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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 7/7/17 Trump vs. Intel Community

Guests: Michael McFaul, Julieanne Smith, David Filipov, David Corn, Evan McMullin, Indira Lakshmanan, Joan Walsh, with Don Fox

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: July 7, 2017 Guest: Michael McFaul, Julieanne Smith, David Filipov, David Corn, Evan McMullin, Indira Lakshmanan, Joan Walsh, with Don Fox

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC HOST: Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." Ari Melber is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Richard. And thank you for all that reporting. But you go, I do want to ask you given everything, do you think Putin got what he wanted out of President Trump today?

ENGEL: I think he absolutely got what he wanted. I think he came in with this intention to have a long meeting. I think he wanted to overwhelm the president, presenting him lots of options, lots of things that they could discuss, put some meat on the table for them to start digging right into it, and hoping that this will lead to more discussions, more follow-on, and a tighter relationship.

MELBER: Interesting. Richard Engel, thank you very much.

ENGEL: Absolutely.

MELBER: I am Ari Melber live in New York for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Now for months, people have been watching to see if Donald Trump would pivot. Today it happened.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it`s going very well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`ve learned the president did, in fact, confront Putin for meddling in the U.S. election.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sergey Lavrov coming out and saying that President Trump accepted Putin`s denial.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): He accepts these -- the things that Mr. Putin has said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One administration source is telling me that is not accurate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bear in mind that unless it was Tillerson himself, that person was not even in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just yesterday, President Trump cast doubt on the allegations regarding Russia.

TRUMP: Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI DIRECTOR: It was only the Russians, and they did so very aggressively and effectively.

TILLERSON: At this point, let`s talk about how do we go forward.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This idea of putting it behind us, I think, is a bit of a fantasy.

TILLERSON: There was a very clear, positive chemistry between the two.

TRUMP: These are the ones. You`re right about them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin is never going to be your friend. We need to treat him with extreme caution.


MELBER: The meeting is over. President Trump and Vladimir Putin held that first meeting today eight months of course after an election that the U.S. government determined was targeted by Russia. And this is the easy part, the talking part. Any president would be expected to lay down a rhetorical marker in the first meeting with an adversary after attempts to interfere with our democracy.

And a president who ran on putting America first, a logical application of that slogan obviously requires putting America before Russia. But the Trump administration instead offered a very mixed message, suggesting that Donald Trump talked to Putin about Russian interference, but that the very interference itself was a question.

Question is the key word in this breakdown of the meeting from none other than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


TILLERSON: With regard to the interference in the election, I think, you know, the president took note of actions that have been discussed by the Congress, most recently additional sanctions that have been voted out of the Senate, to make it clear as to the seriousness of the issue. But I think what the two presidents, I think rightly focused on is how do we move forward.

How do we move forward from here because it`s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed upon resolution of that question between the two nations. So the question is what do we do now? And I think the relationship -- and the president made this clear as well -- is too important. And it`s too important to not find a way to move forward.


MELBER: Too important to not find a way to move forward. Notice that Tillerson is treating his ideological conclusion as some kind of universal preference as if everyone thinks Russia is such an important partner that its attacks on the United States must be just swallowed.

Of course most American leaders have not taken that kind of approach as a given. From President Reagan to President Obama, most leaders have not rejected American intelligence and called its conclusions into suggestion just to smooth over relations with this adversary.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, can you say if the president was unequivocal in his view that Russia did interfere in the election? Did he offer to produce any evidence or -- to convince Mr. Putin?

TILLERSON: The Russians have asked for proof and evidence. I`ll leave that to the intelligence community to address. The answer to that question.

[22:05:04] And again I think -- I think the president at this point, he pressed him and then, you know, felt like at this point let`s talk about how do we go forward.


MELBER: That`s weird. Tillerson is literally saying the U.S. intelligence community should answer the Russians` questions about evidence like our spies are answerable to the people they spy on, and they should provide evidence to the opponents they`re accusing of these attacks? Why would you want to give the Russians any clues about how the intel community knows what it knows?

In court, sure. American citizens have a right to see the evidence against them. This isn`t a court. The Russians aren`t honoring our rules. They`re breaking them. And if this is -- if this is any road to cyber war, something Dick Cheney himself suggested, well, you don`t publicly tell your own intelligence officials, who of course risk their lives in these kind of wars, to brief the potential enemy.

As for Tillerson`s key word tonight, "question," the government he serves already has the answer. Russia meddled in the election. The last administration announced it and acted on it. Congress, in a bipartisan manner, has acted on it. And Trump apparently brought it up today while also sowing more doubt about it. Illogical, that position. But perhaps predictable.


TRUMP: She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don`t -- maybe it was. I mean it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

She doesn`t know if it`s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. Once they hack, if you don`t catch them in the act, you`re not going to catch them. They have no idea if it`s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace.


MELBER: Joining me now is David Filipov, Moscow bureau chief for the "Washington Post" from Hamburg, Germany, Michael McFaul, of course former U.S. ambassador to Russia and MSNBC contributor, and Julieann Smith, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for New American Security, also a former national security adviser to Vice President Biden.

Ambassador, how unusual is this request that our folks provide the evidence to their folks? And who won the meeting?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, to your first question, it`s very unusual, you`re absolutely right. It`s not the job of our intelligence communities to share intelligence to somebody who violated our sovereignty, right? It`s like as if a criminal came into your house and they stole your data, they stole your television set, and then the police are supposed to provide data to them about what they did.

Putin knows what he did. Putin expected Trump to say something about it, and it appears, judging by the readout from Secretary Tillerson, that in fact he didn`t push back very hard. Note that Tillerson said earlier in his remarks, he said the people of America are concerned, when he read it out. He didn`t say President Trump said he was concerned.

MELBER: Are we over reading that? I mean, I`ve seen that observation because it`s noticeable, but is it a problem?

MCFAUL: You know, I worked at the White House for three years. I was in these meetings with both Prime Minister Putin at the time and President Medvedev. I never remember a kind of construction like that. I never remember a construction where it said it was noted, right, past tense.


MCFAUL: It was noted that the Senate was concerned about this. Why isn`t President Trump concerned about this?

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: And I just think by answering it that way, this idea that we`re just going to move along after our sovereignty has been violated? That`s not in the American interest. That is a weak response to what Putin did last year.

MELBER: Julianne, what did Putin get out of this and why was the meeting so long?

JULIANNE SMITH, CENTER FOR NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Well, I think he wanted to get a smile. He wanted to extend the meeting so that they`d come out afterwards. There`d be a lot of questions about what was discussed. There`d be some confusion over who`s reporting what. He wanted this to look like a fireside chat with some old friends.

He needed that photo opportunity. He wanted to show that he could basically play President Trump, and I think he did just that. I think Trump came in unprepared. I don`t think he was well briefed. I don`t think his team readied him for this meeting, and I think the end result is that Putin got just about everything he wanted from that meeting, including a very, very light touch on Russian meddling in our election last fall.

And that`s a shame because this issue is not going to go away, or this tactic on the part of the Russians. They`re going to do this again. They did it in France most recently. They will likely do it in Germany this fall. And I would assume that they`re going to do it in 2018 and 2020 in the United States again.

[22:10:01] MELBER: David, you know the old saying, don`t know much about history. Rex Tillerson bringing up the chemistry between these two men for whatever reason. Take a listen.


TILLERSON: The two leaders, I would say, connected very quickly. There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two. I think, again -- and I think the positive thing I observed, and I`ve had many, many meetings with President Putin before -- is there was not a lot of re-litigating of the past.


MELBER: David, would you consider it re-litigating something that the two men have never discussed before? That`s what we call a leading question, but I don`t know how else to ask it.

DAVID FILIPOV, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean obviously the point of all this was to put all this behind it -- put all this behind everybody and have a nice picture moving forward, right? So the American people see this picture of, you know, President Trump behaving in a dignified way with President Putin. And now we`re all going to move forward, we`re not going to think about that stuff anymore.

This whole calculation is great for Russia and maybe great for people in the rest of the world. Americans who are really interested, like my two colleagues here on this panel, didn`t get any answers. We didn`t get any answers whatsoever. Is Putin going to have to answer for what he did? Does President Trump really believe that this election hacking happened? But for the people who don`t care, they got a great picture of them kind of like wrapping it up. OK, that was too bad about that. Let`s move on.

MELBER: I mean, I guess -- I mean, Ambassador, yes, some people don`t care by definition. Then I guess --


MCFAUL: Well, they should care.

MELBER: They might not see the photo in the first place.


MELBER: But last time I checked, the American public does have issues with Russia. I suppose some of the partisan lines of this are changing if Putin is a stand-in for the Republican Party, but that shift hasn`t completely occurred. And this would be odd ball in the extreme to suggest it`s a win for a U.S. president to back off an adversary.

MCFAUL: And let`s be clear about when Secretary Tillerson is saying the two leaders said, we should just move on and forget about the history, forget about the agenda, what is that agenda? That agenda is created by Vladimir Putin. He`s the one that intervened in our elections. We didn`t do that. He did that to us. He`s the one that annexed territory in Ukraine. He created that as an agenda item.

We didn`t do that. He`s the one that doubled down and tripled down in his support for Assad in Syria. Half a million people have died there. That agenda is created by him. So surprise, surprise, he wants to move on. That is not smart diplomacy. Diplomacy is not a popularity contest.

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: Diplomacy is about defending America`s national interest and defending international interest. Thou shall not interfere in elections in other countries. Thou shall not annex the territory of thy neighbor. Principle number one. We just can`t forget about those events. We have to make sure they don`t happen again.

MELBER: Julieann, the Russian foreign minister basically stakes out this dramatic ground. This was a headline breaking all afternoon with some pushback as we`ve noted but saying, oh, yes, and Trump took Putin at his word. Take a listen.


LAVROV (through translator): President Trump has said that he has heard clear declarations from Mr. Putin that Russian leadership and Russian government has not interfered in the elections, and he accepts these -- the things that Mr. Putin has said.


MELBER: What`s going on there?

SMITH: Well, this doesn`t surprise me at all that we have two conflicting versions of the meeting, and that`s why the U.S. team, everyone should have agreed to bring in more staff, note takers.

I know Mike McFaul, when he was part of the administration as ambassador or as senior director for Russia, he himself would be in a meeting like that to provide a readout to the press afterwards. We now only have the four principals that were in this meeting with two translators. The translators are obviously not going to share their notes. And so we`re left with a question. Who`s telling the truth?

Do we believe the U.S. administration? President Trump`s version of the story or President Putin`s version of the story? And neither one of these guys are known to be honest Abe.

MELBER: Right. And --

SMITH: I mean, they both have trouble with the truth obviously.

MELBER: Right. Honest Vladimir.


MELBER: A subsidiary question to what you`re saying then is also what are the foreign policy implications of Russia if they are lying about the meeting feeling that they can lie about the word that the president of the United States, apparently unconcerned about any reaction, which again if you`re for America first and being tough, I would assume one of the benefits of being tough is countries don`t get away with lying about what you said moments after you said it.

[22:15:01] David, going back to you, this is how "The New York Times" put it, that they were trying to prevent exactly this kind of thing. I guess maybe it didn`t work. Quote, "The Russians had agitated to include more staff in the meeting. Trump`s team had insisted the meeting be small, avoid leaks and competing accounts later." And that was someone speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity, but we have competing accounts, no?

FILIPOV: Yes, and I mean, we obviously were thinking all day about what was going on there. You know, Ivanov also threw out American reporters from that briefing like myself even though the thing was broadcast live on Russian channels.

You know, there`s an attempt in Vladimir Putin`s presidency to whitewash the past, to make things a lot smoother, to present a view of the world that, hey, Russia is just a country that`s trying to get along. We`re not really trying to interfere in anybody`s elections. And this press conference by Ivanov and the corresponding one by Tillerson really played toward that.

Why President Trump needs that is something that is harder to understand. But what the Russians were trying to do was push this whole thing forward. And that statement by Ivanov, that`s just basically saying hey, we confirm everything we`ve been saying there was no, you know, hacking and the U.S. president agrees with it.

And we`ll be really asking tomorrow, everybody we know in Washington, does President Trump -- did he really accept this? Did he really say that? It sounds insane. It sounds out of this world that he would just go and put it away like that with the entire country, you know, interested in this investigation.

MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, I have the final question for you. It may be the hardest to answer. Going forward, is the Trump administration taking the position that Russia either didn`t meddle or it barely mattered, so it`s all good, or is there a view that to the extent they meddled, it was to help Trump? So he doesn`t really need to prevent it because it could help him again in the reelect.

MCFAUL: Well, I don`t know the answer to that obviously. I wasn`t in the meeting. By the way, I used to negotiate who would be in those meetings, plus one, plus two, plus three. I had assumed that the Russians kept the Americans out. If this reporting by "The New York Times" is true, that raises serious doubts about the relationship that the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster has, that the president doesn`t even want his National Security adviser in the room for fear of leaks? That`s a big problem.

MELBER: Right, because he wouldn`t be leaking if it`s working. If he thinks it`s working.

MCFAUL: There`s only three people. I mean that to me is very disturbing. I hope we learn more about that.

To your question, I don`t know the answer with respect to how President Trump`s thinking. But I do know the answer with respect to how Russia is going to behave. It is naive beyond imagination to assume that the Russians or the Chinese or somebody in the future is going to only hack -- is going to only interfere in our elections on the side of the Republican Party.

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: That is crazy. So rather than debate about, you know, his legitimacy or not, that`s why he doesn`t want to talk about it, we need to treat this as a national security issue and get ready so that this doesn`t happen again.

MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, Julieann Smith, I want to thank you both. And a special thank you to David Filipov, the reward for good work is more work, and you stayed up until 4:00 in the morning with us. I appreciate it. Your local time.

FILIPOV: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, how is the U.S. intel community viewing this confrontation between Trump and Putin about the election interference. And later there`s some breaking news you may not have seen yet on Trumpcare. Mitch McConnell has a big plan and we have a preview. Don`t go away.



[22:21:13] TILLERSON: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.


MELBER: Just a day before Donald Trump, according to Rex Tillerson, was pressing Vladimir Putin on the Russian interference in the election, he was publicly questioning the U.S. intel agencies, who of course as we all know, concluded unanimously that Russia did in fact interfere.


TRUMP: I agree. I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.

I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong, and it led to a mess.


MELBER: That kind of set of comments may be habitual for Trump, but it doesn`t make it normal.

Sally Yates, a DOJ career prosecutor who was of course acting attorney general at the start of the Trump administration before she left over a travel ban debate, wrote this impassioned response.

"The president`s inexplicable refusal to confirm Russian election interference insults career intel pros and hinders our ability to prevent it in the future."

And joining me now for more is Evan McMullin. He`s a former CIA operative and independent presidential candidate, co-founder of Stand Up Republic. I`m also joined by David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and MSNBC political analyst. And apparently, David, a founder of nothing from what I can see here in my list of credentials.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: It`s on my bucket list, Ari.

MELBER: OK. Well, get on in. Then again Evan is, you know, a patriotic and physically courageous man which I always admire because it`s not something I ever knew how to do. Get to Evan in a second.

David, you`ve covered this Russia story a lot. Talk to us about when you see that kind of response from someone like Sally Yates.

CORN: Well, you know, I think she`s reflecting what many people are thinking inside and outside of the intelligence community. The president also in recent days said, you know, it was only four intelligence agencies that came up with this conclusion.

No, it was really the ones that count, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and joined by the office of the -- director of National Intelligence, which oversees the whole community. So whenever he gets a chance, and you saw this in the readout with Rex Tillerson today, they diminish and dismiss the significance and the importance of this.

He says he`s honored to meet Putin, the guy who attacked this country? He was talking this morning in a tweet about John Podesta not giving DNC servers to the CIA. All that is wrong.

MELBER: So is it, David --

CORN: It has nothing to do with this.

MELBER: Yes . Let me jump in. Isn`t this part of the problem? So then folks are trying to clean it up. So we`re talking about 17 agencies versus four.

CORN: Right.

MELBER: And you get the feeling that this is a person who is a master of pettifogging, a master of parsing. How do you think the factual community should deal with that?

CORN: Well, that`s why you`ve got to stick to the big picture in terms of facts. It`s quite clear that Trump, from the very beginning, throughout the summer and since then, he`s aided and abetted Putin`s campaign by denying or diminishing it or saying it didn`t happen at all. Again and again and again. And I think so we can make fun and say why is he doing this, but there`s a reason why. And you have to keep presenting that bigger context.

And I think it`s kind of disgraceful that even today he was not defending America`s national interest when it comes to sitting down with Putin and also joking with the guy about the media. And this is a guy who leads a regime where journalists are killed. And you know.


[22:25:05] CORN: It`s easy to go on and on and be outraged about this, but sometimes outrage is factual.

EVAN MCMULLIN, CO-FOUNDER, STAND UP REPUBLIC: That`s right. Look, I think what we saw in this European visit or what we`ve seen so far was what you would expect to see based on Trump`s signaling during the campaign, that he was going to align with Vladimir Putin. That speech in Warsaw was full of ethno nationalism language, talking about our culture, our civilization, not about democracy, not about liberty and equality, but values -- it really is a term to describe ethnicity and describing a battle of civilizations between what we have in the West and other cultures, namely, I think, Islam.

And so then he goes and he meets with Vladimir Putin, and all of a sudden the hacking isn`t an issue. All of a sudden, we`re making a commitment not to interfere in Russian domestic issues just as the same as though it`s equal as Russian interference in the United States. And all of a sudden we`ve given up our whole ability now to push back. And I don`t think the president has any intention to do that. I think our intelligence services, the men and women will continue to serve honorably.

MELBER: Well, have we? I don`t want to get too fancy on you. It`s Friday night after all.


MELBER: But have we bifurcated the response to Russia? The Congress is trying to drive one response with sanctions with teeth, while the president is obviously doing something else.

MCMULLIN: Yes, but you can`t have sanctions unless the president is going to sign them.

MELBER: Or you override --

MCMULLIN: Or override him with a veto proof majority. And maybe we`ll get there.

MELBER: Well, in the Senate you`ve got 90 plus.

MCMULLIN: In the Senate you`re there, but the House is looking very weak.


MCMULLIN: And so -- and that`s what Trump is doing here. When he talks about -- you know, when he talks about the U.S. intelligence community being wrong, that`s a political move. He`s trying to keep his base, his shrinking or small base which protects him in the House still strong, still doubting what they`re hearing from the intelligence community.

As long as he can do that, then he`s protected politically. This is now a political game, and that`s what I think he`s doing.

MELBER: David, listen to James Clapper, of course, who used to be the head of DNI.

CORN: Right.

MELBER: The agency you were mentioning here, talking about this and morale.


CLAPPER: It certainly isn`t morale-building, I`ll put it that way. I do think, though, that the intelligence community will continue to convey truth to power even if the power ignores the truth. And that`s one of the great strengths of the intelligence community and the superb men and women who are in it.


MELBER: David, it may be a great strength of the intel community, but it is a little more depressing than the optimism he`s trying to find.

CORN: Yes.

MELBER: Because the main client of the intel community is the president.

CORN: It`s a sad statement. Evan can probably speak to this better than you or I could, Ari. But people who work for the CIA, case officers, often have to take tremendous risks, and they have to put their agents, people they use to get information, often in harm`s way.

Now if they all think that the guy at the top isn`t going to -- he doesn`t care about them or think there`s part of a deep state allied against him, are they still going to take those risks? Are people going to leave? They`re going to think twice. I mean, morale is important in the EPA. It`s important in the State Department, every place else, but it`s very important for people who are taking those personal risks.


CORN: And ultimately at the end of the day, you know, a president can only make good decisions if he has good information and cares about that information.

You know, Trump is undercutting that whole premise and that could lead us into even deeper and darker trouble.

MELBER: Yes. Evan, you get the last word of this segment, and also is any of this going to potentially change based on the results of Bob Mueller`s investigation?

MCMULLIN: Look, I would say this. What David Corn just said is correct, but I think the issue that I`m very concerned about is not what the rank- and-file think or feel with regard to morale. That`s an issue, but it`s really about how this administration is going to direct law enforcement and counterintelligence resources.

Recent reporting has indicated that the Russians have stepped up espionage activities even since the election. So forget about morale for a second. Where are the senior leaders in this administration going to allocate resources? Are they going to protect our democracy from interference going forward? What we saw from the president and Putin in Europe today suggests that we may not get the protection that we need from the president.

That should be very, very concerning to all Americans. We should be very, very concerned about frankly free and fair elections in this country if we don`t have a president standing up for them.

MELBER: Evan McMullin and David Corn, thank you both for joining this Friday night.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

CORN: Sure thing.

MELBER: And coming up, some breaking news while Donald Trump is overseas. It appears he may have lost another key Republican vote on the repeal of Obamacare.

[22:30:08] Also new reports tonight, though, that Mitch McConnell and the Trump White House have a special plan for a blitz. Our panel will explain next.


MELBER: We are live here on Friday night, and sometimes the breaking news comes in on Friday. As I can tell you I`m holding a "Washington Post" report out tonight that we`re discussing for the first time on air here on MSNBC that the White House and Mitch McConnell are planning a final urgent blitz to pressure reluctant Republican senators back into passing their repeal and replace bill.

The new idea, the new strategy according to "The Post" tonight is a deadline before the August recess. And key players in the strategy, according to this new report in "The Post," are Mike Pence and Ted Cruz. Mitch McConnell allegedly relying on them to shake up and try to get a consensus among Republicans. The idea is that Cruz can be a conservative firebrand and bring it all home.

Congress returns on Monday. That means, according to this report, there would be just 14 days to pass Trumpcare before this new self-imposed deadline before the August recess.

I should note the obvious that you may know even if you are watching politics here on a Friday night, and we welcome it, not everyone else is as focused on this in August. I`m going to talk to my panel in a second about why that might be part of the strategy. Meanwhile, senators openly questioning what`s in the Senate bill. Senator Jerry Moran at a listening tour in Kansas.


[22:35:00] SEN. JERRY MORAN (R), KANSAS: We don`t want to just go through the motions of some kind of legislation that we say is going to solve the problem when I`m not and others are not yet convinced that what path we`re on is actually going to make a difference in the cost to you, your family, and your businesses.


MELBER: Now why would a Republican from that deep red state be potentially wobbling on the bill? Here`s some of what Senator Moran is hearing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Americans don`t work hard all their lives to have an American dream and get somewhere just to say, oh, OK. Yes, you can have all my taxpayer money, and I`m going to go over here and curl up and die because you don`t think I deserve health care.


MELBER: Joining me now is Indira Lakshmanan, a Washington columnist for "The Boston Globe," and the chair of Journalism Ethics at the Pointer Institute. And also Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation" and an MSNBC analyst.

Joan, Andy Card used to say, you don`t roll out a big product in August or at least not a product you`re excited about.

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Not something you really want to sell. You want to wait until the fall when you`re excited about something. I remember that, too.

You know, this is crazy. And also the idea of Ted Cruz as pitchman? I mean I know he`s doing some weird ideological shape-shifting by suggesting that maybe they cut -- not cut but actually leave the taxes, some of the taxes in place. And he`s trying to act like, you know, the firefighter on the scene, but he`s widely despised by his colleagues. I mean, Al Franken, you know, joked that --


MELBER: I know what you`re going to say. Go ahead.

WALSH: I know. You know, people hate him more than I do, and I hate him. So this is a very, very weird situation. And also people like Jerry Moran are home and hearing about why people are afraid of what they`re trying to do.

MELBER: Right.

WALSH: So I don`t -- I have no idea what they`re doing. They should have talked to Andy Card.

MELBER: Well, it has a patina of panic, but it may be a reflection that they think in the light of day, in the fall, you know, open season, the bill has no shot. So maybe August is the only shot.

Now, Indira, I`m going to put it to you straight here. I ain`t that old, but I`m old enough to remember when if you got a bad CBO score on a piece of national policy legislation, the response was to reform the underlying legislation to get a better CBO score.

I mean people in both parties said, OK, we care about the numbers. If the thing is too expensive or has too many negative consequences, we`ll fix it and go back to the CBO. Instead let me read to you, I guess what we might call the new school of Trumpian response to a CBO score. Quote, "The goal will now be to counter the non-partisan CBO analysis of the legislation which shows 22 million fewer people would have insurance coverage, and to counter it to show from conservative groups and other Republicans who say there are more benefits and less disruptions should the bill pass."

Translation, they don`t want to fix anything that the CBO found. They want to point to alternative sources that make the bill look ostensibly better.

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, alternative sources sounds an awful lot like alternative facts, Ari. And the problem here is that, as you say, in the past the idea was to fight fire with fire. If the facts were that the CBO said this doesn`t work, then you tried to find a way to fix it and make it work.

This Trump administration and also the Republican leadership in the Senate don`t seem to want to try to fix it. They want to counter it and say, no, that`s fake news. That`s not true. Let`s just counter it with our own information. But what you said, I thought, was really interesting, that there was a tinge of panic or a patina of panic in the air, and they have every good reason to be panicked, and why?

An analysis that just came out of MIT, and these are people who actually understand math unlike most people in America, and I, you know, would say that that includes most of us, they analyzed all the polls of, you know, looking at attention to, you know, legislation over the last 30 years. This is the least popular piece of legislation in 30 years.


LAKSHMANAN: You know, last month it was polling at 12 percent.

MELBER: I mean wow because it`s not like every other piece of legislation that are unpopular Congress has ever talked about is also beloved. So that`s really saying something.

I did say patina of panic and that`s because I like alliteration. I have a simple mind and it just helps me remember things.

What I want to do is have you both stay with me. We are going to fit in a quick break. And when we come back, Vladimir Putin`s controversial joke to Donald Trump.


[22:43:05] MELBER: Now just before that anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, there was something caught on tape. It was a joke, and it was a joke about journalists. This was right after the official photo-op ended. News camera crews were just starting to break down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.

TRUMP: These are the ones. You`re right about them.


MELBER: "These are the ones." LOL. But it`s actually not that funny. When you think about the fact that of course both these men have tangled with the press. And while no prosecutor has ever accused Donald Trump of criminally violating the First Amendment, he has of course been roundly criticized for everything from publicizing false stories to mocking an American journalist`s handicap, to allegedly threatening to impugn journalists who wouldn`t call and apologize to him for their coverage. That coming out just last week.

Now there is no moral equivalence between that kind of conduct and Vladimir Putin`s track record. And that`s why it was shocking to see an American president laughing with Putin, who according to reports like this one in "Business Insider" has been accused of being involved in the deaths of more than two dozen journalists in his own country.

Indira Lakshmanan and Joan Walsh are back with us.

Joan, your thought watching that exchange between them.

WALSH: It was kind of horrifying. You know, Putin is obviously trying to cozy up with Trump. Trump is trying to cozy up with him. But the idea that these two really authoritarians are making common cause around, you know, the free press, the allegedly free press, is scary. And Trump needed his backing.

I mean Trump is kind of like the odd ball at these global meetings now. He`s sort of an outcast because he`s behaved so abominably. And Putin showed up today like he was going to be the guy that protects the odd kid from the bullies or, you know, from other kids.

[22:45:06] And that`s what it felt like when he was like, you know, this is what`s going on with the -- they`re bonding over something that --

MELBER: Over that.

WALSH: Over something that`s really kind of awful.

MELBER: Indira, Joan calls Trump the odd ball. "Foreign Policy`s" David (INAUDIBLE) today said it sometimes looked like G-19 Plus One. Put this exchange about journalists in that context.

LAKSHMANAN: All right. Well, here`s the larger context. The larger context is that since 1993, 60 journalists have been murdered in Russia. So whether Vladimir Putin was directly involved with those murders or not, certainly the Russian regime has shown no love for journalists or the free media. It jails them. It, you know, has certainly been responsible for the murder of many of them.

It is a very serious problem to try to conduct any kind of independent journalism in Russia. It`s just not possible. And our president has cozied up not only to Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian leader who has no respect for the press, but also Turkey`s leader, Erdogan, Egyptian leader Sisi. He`s made very flattering remarks about the Philippine leader, Duterte.

All of these men who are strongmen, who have cracked down on the free press at home, it`s appalling that these comments would be made in a country that is supposed to be setting an example.

In Warsaw, he also made comments that, you know, were attacking the free press. We`re supposed to be out there as a beacon for the rest of the world, and it is disturbing that someone would make a joke on this.

And I want to say why would Vladimir Putin do this? Let`s not forget he was the head of the KGB. He was the head of the state spy and security service. He knows very well how to do personality profiling to know how to appeal to someone`s weaknesses and strengths, and he knows this appeals to Trump`s ego. Trump is obsessed with the press.

MELBER: Right.

LAKSHMANAN: Appeal to him. Cozy up to him by saying something like this.

MELBER: And to undercut any potential future U.S. statement about the treatment of journalists in the country, which would just dredge up that video which, to some eyes, would be embarrassing.

Indira Lakshmanan and Joan Walsh, thank you as always. I appreciate your insights tonight.

LAKSHMANAN: Thank you, Ari.

WALSH: Thanks.

MELBER: Now while Trump was abroad, the top ethics watchdog for the federal government resigned. We`ll tell you why next. I`m going to break down his new MSNBC exclusive interview.



WALTER SHAUB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: The consistent approach that I`m running into in dealing with this council`s office has been if it`s not illegal, we`re going to do it. And if there`s an argument that it`s probably not illegal we`re going to do it.


MELBER: "If it`s not illegal we`re going to do it." That`s a standard that can lead you towards all sorts of potentially terrible, dangerous, unethical behavior, if the only thing you care about is literally not becoming a felon.

In most large organizations and government agencies there are some lawyers and they say what`s legal. And then there are a whole bunch of other people who decide what`s good policy, what`s fair, what is ethical.

Now the man that you just heard speaking is Walter Shaub, the top dog among federal ethics bureaucrats. And he just resigned early before his term is up. Tonight he explained in detail to MSNBC`s Chris Hayes the reason. He says the Trump White House just didn`t care about ethics.


SHAUB: I`d say the ethics program has been a very serious disappointment in the White House. Because this is a risk management program it`s become clear that they have a much higher tolerance for risk --


SHAUB: -- than we do. For instance we have a lot more control over presidential nominees. They have to get our signoff before they can get a hearing and come into government. White House appointees are in government long before we get their financial disclosure reports and we`re almost doing a post-mortem to see if there was a conflict of interest. Where with nominees we work to prevent them in advance.

And so adopting a higher level of risk is inconsistent with how we run this program because people have been asking me is there definitely a violation or can you definitively say there is no violation, well, if we`re the prevention mechanism. Once that violation has happened we`ve already failed.

And so it`s incumbent upon a director of the Office of Government Ethics or my staff as a whole to object before we reach that point.

HAYES: Right.

SHAUB: Because we`re supposed to be running around preventing that from happening.


MELBER: Now up next I`m going to speak with Don Fox. He previously ran that same ethics office. He`ll react from those new statements from his former colleague who resigned.



[22:56:48] HAYES: Can you definitively say, sitting here today, that everyone in that White House is, including the president, free of conflicts of interest?

SHAUB: Well, no. We have received very little information about what the individuals in the White House do on a day-to-day basis for a living. They`ve negotiated ethics agreements with them and they refused to even let the Office of Government Ethics so much as see those ethics agreements. And when we worked on the financial disclosure reports, we asked for information, and it`s like pulling teeth.


MELBER: The departing head of the Office of Government Ethics speaking there tonight. And now I`m joined by Don Fox who was a former acting director in the same office.

Good evening to you, sir.


MELBER: Your thoughts on this position taken here by Mr. Shaub who left and says the Trump White House doesn`t care about ethics.

FOX: It`s just so profoundly disappointing that this is where we find ourselves. I don`t blame Walt at all for the course that he`s decided to take. And thinking that he can be more effective now on the outside. Because this is just unprecedented in the seven administrations during which the Office of Government Ethics has existed to have this lack of cooperation and taking the program seriously.

MELBER: You know, we filed a FOIA early this year to obtain some of his e- mails and dealing with the Trump officials, I`ll put one up on the screen here. He said he was more concerned about this extraordinary assertion that many of the ethics regulations would be inapplicable to employees in the executive office of the president. He told them that was incorrect and that their letter cited no legal basis and it`s critical that White House employees be held to the same standard ethical accountability as other executive branch employees.

Was he right and the Trump officials wrong about that?

FOX: Walt is absolutely right. The whole discussion about what applies and doesn`t apply as a technical matter is a lengthy one. But the fact of the matter is that no previous chief executive has ever acted as though all of those standards did not apply to him.

MELBER: Why do you think people who are already quite wealthy, and many of whom are at an advanced stage of their career, seem so concerned about continuing to carry on business and make more money? I mean, I don`t know if you listen to Lil` Wayne the rapper but he famously said too much money ain`t enough money. Is it simple greed in your view or something else from your experience?

FOX: Well, for those of us who spent our lives, our professional lives, you know, working for the government, whether on active duty in the military or as a civil servant, frankly it really is hard to understand.

It`s also difficult to understand simply from the standpoint that government jobs and particularly senior jobs are very demanding. And it`s like, well, what are you paying attention to, your private business or the people`s business?

MELBER: Yes, you put it well, especially when the folks have so much power at their disposal.

Don Fox, thank you for joining here on Friday night.

FOX: You`re very welcome.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

I am Ari Melber. This is THE LAST WORD for you tonight. And you can always find me on Facebook at I post report on articles and soon I`ll be posting updates there about my new nightly MSNBC shows which airs weeknights 6:00 p.m. Eastern starting soon.

"THE 11TH HOUR" is next.