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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 6/30/17 Trump: Repeal now, Replace later

Guests: Joan Walsh, Evan Siegfried, Shannon Pettypiece, Malcolm Nance, Naveed Jamali, Erin Gloria Ryan, Alex Padilla

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: June 30, 2017 Guest: Joan Walsh, Evan Siegfried, Shannon Pettypiece, Malcolm Nance, Naveed Jamali, Erin Gloria Ryan, Alex Padilla

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again next week. We will see you on Monday. That`s right, July 3rd, uh-huh.

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Just one question. What have you been up to since the `90s?

MADDOW: You know what? I`m going to have to look into it. I have a feeling if anybody knows, Michael Isikoff does.


MELBER: We`re going to have a little bit on that story as well. Thank you and have a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ari. Appreciate it.

MELBER: I am Ari Melber. I`m in for Lawrence O`Donnell. We have more on that breaking news that Rachel was just breaking. "The Wall Street Journal" adding details to that big report yesterday about a Republican activist effort to, according to him, obtain Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from hackers linked to Russia.

But first Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell did promise Republicans would continue to work on repealing Obamacare. Senator McConnell in Kentucky, and their own deadline to come up with a plan has come and gone. Republicans didn`t get help from President Trump today because he can`t stop tweeting. And apparently watching MSNBC.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president threw his support behind a plan to immediately repeal Obamacare.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s dead. It`s essentially dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then replace it at a later undetermined date.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This option of repealing without replacing is dead on arrival.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To step on them next. By kicking them off their health care at this point. That`s cruel, sir.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: We made a promise to repeal Obamacare, and we should keep our promises.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president hasn`t changed his thinking at all.

TRUMP: This will be great if we get it done.

SANDERS: But we`re, you know, looking at every possible option.

JOY REID, MSNBC`S "AM JOY" HOST: Donald Trump doesn`t even necessarily know what`s in the health care bill.

TRUMP: We could have a big surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you apologize to Mika Brzezinski, Mr. President?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, "MORNING JOE" HOST: That doesn`t bother me one bit. It does worry me about the country.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC HOST: The president targeted them yesterday with tweets many people found crude and unbecoming a president.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Someone bleeding badly at your door and you say no? It sounds like your health care plan.


MELBER: President Trump met with the South Korean president at the White House about North Korea`s nuclear threat today. But Trump`s behavior had many focused on another story.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you apologize to Mika Brzezinski, Mr. President?


MELBER: Master of distraction or master of self-sabotage? Politico`s made debate whether there`s any strategy lurking behind Trump`s second day of attacks on journalists, in this case our own colleagues who host "MORNING JOE."

Today Trump tweeted, "Watched low-rated `Morning Joe` for the first time in a long time. Fake news. He called me to stop a `national Enquirer` article. I said no. Bad show."

Now that account is widely disputed and we have a report on the president`s actions about all this later this hour. But this unusual fight, while disturbing, is not our top story tonight. The top story rounding out this week is the story that impacts more Americans` lives than anything the president has been tweeting.

It`s the story of the demise of this Congress`s current plan to repeal Obamacare, and it`s important whether the president wants to talk about it or not. Consider that just at this hour, say, last week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was pledging in public to hold a vote by this week on health care. As you know, that vote hasn`t occurred. And after the Congress`s own number crunchers found the new replacement bill could deny over 20 million people their current access to health coverage, well, Trump issued a brand-new idea about all this today.

Repeal Obamacare without replacement. He did it on Twitter, of course, saying, "If Republican senators are unable to pass what they`re working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace at a later date."

Now that should be the headline we are talking about as "The Washington Post`s" Greg Sargent has reported, Trump`s plan would be tantamount to taking away health insurance for a full 32 million people with no immediate backup or consideration plan whatsoever."

Repealing Obamacare without a replacement would be a dramatic departure from what Trump promised voters when they elected him.


LESLIE STAHL, CBS NEWS: And there`s going to be a period if you repeal it and before you replace it when millions people --

TRUMP: We`re going to do it simultaneously. It will be just fine. That`s what I do. I do a good job. You know what I mean, I know how to do this stuff.


MELBER: Simultaneously would be key word, number one, and the second idea there is that he knows how to do stuff. Well, stuff in Congress is subject to parliamentary rules. Many people interpret those rules as barring any flat repeal of Obamacare by majority vote, the type of vote that would be available for strictly budgetary changes.

Senator Ben Sasse, who also wants to sort of split the bill, agrees you can`t even do what the president is now suggesting.


[22:05:06] SASSE: I`m still on board with Leader McConnell`s attempt to try to do this as a combination package repeal and replace at once. But if the leader can`t get that accomplished in the next 10 days, then I think we should do stand-alone repeal, but not effective for a year. And then we should get to work round the clock on a replace plan.


MELBER: And according to reporting by Axios, the president`s sudden policy change got a pretty mediocre reception from Republican aides on the Hill. One saying repeal and replace was, quote, "not going to happen this way." Another said the chances of this working were zero.

So between yesterday`s relatively unpresidential display, according to even many people in his own party, and now on policy, this complete reversal of one of the Trump administration`s largest legislative promises, many are wondering what is the president`s capacity to lead on policy or on the broader questions of what kind of conversation we want to have in America. And how can you lead a group when they keep insisting you don`t speak for them?

Joining me now is Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation," and MSNBC analyst, Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist and the author of "GOP GPS," and Shannon Pettypiece, White House correspondent for Bloomberg. And all read-in on this story.

Joan, though, starting with you, a lot of noise, much of it worth discussing.


MELBER: But the big development on health care is that the wizard, the guru, Mitch McConnell, did not reach his self-imposed policy objective this week.

WALSH: Right. Right. But I mean Trump is such a gremlin in this whole thing. He`s worse than a gremlin. That`s actually a nice word for him. But he`s the one who right before the inauguration made -- he`d said it on the campaign trail, Ari, but we didn`t really know what he meant. He wasn`t serious throughout much of the campaign. But he really made a big push a few weeks before the inauguration to say he was here -- you know, people were talking about repeal and delay. And that was the way they were going to fool us.

And, you know, there were obstacles to it. It wasn`t necessarily going to happen, but he made a big stink about we can`t do that, and he was kind of right. It would be politically a nightmare. But he was the one who really pushed them to do it at the same time. He obviously didn`t know how complicated that was. That`s to put it mildly. But -- so he`s gone from being the one who said, you can`t do this. I`m becoming president. No way. To now being the one saying, yes, you better do it if you can`t do them both.

It`s just -- it`s got to be driving Mitch McConnell crazy. He deserves it, but it`s just got to be horrible.

MELBER: And, Evan, I wonder whether we`re learning more about the politics of health care in the Republican Party. Because there`s a narrative that every single Republican is for repeal no matter what, and that`s the end of the story. That doesn`t seem to be the case. Listen here, Senator Bill Cassidy holding a town hall today. Protesters there -- this is Louisiana - - weighing in on all this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vote against that hideous bill.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What you need to do is as a Louisianan is go back to Washington, D.C. and stand up for the people who are here and saying we need our health care.


CASSIE: This is our democracy in action. Thank you all for contributing to that democracy. Thank you.




MELBER: The saying is this is what democracy looks like. Is it as simple as all Republicans love repeal?

EVAN SIEGFRIED, AUTHOR, "GOP GPS": Well, first of all, I think it`s good that Bill Cassidy is going out and actually having a town hall unlike other Republicans you should head back. And it was Senator Cassidy who came out last month and said that whatever bill the Senate puts forward needs to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test in that it can`t be an immoral and uncompassionate bill, which the BCRA absolutely is. I think that Senator Cassidy recognizes that and he said it doesn`t pass that Jimmy Kimmel test.

In terms of repeal, we`re recognizing a lot privately within the Republican Party. The reality is it`s going to be repair. Only 17 percent of Americans think that the GOP should go it alone on health care. Sixty-five percent believe that they should forge a bipartisan compromise. And when we`re talking about doing a repeal and then no even replacement simultaneously, that`s creating the equivalent of a fiscal cliff but for health care where as Greg Sargent said, 32 million people could lose their health care and have nothing. That`s immoral and that`s wrong.

MELBER: Shannon, did Mitch McConnell fail or is that just what he wants us to think?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, I`m old enough now to remember the House health care vote back in March where everyone thought it was dead in the water. Paul Ryan set an artificial deadline, pulled the bill. The Republicans were so deflated. They went back to their districts. They got shouted at, but they came back, and they got it together.

And they -- some of them really had to plug their nose and swallow that bill and vote for it, but they came together, and they did. So I wouldn`t be shocked if I saw the same thing happen in the Senate despite all the doom and gloom and negativity. I feel like it`s deja vu.

MELBER: Right.

[22:10:02] PETTYPIECE: And Mitch McConnell could pull something out in the end.

MELBER: Right. And you`re speaking to the fact that this is politics and there may be strategic reasons why Republicans want everyone to kind of back down and treat it as dead.

Let`s do a little roll call work because I know that`s what you do all day. I`m going to put up on the screen, Shannon, you walk us through who you think here is a real no vote or not because the count is Paul, Cruz, Lee, Heller, Collins, Portman, Capito and Moran now, all no. Who are the no`s from your reporting?

PETTYPIECE: Probably Susan Collins, I would say, is maybe the most in the no column. I could see Ted Cruz getting won over. You know, Rand Paul, he`s kind of a -- you know, kind of goes his own way. I don`t know the best way to say it. So I could see him sticking to his guns and going no. But, I mean, like I go back to the House bill, I mean they looked so far apart with the Freedom Caucus and the moderates and they were able to squeeze out enough votes and give themselves enough cover so at the end of the day they were going to -- they were able to get it through.

And there were people in the House who voted that I remember seeing the roll call coming in, thinking I was surprised. I wouldn`t have thought that a month ago.

MELBER: Right.

PETTYPIECE: So nothing is impossible in Congress, I guess.

MELBER: Right. And, Joan, you look at Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I don`t wish to demean the tough job she has. It`s a hard job to be a spokesman on policy for this president. It`s a bit like trying to be a tailor for someone made out of Jell-O.


MELBER: Listen to her --

WALSH: Something like that.

MELBER: -- try to make sense of his shifting positions on health care.


SANDERS: The president hasn`t changed his thinking at all. I mean, he`s campaigned on, talked about since he was elected repealing and replacing Obamacare. We`re still fully committed to pushing through with the Senate at this point, but we`re, you know, looking at every possible option of repealing and replacing Obamacare.


MELBER: The president hasn`t changed his thinking at all.

WALSH: Of course he has, or maybe he hasn`t. Maybe he doesn`t think. That`s the other possibility. You know, maybe she`s right. He doesn`t think about this stuff. But, you know, Shannon makes a great point, and I too -- I mean, you know, I`m a Democrat. I have fear that she could be right and they could pull this off. But I think a couple things tell us that it`s going to be very hard.

One is that Donald Trump did actually play a positive role in arm-twisting some of those Republicans in the House.

MELBER: On the House side.

WALSH: He absolutely did. He had somewhat more credibility because he loses more every day. And he`s not going to be able to do that. And I think that in addition to Susan Collins and Rand Paul, this is a very tough vote for Dean Heller of Nevada. He`s the most vulnerable Republican. He`s come out as a solid no. The way he talks about the bill makes it hard to believe that he would backtrack on it.

But I think -- and they also, finally, they did not want this to happen, this meaning these guys and women have to go back into their districts and face angry voters again. This is not what Mitch McConnell wanted.

MELBER: Right.

WALSH: So that`s also different from the House bill when people kind of -- the activists gave up and they didn`t have to face town halls anymore and suddenly it was safe -- it seemed safe to vote for it.

MELBER: Well, and Evan, it`s Friday night. I don`t want to put you on the spot to be too metaphysical. But when the Republican new proposal is repeal now, but it wouldn`t kick in now, is that now really?

SIEGFRIED: No. It creates uncertainty in the market, and you`re going to see premiums skyrocket and insurance companies trying to take advantage of that. And there will be such a fog of war, for lack of a better term, that nobody will be helped by that.

Republicans in the Senate at least did not want to do health care reform at this point in time. They wanted to do tax reform first because when you fight -- or when Democrats were to fight tax reform, it`s a standard line that doesn`t really register as much as oh, you`re giving -- giveaways of taxpayer dollars to your corporate overlords, whereas when you start doing health care, it`s a visceral and combustible thing that people feel.

MELBER: Right.

SIEGFRIED: Their own health care impacts them directly. So I think there are a lot of Republicans who privately say there is no reason we should be doing this. We should be doing tax reform and repairing Obamacare where it needs to be fixed, especially in Medicaid which only reimburses 61 cents on the dollar as to Medicare, and that has created a problem in the overall health care system and decrease in quality.

MELBER: And, Shannon, is the Congressional Budget Office the dog that both barked and bit on this fight? Because it seems that people did care about their numbers and what they said were the potential public health damages of this Republican proposal.

PETTYPIECE: The CBO has really been the Achilles` heel of this bill. I mean those numbers, that 22 million, 23 million in the House and the Senate bills, those are a very strong talking points for opponents of this bill. And the Trump administration has tried to discredit the CBO, but they have failed with any specifics about what the CBO bill is missing, what they aren`t getting right, or proposing any alternative estimate.

[22:15:07] So all we have is the CBO to go with, and that paints a very ugly picture that I don`t see how Republicans can really get around fully.

MELBER: As the old saying goes, shout out to the CBO. Is that a saying? It may not be.

WALSH: It is now.

MELBER: Shannon Pettypiece, thank you, and Evan, for joining us. Joan, I`ll check back with you.

Coming up, the story that Rachel was mentioning. "The Wall Street Journal" publishing new details about the Republican operative reportedly trying to get Clinton`s stolen e-mails. We have those details. This is a breaking story Friday night. That`s next.

Also later, a twist in Donald Trump`s latest Twitter attack. And once again, the president`s skirting potential legal liability over fights many Republicans say he shouldn`t have started.


MELBER: If it`s Friday night, it is breaking news about the Trump campaign and Russia. Here is another one.

"The Wall Street Journal" has now added to its report you may have heard about that first broke last night, all about Peter Smith, the Republican operative who claims he tried to obtain Hillary Clinton`s hacked e-mails from Russians last year. He implied publicly, according to conversations with other Republicans, that he said he was working with Mike Flynn.

Now tonight "The Wall Street Journal" reports Peter Smith listed senior members of the Trump campaign, including some who now serve as top aides in the White House, in a so-called recruitment document for his effort. Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, the chief strategist for President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, who was campaign manager and is now of course White House counselor, Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign, who is now an adviser at the AG Department. And, yes, retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn.

These officials, according to the "Journal," were named in a September 7th, 2016 document. The "Journal" says now to be clear that the document itself does not provide evidence of coordination.

Now this was around the same time Smith says he started looking for the e- mails and it was a month after Donald Trump said this.


TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


MELBER: Joining me now, Malcolm Nance, MSNBC counter-terror and intel analyst, the author of "The Plot to Hack America." And we`re joined by Naveed Jamali, a former FBI intelligence operative who worked as a double agent for the FBI against the Russian military intelligence unit and wrote, "How to Catch a Russian Spy." Also a contributor with us.

[22:20:07] Malcolm, what does this new evidence mean?

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC COUNTER TERROR AND INTEL ANALYST: Well, it certainly shows that Peter Smith had an extensive network and was dropping names, trying to get people to come on board and do this dirty tricks research campaign that he appeared to be coordinating.

I find it noteworthy that he wrote this on September 7th. That`s almost six weeks after Donald Trump made his Russia "are you listening" statement, on 27th July. And I think that it generally takes about a month to establish an LLC as he did in this, in order to have a vehicle, and was out there trying to do this as an independent operator. But I do think he was just dropping names to get, you know, high-level Republicans to come on board or to help him effect this campaign.

MELBER: So you view it, just to be clear, as him on the make, but no inferred culpability of the people that he may have been citing?

NANCE: Right. And to be honest, I think there are multiple dirty tricks teams out there.

MELBER: Right.

NANCE: This one actually dates pretty far behind some of the ones that we suspect with Roger Stone. The FBI counterintelligence investigation had already started. The CIA was already deeply involved in other American citizens who were in communications with Russian intelligence. He may have been with regards to that and General Flynn, but on this particular point about who he is namedropping, I think he was doing just that, namedropping.

MELBER: And Naveed, I want to play Sally Yates` testimony about Michael Flynn because more than any other name he is the individual that has figured into this with a lot more potential criminal culpability by his own lawyers` statements since he invoked the Fifth Amendment. Yates referred to problematic conduct, not just words, in her hearing. Take a listen.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The first thing we did to explain to Mr. McGahn the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: What was that underlying conduct?

YATES: I hate to frustrate you again, but I think I`m going to have to because my knowledge of his underlying conduct is based on classified information. And so I can`t reveal what that underlying conduct is.


MELBER: Naveed, is there any way to compare that set of statements from her under oath and the circumstantial evidence that`s emerging in this report?

NAVEED JAMALI, FORMER FBI INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE: I think, Ari, when you think about this and you think about an intelligence operation, while we can`t look at the evidence and whether it proves, you know, the standard of a crime. I think what you`re starting to see is this concept of non- attribution, this opaqueness, these murky ties, they are in fact what I would say is the fingerprints of a very clear intelligence operation. That is to say --

MELBER: When you say non-attribution, what is that?

JAMALI: That`s a very good point. So if we think about this idea that the Russians are involved in this, it`s very unlikely that a Russian intelligence officer -- you know, when they plan out an operation, they want to make sure that that operation is successful.

The other part of that planning is to make sure if it is compromised, that the lines that trace back to Russia are in fact murky. It`s very hard to come back and say, this is definitively the Russians. So an example in "The Wall Street Journal" report, you know, you hear Russian hackers. What you don`t hear is Russian intelligence officers or Russian cyber officers.

It`s not to say that they`re not being directed by Russian governmental entity, but this is clearly a tactic, cutouts if you will, that the Russians and intelligence services use. So when you compare Michael Flynn and you compare this article that came on in the "Journal," look, Michael Flynn had direct contact. He was sitting in front of Putin.

There is a profile the Russians use when they recruit people, and I think that what you`re seeing here is perhaps these bread crumbs, these bread crumbs that show, as Malcolm was saying, these dirty trick teams which again are a layer that are designed to confuse, to sort of make it difficult to link back to the host country. This, in fact, non-attribution that they employed to sort of make the waters murky.

MELBER: Malcolm, I want to play for you Shane Harris who broke the story in the "Journal," and he`s the one that Rachel was citing in her discussion of this story. But I want to push back a little bit on this idea that because Donald Trump said something, it should be treated as true when so much of what Donald Trump says shouldn`t be treated as deferentially, automatically true. So he cites that statement that we`ve played now and people have seen it repeatedly that obviously bizarre statement where he said, oh, Russia, help me get those e-mails. Here`s Harris talking about that in the wider context.


SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So around this same time frame, after Donald Trump made that statement at the rally in Florida we just heard earlier, U.S. intelligence is picking up these Russian hackers discussing ways to try and get Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from her server and then to transmit that information somehow via an intermediary back to Mike Flynn.

It is striking how the activities match up, the description of the mission if you will lines up, and the time frame is similar.

[22:25:05] So it is at least possible that what we`re seeing in those reports is the other end of this operation that we discovered that Peter Smith said he was involved in.


MELBER: So, Malcolm, there`s Harris making a classic circumstantial evidentiary argument for how he talked about the hacking. Then we see this other independent material going on, and it looks really bad. The flip side of that, Malcolm, is what if the president is just, at the time the candidate, repeating things he`s heard and hacking was in the news a lot and he says a lot of other things that haven`t borne out to be true?

Is it potentially a bad idea as an investigative matter to cherry pick when to believe that he`s telling the truth and not just saying something wild?

NANCE: Well, with Donald Trump, it`s always a challenge to determine what`s true and what`s a lie. In this circumstance and at that particular time, certainly from what very little that we know that`s unclassified now or that`s been leaked now the U.S. intelligence community was on a massive hunt right at that point, trying to figure out who are these American citizens that foreign intelligence agency were telling us were out looking or communicating with Russian intelligence agencies direct, OK?

So when Donald Trump made that statement, that to people inside the intelligence community certainly would see someone who was informed of information that had been going on and had been discussed with him. Someone may have brought this up to him and said, hey, you know, we`ve got some guys out there. They`re looking for Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, or as I said yesterday, there were reports in FOX News as early as April by, you know, by Judge Napolitano who had claimed there was information that was leaked by Sputnik that Putin had Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.

All of this may have come to a -- you know, either a team meeting or sitting around, you know, smoking cigars, and he believed it. And whether he believed it or not, we happen to know now there were multiple efforts going on to get that information and other information out into the media sphere. And it was successful. I think Trump just gave up the game. He just didn`t realize that he opened his mouth because he was so excited by the prospect. And you know, that`s Mueller`s job to get that information to public.

MELBER: Very, very interesting stuff.

Malcolm Nance and Naveed Jamali, we always learn something from listening to you. I appreciate both of your time tonight.

JAMALI: Thank you.

MELBER: Now coming up, Mika Brzezinski responding to Trump`s vulgar and quite personal attack on her. Erin Gloria Ryan and Joan Walsh will be here to tackle all of it including some very important angles. Don`t go away.



BRZEZINSKI: Big picture, my father just passed away. My mother had two heart attacks. My daughter just lost a friend. Those are the things I`m really worried about.

The president`s tweets, whether they`re personally aimed at me or aimed at me in some way, that doesn`t bother me one bit. It does worry me about the country.


MELBER: That was our MSNBC colleague, Mika Brzezinski, responding to President Trump`s tweets yesterday. He attacked both Mika and Joe Scarborough.

They responded in a "Washington Post" op-ed, disputing several claims the president made in those tweets. They also alleged the president`s attacks against them were not limited to social media. Quote, "This year top White House staff members warned the `National Enquirer` was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas."

On "MORNING JOE" today they gave more details about that aspect of the story.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC`S "MORNING JOE": We got a call that, hey, the "National Enquirer" is going to run a negative story against you guys, and it was, you know, Donald is friends with -- the president is friends with the guy that runs the "National Enquirer." And they said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.

I had -- I will just say three people at the very top of the administration calling me, and the response was like, are you kidding me? I don`t know what they have. Run the story. I`m not going to do it. The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like, call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe. Just pick up the phone and call him. That`s blackmail.


MELBER: This morning, President Trump tweeted, "Watched low-rated `Morning Joe` for first time in a long time. Fake news. He called me to stop a `national Enquirer` article. I said no. Bad show."

The "Enquirer" released a statement saying, "We have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story and no involvement in those discussions." The "Enquirer" also disputes that it ever contacted Mika`s children.

If Joe and Mika`s story does check out as true, though, it does provide even more detail about how the president of the United States chooses to exercise his power. As the first lady`s spokesperson said, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.

And this is President Trump`s approach within independent journalists. Attack them if they don`t do what he wants or he doesn`t like what they say. And it`s not just on Twitter or on air or through a celebrity tabloid that he has said deserves a Pulitzer.


TRUMP: This was a magazine that, frankly, in many respects, should be very respected. They got O.J. They got Edwards. They got this. I mean if that was "The New York Times," they would have gotten Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. I`ve always said, why didn`t the "National Enquirer" get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and O.J. Simpson and all of these things?


MELBER: Asking the hard questions.

Look, Trump`s efforts to stoke media conflicts, including distractions, are very well known. But there is something different here. What is new are these charges, now public, that he was using explicit threats and media counterattacks to try to shape his coverage and the suggestion that his arsenal includes blackmail, a dark art that is more dangerous than any juvenile tweets.

Joan Walsh and Erin Gloria Ryan are here to discuss this with me next.



[22:38:30] BRZEZINSKI: I am very concerned as to what this once again reveals about the president of the United States. It is unbelievably alarming that this president is so easily played.

SCARBOROUGH: We have a president who is attacking a cable news host because she dared make a joke about a "TIME" magazine cover.

BRZEZINSKI: I think members of the administration, members of the Cabinet, members of Congress have a really big problem on their hands.


MELBER: And joining me now, Erin Gloria Ryan, senior editor for "The Daily Beast" and host of the podcast "Girl Friday." Joan Walsh back with us.

Erin, conflict, anger, a freak out if you want to call it that, can be revealing. What do you see revealed?

ERIN GLORIA RYAN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I see a couple of things revealed. First of all, I see some things obscured. I think that the way Donald Trump that governs and the way that that is a manifestation of his obvious like detest for women, that`s being obscured by this specific comment. And it really should be something that we look more closely at, like this health care bill, is pretty insulting to women and would put a lot of women in economic dire straits.

But apart from that, if we`re talking about what this reveals, you play some sound from Melania talking about how her husband is going to hit back if he gets hit. This actually doesn`t show bravery. This shows cowardice. This shows a person that`s interested in brave window dressing but isn`t actually capable of behind the scenes accomplishing anything that requires any grit.

If he were, some of his signature legislation would have gotten through. He would have been able to make some political accomplishments during his time in office that were not him signing executive orders, some of which didn`t really have any effect during the course.

[22:40:09] MELBER: And before I go to Joan on some of the politics of this, when you look at the treatment of women, I also wonder, you know, there is a saying about Twitter fingers, which refers to the idea that people are tougher hiding behind their screens than any other place.

I`m not suggesting that any of these comments would be better if offered in person or on a mike. But do you read anything into the fact that this president, who we quoted his wife, the first lady. She also has an anti- bullying campaign. Do you read into anything that some of these bullying behaviors seem to occur more when he is hiding behind a screen?

RYAN: Right. It`s when he`s hiding behind the screen, and also is you don`t know who is around him when he`s doing those things. Like who`s egging him on, who`s he listening to? You know, his social media manager is somebody who is famously pugnacious and we don`t know if those people are egging him on or not.

I do think that people interact with other people on Twitter as if they`re interacting with machines or like an automated menu if you`re calling like your service on your Time Warner or whatever. They act like you`re not a real person. And I think in person, there`s either a twinkle in their eye or like there`s some element of joking or something that cools off the temperature.

WALSH: Well, he also went after Megyn Kelly with reporters, not to her face, with the comment she had blood coming out of her wherever, and I`m really struck, not to be too gross, by his obvious fear and hatred of women in like the blood imagery, like, you know, with this reference to Mika. But, you know, to me, I had the honor of being with you right after he had warned Jim Comey, we`d better hope -- he better hope there aren`t tapes of their conversations.

And I said to you, Ari, he talks like a mob boss. And this is -- he`s been acting -- he`s acted like a mob boss. And you know, the notion that Jared Kushner with now a lot of sourcing was personally involved in essentially these threats to Joe and Mika is just -- they`re a mob family. They`re a crime family.

MELBER: And you speak in that way and I want to play Kellyanne Conway because it seems that sometimes the White House argument is civility for the president and personal insults for everyone else. Here`s Kellyanne Conway saying that some of this is unpatriotic.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: If you go back and you look at what is said about this president, he`s called a goon, a thug, mentally ill, talking about dementia, armchair psychologists, all over television every day.

George, it doesn`t help the American people to have a president covered in this light. I`m sorry. It`s neither productive nor patriotic.


MELBER: She mentions armchair psychologists. I don`t have any arms on this chair. But I will engage the frame and say it would seem a hallmark of an unhealthy relationship if their effort is to focus on everyone`s response to his misconduct rather than the issue, which is what many Republican legislators said today was inappropriate conduct by the president of the United States.

RYAN: Right. And I think, you know, even going beyond that, you talked about Kellyanne Conway. What Donald Trump is doing -- what you`re seeing are women that are being forced to be in a position where now they have to defend him. We`re looking at Kellyanne Conway. We`re looking at Ivanka. We`re looking at Melania under a microscope. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. These are all of the people that have to take the heat and that are giving those answers to the public.

MELBER: Should Ivanka Trump speak out on this?

RYAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think --

WALSH: No. That will never happen.

RYAN: She never will, but a lot of us don`t do things we should. And this is like a very big should for her that`s also a not going to do.

WALSH: She won`t. I mean I think that there really are some political and legal questions here. If this occurred, it appears to me to be some form of blackmail. I would think the people who are investigating all of this behavior would be interested in learning more about what really transpired here.

And the idea that people are defending him for this as though we`re all kind of equal. We`re all in the sandbox. He`s the president, you know. He has to expect this. Barack Obama didn`t respond in kind even to Donald Trump. He gently tweaked him at the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is why we have him here in the office because apparently that drove him insane and drove him to run.

But, you know, you can`t say that the president is entitled to treat people this way and to make things up and just be so horrible. But normally there are political consequences with this. But with the Republicans as compliant as they are, there really aren`t at this point.

MELBER: Gloria, let me ask you one final hard question because I know you write about women and the culture. If you were a patriotic person and you want to look up to the president, what do you tell your daughters about reconciling a love of country on a day like today with the way the president is treating women?

[22:45:09] RYAN: Well, I guess I would have to appeal to like a Zen proverb, which is who`s to say what`s good or bad? Like maybe Donald Trump`s presidency will spur a whole new generation of people to action and sensitivity and activism and thoughtfulness. That`s the only way that you can really get through this is to think that the response to this is going to be much better than the current reality.

WALSH: I admire that.

MELBER: Erin Gloria Ryan, Joan Walsh, thank you as always.

RYAN: Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up, another topic that is important. Now more than two dozen states saying there is no way they`ll just hand over their voters` Social Security data to Trump`s new voter fraud commission. We`ll explain straight ahead.


MELBER: Here`s something you don`t see every day. The vice chairman of President Trump`s Voter Fraud Commission has added his own state to the now 25 states who said they either won`t or can`t fully comply with his own commission`s request for what is sensitive voter information. Kris Kobach saying he can`t provide Social Security numbers of residents in his state because of a state law.

But Wednesday he sent letters to all 50 secretaries of state requiring or asking that all publicly available information like names, addresses, birth dates, and political party, plus, yes, the last four of your social and voting history, at least since 2006, and other assorted information be provided. Eleven secretaries of state have said they will not comply.


[22:50:07] ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES, KENTUCKY SECRETARY OF STATE: Not on my watch are we going to participate in a political activity that is really -- it`s a commission that is set up as a pretext to try to find an answer to a problem that simply doesn`t exist. And not on my watch are we going to release sensitive voter information data that at best is a waste of taxpayer money and at worst is a national effort to suppress votes across the United States.


MELBER: Pretext can be a fancy word here. There`s a simpler one. Conspiracy theory. Because you have to look back at the history and remember that this commission was created because the Trump administration decided to spend taxpayer dollars, your money, in search of information related to the president`s conspiracy theory just a few weeks after the election.

Take a look at the tweet. "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

The president has never backed off this claim. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law did research on all this and they released a report using a national study that looked at the noncitizen and potential fraudulent voting in, yes, the 2016 election. They found a total of 30 incidents of suspected noncitizen voting referred for further inquiries or prosecution. And that is out of -- count it up -- 23.5 million votes. If you wanted a percent it would be 0001 percent.

Joining me now is California secretary of state Alex Padilla.

Secretary, before we even get to the data issue which is the newest thing here, is it important to you as someone who`s involved in election integrity that this commission was set up as a direct response to a conspiracy theory that 3 million plus people secretly voted illegally even though no evidence ever has been provided for that.

ALEX PADILLA, CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Ari, thank you for laying it out the way you did because that says it all. It`s a commission based on a false premise. And frankly as we`ve seen it play forward the commission in reality is serving two functions. Number one, it`s a distraction to the real threat against our democracy. And that is the Russian intervention in the 2016 elections and what could potentially come in 2018 and going forward.

The other is the excuse or the pretext that this commission will serve based on the false narrative of voter fraud, which we know is extremely rare, but would be used as a justification for advancing voter suppression policies. Just look at who`s in charge. Secretary Kobach from Kansas as the vice chair. Look at his track record in Kansas. That`s the last thing we`ll stand for here in California.

MELBER: And there is a concern that whatever Donald Trump does at the rhetorical level or the Twitter level, there are these people around, and you just mentioned some of them, who have a longstanding agenda to change, as you mentioned, law and policy. Professor Rick Hasan who a widely respected nonpartisan voter law expert was writing today that one concern would be an attempt to roll back other rules in the mode of voter rules that make voter registration easier.

In California do you share that concern?

PADILLA: Absolutely share that concern. And it`s not one that we`re simply speculating about. You look at what`s happened in the last several years since the Supreme Court gutted the teeth of the federal voting rights act. You`ve seen state after state move forward with -- whether it`s a creatively written voter ID law, the reduction or the elimination of early voting opportunities and the latest craze for them is voter list maintenance, the creative purging of voter rolls not in compliance with the Federal Voter Registration Act.

You have litigation in Ohio. You have activity in Indiana and other places. That`s the next wave of making it more difficult for eligible citizens to register and vote.

MELBER: Right. So final question. What about the flipside where obviously voter rolls do have people on there who are ineligible or deceased? What do you say to people including the White House invoking that as a sign of vulnerable to voter fraud?

PADILLA: Look, there is a clear distinction whether somebody -- there`s maybe a duplication or on a voter list or some people may be registered in more than one state versus actually voting twice in the same election. We can and should continue to strive for as accurate as voter rolls as possible. But if they were genuine about wanting to improve the integrity of our elections, number one, focus on the Russians, and number two, put funding out to states to invest in new voting systems, new voting technology because across the country our voting systems are aging and in need of updating.

MELBER: Secretary Padilla, thank you for joining us tonight.

[22:55:02] PADILLA: Thank you.

MELBER: And the LAST WORD tonight is about outer space. And it`s next.


MELBER: Tonight`s LAST WORD, Mike Pence is chairman of Trump`s Voter Fraud Commission and today Donald Trump added another gig to the vice president`s portfolio. Heading up the newly restarted National Space Council.

Now of course it`s all about the journey. And here is Donald Trump signing the executive order for this.


TRUMP: Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bringing us all closer together.

Wouldn`t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that? I thought politics would do that? Well, we`ll have to rely on space instead.


MELBER: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in attendance and he saw the opening for a little joke using his catch phrase made famous by the animated alter ego Buzz Lightyear from of course "Toy Story."


TRUMP: I want this in space. We have a lot of room out there, right?

BUZZ ALDRIN, ASTRONAUT: To infinity and beyond.

TRUMP: This is infinity.


TRUMP: It could be infinity. We really don`t know. It has to be something. But it could be infinity, right?


MELBER: We have fun. Now that is tonight`s LAST WORD. I am Ari Melber. Lawrence will be back on Monday night. Don`t miss that. And "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams is next.