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The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 4/7/2017

Guests: David Corn, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Tom Nichols, David Filipov, Phyliss Bennis, Jonathan Swan

Show: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell Date: April 7, 2017 Guest: David Corn, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Tom Nichols, David Filipov, Phyliss Bennis, Jonathan Swan

[22:00:00] RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Have an excellent weekend. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, you know, I usually show up here with nothing planned to say to you, and I listen to what`s going on. And then I -- but tonight I actually showed up with something planned to say.


O`DONNELL: And you ruined it. Because I just listened again, Rachel.


MADDOW: Bless our hearts and other parts.

O`DONNELL: All right. But --


O`DONNELL: I didn`t know I could get you to say that again. OK.

MADDOW: I`m regretting it immediately.

O`DONNELL: So -- OK. I`m going to try to say the thing I planned to say.


O`DONNELL: And what I planned to say is wouldn`t it be nice if it was just completely, totally, absolutely impossible to suspect that Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all of the praise he`s picked up over the last 24 hours? Wouldn`t it be so nice if you couldn`t even in your wildest dreams imagine a scenario like that?

MADDOW: Wouldn`t it be great if we could go back to "Wag the Dog" being a -- being sitcom plot, you know?

O`DONNELL: Exactly. And I don`t know what it is. Is it a 2 percent chance? Is it a 50 percent chance? I don`t know. But what -- I don`t think it`s a zero percent chance. And it used to be with every other president prior to Donald Trump.

MADDOW: Yes. And the question of how we will ever find out whether or not that`s true is inexorably intertwined with the ongoing counterintelligence investigation of this president`s campaign in terms of whether or not he colluded with Russia.


MADDOW: So maybe eventually we`ll get an answer to that from Jim Comey.

O`DONNELL: We will wait.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.

Well, when Bill Clinton fired missiles during his presidency, Republicans questioned that. They questioned whether that was to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and that was a legitimate question. You couldn`t possibly get through covering that story without having that question come up. Because the president was deeply involved in the scandal. And the missiles changed the subject as the missiles always do. Missiles always change the subject. And so tonight we have some questions about the motivations of everyone involved in what has happened inside Syria.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is clearly telegraphing a deeper involvement in Syria, which again, several days ago was not a key priority for the Trump administration.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, what`s the end goal with the strikes on Syria?


NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: I`m distrustful of how quickly he switched. I don`t know what his motivations were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is frankly not helpful to launch a small scale attack and then to continue a policy of denying exit from Syria to the millions of children and parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the president owes it to the American people to come to Congress and present a plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not one of the vital U.S. national security interests. North Korea is. Iranian nukes are.

TRUMP: I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that, frankly, if there is a danger right now it would be that the U.S. is expressing too much confidence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s a reason it`s been hard to figure this out. It is very complicated. And there are millions of people suffering in the meanwhile.


O`DONNELL: It`s perfect. Just perfect. I wish it wasn`t. If Vladimir Putin, if, if, if Vladimir Putin masterminded the last week in Syria, he has gotten everything he could have asked for. Vladimir Putin was essentially the man in charge of making sure that Syria got rid of all of its chemical weapons under a deal with the Obama administration. And so it makes perfect sense to question whether President Bashar al-Assad would have checked with his most important patron, Vladimir Putin, before using chemical weapons that Vladimir Putin was supposed to have helped get rid of.

[22:05:14] It would be terribly embarrassing to Vladimir Putin if President Assad had exposed Vladimir Putin as having completely failed to get rid of those chemical weapons. You wouldn`t want to be Bashar al-Assad in a conversation with Vladimir Putin after that. Unless you had a conversation with him before that. Unless Vladimir Putin said I have an idea. Go ahead. Do a small chemical attack. Nothing -- nothing like the big ones you`ve done in the past. Just big enough to attract media attention so that my friend in the White House will see it on TV. And then Donald Trump can fire some missiles at Syria that will do no real damage, and then the American news media will change the subject from Russian influence in the Trump campaign and the Trump transition and the Trump White House.

It`s perfect. It doesn`t just change the subject. For most of the news media, it changes the conventional wisdom about the dynamic between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. President Trump has finally dared to do something that Vladimir Putin doesn`t like. It changes everything. As long as you never, never question whether Vladimir Putin wanted all of this to happen this week.

And when you question that and you look at what has happened, it`s always worth remembering that if Vladimir Putin really does have ways known or unknown to Donald Trump to influence Donald Trump, then every day that is a good day for President Trump is a good day for President Putin.

Now not one word that I`ve just said could possibly have been said about any president prior to Donald Trump. Don`t you miss those days when if there was a chemical attack in Syria you could be absolutely sure that President Assad and President Putin did not do that in order to help the image of the president of the United States? That, that is the world that Donald Trump has given us. That is the range of possibility Donald Trump has given us.

You will hear opinion in this hour that is counter to the possible scenario that I have just outlined. But what you won`t hear is proof that that scenario that I have just outlined is impossible because what the presidency of Donald Trump has shown is that with Donald Trump anything is possible.

You have heard in the last 25 hours pundits on television reaching for the momentous, as they always do. Reaching for the line that for better or worse will get your attention. And so you have heard the profound pronouncement that last night Donald Trump became president of the United States.

You should all be used to that by now. That whenever Donald Trump does something routine, something that most presidents would have done, pundits will rush to the microphone to marvel at how presidential the president has become. And they will all, within a matter of days, be embarrassed by the least presidential person ever to occupy the White House.

We went through this cycle before when the president gave an address to Congress and read every word in his teleprompter. After which he was instantly declared to have just become president of the United States. And four days after they he tweeted, "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

And so now we now await that next round of embarrassment for pundits. And we look back on the days when we could be absolutely certain. And I mean 100 percent certain that Vladimir Putin did not conspire to kill people as a way of helping the image of the president of the United States.

Joining us now, David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and MSNBC political analyst Rick Wilson, Republican strategist and contributor to "The Daily Beast." Also with us Indira Lakshmanan, Washington columnist for the "Boston Globe." She is also with the Pointer Institute for Media Studies.

And Indira, I raise this and I raise it without assigning a statistical probability to it. I don`t know what it is. I just know that it`s not zero and it should be zero. It has been zero with every previous president.

[22:10:05] But when you look at the way the events have unfolded this week, Donald Trump could not have asked for a better end of the week for his presidency as he sees it.

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, Lawrence, this is of course the problem with credibility. That when any White House or any politician has a problem with telling the truth, or is caught in repeated lies, then of course the public is going to have trouble believing them. And that`s why the scenario that you spun, while I don`t abide by it necessarily, or don`t put credence in it, nobody as you say can say that it`s untrue. We have no way of disproving it. And the fact that anyone would think it at all possible is because we have reason to doubt because so many crazy things have happened.

What I will say is that he did these air strikes having alerted the Russians to it. You know, they call it deconflicting. But it`s certainly known that the Russians who of course are backing Assad would have alerted the Syrians to this and allowed the Syrians to get out of place before these airstrikes happened. So, you know, while you can on the one hand say yes, President Trump did send a strong message. At the same time it was a message where the consequences for the Russians and the Syrians were reduced. That`s for sure.

O`DONNELL: Yes, and David Corn, they used weapons that won`t harm the runways of that airfield. They know exactly how much they`re limiting the damage to the airfield. You could go on and on about it. But if Vladimir Putin wants the Trump presidency to succeed so that he can manipulate the Trump presidency, Vladimir Putin is going to have to find ways to help him out.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Well, yes. And perhaps, you know, there is talk about working on the sanctions if the Russians don`t overreact. But the word I`m thinking about tonight, Lawrence, begins with F. That`s feckless. Because you know if Obama had done anything like this, a minimum impact launch with telling the Russians, and it`s a good thing you tell the Russians first so it doesn`t escalate.


CORN: And that, you know, the next day, as was reported today, the Syrians are back using the same air base to launch strikes against civilian targets and rebels, that the Republicans on the right would be calling Obama feckless. Their favorite word for him. This didn`t really matter, didn`t really do anything, didn`t really signal much. And so I do think while a lot of pundits as you noted went overboard last night and, you know, called him presidential, there is a lot to settle about this one episode. And I don`t think, you know, a few days from now, a week or two from now, it may not look as glorious and thus as smart inspired by Putin as it might look last night and this morning.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Nikki Haley said today at the United Nations.


HALEY: It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria. It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons. Or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools.

The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad. The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences. Those days are over.


O`DONNELL: And Rick Wilson, it could also be that Vladimir Putin was complicit and aware of this chemical weapons attack.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, Vladimir Putin is a former intelligence officer, a classic sort of Russian Chekist. And this is a guy who stacks bodies like cord wood in his own country to suit his political ends.

I put zero past Vladimir Putin in this sort of thing. And the fact of the matter is, you know, there are the emotional reaction by Donald Trump to this week to set off a one and done attack that was a -- supposed to be a signal. I think people are way over interpreting the consequences of this in the short and long term. I don`t think this means anything to Putin. I think he is laughing all the way to the -- to the bank on this. He doesn`t care that Trump got a little credit for it. He likes that, I think.

And it doesn`t do anything to change the actual behavior of the Assad regime. And it doesn`t dismiss the Russian clients status of Syria to Russia. I don`t think it does much -- I don`t think it moved the ball at all. It let president bang-bang, whoosh-whoosh, he get to turn the key and watch the pretty rockets go. But I don`t think it did anything beyond that.

O`DONNELL: And Indira, if there is no real Russian response beyond Vladimir Putin`s mandatory statement today saying it was an act of aggression, might not Donald Trump in the Trump White House be grateful that there was no larger response from Russia in this? And could that then mean hands off, Russia, in Syria?

[22:15:12] LAKSHMANAN: I mean, sure. Trump does not want the escalate this into a problem between the United States and Russia. But I think the bottom line here is we have to look at the broader question of all of this, which is what is Trump`s actual policy in Syria. And in my column in today`s paper, what I wrote about is it`s very hard to send a message if you don`t have a message to send. And Donald Trump`s policy to Syria has been oppositeville. Basically, four years ago when there was the first chemical weapons attack he sent out this tweet storm to President Obama in which he said don`t strike. Don`t strike Assad. Don`t do this. It`s going to be a disaster. There is no percentage in it for the United States. It`s a mess. Don`t do it.

Now he does exactly the opposite. It seems like the Trump doctrine is do the opposite of what Obama would do. You know, he -- in fact, fewer people were killed in this chemical weapons attack than in the last one four years ago. So I think the question is, you know, just a few days ago, his people, Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson were saying Assad can stay in power. Now they`re saying Assad has to leave.

So what is their actual policy beyond 59 airstrikes? What`s the next move? It`s got to be sanctions. It`s got to be diplomacy. At the end of the day wars don`t end with a bunch of airstrikes. Wars end with actual negotiations and diplomacy. So they have to have a plan B. And I don`t think they`ve actually thought this through. A few days ago they were going to let Assad stay in power. Now they`re suddenly doing airstrikes. So they need to actually think through what is the next plan they`re going to do.

And I`ll say just very quickly, on my flight from Washington to Boston tonight, both Senator Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren were on the same flight. And I spoke to both of them and asked them, you know, what do you think? What next? And both of them were very clear that they think the president has to come to Congress if he is going to do anything beyond this in terms of an authorization for more military force.

So the president says he is ready to do more. I think he is going to find a Congress that is resistant to letting him do more without coming in first asking for permission.

O`DONNELL: I`m reserving my seat on the Friday night Washington to Boston flight next Friday night. That`s the place --

LAKSHMANAN: It was a good one. It was good one.

O`DONNELL: That`s a place to be for that. And David Corn, the possibility here that no one in the administration has a hint of a policy. Rex Tillerson if you look what he is saying days ago had no hint of a policy. Suddenly now he is supposed to be saying to the Russians this is what we need in Syria. This is someone who hadn`t given it a thought prior to Tuesday.

CORN: Well, this is war by impulse. Donald Trump had a policy, so to speak, for a couple of years now, don`t do anything. Then he changed his mind on the basis of a graphic, you know, gruesome attack but one that wasn`t much different from what we`ve seen in the past. And as Indira just pointed out, there was no strategy beyond the attack. Rex Tillerson is due, you know, see Putin soon. What is he going to say? What is --


CORN: What is the policy here? What is the policy about any other region? What is the policy in terms of Iraq and Iran? I mean, we just don`t have any because ultimately it`s not about policy for Donald Trump. It`s about himself.

WILSON: David --

O`DONNELL: Go ahead, Rick.

WILSON: You know, David is right. This is policy by impulse. And it`s not -- what you saw last night was an action, not a policy. This was --

CORN: Yes.

LAKSHMANAN: This was a moment where John McCain and Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham and everybody else who has been out there for ages saying we`ve got to have a cohesive, coherent policy against the Assad regime, to not only to defeat ISIS, but to defeat the Assad regime.

For one moment Donald Trump did something that was in that lane. But that doesn`t mean he`s going to stay there. And he is impulsive. He`s got the attention span of a gnat on meth. This is a guy with absolutely zero ability to focus. So by tomorrow we could be back to crazy tweet town. And I don`t think he has ever thought it through. I think there are competing strains. McMaster, Mattis, and to my understanding now, a little bit even Rex Tillerson, one of the more nuanced thing. Bannon wants to keep Assad in power so he can wage his war against the brown people.

And this is -- this is an administration that is riven by all these different strains and different competing schools of thought. And I think Trump literally, I think David`s exactly right. He saw some terrible pictures and said turn the key, launch the missiles. I don`t think this is considered in any way.

O`DONNELL: Rick Wilson gets the last word in this segment. Rick Wilson and Indira Lakshmanan, thank you both for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

WILSON: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the war within the White House, Steve Bannon versus Donald Trump`s son-in-law. Let me think. I think I know who I`m betting on.



HALEY: Russia is supposed to be a guarantor of the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Think about that. Russia is supposed to have removed all the chemical weapons from Syria. But obviously that has not happened. As innocent Syrians continue to be murdered in chemical attacks.


O`DONNELL: Pentagon officials are now investigating Russia`s involvement in the chemical attack. President Putin`s spokesman says Friday that the missile strikes significantly damaged Russian-American relations, saying, "President Putin considers the U.S. strikes against Syria an aggression against a sovereign country, violating the norms of international law."

Next week the Trump administration is scheduled to have its first face-to- face meeting with Vladimir Putin when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Russia after Thursday`s missile strikes. Rex Tillerson said, "Clearly Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement."

Joining us now Tom Nichols, foreign policy expert who is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the author of "The Death of Expertise." And also with us from Moscow, David Filipov, Moscow bureau chief for "The Washington Post."

David, what -- what do you suppose is the likelihood that President Assad who have launched a chemical attack without Vladimir Putin`s knowledge or approval?

[22:25:09] DAVID FILIPOV, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there is always the theory that President Assad doesn`t want any peace agreement. Doesn`t -- he wants to win the war outright. President Putin has been trying to broker a peace deal that brings in Turkey and Iran because it makes Russia have a higher profile. From that point of view, what Assad did is a complete embarrassment to Putin and it puts Putin in a horrible spot. Now he is the guy backing the pariah.

So I can totally imagine Assad, being who he is, the pariah pulling this off and Putin being as shocked as anybody about it, now he`s in a position, do I back that guy or do I stand down from my position as the regional, you know, peace broker? It`s terrible for Putin.

O`DONNELL: And what would be -- in that scenario, what would be Putin`s choice?

FILIPOV: Well, he`s just said we`re going to turn off the line of communication that prevents, you know, air confrontations between Russian and U.S. aircraft. So there is that route, which how do we know that that ends up, you know, with somebody not shooting somebody down? Or there is the route of, you know, next week when Secretary of State Tillerson comes in saying, you know, we`ve got to back off of Assad and back off our support, come to some sort of agreement with the international community and condemn this.

I don`t know. I mean, everything we`ve ever talked about with Putin and Trump is what is going to happen when there is a military confrontation between these two, you know, disrupters in chief. And we`re about to find that out. It seems to me it`s hard for Putin to back away from his guy at this point.

O`DONNELL: Tom Nichols, Vladimir Putin is Assad`s most important sponsor. Without Putin there is no future for Assad. Putin has guaranteed the removal of chemical weapons. Then Assad used his chemical weapons. Would he use those chemical weapon, given all of that and given Putin`s direct responsibility on those chemical weapons? Would he have used those without checking with Vladimir Putin first and saying I have this in mind?

TOM NICHOLS, PROFESSOR, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE: It`s quite possible. I mean, the Russian military in Syria can`t keep tabs on Bashar Assad all day long. Assad runs his own country and he runs his own military. This is not -- he doesn`t have to go all the way to the Kremlin for permission to do bad a things. And as David just said, he`s now put Putin in a terrible position.

Putin is a mafia guy. He is a mob boss. And one of his underlings just made him look really bad. So it may well be that Putin has decided that at least this once because his guy did this thing against the boss`s interest that he`s got to take a beating but maybe not repeated beatings which is why Putin may have threatened to turn off the deconfliction channel.

O`DONNELL: And David, Vladimir Putin`s statement today, that written statement of act of aggression, international law, it didn`t sound like there was any really powerful language in that.

FILIPOV: Exactly. It`s as much as anyone could have said without actually offering anything aggressive and without actually threatening to do anything. Even turning off that line, that deconflicting line, it doesn`t amount to aggression. It`s only aggression if you decide to shoot things down. And let`s not forget, there is another player in here. Assad is not alone with Russia. It`s got Iran. Iran is Assad`s ally, and Iran really wants to win that war and doesn`t want other people involved in it either.

So one of the things that Putin is thinking about is, hey, you know, I had this big deal with Iran and Turkey. What is going on here? I got to be in charge of that. So when Putin lashes out and all his people lash out, tune that out and look at it. What exactly is he doing that he wasn`t doing yesterday? And there is not that much.

O`DONNELL: Yes. Tom Nichols, to that point, what is Vladimir Putin`s next move in this situation?

NICHOLS: Well, he has to decide just how much trouble Assad is worth. In a sense now he is backed into a corner. He can`t leave him -- he can`t leave Assad out in the cold now that the Americans have struck him. But he`s got a troublesome client, and a client who clearly has an interest in this different from Russia`s who has other friends like Iran. And so I think the really interesting question about what develops next is yes, the Trump-Putin relationship is going to be interesting to see what happens next. But also the Putin-Assad relationship. Because Assad just gave him a lot more of a headache than Putin needed and really that he probably thinks that Assad merits.

O`DONNELL: And David, the Trump administration tonight is getting out the word that this is a one-time event. They have no plans for any further actions involving Syria. That`s the breaking news actually that is coming in while we`ve been speaking, that senators who have been briefed on the administration`s plans have just revealed that the administration -- the Trump administration has no follow-up planned for this at all. So when Vladimir Putin looks at that and says they coordinated with us ahead of time so that we could get everybody out of any danger at that airfield.

[22:30:08] They made sure they didn`t destroy the airfield. They were in effect as gentle as they could be with a missile strike. And Vladimir Putin gets the word tonight that that`s it. That`s the end. Donald Trump is finished. How does Putin react to that?

FILIPOV: Well, you know, there is a possibility that Putin was never going to back down anyway because he is Vladimir Putin. But I mean, letting them know about the rockets was part of the procedure they would have had with the deconflicting line. And it also, by the way, saved Putin from the possible embarrassment that -- let`s say they try to shoot down 59 Tomahawks and they can`t do it. Those systems wouldn`t have been able to take out all those missiles. You would have had a situation there where everybody is firing at each other and it would have looked really bad for everyone.

But I see where you`re going with this. And there is definitely a possibility that the same way that Putin really didn`t say anything aggressive today, it`s also true that that gesture really didn`t do a whole lot of damage. It`s two -- you know, two actors there not really doing a whole lot while making it look really, really, you know -- you know, striking. So what`s really up is what are we going to see next week when Secretary of State Tillerson comes? How are they going to be talking to each other? Are they talking about solving a problem? Are they talking about deconflicting? Are they talking about the third world war?

I think it`s none of those things. I think it`s about, how do we go into something that we can kind of move forward and sell everybody on the idea.

O`DONNELL: David Filipov, thank you very much for joining us from Moscow tonight. And Tom Nichols, thank you for joining us. Really appreciate it.

NICHOLS: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, what next in Syria? That`s the question. We just got the word, the breaking news tonight that the Trump administration has zero plans for a next step in Syria.

And the war inside the Trump White House. The latest rumors of who is now the closest to being fired. One of them is in that photograph.



[22:35:40] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, what`s the end goal with the strikes on Syria?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.


O`DONNELL: That was earlier today. And breaking news reports tonight, within this hour from senators briefed on the Trump administration`s plans, senators say they believe that the Trump administration now has no other actions planned for Syria.

Here is what the Secretary of State said earlier today.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will monitor Syria`s response to that strike in terms of whether they attack our own forces or coalition forces, or whether we detect that they are considering or mobilizing to undertake additional chemical weapons attacks. And I`d say at this point the future will be guided by how we see their reaction.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Phyllis Bennis, a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis, adulthood is that ability to prior to taking an action, asking yourself the question, and what happens after that? And we are now at the stage that of course we`re hoping that the Trump administration would have been at before they took their action. But as you see it, what happens next?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: I think one of the biggest problems, Lawrence, is that no one in the White House knows what comes next because this military attack yesterday has no connection to an actual strategy to end the war in Syria. What we`re seeing is a reaction, a spontaneous reaction. It seems to have come from something that Donald Trump was watching on television.

We used to talk, you know, about the FOX factor, when a lot of people would be watching television and would be motivated for some good reasons to say we must do something. And too often the something was equated with something military. And if it wasn`t military, it didn`t count. And now we`re seeing that as if Trump has his own FOX factor all by himself, or a Twitter factor, where he sees something and he turns and says we`ve got to do something. Send the Marines. Send the bombers.

There is no strategy. There is no understanding of how this could make things dramatically worse for precisely those civilians in Syria that Trump says that he is so concerned about. The same ones that is slamming the door of our country in their face are the same babies that he says he now wants to go to war to protect. There is this -- it`s not only hypocrisy, it`s an enormous level of confusion. And it`s all based on the idea that there is no strategy.

This is still, it seems, a president who believes he can somehow win this war. I don`t think he could even identify the majority of the forces that are fighting in the war in Syria because as we know, the war in Syria is not one war. By my last count, it`s about 11 separate wars that are regional wars, that are global wars, that are sectarian wars, all being fought to the last Syrian.

And it`s the Syrians who are doing the dying. In the war between the Turkey and the Kurds, it`s the Syrians who are dying. In the war between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional power, it`s the Syrians who are doing the dying. In the so far cold but sometimes slightly warmer war between the United States and Russia, it`s Syrians who are doing the dying. So this is what we have to sort of get a grasp of. And what`s very clear is that no one in the White House seems to understand it.

O`DONNELL: I want to just review for a moment why President Obama did not take the same action. And in his extensive interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Atlantic," when he was explaining his thinking on Syria, his thought about this kind of strike was, what he feared about it was yes, we could do it. Easy to do this. And it would be perceived within a very short period of time, if not immediately, as a weak response in the region, and that a weak response with no follow-up makes the United States look powerless. It`s almost -- what President Obama feared was it would be an open declaration of powerlessness to do only this.

BENNIS: In fact, this kind of a strike is an act of war, whether it`s perceived one way or another or not. The problem is that whole analysis by President Obama, whatever the analysis was of President Trump and those around him, it leaves out the people of Syria.

[22:40:04] It leaves out the people who are affected by this. It assumes that the U.S. can move in militarily, and that that will somehow transform the situation. Despite the fact that we know, and President Obama repeated this over and over again, there is no military solution. That means there has to be a willingness to say there isn`t an instant solution that looks dramatic and beautiful as one of your commentators last night was repeating several times, which was completely inappropriate, saying that the bombing trails are somehow beautiful.

Those bombing trails hold the risk of killing people. And they are violent acts. And to say that we are going to send this as a message without a strategy to end this war. The real reason that President Obama did not go forward was that there was no political support for it. First the Brits have said we won`t back it. It was turned over to Congress. Massive uprising among people in this country for several weeks where offices of Congress were saying that they were getting calls, 600, 700 to 1 against going to war in Syria.

Now things are very different in 2017 than they were four years ago. In 2013 at the time of the earlier crisis around chemical weapons, there was a sense that we could -- that we could do this militarily. Now I think what we`re seeing is this does not change the considerations. It is not going to end the war. We need diplomacy, not war.

O`DONNELL: Phyllis Bennis, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

BENNIS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the war inside the White House between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. Who do you think is going to win that?


O`DONNELL: Mr. Chaos, President Trump, is trying to diffuse the chaos in the Trump White House. According to new reports, according to Politico, quote, "Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner had a bury-the-hatchet meeting officiated by President Donald Trump after arriving at that hotel in Florida this week."

[22:45:13] The sit-down, which was confirmed by two White House officials, was an attempt to smooth over tensions between the two men. And "The New York Times" reports that the president told Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus on Thursday to, quote, "work this out."

How is that for the wisdom of Solomon, figuring out exactly how to solve this? Work this out.

Axios reported President Trump is considering a broad shake-up that could include the replacement of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and the departure of Steve -- of chief strategist Steve Bannon. The White House called that report completely false. So it must be completely false.

But according to NBC`s Katy Tur, a source close to Bannon says things are very bad for him in the White House right now. Allies are telling him to lay low. And wait out the storm.

You can`t wait out the storm if the storm is the president`s son-in-law.

Jonathan Swann of Axios has spoken with the associates of Steve Bannon this week. He will join us, along with David Corn, next.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you shaking things up and rebooting a little bit?

TRUMP: I think we have shaken them up, but I think we`ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency if you look at all that we`ve done. I think we`ve had tremendous success, and we`ve just begun.


O`DONNELL: Shakeup in the White House. Joining us now, Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios, and back with us, David Corn.

So an orthodox Jew and a anti-Semite walk into the White House.


O`DONNELL: Jonathan Swan, what could possibly go wrong? Steve Bannon, I just want to clarify, his wife in divorce papers under oath said that Steve Bannon did not want his daughters in Los Angeles going to a school because it had too many kids there like Jared Kushner`s kids.

[22:50:19] He feared that the school had too many Jewish kids and too many Jewish parents. How does Jared Kushner do a day`s work in the same building with that guy?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS REGIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, look, I mean, I`ve spent a lot of time reporting on Steve Bannon, I`m spending a lot of people who work with him, and they include Orthodox Jews and Jewish people who`ve never heard him say anything remotely anti-Semitic. So I think that`s sort of a non-issue.

There are much more substantive issues between Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. They are both stylistic and they go to policy. Jared Kushner has grown frustrated with Bannon`s burn the whole show down attitude. He also finds his policy views, particularly his economic nationalism and some of his views, you know, in terms of immigration too extreme, and Jared wants to moderate the president in his policy views.

So it`s created a real schism between the two of them. And of course Steve Bannon believes that the New Yorkers in the White House which also includes Gary Cohn, Trump`s top economic adviser, who Bannon personally despises, leading him away from his bulges towards sort of squishy conventional Wall Street Democrat kind of philosophy.

O`DONNELL: David Corn, "New York Times" reporting that in an argument, Steve Bannon with Jared Kushner, Jared Kushner said to -- no, sorry. Steve Bannon said to Jared Kushner, here`s the reason there is no middle ground. You`re a Democrat. So there he is accusing Jared Kushner of the worst thing he could possibly be other than Jewish in Steve Bannon`s mind, a Democrat.

CORN: Well, I want to know if Jared Kushner returned the favor and said, you know, you said you were running a platform for the alt-right which is part of a conservative movement made up of white nationalists. So are you a racist? Are you a white nationalist? Anyway, they can go back and forth there. I think the real problem is not Steve Bannon, it`s not Jared Kushner, it`s not Reince Priebus, it`s not Kellyanne Conway. Remember her? We should to talk about her? But not too much. It`s not Gary Cohn. It`s Donald Trump.

They are fighting and trolling about because at the core of the enterprise in the White House there is no core. I mean, Donald Trump over the years and even recently has gone back and forth on many, many key policies. Health care, tax reform, abortion, Middle East, you know military action and so because he doesn`t give strong directions about ideas because he doesn`t have a lot of ideas and because it`s never about his ideas, it`s just about him, he leads -- you know, it leads to this sort of battleground where anybody who gets him maybe on the right day or shows him the right video image can win a policy argument.

So that raises the stakes and creates a lot more chaos. And we saw in the health care fight it doesn`t tend to work.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Swan, the seen here of the president saying to Priebus and Bannon, work this out, not saying that to Jared Kushner, is there any indication in any of your reporting that the president is putting any pressure on Jared Kushner to find the solution to this relationship?

SWAN: My understanding is he`s told them to cut it out. He`s sick of seeing this. It`s really -- the last week has just become -- the tension was sort of building, but this week has just been ridiculous. And there are stories from both sides --

O`DONNELL: Give us the most ridiculous example of how ridiculous it has become.

SWAN: Well, you know, you`ve got stories now of like Steven Bannon saying to the president, I want to take my skills elsewhere, if you don`t like me. And anyone who knows Steve Bannon, he doesn`t talk like that, he doesn`t say sentences like that. So whoever, like, put that out there -- it`s not something Steve Bannon would say. He doesn`t talk like that. He is a sort of much more blunt instrument. So there is leaking on both sides. The president is very frustrated. My understanding is there is going to be some sort of an attempted kumbaya. But who knows if this thing is going to work.

CORN: I don`t want to hear Steve Bannon singing. You know, I just don`t want to hear that.


O`DONNELL: All right. We`re done with it for tonight. Jonathan Swan, David Corn, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it .

CORN: Sure thing.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, if you hate TV advertising, there is a show on FOX News that doesn`t have any. Bill O`Reilly losing all -- pretty much. I think there is one advertiser left on Bill O`Reilly`s show.

[22:55:04] That`s coming up.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, what`s the end goal with the strikes on Syria?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, would you consider --

TRUMP: Thank you.



O`DONNELL: Bill O`Reilly has lost advertisers every day this week, including today. One of the companies that stuck through -- stuck with him as long as they could this week. This is after the "New York Times" reported that $13 million in settlements have paid by FOX News and by Bill O`Reilly to women who have accused him of sexual harassment.

Angie`s List announced its decision to drop advertising on the "O`Reilly Factor" saying, "We are no longer advertising on the program." And Angie`s List, I watched this on Twitter all week. They were pressured and pressured, and pressured. Rosie O`Donnell leaned on Angie`s List on Twitter. And it succeeded. Angie`s List has dropped O`Reilly.

Earlier this week Angie`s List was saying that it wasn`t their policy to judge the content of shows that they were advertising on. O`Reilly has not said a word about this on any night this week on his show. Not one word. More than 50 companies have stopped advertising on the "O`Reilly Factor." Here is what Stephen Colbert had to say about this last night.


[23:00:03] STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": More than 30 companies have withdrawn their advertisements from the "O`Reilly Factor," including BMW, Mercedes, UNTUCKit, and a marketing service called Constant Contact who have now had to change their name to Constant Consensual Contact.


O`DONNELL: Stephen Colbert gets tonight`s LAST WORD. The "ELEVENTH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.


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