The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 8/9/17 FBI raids home of Paul Manafort

Guests: Mieke Eoyang, David Rakoff, John Heilemann,

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: August 9, 2017 Guest: Mieke Eoyang, David Rakoff, John Heilemann,

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: That is speculation entirely at this point, but someday I expect we will get that answer. Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Rachel, I`m going to be asking Mieke Eoyang about that, she`s a former committee staffer who has familiarity with that kind of interaction that could go on between the committee staff investigating these same territory the special prosecutor is investigating.

But wow, the timing is absolutely fascinating.

MADDOW: The timing is fascinating, and you know, we know that Mueller and the committees have been what they call deconflicting --

O`DONNELL: Yes --

MADDOW: Making sure that they don`t step on each other`s work or preempt any of the other investigations` work.

It`s hard to know how the deconfliction process might have sprung this timing in terms of the FBI agents getting there before he was due back on Capitol Hill. But a committee staffer is the right person to ask about that.

O`DONNELL: Text me your questions for Mieke Eoyang.

MADDOW: OK, have a good --

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel --

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: Well, Paul Manafort is not the only one who should be very worried that the FBI raided Manafort`s house in the middle of the night in search of evidence of a crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI MELBER, MSNBC: The FBI surprised Paul Manafort in a pre-dawn raid of his home in July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get a search warrant, Mueller had to convince a judge that there was probable cause a crime has been committed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a highly significant, even stunning development.

MELBER: Did you ever execute a search warrant raid like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.

MELBER: In all of Watergate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In all of Watergate, no, this is absolutely extraordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s also a message to other witnesses that if they don`t produce everything that is expected and requested, that they too may face this kind of a raid on their home.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong- un would understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s ended up frightening allies more than adversaries here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the Cuban missile crisis --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hinge between war and peace was carefully chosen words from the president of the United States, and we have no illusion that in this situation, we will hear carefully chosen, carefully vetted, appropriate words from president of the United States.

TILLERSON: So the American people should sleep well at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Probable cause. Those are the most important words of the day today. Probable cause. We have now publicly reached the state of probable cause in the special prosecutor`s investigation of Donald Trump and his family and his campaign associates.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller has found probable cause that a crime has been committed, and special prosecutor Robert Mueller believes that Paul Manafort cannot be trusted to hand over evidence in the special prosecutor`s investigation.

Those are the two things that the special prosecutor had to establish for a federal judge in order to convince that federal judge to sign a search warrant for one of Paul Manafort`s homes in Alexandria, Virginia.

The special prosecutor had to show the judge that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and had to convince the judge that Paul Manafort cannot be trusted to not commit the crime of destroying or hiding evidence subpoenaed by the special prosecutor.

Just issuing a standard subpoena to Paul Manafort is typically the way evidence is collected by prosecutors in so-called white collar criminal cases like this.

Raiding a home in the middle of the night is an indication of a very serious criminal case and criminal investigation. "The Washington Post" reported this morning that the FBI executed that raid on Wednesday, July 26th.

One former federal prosecutor told "The Washington Post" that the raid, quote, "adds a shock and all enforcement component to what until now has followed a natural path for a white-collar investigation."

The raid occurred the day after Paul Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff. We don`t know when President Trump found out about the raid, but it is entirely possible that Paul Manafort`s lawyers told the president`s lawyers about the raid basically as soon as it happened.

And President Trump`s lawyers would, of course, immediately tell their client about the raid. And so by 8:55 a.m. when the president issued some of his first tweets of the day, the president might have been trying to shift attention away from the special prosecutor`s investigation that day onto an entirely new story.

And that is exactly what the president`s first tweets did. That is the morning that the president tweeted his announcement that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.

If the president was trying to change the subject, it worked. The Defense Department was caught off guard by the president`s announcement and had no comment on it.

And we later discovered that the president decided to fire off those tweets even though he had been told by White House lawyers and Defense Department lawyers that there were serious legal implications involved in a policy announcement like that, and that everyone the president had consulted on this issue in the White House and the State Department was still working on it when the president surprised them all by issuing that tweet.

So if you`re Donald Trump and you know about the raid of Paul Manafort`s home early that morning, what do you do?

And remember, when you consider that question of what do you do if you`re Donald Trump, as far as we know, this president only knows how to do one thing -- tweet.

That`s the only thing he actually knows how to do. This president`s first reaction to everything is to tweet. Up to now, there were indications that the president had just grown impatient with the advice he was getting from the Defense Department lawyers and the White House lawyers about a transgender ban in the military.

And so he just decided to break the logjam by tweeting. The Defense Department immediately made it clear that they do not create new policies by tweet and that nothing had changed in our military because of that tweet.

And if something was going to change, there would have to be a carefully written legal directive from the president to begin even thinking about how to execute that change in the Defense Department.

And so those tweets about a transgender ban that is not happening entered the suspicion zone of Trump behavior involving the Russia investigation.

Of course, trying to change the subject in the news media has absolutely no effect on the investigation, which is something that this president might not completely understand.

The news media can go off on to any story it wants to all day for days on end, and that has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

The Russia investigation will proceed no matter what the news media is talking about. And we now know that it will proceed with subpoenas and with FBI raids in the middle of the night whenever necessary because Robert Mueller has found probable cause, and a federal judge believes Robert Mueller has found probable cause.

About an hour after the president tweeted about his desire to ban transgender people from the military, a desire that has no legal effect whatsoever, he tweeted this.

"Why didn`t AG Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars, $700,000 for his wife`s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp."

Maybe the president found out about the FBI raid after he successfully changed the subject to the transgender ban, or maybe he just couldn`t contain himself from taking a shot at the leader of the FBI, the law enforcement agency that just raided his former campaign chairman`s home.

An hour after "The Washington Post" broke the story about the FBI raid of Paul Manafort`s home today, the "National Enquirer" broke a different story about Paul Manafort.

Under the headline, Trump adviser Paul Manafort caught up in sick sex scandal. Now, it might be what qualifies as a sex scandal in America.

It certainly isn`t what qualifies as a sex scandal in France, but there seems to be nothing sick about it in anyone`s definition of sick.

It`s a story alleging that Paul Manafort had an affair with a younger woman, which as we all know is a life specialty of Donald Trump`s.

But the "National Enquirer" is a Trump tool. When it comes to Trump`s stories, the "National Enquirer" is simply another version of Donald Trump`s tweets.

The "National Enquirer" does not publish anything that Donald Trump does not want the "National Enquirer" to publish.

And so Paul Manafort has every right to read the "National Enquirer" today as an attack on him authorized by Donald Trump.

It may be the most unwise attack Donald Trump has ever launched because as the special prosecutor closes in on Paul Manafort, Paul Manafort will be facing the possibility of five years in federal prison on possible tax evasion charges for what could be tens of millions of dollars in cash that was paid for activities Paul Manafort performed involving the country of Ukraine, where a ledger was found indicating that Paul Manafort was paid $17 million in cash by the then pro-Putin political party in Ukraine.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller may have probable cause of some other crimes committed by Paul Manafort, all of which can turn out to be reasons Paul Manafort might want to cooperate with the special prosecutor and provide testimony of crimes committed by others in order to save himself from prison.

Including the possibility of Paul Manafort testifying against people named Trump or the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Paul Manafort is not the only one who should have been terrified to discover that Robert Mueller now has probable cause.

Joining us now, John Heilemann; national affairs analyst for "Nbc News" and Msnbc. Mieke Eoyang; former House Intelligence Committee staff member and vice president for the National Security Program at the Third Way.

And Jim Cavanaugh; Msnbc law enforcement analyst and retired ATF special agent, he has participated in executing several federal search warrants and worked with Robert Mueller when Robert Mueller was the director of the FBI.

And so Jim Cavanaugh, I want to go straight to you on the nature of this kind of raid, people are calling it pre-dawn, we don`t know what that is.

Is that 3:00 a.m.? Is that 4:00 a.m.? It`s certainly in the FBI`s judgment before anyone in the Paul Manafort household would be awake.

Tell us what that kind of raid is like when you`re inside the home. What do you hear? Does the doorbell ring? Is the doorbell -- as the door just knocked in? What happens in that home?

JIM CAVANAUGH, RETIRED ATF SPECIAL AGENT: Right, Lawrence, well, most likely it`s a 6:00 a.m. raid. The federal rules of criminal procedure only allow search warrants to be served -- or forbid search warrants to be served between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

It`s extremely unusual in the federal service to get a warrant before 6:00 a.m. or in the night. We only got them on very violent offenders, and we have to convince the judge there`s a reason.

Now, what happens on a case like this, once it`s 6:00 a.m., the warrant can be served. It`s a white-collar case. There`s no real danger of violence, but you have certain procedures.

But it`s a knock and announce. You bang loudly on the door, it`s not a tactical team, agents in suits and ties. You bang loudly on the door and you must announce your authority and purpose.

Bang, FBI with a search warrant, bang, FBI with a search warrant. Usually, we would have a marked radio car out front, if the occupants looked outside, they would see it`s a police vehicle.

Agents may have jackets that say FBI, some in coat and tie with their badge out. If someone in the home opens the door, Lawrence, they`re going to go in like they`re flooding in on a fast break at the basketball game.

They`re going in really fast, and that`s how they might have got to Mr. Manafort`s bedroom door. If some other occupant responded to the knock and opened the door, they would then flood in.

They just flood in and sweep all those rooms, upstairs, they`re looking for the occupants, and the house is now under the custody of the court.

That search warrant is issued by a judge, and during the pendency of that, the agents occupy it, and the court controls it until they find the items that they particularly described in the warrant.

And as you correctly said, there must be an offense lined in the search -- federal search warrant, a particular criminal offend has to be outlined, or usually multiple ones.

And then you have to particularly describe the items to be seized. Now, the words probable cause come from the constitution, the Fourth Amendment.

No warrant shall issue without -- but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

I mean, we knew the Fourth Amendment by heart in the federal service, we lived it every day, and we could recite it word for word.

And that`s what happened. They had a criminal violation, particularly things they were searching for, they knocked and announce, my guess is 6:00 a.m., it would be highly unusual if this is before 6:00 a.m., that would be extremely unusual.

O`DONNELL: And Jim --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then they were doing --

O`DONNELL: In a white-collar situation like this, how -- in your experience, how quickly does the suspect in that home pick up the phone and call the lawyer?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, the white-collar case is quick. Probably when the agents are present, he`s calling his attorney and then we often would be on the phone with the attorney ourselves.

They would talk to the agent in charge, listen, you know, we know you got a warrant, we`re going to cooperate -- they have no choice but to cooperate.

They can`t -- they can`t obstruct you. I mean, we`d arrest them if they did. So they`re going to cooperate. Lawyers know how this works, they`re going to fight that in a suppression hearing in the court.

O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang, there`s this question of sequence where Paul Manafort had just met with committee staffers the day before, and then, bang, there`s the raid at dawn the next day. What do you make of that?

MIEKE EOYANG, LAWYER: So we don`t know for sure how long the FBI had been planning this raid. But you have to remember when Paul Manafort appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that was the first time he`s appearing before a government agency where he`s going to give testimony that`s going to be part of the public record.

So if he`s concerned about his personal legal liability, he may have done something like assert the right -- or taking the Fifth.

And that would have said to the law enforcement agents and the committee, he`s not really a cooperating witness.

He`s not going to tell you fully what he`s been about. He may assert the Fifth again when it comes to producing documents, and that may have tipped the FBI over the edge to saying, if he`s not going to give it to us voluntarily, we`re going to go get it.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann; the politics of what is now probable cause day, this is the day where the story publicly enters the zone of probable cause.

You have Republican senators trying to figure out their relationship to this president, their distance from this president, Republican House members. What does this do to the politics of this story?

JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, NBC NEWS: It makes it a lot uglier for Donald Trump and all the people around him.

I just want to say having been the subject of a fair number of pre-dawn raids myself, it is no fun, I mean, it`s worse than Jim Cavanaugh said, I got to say.

I won`t go into details, but it`s not pretty. Look, I have said from the very beginning of this entire thing that one of the big fallacies about how people understand Bob Mueller has been that this is an investigation.

That there`s an investigation going on here about collusion or about obstruction of justice, no. Robert Mueller is a prosecutor.

He`s the prosecutor`s prosecutor. And what prosecutors do is make cases. And what Robert Mueller is doing right now is turning up the crank on what`s necessary to make a case.

There are two guys who could be the prime people who can flip on Donald Trump, on the Trump family, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.

Michael Flynn has already said he wants to flip --

O`DONNELL: Yes.

HEILEMANN: Paul Manafort is another guy who is a prime flippable witness for someone above him, and I think that if you look at the team that Mueller has put together, you look at the way this investigation is going, they are moving full steam ahead, and they are looking for to put equal amounts of pressure on those two guys to get one or both of them to flip as soon as possible.

That -- this move is extraordinary on a variety of levels, but that is what it signals to me. We are now moving into the next phase, which is we see what the case is.

We`re now going to try to go in and lock this case down, and they`re moving faster than I think anybody thought they would move.

O`DONNELL: Yes, and Mieke, what we see now is that there was a pre- existing investigation of Manafort himself that Mueller has taken over, and the range of possible investigative avenues with Manafort are enormous, including this possibility of laundering cash through the purchase of New York City apartments.

It`s just a wide-ranging set of possibilities with him. And in this kind of investigation with somebody who has been living in this -- these arenas for this long, for decades, it seems the likelihood of a federal investigation making him uncomfortable to the point where he might want to help them out with some kind of other information to go in other direction, that -- it seems like though he`s a strong candidate for that.

EOYANG: That`s right. Paul Manafort has in his entire career dealing with shady characters.

O`DONNELL: Yes --

EOYANG: He dealt with Sani Abacha in Nigeria, he dealt with Yanukovych`s party in Ukraine, a lot of places where a lot of money has disappeared.

There`s this case for potential fraud in New York. Manafort has got a lot of legal liability and a lot of exposure that the FBI could use to put pressure on him.

And so it makes you wonder for Donald Trump, why hire a guy like this who has got so many vulnerabilities and he could flip on you?

So I think it`s a real problem, and Mueller has got a lot of evidence that he can look at and a lot of potential cases to make.

O`DONNELL: Jim Cavanaugh, what does it tell you about the techniques that we can expect to see in this investigation going forward?

CAVANAUGH: Lots of subpoenas. You know, when the grand jury was impaneled, particularly on this Russian probe a few weeks back, that`s when I said, oh, this thing is really going to start moving now because when you have a grand jury particularly focused on a case, on a group of people, on a certain what they believe is a criminal conspiracy maybe to obstruct or launder money or tax evasion, that thing really has the power now of the courts, the subpoena power, the power to issue target letters, subpoena witnesses, grab documents.

Of course, they can always get search warrants like they did. And no doubt Director Mueller -- and you know I`ve just been acquainted with him when we were both in the federal service, and I have the highest regard for him.

He is a tough guy, honest man, he`s going to do the right thing all the time.

O`DONNELL: John --

CAVANAUGH: But I will tell you, he`s smart, he`ll bring in the financial IRS investigators, nobody is better than them on the money. If there`s any money shenanigans, those guys will dig it out --

O`DONNELL: Quickly, before we break --

CAVANAUGH: Yes --

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, Trump versus Manafort today, "National Enquirer" comes out with a slam on Paul Manafort. That strikes me as the same thing as a Trump tweet.

HEILEMANN: It`s a -- I think it`s a proper -- that`s a proper right. I think, you made the point earlier that could be very -- could be counterproductive because you -- why do you want Manafort to be alienated from you and potentially want to flip.

I will just say this, we`ve never seen anything like this before. You asked before about the politics of it. If you`re sitting in the White House right now, we`ve seen -- Washington has seen a lot of special prosecutors -- a lot of special -- independent counsels.

O`DONNELL: Yes --

HEILEMANN: Never in the Reagan era, in the Bush era, in the Clinton era, we`ve never seen dawn raids with search warrants, never before.

And so if you`re in the White House where there`s already a lot of pressure and everybody has started to lawyer up or is already lawyered up, this again in terms of the political pressure on those people in that building, extraordinarily greater.

O`DONNELL: And Robert Mueller, surely knows that he`s the first special prosecutor to authorize a raid like this. That he surely knows that in the precedence, it`s never been needed before now.

This is a big development. We`re going to take a break here, Jim Cavanaugh, thank you very much for joining us with those details about how these raids work, very important, thank you, appreciate it.

Coming up, today the "National Enquirer" as I said revealed that Donald Trump is apparently going to war with Paul Manafort.

This is an amazing development also. And later, as the president threatens North Korea with nuclear war, we discovered that everything he learned about nuclear weapons, he learned from his uncle 35 years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We all know what Donald Trump thinks of the most respected newspapers in the country, the "New York Times", "The Washington Post", he never has a good word to say about those newspapers.

But there is one publication that he has nothing but good things to say about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: No Pulitzer Prize for the "National Enquirer", it is an outrage. Today, the "National Enquirer" which never ever dares to run stories that Donald Trump does not want the "National Enquirer" to run, published a story about Paul Manafort in which the "National Enquirer" accuses Paul Manafort of engaging in sick, scandalous behavior without ever mentioning that Donald Trump has spent his life doing exactly the same thing.

Perhaps, the more accurate headline that the "National Enquirer" could have used for its story today is the war between Donald Trump and Paul Manafort is officially under way.

Joining us now, David Cay Johnston; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of DCReport.Org; a nonprofit news organization that covers the Trump administration.

And back with us, Mieke Eoyang. David, the "National Enquirer" obviously for years now has been very friendly to Donald Trump.

I`ve already said in the show that this article today strikes me as the equivalent of a Trump tweet. What do you make of it?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, JOURNALIST: Well, there`s two aspects to this relationship. This case is dirtying up Paul Manafort.

Trump knows about this raid, and he is now taking steps to solidify with his base. He can`t believe anything about Paul Manafort, he`s a terrible person, he`s having an affair with a woman younger than his daughter.

The other side of this is, thus the "National Enquirer" has hushed up stories for Trump including making a settlement with a former playmate of the year to make sure she said nothing about her alleged affair with Donald Trump a year after his marriage to now first lady Melania.

And she agreed not to write columns for them, which we never saw, and she also agreed forever to never speak of any relationship she had with any married men.

The "Wall Street Journal" dug this stuff up and saw the documents a few years ago -- a few months ago. So you have this two-sided relationship, the "National Enquirer" is his attack dog, and the "National Enquirer" is also his silencer of those who might get in the way of Donald`s ambition.

O`DONNELL: And just for the record, the woman you`re referring to in that story is younger than Donald Trump`s daughter, fitting the --

JOHNSTON: Yes --

O`DONNELL: Story that they did today on Paul Manafort completely. And Mieke, it seems that if there`s any logic, Trump logic to this, it could be to extend what David is saying.

Is that Donald Trump wants to do whatever he can to hurt Paul Manafort`s credibility so that when and if Paul Manafort were to reveal negative information about Donald Trump, this is part of what Donald Trump will point to when he says, you can`t believe this person.

EOYANG: That`s right. I think that`s one of the objectives that Donald Trump is saying here, is trying to make people think that Paul Manafort is a bad guy.

The other thing that he`s doing is sending a warning shot across the bow to Manafort, saying, look, I can really hurt you here.

The problem is, as you noted earlier, that could really backfire on Trump. The second thing that Donald Trump is really trying to do with this Manafort story is distract the American people with sordid sex scandals instead of focusing on what the real issue is in this investigation -- potential collusion with the Russians.

And Paul Manafort is the strongest link to that. Seventeen million dollars from a Russian-backed Ukrainian party that money has gone missing.

The head of that party has fled to Moscow, is sheltered by Putin, he is the strongest link between Trump and Russia.

It`s not really about these scandals, which as you`ve noted, Lawrence, are not crimes. They`re not pretty, but they`re not crimes in comparison to potential treason and cooperating with a foreign adversary to win an election.

O`DONNELL: David, talk about the various avenues that the prosecutors have on Paul Manafort. It is an amazing map of possibilities.

JOHNSTON: Well, as your earlier guest went into, it is very significant the way they did this raid. It wasn`t done without thinking about it.

But Manafort is vulnerable in a number of areas. First of all, he didn`t register as a foreign agent. There`s a criminal penalty, but he also can be stripped of every single dollar the U.S. government showed came to him from an unregistered foreign client, including money he may have given to his family or friends or even a mistress.

Secondly, Manafort likely is being looked at for tax evasion, for money laundering, and perhaps other crimes that deal with national security matters.

I`m really looking forward to the day we get to see the search warrant and what was said about why they needed to act so swiftly to secure whatever documents he had that may well include, by the way, ways to get at documents he hasn`t produced.

After all, if you have hidden money, for example, you need to have records to know how to get at it when you need it.

And Manafort is also the person who along with General Flynn and potentially Jared Kushner is most in a position to do damage to Donald Trump.

So the FBI has -- Mueller`s prosecutors have a number of ways to go at him on national security, financial crimes, undisclosed clients.

O`DONNELL: Mieke, quickly before we go on David`s point of what that search warrant actually says. Assuming it doesn`t leak, when would the -- when will we have our first opportunity to see it?

Would that -- would it be necessary for there to be an actual criminal case prosecution for that search warrant to come into evidence for us to see it publicly?

EOYANG: That may be. It may also be that Mueller may produce a report to the Department of Justice making a recommendation about whether or not to prosecute and which crimes and some of this information may come forward at that point.

O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston and Mieke Eoyang, thank you both for joining us tonight, appreciate it.

EOYANG: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, President Trump tells us everything he learned about nuclear weapons he learned from his uncle 35 years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking to reporters today urged Americans not to be concerned about what President Trump says about North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours. I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: According to a New York Times report today, Donald Trump`s ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised. Among those taken by surprise was John F. Kelly, Donald Trump`s Chief of Staff. Today North Korean State media issued a new response to President Trump. It called his statement, "a load of nonsense" But again threatened, "Historic enveloping fire at Guam." And said it will develop a plan to carry it out by mid August. Donald Trump thinks he knows something about nuclear weapons that we don`t know because 35 years ago, his uncle, the M.I.T. professor, told him all about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Look, having nuclear -- my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, dr. John trump at M.I.T. good genes, very good genes, okay? Very Smart. The Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: We`re just going to cut that right here because you`ve heard the next minute several times. It`s the part where Donald Trump compliments himself about how smart he is and the schools he went to and all of that. He goes on for at least a minute with that. Then he comes back in and says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Nuclear is so powerful. My uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power. That was 35 years ago. He would explain the power of what was going to happen, and he was right. Who would have thought?

(END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Who would have thought that nuclear weapons were powerful. Everyone in the world, including people who didn`t know Donald Trump`s uncle. Joining us now, David Rakoff, Columnist for the Washington Post, visiting professor at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. David, it has been possibly the most troubling week in our last decades of tension with North Korea.

DAVID RAKOFF, COLUMNIST FOR THE WASHINGTON Post: Well, I don`t think there`s been anything quite like it since the Cuban Missile Crisis in terms of sort of the palpable tension in the air. I think in terms of North Korea, you`d have to go back to 1994. The Clinton Administration, real standoff at a moment where we thought this might happen. the problem is we`re really close to a critical red-line moment when they have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon that could hit the United States, and we have in office the least competent, least experienced, most temperamentally unsuited person for this kind of a crisis who has ever held the job.

O`DONNELL: And the message we`ve been getting today from the Whitehouse and from unnamed aides in the Whitehouse is, you can ignore the President. Don`t worry about what President Trump says in situations like this.

RAKOF: It`s like the scene in the Wizard of Oz, you know. Ignore the man behind the curtain, you know. but the problem is Donald Trump`s uncle may have taught him about the power of nuclear weapons. what he didn`t teach him about was about the power of Tweets and words in crises like this because the things he makes up off the cuff, the flamboyant, ridiculous, dangerous statements he makes have a consequence in North Korea and in China, and for children across America who are looking at this and wondering what`s going to happen next. And he`s not recognizing that more measured, thoughtful words, perhaps processed by experienced hands in his administration might actually help us.

O`DONNELL: He`s not the first President to create the image that he might be capable of anything. Richard Nixon deliberately wanted the North Vietnamese to think, as he put it, that he might be crazy enough to go nuclear or something like that. But President Nixon was, in fact, not crazy enough to do that. President Nixon knew where the lines were compared to Donald Trump. Is there some value in what has been the Whitehouse argument today that whether it was deliberate or not and it wasn`t rehearsed apparently, Donald Trump used language that will be clearly and uniquely understood in North Korea in a way that another president`s language might not be understood?

RAKOF: I don`t think so. I think you`re looking for a silver ling here. the reality is although -- by the way, i just saw something that trump re- tweeted something that somebody had said, that said that his being this erratic was actually a help. So I think he`s now embracing that argument. Yeah, I`m crazy.

This is all part of a plan. It`s not part of a plan. It`s making our allies nervous. It`s causing the north Koreans to ratchet this up, and it`s what can lead us to accidents, overstatements to lead to accidents.

You know, if there was any sign that Donald Trump had ever understood this, thought about it, had a strategy knew what the next move was, this might be encouraging. But he`s not playing three dimensional chess. He`s barely playing two dimensional checkers, and I don`t think he thinks two moves ahead in circumstances like this.

He wants to sound tough. He gives you the bluster, and then he`s got a bunch of people scrambling around behind him going, oh, my god. What do we do now?

O`DONNELL: And what`s the North Korean strategy? Are they just working on the assumption that for decades now, the American President has felt incapable of any kind of strike there because any kind of strike would end up, no matter how successful from the American perspective, would end up with a retaliation from North Korea in which we would have tens of thousands, possibly millions dead.

RAKOF: look, I mean the North Koreans have Seoul, South Korea, as a hostage. It`s 35 miles from the DMZ. There`s no war scenario between north and south that doesn`t have hundreds of thousands or even millions of casualties.

O`DONNELL: And that`s what North Korea has always been relying on in their belief that the United States won`t do anything militarily.

RAKOF: I think they`re relying on that. I think that`s a miscalculation. Even during the Clinton administration, the Department of Defense had come to the conclusion that they would go to war if they had to even there were that many casualities because the threat of North Korea with nuclear was too grievous.

O`DONNELL: David Rakof, thanks for joining us tonight, really appreciate it. Coming up Donald Trump`s newest political target and of course this one`s a Republican.

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O`DONNELL: To the sheer delight of Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats and Democrats everywhere, Donald Trump`s newest political target is republican senate leader Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell may be a day or two away from getting a nickname from Trump for taking his place on the senate floor beside Little Marco and Lyin` Ted. The President went after Mitch McConnell in a tweet today Mitch McConnell said this in Florence, Kentucky, on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Our new President has of course not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process. And so part of the reason I think people feel like we`re underperforming is because too many kind of artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating may not have been fully understood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Oh, how exquisitely condescending. Our new president hasn`t been in this line of work before. Today the president tweeted, Senator Mitch McConnell said I had excessive expectations, but I don`t think so. After seven years of hearing repeal and replace, why not done, question mark. The president is never going to learn that the best thing to do when you fail to pass a bill in congress is to just shut up about your failure unless you can quietly figure out a new way to pass that bill.

Otherwise, you are just reminding voters of your failure. Democrats are hoping they can count on President Trump to continue to remind voters of republican failures. Today Rush Limbaugh joined the president in reminding voters that they should blame republicans in the house and the senate for failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, AMERICAN TALK SHOW HOST: The reason people are upset here is because of what you`ve said that you were going to do. It`s not because of artificial timelines or expectations have been raised too high. And if the expectations are raised too high, it`s you guys in congress that have actually done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: This isn`t going to last. By this time next year, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh will not be criticizing anyone in the republican congress. They will be doing everything they can to elect more republicans to the house and to the senate. But in the meantime, the republicans` circular firing squad is giving new hope to democrats in next year`s congressional election.

And if they`re really, really lucky, Mitch McConnell will soon be getting a nickname from Donald Trump. Up next, another republican versus republican attack. The republican senator who said John McCain`s vote to kill the Trump/McConnell health care bill was because McCain was suffering from brain cancer and wasn`t thinking clearly.

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O`DONNELL: Republican senator Ron Johnson was one of the problem senators that majority leader Mitch McConnell had to wrestle with when he was trying to pass the Trump/McConnell health care bill, and he was not one of the good soldiers who was always in McConnell`s corner. In the end, Senator Johnson voted with Mitch McConnell, but he proposed various versions of the bill, and accused the majority leader of what he called, a quote, real breach of trust, and the senator said that publicly.

And so after making it difficult for Mitch McConnell to even get the bill to a vote, Senator Johnson has decided to cover his tracks by attacking the republican senator who cast the decisive vote to kill the bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON JOHNSON, UNITED STATES SENATOR: I`m not going to speak with John McCain, you know, he has a brain tumor right now. That vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning some of that might have factored in.

HOST: Really? I mean he did you know get out - he just recovered from getting the brain tumor removed and flew all the way to Washington, D.C. But do you think that that played a factor in his judgment call?

JOHNSON: Again. I don`t know exactly what - we really thought that - again I don`t want to see (INAUDIBLE) I - I really thought John was going to vote yes to send that conference at 10:30 at night by about 1:00, 1:30, he voted no.

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O`DONNELL: And this afternoon Senator Johnson issued this statement. I`m disappointed I didn`t more eloquently expressed my sympathy for what Senator McCain is going through. I have nothing but respect for him, and the vote came at the end of a long day for everyone. John Heilemann is back with us. And let`s just note that is not an apology.

JOHN HEILEMANN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: When you express it.

O`DONNELL: Yes. That is not an apology for what he said, and he did not in any way retract the idea that John McCain`s brain cancer made him vote in the wrong way.

HEILEMANN: Yes, look this is a case of Trumpism run amuck, right? Donald Trump reads something on Breitbart or hears something on "Fox and Friends", and takes his facts and he starts talking about it, right? Ron Johnson is doing the same thing. There`s a bunch of alt-right sites out there that are spreading these things about how McCain`s screwy in the head because of his tumor, and Johnson sees that somewhere on twitter or on one of these sites and he`s now spouting it.

It`s like it`s now becoming an epidemic in the Republican Party that if you see it in the news, you can just go out in the news, you can just go out and say it as if it`s fact. I - I in a weird way think though if you look at it in a different way, it might even be true in this sense. I think that, you know, John McCain has had moments of great bravery. Obviously we all know that, and great political bravery.

He has also sometimes been unreliable, and done things that have been politically creative especially in election years. I think there`s a chance that McCain`s staring mortality in the face looked at and said you know what? I`m going to do the right thing because that`s one of things that mortality brings you is that kind of moral clarity, where you are not thinking about the next election, and you might be thinking really clearly about the faith of the nation`s health care system.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And I was not surprised as Senator Johnson claims to be that John McCain voted no because I listened to the speech he gave -

HEILEMANN: Two days earlier.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to the piece of that speech that should have left no one surprised about how John McCain voted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Let`s trust each other. Let`s return to regular order. We have been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. I will not vote for this bill as it is today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And John, the bill only got worse, and what he then did was on the procedural stuff, he voted with the leader, which is an old senate tradition, and then on the actual substance, he voted against the leader`s bill. And that made logical sense to what he said in that speech.

HEILEMANN: Again, we`re so used to politicians saying meaningless things on the floor of the senate.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

HEILEMANN: or saying the exact opposite of what they really believe, that we actually don`t just think, you know what? Listen to what McCain said 72 hours earlier. It makes perfect sense. He is actually just being consistent. That is become such a rarity we think there must be some other supernatural or suspicious explanation for what`s going on.

O`DONNELL: And it seems like this health care vote, this disaster for them will keep chasing them around. You have Rush Limbaugh chasing then on this subject, and Johnson who was one of the obstacles for Mitch McConnell who is now trying to I think cover the tracks and not be counted among the people who caused a problem that made this so difficult to get to a vote.

HEILEMANN: Well look. We go back to a conversation you and I having off - we`re having off air. It is the case that in one respect, one of the things that Trump is saying about McConnell is right in the grandest sense. This Republican Party spent seven years saying repeal and replace, and then when they finally had the power to do it, they had no idea how to do it because you know what? Replacing a bill that affects a sixth of the economy and something as fundamental as healthcare is really hard, and republicans never really meant that they had any intention of replacing it, so they never should have said they wanted to replace it.

They deserve every piece of political pain they suffer for this failure.

O`DONNELL: And I think Trump will continue to inflict that pain, and someone will grab him next spring and say hey we`ve got congressional elections. Try criticizing democrats instead of republicans.

HEILEMANN: Yes, I`m not sure that will necessarily work.

O`DONNELL: We`ll see how they do it. John Heilemann thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it. Tonight`s last word is next.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: Kim Jong-Un`s issues with Donald Trump go back to something that happened in 2009 when the now president did something that the North Korean leader can never forgive.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dennis, you`re fired.

KIMMEL: You see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That`s tonight`s last word. "The 11th hour with Brian Williams" is next.

END