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The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 4/14/2017

Guests: Betsy Woodruff, David Horsey, Marc Ginsberg, Naveed Jamali, Mieke Eoyang, Charlie Pierce, Christina Greer, Marielena Hincapie

Show: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell Date: April 14, 2017 Guest: Betsy Woodruff, David Horsey, Marc Ginsberg, Naveed Jamali, Mieke Eoyang, Charlie Pierce, Christina Greer, Marielena Hincapie

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again next week. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ari Melber filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Thank you, Rachel. Have a great weekend.

I am Ari Melber in for Lawrence O`Donnell. First, of course, the breaking news this hour. We will continue to monitor this massive parade in North Korea`s capital. This is often an opportunity for North Korea to show off some of its military assets, as Rachel was mentioning. And there are rising tensions. So we will bring you updates on that as warranted.

As for our show tonight, let`s begin with this. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump told his supporters he would win so often they would be tired of winning. But there has not been any victory fatigue during his first two months in office at home. Trump facing losses on health care, on those two travel bans, on that failed attempt to support baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and most recently a judge rejecting Trump`s efforts to block Obama`s police reforms out in Baltimore.

That`s the story at home. But the story abroad is looking different. Trump aides saying he is winning on foreign affairs, an argument undergoing some intense debate as we head into this weekend. There is little doubt that the thrust of the Trump presidency itself did shift when he ordered the firing of those 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, a response to Syria`s regrettable use and possibly illegal deployment of chemical weapons against its own citizens.

Now while that tactical decision undercut Trump`s own past positions, that undeniable contradiction was at least initially totally overshadowed by widespread praise for President Trump`s military actions. Not just from typical allies, but from critics in his party like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and from Democrats.

Now the presidency is a full-time job, and presidents must act regardless of what`s happening at home, and even regardless of how people might interpret the president`s actions. But as the nation was fixating on Syria, there was less focus on the big story at home that day.

We`ll remind you what it was. House Intel chair Devin Nunes temporarily stepping back from the Russian investigation after that ham-handed effort to launder information he got from the executive branch in a publicized briefing of the executive branch.

Now the strike on Syria was important, no question it warranted attention. But it did not clarify the U.S. position on that Syrian war. In fact that attack drew attention to how the Trump administration has no clear position on basic matters like whether Assad should stay or go. It did not provide a doctrine or a plan for the U.S. role going forward.

Now consider that dynamic as the Trump administration then oversaw that other attack in a different war zone, escalating our posture, in Afghanistan dropping the largest nonnuclear bomb ever used on a battlefield, the MOAB, the "mother of all bombs" on that reported ISIS compound.

Now you don`t need to be an expert on Afghanistan policy to know that military force alone is not a key to success in the region, a lesson that superpowers like Russia and the U.S. have both experienced.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you authorize the bomb in Afghanistan?

TRUMP: Very, very proud of people. Really, another successful job. We`re very, very proud of our military. Just like we`re proud of the folks in this room, we are so proud of our military. And it was another successful event.


MELBER: A successful event. Well, that was how "FOX & Friends" viewed it. They were celebrating the mission like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that`s what happens when a 21,000 bomb -- 21,000 pound bomb explodes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where at least 36 ISIS fighters have lost their life.


MELBER: So that`s the background music in some people`s version of this reality show. But in foreign policy circles, very few expert says the road to North Korea runs through Afghanistan and Syria. In other words, there is no clear geostrategic reason that the U.S. appears to be escalating military disputes with these three very different countries right in a row.

There are strategic reasons why North Korea, though, is different from those other two states. The stakes here are much higher. This country is currently celebrating the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung. It`s already morning there. And as I mentioned, U.S. officials do believe there is a chance North Korea might use this anniversary, these proceedings we`re watching to coincide with the test of another nuke, another explosive test. There have been six in the recent period.

[22:05:05] A little background. The CIA considers North Korea a severely mismanaged country with chronic food shortages and an unpredictable dictator, noting North Korea has a history of regional military provocations, WMD programs, including test of nuclear devices in `06, `09, 2013 and 2016. A mass of conventional armed forces which are a major concern to the international community and it notes the regime abides by a policy calling for the simultaneous development of its nuclear weapons program and its economy.

The Pentagon has announced over this week that it will divert an aircraft carrier strike group to the area. NBC as you`ve probably heard by tonight reporting the U.S. is preparing for a possible military response to any new missile tests, though Trump officials have been disputing that. President Trump also decided to address this very sticky situation in a tweet, writing, "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they`re unable to do so, the U.S. with its allies will. USA."

And asked whether this bombing in Afghanistan was sending a message to North Korea, Trump said it doesn`t make a difference.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does this send a message to North Korea?

TRUMP: I don`t know in this sends a message. It doesn`t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of. I will say this. I think China has really been working very hard. I have really gotten to like and respect, as you know, President Xi is a terrific person. We spent a lot of time together in Florida. And he is a very special man. So we`ll see how it goes. I think he is going to try very hard.


MELBER: "We`ll see how it goes." Meanwhile, North Korea`s vice foreign minister responding to President Trump`s rhetoric, saying, "Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words, and adding, "We will go to war if they choose."

Joining me tonight for our special coverage is Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, a former ambassador from Morocco and White House Middle East adviser, Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter at the "Daily Beast," and David Horsey, a two- time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist as well as a political columnist for "The Los Angeles Times."

Ambassador Ginsberg, are we witnessing a policy or a series of impulses?

AMB. MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: I think we`re getting reality checks, Ari. I think we`re getting what essentially is the grown-ups in the White House taking charge and a consolidation of reasoned views about what doesn`t work on the campaign trail and what works based on intelligence briefings and reality check that occurs in each of these theaters, whether it`s North Korea, whether it`s Afghanistan or in particularly in Syria and with the Russians.

Those of us who have had great trepidation over the first 60 to 90 days of the president`s term now see General Mattis as well as National Security Adviser McMaster, and the emergence of Secretary of State Tillerson on the world stage. It seems that the president is now deferring to their judgment. So even if he has those unpredictable instincts to react as he did, maybe because of familial reasons, to the atrocity committed or the latest atrocity committed by Assad in Syria.

MELBER: Betsy, take a listen to a congressman on MSNBC earlier today, speaking about some of the questions that have been raised, whether proven or not, about the motivations here.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think what we have to be sure is that the president understands the implications of this kind of military action. What I fear is he sort of got a political bump from the Syrian strike. The "mother of all bomb" strike in Afghanistan. And we don`t want the president to be making decisions where he just sort of thinks more bombs is the way to build up his popularity. But rather they`re making decisions based on the national security interests of the United States and the long-term safety and security of the American people.


MELBER: Betsy, what is your reporting tell you about that kind of concern, whether it`s founded?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, I think there is certainly a widespread sense that the president is incredibly sensitive to optics. And perhaps more than any other leader we`ve had in this country. He understands the power of visuals, the power of television, the power of cable news. And when his favorite cable news morning show at this point, based on all of the reporting is of course "FOX & Friends," when they play, you know, country music over a video showing that this bomb detonating in Afghanistan, of course that`s going to have an impact.

That said, there is a lot of confidence that, you know, allegedly cooler heads will prevail. The vice president is headed to South Korea. He is arriving there on Sunday. He is clearly going to have a major hand in whatever the United States decides to do, responding to whatever North Korea decides to do.

That said, of course, the way the president, his affinity for bombast, for theatrics, for visuals, it`s something that`s really unique to him and I think it makes a lot of people quite nervous.

[22:10:03] MELBER: Well, David, your most recent cartoon, and we`ll put it up on the screen, speaks to this point. You have the chalkboard here. This is what they call on-the-job training. What`s going on here?

DAVID HORSEY, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, that`s President Xi of China and he is laying out the complexities of the China-Korea relationship, and the president is sitting back like a school kid learning something new, saying, sheesh, you`re saying this is complicated? Like healthcare? And I think what was really interesting about that encounter between the Chinese president and our president was that after 10 minutes of the Chinese president kind of explaining to him the complexities, the president came away saying, wow, this isn`t as easy as I thought, which the good part about that --

MELBER: You think?

HORSEY: Well, the good part is he is a guy who clearly can change his mind. The bad part is there are two things that are a little disturbing. One is that he could have figured that out from a few briefing books from the State Department or from the Defense Department. And also he seems ready to take the words of one of our chief rivals in the world. So it shows a little bit of "a new kid on the block" in the way he so quickly accepted this new world.

MELBER: Well, I don`t want to be too fancy with literary terms. You were the Pulitzer Prize winner here on THE LAST WORD tonight. But in literature sometimes they would call that the unreliable narrator. You would want the president of the United States to have narration from our own intelligence agencies, our own experts, not necessarily an adversary.

HORSEY: Exactly. And that is part of the incoherence that maybe is starting to disappear that he brought into the White House. His chief advisers and foreign affairs were not experts. And now he has two real smart guys talking to him, the Defense Secretary Mattis and the National Security adviser McMaster.

The only problem there is they`re both military guys, and I think there is an expertise bias that, you know, if they`re faced with a problem as sophisticated as they are, their first impulse might be a military solution.

MELBER: You`re finding a silver lining that I think Ambassador Ginsberg was also referring to.

And Ambassador, this is what Leon Panetta, of course DOD, former CIA, was speaking about here about just how important it is obviously to have the experts want to avoid what might be a low probability event, but what they call a low probability, high destruction which is the risk of a nuclear level conflagration. Here is Panetta.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: We`ve got to be careful here. This is -- you know, we shouldn`t engage in any precipitous action. There is a reason no U.S. president in recent history has pulled the trigger on North Korea. You`ve got 20 million people in Seoul that would be a target. We have the potential for a nuclear war that would take millions of lives. So I think we`ve got to exercise some care here. We`ve just given China the opportunity to engage. Let`s see how they do.


MELBER: So, Ambassador, that`s a former Democratic foreign policy official obviously making the point that I think Trump was alluding to that clearly he is getting from somewhere which is OK, China is the off-ramp for all this tension?

GINSBERG: Well, Ari, look what happened in Mar-a-Lago or after Mar-a-Lago summit meeting. The president declares publicly after his meeting with President Xi, I`ve offered President Xi a better trade deal if he helps us solve the North Korea problem. And then president went on the say but if they don`t, we may have to act alone.

Now the fact of the matter is that in each of those three sentences, you could drive a truck through in so far as what the actual strategy needs to be.

MELBER: Right.

GINSBERG: Because in the final analysis, China is not going to do anything that is going to jeopardize the longevity of the North Korean regime to accommodate a President Trump. They may do -- they may lean as much as they can on North Korea`s propensity to explode nuclear weapons and fire off ballistic missiles.

But, Ari, we have seen over the last 10 years successive presidents receive successive assurances from Beijing.

MELBER: Right.

GINSBERG: That they have waded in and may will influence the North Koreans. But you know what, Ari? No matter what the Chinese have done, they have not done enough or cannot do enough to alter the behavior of the regime.

MELBER: Well, Ambassador, a final thought quickly. Tell us what you think, as we put these pictures back up on the screen, 10:45 a.m. in Pyongyang, these celebrations, people have seen them before, these large coordinated mass military demonstrations and the people coordinated. Just give us a little color of what we`re looking at.

[10:15:10] GINSBERG: Well, listen, this is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great granddaddy of Kim Jong-un. This is really supposed to be one of the biggest commemorations in North Korean history. And the fact of the matter is that the tyrannical and unpredictable grandson is now showing off that he is as good a leader as his grandfather is. And the fact of the matter is that those of us -- look, I don`t hold myself out to be a great expert on North Korea. But when I talk to Governor Bill Richardson, and I talk to others -- I haven`t talked to Dennis Rodman, however.

But when I talk to a lot of other folks, Ari, I get the same, same view. The North Koreans will fight to Kim Jong-un`s word, and they will do anything in order to preserve the regime. They`ve been that brainwashed.

MELBER: Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, appreciate your expertise as always.


MELBER: Betsy and David are staying with me. We are going to keep an eye on those dramatic visuals, as I mentioned.

Now coming up, when a member of the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russia`s election interference was doing in Cyprus, hint, it has to do with Paul Manafort.

Also later, Trumpism may be on the out in the West Wing, but it seems very much alive in Jeff Session`s Justice Department. We will show you the campaign promises the Trump administration says they`re keeping.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does this send a message to North Korea?

TRUMP: I don`t know if this sends a message. It doesn`t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.




[22:20:06] GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: So bottom line, you`re confident that neither you nor anyone in the Trump campaign will be convicted of a crime because of the involvement with Russia?



MELBER: Well, the Trump administration has obviously been focused on foreign affairs. Key figures in the investigation into Trump`s ties to Russia are talking. Carter Page there speaking out about what can only be called his multifaceted role in all of this.

News reports also coming out that a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Mike Quigley just went to Cyprus. Now that is notable, as you may know if you`ve been following this, because Cyprus is widely considered a key haven for money laundering by Russian billionaires. It is also where Paul Manafort reportedly opened and closed over 10 bank accounts.

Now that same congressman said the Russians laundered money to avoid sanctions over Russia`s seizure of Crimea and other matters. And that makes it front and center in this investigation. Sanctions are the possible motives for collusion.

Now sanctions are crucial for U.S. policy towards Russia. They were the stick the Obama administration was willing to use. That is well-known and documented. But they`re also important because they could be crucial to the FBI inquiry. Americans who violate federal sanctions law or are involved in any kind of money laundering to evade that law can wind up in jail.

Now that man who`s back in the headlines, former Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, says he may have discussed sanctions while he was in Russia last summer. Some more new reporting noting that the Justice Department obtained a secret court approved wiretap last summer on Carter Page based on evidence that he was operating as a Russian agent.


STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like from what you`re saying it`s possible that you may have discussed the easing of sanctions.

PAGE: Something may have come up in a conversation. I have no recollection and there is nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you can`t say without equivocation that you didn`t discuss the easing of sanctions?

PAGE: Someone may have brought it up. I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.


MELBER: Joining me now, Naveed Jamali, former FBI intelligence operative, author of "How to Catch a Russian Spy." He worked as a double agent for the FBI against Russian military intelligence, as well as Mieke Eoyang, former House Intel Committee staffer and director of the National Security Program at Third Way.

Couldn`t ask for two better people to unravel this.

And Naveed, I want to say this as nicely as possible without assuming anything. Carter Page requires some unpacking. What did you make of just that sound we played where he appears not to be able to definitively answer the sanctions question?

NAVEED JAMALI, FORMER FBI INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE: I think the fact that he wants to talk but can`t answer anything is at minimum troubling. Look, Carter Page was known to the FBI and the Russian connection that dates back to 2015. This 2015 case involving an actual arrest, which is if you follow espionage, it`s very rare that there is an actual arrest, let alone prosecution. So Carter Page was -- was known to the FBI in terms of talking to Russian intelligence officers for this 2015 case.

And oddly enough, he was not prosecuted. He was sort of kicked loose. And then fast forward to 2016, we have a -- now we know that there was a FISA warrant. So this is very, very odd. This is a man who clearly has a long history with Russia. At least predating the Trump campaign.

MELBER: I want to play another sound bite for you here of him. And, again, I want to get your response as an interrogator. This is Carter Page unwilling to say something simple, which is who brought him into the Trump campaign.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Who brought you into the Trump campaign and what did you do for them?

PAGE: You know, George, I don`t talk about that because there is always these various conspiracy theories that anyone I work with --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that was a pretty innocent fact. Who brought you into the campaign?

PAGE: Well, I just -- I don`t want to have people`s lives disrupted.


MELBER: Naveed, what would you make of that if you were interrogating him?

JAMALI: You know, he obviously wants to say something. He is playing an angle, it`s very clear. Again, he is coming in here and saying, I`m just a nice guy. But I want to be involved in this conversation. But I don`t want to admit to anything. It seems like he really does want to admit to something.

Look, he was in the nexus of 2015, fast forward to 2016. There is something here. I`m not sure exactly what his angle is. But as an interrogator, if I were sitting down with him, you know, I think a long conversation, I think he would probably clear up quite a few of these questions. I mean, the fact that he is in this nexus is not coincidence. And I think, you know, with Mr. Flynn asking for immunity, his options to sort of come clean are fastly eroding.

MELBER: Mieke?

MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER: Yes. So Carter Page`s appearance on the campaign is a serious problem. And the real question is who brought him in and did that person have connections to the Russians?

[22:25:11] MELBER: Go ahead.

EOYANG: Sorry. And so I think when he doesn`t say who are the higher level folks who brought him into the campaign, he is holding that back. It`s the only card he has left to play.

MELBER: And, Naveed, here is his former boss, someone that viewers may recognize, a pretty renowned expert, Ian Bremmer, in foreign affairs, and this is from "The Guardian," in an interview basically saying that they, who previously employed him, viewed him as the most wackadoodle alumni of the firm in history. It was very clear he was ideologically very strongly pro-Kremlin which wasn`t at all clear when he was interviewed. As a result he wasn`t a good fit in Eurasia Group. That`s through a spokesman for Bremmer, his former boss.

Wackadoodle not a term of art in foreign policy circles, but would suggest again folks are trying to create their distance while he keeps doing TV interviews. And I`ll add into the mix you`re your response President Trump reportedly very upset that Carter Page won`t be quiet.

JAMALI: Look, you know, as someone who lived with the Russians and understood sort of their profile for recruiting people, when you start looking at Page, when you start looking at Flynn, when you start looking at Manafort, it`s very clear that these people most likely had connections with Russia that predates the Trump campaign. And when you think about what is the perfect profile for someone, for a Russian intelligence officer, it is someone who can be manipulated because of ego.

And when I say that, look, I lived it. I know that, this is from my experience. When I listen to Carter Page, I see someone who can be manipulated by ego. And frankly, you know, I`m not a lawyer. But I have to -- I have to wonder why he is going out and saying these things. It`s great to hear it for TV. But, you know, I don`t know that he is getting anywhere. And he is certainly not answering the core question that everyone wants to know which is how did he get into this from this nexus of Russian intelligence, fast forward to 2016, how did he get on the Trump campaign?

It`s -- it is baffling. And, you know, when you have Flynn and when you have Manafort, again, with this old history, you have to wonder how all three got on the Trump campaign. It is certainly troubling.

MELBER: It is remarkable --

EOYANG: Ari, if I could just --

MELBER: Yes, go ahead. I`m going to give you one sec. I was just going to say to that point, it`s remarkable we live in a world where you get your news alert and it`s always, oh my god, what`s the news alert. Any time I get the pop-up news alert that Carter Page has done another interview, I`m always extra interested to click in. And he never disappoints in his ability, Mieke, that seemed to combine obfuscation with mystery and it`s why do the interview in the first place. So speak to that if you would and also on the House Intel side what do you think they`re looking at, at this stage, given your expertise there?

EOYANG: Yes, so I just -- if I were advising Carter Page, I would tell him, just stop talking. Right? Both he and Roger Stone, whenever they go on television, they are continuously rambling on, creating a bad record for themselves, and not answering any questions and just giving off the impression that they are hiding something or not telling the whole truth. It really isn`t helping their case at all.

Now from the committee staff, what I`m looking at here are the financial ties between these people. Manafort and Stone, part of the same lobbying firm. They have a whole stable full of clients who are shady characters around the world who have been involved in all kinds of sanctions of Asia and black market deals involved with Russian oligarchs. It really is the financial ties. And then you have to couple that with the lack of financial disclosure by the president himself and the real questions that he hasn`t cleared up there about who was paying whom and what they were trying to get for it?

MELBER: Right. Well, you`re putting your finger on it. It`s sort of like the Facebook test for the Trump-Russia ties, which is who knows whom, who brought whom in and what is questionable about that, particularly as the White House claims everybody whoever touched this was some, you know, volunteer.

And then look at this, Naveed, in the context of the White House now saying it`s not going to follow the precedent of other White Houses and not release visitor logs. They claim that it is because of the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

What do you think visitor logs might show given the questions about who is really important and who is talking to whom on this case, Naveed?

JAMALI: Yes, you know, I think that it`s -- there`s two things. First is the perspective that it puts out there. I think it`s not a good one. There should be transparency here. And the second part is I think that there is genuine concern that the White House doesn`t know what the FBI has. And because they don`t know what the FBI has, they`re concerned. Where are they looking?

Look, at the end of the day, Ari, this very well could be what we stumbled across on nothing more than a money laundering scheme, which, you know, it`s less and less likely. But that could be a big part of it. It could end there. I think the transparency would actually benefit the Trump team, would benefit the White House, showing this information. Really hiding it just makes it seem like you have something to hide.

I mean, this is -- you know, this is very straight forward. And look, the financial ties, just to piggyback on what Mieke said, I think those are interesting, but at the end of the day, when it comes to individual recruitment, I have to take a little bit of an exception with the word collusion.

[22:30:08] When an intelligence -- a foreign intelligence officer recruits you, they`re not looking to collude with you, they`re looking to direct you. You are in essence going to be a directed and controlled asset. So financial information important. Don`t hide it. Be transparent. You know, you have nothing to hide, let`s see what`s out there.

MELBER: Right. Well, and you`re doubling back --

EOYANG: I will say this, though --

MELBER: -- on that point that Carter Page was making which was basically he doesn`t want to feed conspiracy theories, but he doesn`t want to give out information. Well, the information factually might be what addresses it.

Mieke, go ahead, final word.

EOYANG: I was going to say on this, you know, when you`re looking at counter espionage, one of the ways that you establish that agency relationship is you`re looking for financial ties. You`re looking for some kind of quid pro quo payment there. And so I think it is really important that they`re transparent on that. And if they`re not going to be transparent, that the investigators get to the bottom of it.

MELBER: All right. And as a final note, I want to take viewers behind the scenes here of TV news magic. We did have an audio problem with Mieke earlier. Our fault. So we apologize for that and we appreciate you joining. That was the issue earlier.

Naveed Jamali and Mieke Eoyang, thank you so much.

JAMALI: Thank you.

EOYANG: Thank you.

MELBER: All right. Now coming up, are the Democrats winning inside the White House? We will explain what that means. And also later, amid Donald Trump`s military divergence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions making some significant changes to President Obama`s justice policies.


[22:35:01] MELBER: You know, it`s hard to pick the best line from "The Godfather." But one of the classic moments has got to be Michael telling Fredo, don`t take sides with anyone against the family again, ever.

It`s risky to go against the family. So it is curious that in Steve Bannon`s ongoing efforts to save his job in the Trump White House, he appears to be at odds with Trump aides who almost certainly cannot be fired, the family.

Bannon has taken to deriding Jared Kushner and other aides as, quote, "Democrats," a term they would take issue with while serving in such a bright red administration. And now new headlines suggesting those Democrats might actually be winning.

"The Hill" reporting on a stealth caucus gaining ground inside the Trump White House, citing the ascendance of those supposed Democrats like Kushner, Ivanka and two former Goldman Sachs executives, Gary Cohn, and deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell.

These Democrats` gain is seen as a loss for hardcore Trump followers for people like, yes, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Miller, and even Reince Priebus who is sort of up in the middle.

Now is this all just rumors and sniping? Even longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone gave this whole split some credence. And he doesn`t go so far as to label those moderates Democrats, but he does say they are doing well and they are establishment Republicans.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: He has for whatever reason chosen to surround himself with a number of establishment Republicans who I don`t think really understand Trumpism, don`t understand the larger currents that got him elected.


MELBER: And we are back for the political panel. Betsy Woodruff, David Horsey, also with us Charlie Pierce, writer at large for "Esquire" magazine.

Charlie, what do you make of this and Roger Stone giving, as I said, some support to the theory out there that there is some ground being lost?

CHARLIE PIERCE, WRITER-AT-LARGE, ESQUIRE: Yes, this is -- the whole thing is like somebody took the script for "Game of Thrones" and mixed in a few pages from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." I`m finished trying to figure out the ins and outs.

Look, all White Houses are crazy in their own way. But this one is -- I mean, you don`t know from one minute to another whether or not the presidency is a slave to the brand or the other way around.

MELBER: Well, and Betsy, it also goes to who is trusted in a system where there isn`t a clear ideology. Roger there talking about, quote, "Trumpism." But unlike Goldwater or Reagan, you know, I don`t know that there is a ton of policy content undergirding it. So what else is it about if not relationships?

WOODRUFF: That`s certainly a good question. And I think the major plaques of Trump -- of Trumpism as a policy have largely been jettisoned with just a few key exceptions. The fact that Trump has made so much warm overtures to the president of China, the fact that he won`t be labeling China a currency manipulator, even though that was one of his core campaign promises. That was a definitive issue for him. That`s a huge deal. That`s Trump abandoning something he talked about it basically every single rally on the campaign trail.

And I think what`s happened is that Jeff Sessions is sort of carrying the flame for Trumpism. And that`s happening down the street from the capitol over at the Justice Department. He is sort of hewed very closely.


WOODRUFF: To the Trumpist ideology of how it should worked while the rest of the White House seems to be largely jettisoning it.

MELBER: Right. And he`s definitely trying to put some policy or legal content on that so-called law and order effort which we`re actually covering a little later in the show.

David, on the politics here, you also have Steve Bannon as someone who has independent political and media power which makes him different than other aides and advisers. Breitbart was doing Trump before Trump.

Here is Lee Stranahan, a former Breitbart reporter, talking about the real risk if Bannon is either sidelined or fired, and what it looks like to a base that loves Breitbart.


LEE STRANAHAN, FORMER BREITBART REPORTER: His approval ratings are at about 40 right now. If he kicks Steve Bannon out of this White House, and I`m not even going to argue policy, I`m just going to say realistically. If he kicks Steve Bannon out of the White House, if Gary Cohn and Dina Powell continue to ascend, he is going to go down to about 20 percent. Because he is going to lose at least I would say half the base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`ll take a hit.


HORSEY: Well, if there is one thing Trump doesn`t mind is a fight. And I think overriding whatever might happen with -- if Bannon leaves, is that to Trump, Trumpism is him. It is whatever he says. And, you know, he is a man focused on himself in so many ways. But second in importance to him is family. And family is -- you know, he grew up running in a family business. That`s really how he understands the world, how he knows how to run things.

And so the only guy you know is going to be around for a while is Jared Kushner. Bannon is expendable if he is not going to play along with the president. And I think Stephen Miller has figured that out and has shifted his chips on the table over to the Kushner side.

[22:40:08] MELBER: Charlie, there is also reporting that Steve Bannon`s press ascendance, which we`re all partly responsible for, I suppose, angered Trump as well, that he doesn`t want people who compete with him as part of the headline or the intrigue.

PIERCE: I don`t particularly want a president who cares about that kind of stuff. And the fact that we`re discussing at the presidential level people like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone is truly terrifying.

This is like hiring a couple of kids with spray paint to run the Guggenheim. How did we get to a point where these are people we`re talking seriously about at this level of government? So no, I mean, I think that no celebrity likes to be out-celebritied. But I think it`s a little bit disproportionate for the president of the United States to be worrying about whether or not somebody calls Steve Bannon President Bannon on a blog somewhere.

MELBER: Right. Not to diminish the role of blogs in civic society, I know you write one for "Esquire."


MELBER: But I think you raised an important point, and when you talk about the family winning, it`s worth keeping in mind that these are all positions Trump is taking that are literally illegal if he tried to put any of these family members in the Cabinet or in other positions. Congress banned all that under force of federal law. And it`s only this weird loophole they say they have in the adviser category. So that`s how out of the legal mainstream we are for sure.

Charlie Pierce, Betsy Woodruff, David Horsey, thank you for being on with us. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, what you do need to know about what we just mentioned, Jeff Session`s radical changes to the Justice Department.



MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC`S "MORNING JOE": Are you going to have a massive deportation force?

TRUMP: You`re going to have a deportation force. And you`re going to do it humanely.

[22:45:02] They`re going back where they came. If they came from a certain country, they`re going to be brought back to that country. That`s the way it`s supposed to be.


MELBER: Well, foreign crises and White House infighting have been dominating the headlines. We want to report for you on the Trump administration also crafting some harsh new immigration and law enforcement policies, including what looks to be a follow-on to that discussion of a deportation force.

Here is reporting from "The Washington Post." "An internal Department of Homeland Security assessment shows the agency has already found 33,000 more detention beds to house undocumented immigrants and opened discussions with dozens of local police forces that could be empowered with enforcement authority."

This news comes as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ordering federal prosecutors to press new felony charges against undocumented immigrants who are caught at the Mexican border, declaring a new era of enforcement.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is a new era. This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of duty to enforce our laws and the catch and release policies of the past are over.


MELBER: Here`s how one federal prosecutor described Jeff Sessions` orders, telling the "Daily Beast," quote, "It`s f`ing horrifying. The things they want us to do are so horrifying they want to do harboring cases of three or more people. So if you`re illegal and you bring your family over, then you`re harboring your kid and your wife, and you can go to jail for that."

Now so far President Trump has not actually deported people at a faster rate than most of the period under President Obama. We want to show you this for context. ICE removed about the same number of people in January, which was the handoff, and February, a full Trump month this year, as they did in 2016. That`s according to account with "The Guardian."

Attorney General Sessions has also ordered the review of more than a dozen agreements that the Obama administration reached with local police departments, including troubled areas like Ferguson and Baltimore, to have collaborative ways to reform local policing.

Jeff Sessions criticized those agreements as well. They are technically called consent decrees. This was in a new interview with Howie Carr.


SESSIONS: I do share your concern that these investigations and consent decrees have the -- can turn bad. They can reduce morale of the police officers. They can push back against being out on the street in a proactive way.


MELBER: It`s not just talk. Jeff Sessions is trying to block those in court. But he just lost in federal court where a judge was rejecting the Trump administration`s attempt to stop Baltimore`s consent decree. So that is a loss for Trump. But 14 other consent decrees are still being enforced and could be altered.

Up next, we`re going to dig in to the real consequences of this law and order Donald Trump presidency.



[22:51:01] TRUMP: When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me. Believe me. In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate.



MELBER: And joining me now Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. And joining me Marielena Hincapie, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Christina, what do you think about what the DOJ is trying to do under Sessions and how they are already hitting at least some turbulence in federal court on police reform?

CHRISTINE GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, I think this just shows us the real importance of the separation of powers. I mean, we have to make sure that the courts stand as a check on some of the president`s initiatives. When Trump says he wants to be the law and order candidate, I mean, all we hear is essentially a George Wallace tactic. He`s trying to create this sort of apocalyptic scenario where, you know, quote-unquote, "illegal immigrants" and essentially people of color are running the streets with guns and machetes, et cetera.

And all he`s doing is tapping into, you know, the baseline fears of his white supporters who really want and need to hear this as a justification for some of their feelings. And so we must make sure that we pay attention not just to, you know, some of the initiatives that Sessions is trying to put forward but really hopefully making sure that our lower level court or lower level judges are really recognizing that this is not the apocalyptic scenario that Trump is trying to put forth for America.

I mean, yes, there are issues in particular cities and particular places in the country. This is why we actually need oversight. It`s not just about a few bad apples. It`s about structural inequities that have been consistent in police departments across the country that have been really detrimental to communities of color and poor communities for several generations essentially.

MELBER: And Marielena, the link here on the immigration side is also whether this type of reform or changes from Trump will actually make the country safer. On that point here`s a "New York Times" report today.

"For more than 15 years jails that hold immigrants facing deportation have to follow requirements. They have to notify officials if there`s two weeks and longer in solitary, check on suicidal inmates every 15 minutes, evaluate mental health, inform detainees in language they can actually understand about medical care, provide a staff member who can advocate in English. But as the Trump administration seeks to quickly find jail space for its crackdown on illegal immigration it`s moving to curtail these rules."

What do you see that as doing in both the safety and humanitarian context?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION CENTER: Thanks, Ari. Yes. No, we at the National Immigration Center are deeply concerned about this deportation force that Trump, Sessions, Bannon are trying to impose in our country.

As you mentioned and at the top you -- he talked about being the law and order president. The fact is that law and order requires uniformity, consistency, and it requires that our law is applied in a non- discriminatory way. What we`re seeing instead is prosecutors and law enforcement agencies and deputized and basic due process rights being denied from people. It absolutely will make us all less safe.

MELBER: And what do you say to the Trump argument that these folks have violated some sort of law that in many cases there are other crimes that either have been committed or that are at risk of being committed and that this is basically a long overdue enforcement action?

HINCAPIE: Well, let`s talk, Ari, about what we`re really talking about here. For the first time it is wasteful and dangerous that federal prosecutors are going to have to prioritize a worker who is working without the proper documents for example. That is not a violent offense. It is not what most people would consider a crime. And yet the reason that that worker is working without papers is because we have an immigration system that is broken by design. And remember it`s Jeff Sessions and people like him who have opposed reforming our immigration laws.

[22:55:06] MELBER: And Christina, briefly, the last word on what you want to see going forward here?

GREER: Well, I mean, I wish that we could get Jeff Sessions out. I mean, he was only confirmed with 52 votes from the Senate. I mean I think what we hopefully will see are people on a more local level, sort of district attorneys, U.S. attorneys, even though he is, you know, sort of their head, really interpreting the law in a way that is much more equitable and not in this broken scenario of essentially fear-mongering that the president is putting forth.

MELBER: Christina Greer and Marielena Hincapie, thank you very much for joining me. And we will be right back.


MELBER: You are watching THE LAST WORD right now. But I want to tell you that this Sunday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern we will have another episode of "THE POINT," my special Sunday coverage of the first 100 days of Trump. In addition to Trump international affairs we have a special report on those controversial Arkansas executions and a lot more. That`s Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, "THE POINT WITH ARI MELBER," and we will be right back.


MELBER: Since assuming the presidency, Donald Trump has spent one out of every 2.8 days at a Trump property including of course often Mar-a-Lago, something an Arizona Senator Jeff Flake was asked about at a town hall in Mesa last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a fiscal conservative, what is your position on all the weekend trips that the president makes down to Mar-a-Lago?


Sen. Jeff flake (R), ARIZONA: With regard to presidents and what they do on the weekend, I`m not --



MELBER: Not a popular position, at least with the constituents gathered for that particular town hall. Wherever the president is, he has a lot on his plate this weekend. MSNBC will be covering all of it in "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" is live starting right now.


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