high civilian casualty toll in the month of March, which all totaled up is more than the entire civilian casualty toll since the whole campaign against ISIS began in 2014 August. 

So if these numbers prove to be true, huge.  And if that`s the secret plan to defeat ISIS, it looks a whole lot like American boots on the ground.  Another 240 infantry.  Folks were sent out this week from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. 

REID:  Yes. 

LAKSHMANAN:  Donald Trump promised he wasn`t going to take America back into another war.  But it is looking like we`re sliding in that direction. 

REID:  Yes, led by a commander-in-chief who himself got five deferments from serving in Vietnam himself.  So scary developments. 

Indira Lakshmanan, thank you so much for joining us.  Appreciate it. 

LAKSHMANAN:  Thanks, Joy. 

REID:  And as mad as March has been, next month could bring a real bombshell in the Russia investigations.  Possibly in the form of dramatic witness testimony.  Maybe even live on cable TV.  Mike Flynn`s lawyer says he has a story to tell.  Well, who else does?  That`s next. 


[22:48:06] REID:  The madness of this month will spill into next month, which begins on Saturday.  Given everything that`s already developed in the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, there is a high probability that we`ll see things get even stranger.  With three separate inquiries at the FBI and in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, all running simultaneously, the question is, who will be called into testify next? 

Well, former National Security adviser Michael Flynn wants to hear if and when he`ll be interviewed and whether he`ll be offered immunity by anyone.  Donald Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy Carter Page and longtime political consultant Roger Stone have all volunteered to give testimony. 

And then there are the Obama administration officials.  Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates could also be called in if they -- if they were supposed to appear before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week, I mean.  But Chairman Devin Nunes canceled that open hearing without explaining why. 

One intelligence committee member, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, said this today about the investigation and the other possible witnesses. 


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS:  Now at this point in time, the only thing we have is the opportunity to go forward.  I`m not giving up on the House investigation.  I do believe we`re going to have that open hearing.  And I do believe we`re going back to meetings with Admiral Rogers and Mr. Comey to find out exactly what took place. 


REID:  Naveed Jamali, former FBI intelligence operative and author of "How to Catch a Russian Spy."  He worked as a double agent for the FBI against Russian military intelligence and he`s also an MSNBC contributor. 

All right, Naveed.  Let`s game out who you think would be the most important witnesses to call in trying to get to the bottom of Russiagate.  If you could pick anyone -- we`re going to say with the Senate Intelligence Committee because they`re more likely to do it, who would you call? 

NAVEED JAMALI, FORMER FBI INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE:  You know, Joy, first, I kind of want to stop watching this movie and just read the spoiler alert. 

[22:50:03] I want to see how it ends.  I mean, that`s the reality.  But the adult in me says that there is a balance here.  We obviously have a thirst to know what`s going on.  But what concerns me -- look, I`d love to hear Flynn testify, I`d love to hear Manafort, the whole cast of the Trump team as well as Sally Yates and everyone else. 

What concerns me, though, is that if this is done in open hearing that before the FBI investigation is completed that we perhaps risk the -- you know, the impartiality and the completeness of that investigation.  So I`m really concerned about that.  But, look, the other part of me just wants to know what the heck is going on. 

REID:  Well, when you talk -- one person you didn`t mention that I think a lot of people would love to hear from is Christopher Steele. 

JAMALI:  Yes. 

REID:  And he of course is a former MI6 official that was hired by a Trump opponent we believe in the Republican Party to put together that dossier.  And he began gathering this unfavorable information on behalf of Republicans.  But then later worked on behalf of Democrats.  That dossier of course had the salacious piece of information that got all the headlines but there is a lot in there that tries to build a narrative which is what we have been missing as to what happened and why.  Do you think it`s likely that he could wind up being called? 

JAMALI:  I think it certainly is.  I mean, it -- I mean, Adam Schiff has said so.  It seems that that would be -- you know, there is also rumors that the FBI at one point wanted to hire him.  So it seems likely that he will come in. 

I think that -- and look, even what Nunes, the intelligence that he said he saw that justified the president`s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama, I mean, if that is -- whatever that intelligence was, I mean, even that sounds salacious.  So there is obviously a level here of salacious detail that we have had rumors of for a very long time now that part of us just wants to hear that. 

REID:  Yes. 

JAMALI:  The other part here, though, is was there criminal activity?  And I think that`s the part that we need to really focus on is where is this going? 

REID:  Yes.  And Adam Schiff who`s the ranking member on the House Intel Committee said -- re-tweeted Donald Trump talking about Michael Flynn saying, the public should learn a lot move about why General Flynn wants immunity when Sally Yates testifies before the House Intelligence Committee.  But that isn`t going to happen, though, right now.  We`re not seeing Sally Yates before the House. 

JAMALI:  Right.  Right. 

REID:  Yes.  And -- 


REID:  Go on. 

JAMALI:  No, I agree with that.  I think that this is -- you know, Flynn is going to be the piece de resistance here.  I mean, this is going to be -- hopefully he has something -- we don`t want him to give up Manafort. 

REID:  Right.

  JAMALI:  Hopefully it`s something bigger.  That`s I think what everyone is looking for. 

REID:  Yes.  Absolutely.  Naveed Jamali, thank you very much for joining us.  Appreciate it. 

JAMALI:  Thank you, Joy. 

REID:  So what did Donald Trump do when questioned today about his Michael Flynn tweet?  Well, he didn`t sign the two executive orders that he was there to sign despite Mike Pence`s apparent efforts to get him to do so.  Take a look. 


TRUMP:  Today I am signing two executive orders.  You are going to see some very, very strong results very, very quickly.  Thank you very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Mr. President, today with your tweet, were you trying to tell the Justice Department to grant immunity to Michael Flynn?  Were you trying to do that that, Mr. President?  Was that your intention, Mr. President, sir?  Mr. President, was that your intention?  Mr. President, was that your intention, sir? 



[22:56:41] REID:  Donald Trump`s March Madness has been a month of mockery.  The cover of the upcoming issue of the "New Yorker" pretty much sums it up.  The artist Barry Blit describes the magazine`s cover like this.  "The word duffer is defined as a person inexperienced at something.  That`s the word that comes to mine as I watch President Trump plowing one drive after another through the glass windows of American politics." 

And politics continues to dominate late-night TV.  Late-night hosts pulled no punches in their Donald Trump punch lines.  So I`m just going to sit back and sip some tea here as we watch it all unfold. 


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT":  According to a new report, Obama officials fought to preserve evidence of Russian election meddling.  It`s a good idea.  Though I do believe there was one large piece of evidence sitting in the Oval Office right now. 

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW":  Every time we dig deep into Trump`s campaign it seems like there is a new person who is connected to the Russians.  You know.  First it was Manafort.  Then it was Flynn.  The whole thing is like one of those Russian nesting dolls.  You know?  Every time one person goes away someone else pops out. 

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN":  Hawaii is suing President Trump over his latest travel ban.  Hawaii is suing.  Yes.  In response, President Trump is suing Hawaii for being hard to spell.  That`s what -- that`s what he said.  It was hard to spell. 

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW":  Kellyanne Conway defended Trump`s claim that Obama was wiretapping him and she had some very interesting ideas about how it might have happened.  Watch this. 

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR:  There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their -- certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways, and microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. 

FALLON:  I`m not sure if Kellyanne`s microwave is watching her but it sounds like she spends a lot of time looking directly into it.  Yes. 

O`BRIEN:  Press Secretary Sean Spicer now says that President Trump didn`t literally mean that President Obama wiretapped him.  He also said Donald Trump didn`t literally mean for people to vote for him. 

COLBERT:  For weeks now, Republicans have been pushing their Obamacare replacement plan.  But the bill has a preexisting condition.  Everybody hates it. 

FALLON:  And this week it came out that his job approval rating is at just 36 percent.  Trump was confused.  He said, how can they disapprove of a job I`m not even doing? 

COLBERT:  It was announced that Ivanka Trump will become a federal employee in the White House serving as the president`s eyes and ears.  Yes.  Yes.  Eyes and ears.  No word yet on who will be operating his brain. 

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS":  President Trump told senators yesterday that they would make a deal on health care because, quote, "that`s such an easy one."  OK.  Well, just make sure your health care plan covers amnesia. 


REID:  I`m Joy Reid.  Thanks for watching.  I`ll see you tomorrow on "A.M. JOY" starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  And "HARDBALL" is up next.