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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 8/31/17 Trump's do over on Harvey

The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 8/31/17 Trump's do over on Harvey


JOY REID, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight, we`ll see you again tomorrow, now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening, Joy. Let me translate Steve Mnuchin for you, Joy, on this matter --

REID: Please do.

O`DONNELL: OK? His actual answer really meant, I had no idea that was even a thing. You mean they`re going to change the $20?

When were they going to tell me? And, oh, by the way, Harriet Tubman has absolutely no chance of appearing on anything in the Trump administration, including even on a wall anywhere in a building of the Trump administration.

REID: Yes, well, you know, she`s doing an excellent job, Harriet Tubman, and she`s getting recognized more and more.

O`DONNELL: Yes, not by this group. I think --

REID: Yes --

O`DONNELL: We can have complete confidence that the Obama administration proposal will not survive in this --

REID: Yes --

O`DONNELL: Administration.

REID: It`s a shame --

O`DONNELL: It is a shame --

REID: It`s an absolute shame.

O`DONNELL: It is tragic.

REID: Yes --

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Joy.

REID: Thank you, my friend.

O`DONNELL: Donald Trump was the first presidential nominee who did not release his tax returns since 1976, and you remember his reason.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am being audited now. I`m under a routine audit, a minor audit.

Every year I have a routine audit. It`s under routine audit. Like routine. But as soon as my routine audit`s finished, I`ll release my returns, I`ll be very proud to.


O`DONNELL: And of course most of the news media fell for the audit excuse. But there was never any evidence at all that Donald Trump`s tax returns were actually being audited.

Donald Trump never produced an audit letter from the IRS. Easy thing for him to do if he was being audited. If he wasn`t being audited then, Donald Trump might be being audited now in the most serious review of his tax returns that he has ever been subjected to.

Betsy Woodruff is reporting in the "Daily Beast" tonight, special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS according to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference.

His probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS Criminal Investigations Unit. This unit known as CI; is one of the federal government`s most tight knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities.

Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime including tax evasion and money laundering. Betsy Woodruff will join us in a moment with more on her reporting.

The IRS special agents in the Criminal Investigations Unit are on a per- dollar basis, simply the most valuable employees in American government at any level, federal, state, or local.

At salary levels in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, they each collect millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in taxes that the Treasury was otherwise not going to ever see.

They collect that as a result of their successful tax investigations. They are a profit center in the federal government.

They are highly experienced professionals who know what they are looking for in tax returns and how to find it.

Only an absolutely perfect tax return could survive their scrutiny. What is the likelihood that Donald Trump`s tax returns are perfect?

That he doesn`t stretch the law in any way or violate the law in his tax returns? How about his drowning in debt son-in-law Jared Kushner?

And what about Paul Manafort, who was doing millions of dollars in cash business in countries like Ukraine? If there is a crime in Paul Manafort`s tax returns, Robert Mueller, with the help of the Criminal Investigations Unit of the IRS, is going to find that crime.

But a tax crime is the one thing that Robert Mueller does not have a free hand in prosecuting. He will need the approval of the assistant attorney general for the tax division.

That is one of the hundreds and hundreds of jobs that Donald Trump and his administration`s incompetence have not filled.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump pretended that not filling those jobs had nothing to do with his relentless incompetence.

It was all part of the grand plan. We are not looking to fill all of those positions, don`t need many of them.

Reduce size of government. Of course, not filling the jobs with Trump appointees does not mean that those jobs are empty because those jobs are all occupied by someone.

And so the acting assistant attorney general for the tax division is David Hubbard, who joined the Justice Department in August of 1999 during the Clinton administration when Janet Reno was the attorney general.

Mr. Hubbard has since then worked under Democrat and Republican attorneys general. In 2012, the Obama administration`s Attorney General Eric Holder promoted David Hubbard to be the tax division`s deputy assistant attorney general.

And so the person who will have the right to approve a tax prosecution against Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump or Donald Trump Jr. or the president himself is an 18-year career Justice Department professional who began his service under President Clinton, served eight years in the Bush administration Justice Department, another eight years in the Obama administration Justice Department.

We can only wonder who President Trump would have put in that job if the president or anyone working for him had any idea how important that job is, and I mean how important that job is to President Trump.

And so the acting assistant attorney general of the tax division is not a Trump man. And in the end, it could turn out that filling that job was actually a lot more important to Donald Trump personally than filling that Supreme Court vacancy.

Nbc News has new details about the contemporaneous notes that former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort took during the now infamous June 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with Russian nationals on the promise that he would receive, quote, "dirt on Hillary Clinton."

Paul Manafort`s notes, quote, "included a mention of political contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told Nbc News.

Nbc News initially reported that the notes contained the word "donation", but a spokesman for Senator Chuck Grassley; the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee whose staff has reviewed the notes, disputed the word "donation".

The two sources who initially provided the information then said that the word in Paul Manafort`s notes was not "donation".

One said it was "donor", and another said it was a word that referenced a political contribution. Joining us now, Ken Dilanian; intelligence and national security reporter for Nbc News.

Betsy Woodruff; politics reporter for the "Daily Beast", and Mieke Eoyang; former House intelligence committee`s staff member and Vice President for the National Security Program at the Third Way.

And Ken Dilanian, I want to go to your reporting for Nbc News about these Paul Manafort notes. Walk us through that.

KEN DILANIAN, INTELLIGENCE & NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Sure, Lawrence. Well, one of the most interesting things about it is that we learned that Paul Manafort, while he seemed to be on his phone during the meeting according to some of the participants, he was actually taking notes on his phone.

And those notes are now in the hands of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller.

And what we`re told is that those notes are rather cryptic. They`re not sentences, they`re fragments, they`re words.

But some of those words included a reference to the Republican National Committee, as you said, and a reference to political donations.

And the context is not clear according to my sources. But it raised enough alarms that people want to look more closely into this because, of course, it`s illegal for Russians or any foreign source to contribute to a U.S. political campaign.

It`s illegal for an American political campaign to accept foreign donations. So if there was any hint of donations from Russians being broached at this meeting, whether by the Trump side or the Russian side, that`s hugely significant.

And just to review for our viewers, this is the Trump Tower meeting back in June 2016 between Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist.

And by the way, that lobbyist has testified to Robert Mueller`s grand jury in Washington we confirmed today, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And Betsy, I want to go to your reporting on the IRS teaming up with Mueller. And I just want to clarify for the audience that if Donald Trump was under an audit last year, no evidence that he was at all.

But if he`s been under an audit, that does not mean that in an audit, the Criminal Investigations Unit is involved.

They are not involved unless there is a reason to suspect there`s criminal investigation worth doing. These are the top guns.

If these people have never gotten a look at Trump tax returns and they are now getting a look at Trump tax returns for the first time, that`s a whole new experience for Donald Trump.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, DAILY BEAST: Without a doubt, this is a very elite, close-knit, highly skilled group of investigators.

And in fact, one of my sources told me that Bob Mueller is a long time fan boy of the Criminal Investigations Unit at the IRS.

And the reason for that is because their work is so thorough, they produce investigative packages that are just -- what I`ve been told, typically air- tight, very easy for prosecutors to understand, easy to make sense of.

They basically hand the prosecutors they work with a case on a platter. So Mueller and also one of his top deputies on the probe, Andy Weissman(ph) have both had a lot of experience working with this small, elite group of investigators.

And what I was told is that it wasn`t particularly surprising that Mueller brought them in because he holds them in such high regard.

O`DONNELL: And Betsy, I made much of who is the acting director of the tax division now in the Justice Department.

Talk about that for a minute because this is a career professional. Most people have had no contact with him at all.

That job is removed from politics in Washington. It`s hard to find people who even know people who work in that unit.

WOODRUFF: Right, and that`s a really important piece of this. I would say it`s the most important thing here is who is not currently running the tax division --


WOODRUFF: Of the Justice Department --

O`DONNELL: That`s the point, yes --

WOODRUFF: That`s what`s really crucial, right? I spoke with a former federal prosecutor who worked in the tax division earlier today, and he told me the Trump transition team was warned by some of their Republican allies that they needed to get someone in the tax division who at least would be sympathetic to the president.

Who at least might be potentially open to cutting him a little bit of slack, but they didn`t get it done.

That speaks to a broader competence issue on the part of the transition team. And now, of course, it`s much too late for the president to be able to put somebody who he sees as a useful ally in this spot because suddenly this position has become so important.

And it`s such -- it`s so clear how much power whoever runs the tax division is going to have when it comes to this type of prosecution.

And remember, decisions about whether or not to bring tax charges are really complicated. This isn`t often an open and shut, open and shut, easy to decide call to make.

The folks who decide whether or not to bring these charges have to think hard and sometimes it`s tough.

They can be judgment calls, and that`s why the president must be a little bit disappointed that he doesn`t have someone there whose judgment would potentially lean a wee bit in his direction.

O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang, there are now at least publicly, two big pressure points in this investigation.

One is the meeting that Ken was talking about earlier in those notes from Paul Manafort, that meeting at Trump Tower in June of the campaign year with the Russians, Don Jr., Jared Kushner.

The other is what is perceived as the possibility of obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey. We know that there`s a lot of work being done by that -- by the special prosecutor on that.

We`re going to discuss that later in the program. But on this June meeting, when we consider the possibility of what might be in Paul Manafort`s notes, Ken raised the issue of possible illegal contributions.

What else might they be looking for that could be in Paul Manafort`s notes or Jared Kushner`s notes or anyone else`s notes of that meeting?

MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Right, so I think that you would look for evidence of what kinds of tactics they would be using and what was discussed in this meeting.

Remember, the Russian lobbyist who came to this meeting is alleged to be a hacker for hire, for breaking into companies and stealing e-mail, exactly what happened to the DNC.

And also remember in this meeting, this is the meeting where Donald Trump on Air Force One dictated what the statement should be that his son put out.

So now the president is personally involved to the consternation of his aides, who didn`t want him to be involved in this.

So there are a lot of different legal angles here.


EOYANG: Also Paul Manafort -- I was going to say Paul Manafort is somebody who has tremendous experience working with Russian-backed oligarchs around the world and trying to help them buy political influence in the U.S.

So this question of foreign contributions really comes to a head because that is Paul Manafort`s expertise.

O`DONNELL: And Ken, talk for a moment about what might be in the testimony that we know the special prosecutor has obtained on that meeting.

DILANIAN: Well, there are different stories about what that meeting could be. And there are -- many of them are equally damaging to the Trump case.

Because under one scenario, you know, the lawyer and the lobbyist insist that they came to that meeting to talk specifically about a group of esoteric sanctions called the Magnitsky Act.

And that they were presenting some information that really wasn`t of much use to the Trump campaign. And what intelligence experts tell me is that may well be true.

But the point was the Russian government sent them there, according to the e-mail under which the meeting was set up, with an explicit promise of help and of derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.

So if they may have been patsies, many intelligence experts say, for a Russian operation that was designed to see whether the Trump campaign would take the bait, would agree to a meeting under the auspices of help from the Russian government, which they absolutely did.

So that`s one version of the meeting, another version of the meeting is that substantive discussions about collusion were had.

Now, obviously, the participants explicitly deny that. And I guess a third version of the meeting is that it was totally innocent.

It`s exactly what both sides say it was and Mueller is going to end up doing nothing with it. So those are really our three options as we consider this meeting, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And Betsy, to just go back to the IRS, these people, these agents, many of them are accountants themselves.

They are -- they are just in every way the people you don`t want looking at your tax returns.

And Donald Trump knows this. It strikes me that this news tonight is the kind of news that Donald Trump can easily comprehend the threat level of it.

WOODRUFF: Without a doubt. This is sort of a return of the geeks moment almost. But these folks aren`t sort of your stereo typical pencil-necked geek types.

These are both highly intelligent people and highly experienced people who understand the way that their tax law works incredibly well.

One of the things that a lot these tax agents are extremely conversant in is the question of money laundering.

Another issue that they`re almost undoubtedly looking at relates to Paul Manafort`s potential overseas bank accounts.

One of the simplest ways that you can bring tax charges is if somebody doesn`t disclose when they file their tax returns to the IRS that they have money in bank accounts overseas.

It`s called a check the box prosecution, and if you can prove, number one, that nobody checked the box, disclosing they had that money.

And number two, that they actually did have money in overseas bank accounts, then you have a slam dunk case.

And one think I`ve heard multiple times as I`ve been speaking to former federal prosecutors and other folks who understand this world is that that`s probably Manafort`s biggest legal liability.

Of course, the president is going to get that. He`s somebody who cares about tax law, who understands the way that your tax forms can be used to depict you in a very unflattering light in court.

So this is something I`m confident that has certainly raised stress levels among folks who get what`s really going on and who are supportive of President Trump.

O`DONNELL: And just before we close on this, this raises the issue of the special prosecutor`s cooperation with the New York State Attorney General once again because if Paul Manafort`s tax returns included New York state tax returns, if there was any untruth about the income.

That appears on both tax returns. They`re both untrue. And so you have a New York state income tax violation that could be prosecuted in place of in -- or alongside the federal tax violation.

And that`s all about trying to avoid the president`s ability to pardon on federal charges. We`re going to have to leave it there for tonight. Ken Dilanian, Betsy Woodruff, thank you both for joining us tonight.

Mieke, please stay with us. Coming up, Donald Trump`s attorneys make their case to Robert Mueller about James Comey.

What they`re telling the special prosecutor about James Comey and new reports today say that President Trump is under, quote, "house arrest, and the person who has him under house arrest in the White House is the person they now call "the church lady".



TRUMP: Look, he`s a show boat, he`s a grandstander.

The FBI has been in turmoil. What I did is I was going to fire Comey, my decision. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


O`DONNELL: That was Lester Holt`s interview with the president, which may become an exhibit in the case against the president if the special prosecutor makes such a case.

New reporting from the "Wall Street Journal" tonight says Donald Trump`s lawyers in the Russia investigation have made a case to the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, that the president did not commit obstruction of justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

The journal reports, lawyers for Donald Trump have met several times with special counsel Robert Mueller in recent months and submitted memos arguing that the president didn`t obstruct justice by firing former FBI chief James Comey and calling into question Mr. Comey`s reliability as a potential witness, people familiar with the matter said.

One memo submitted to Mr. Mueller by the president`s legal team in June laid out the case that Mr. Trump has the inherent authority under the constitution to hire and fire as he sees fit and therefore didn`t obstruct justice when he fired Mr. Comey.

Another memo submitted the same month outlined why Mr. Comey would make an unsuitable witness, calling him prone to exaggeration, unreliable in congressional testimony, and the source of leaks to the media.

Here`s what former FBI Director Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation.

It was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and I was fired in some way to change -- or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.

That is a -- that is a very big deal and not just because it involves me.


O`DONNELL: In a new twist in the James Comey matter, tonight, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Judiciary subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham have sent a letter to current FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting all FBI records relating to James Comey`s public announcement that there would be no criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for the use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

Based on documents, the senators have already reviewed, including transcripts of some interviews conducted in the Justice Department`s own investigation of Comey`s handling of the Clinton announcement.

The senators say, it appears that in April or early May of 2016, Mr. Comey had already decided he would issue a statement exonerating Secretary Clinton.

That was long before FBI agents finished their work. Mr. Comey even circulated an early draft statement to select members of the senior FBI leadership.

The outcome of an investigation should not be pre-judged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts.

The senators` letter came up today during the White House press briefing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senators Grassley and Graham revealed today that they have evidence suggesting that former FBI Director Comey made a decision to not charge Hillary Clinton several months before the investigation actually wrapped up and before they interviewed Hillary Clinton.

Does the president know about this, and does he believe that that adds weight to his decision to fire Comey?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not sure if he is aware of that revelation, but if it is as accurate as they say it is, I think that would certainly give cause and reason that Jim Comey was not the right person to lead the FBI.


O`DONNELL: Joining the discussion now, Ron Klain; former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore and a former senior aide to President Obama.

He`s also a former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and was chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno.

Also with us, David Cay Johnston; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who founded; a nonprofit news organization that covers the Trump administration.

And Mieke Eoyang is still with us. Ron Klain, let`s work in reverse order on these stories --


O`DONNELL: The James Comey developments tonight, including this letter which is a long letter that includes references to transcripts from the senators to the FBI, seeking more information about how Comey reached his decision on Hillary Clinton.

They are suggesting in that letter that it appears to them that he made up his mind before the investigation was complete.

KLAIN: Yes, Lawrence, you know, I`m old enough to remember when President Trump claimed he was firing James Comey because he was too harsh on Hillary Clinton in the investigation.

So I think you have to take all of this with a grain of salt. I have no doubt that Jim Comey, like any lawyer, probably drafted an initial preliminary draft of his decision and circulated that before the investigation was finished.

He could see where it was heading. He obviously wanted to begin to prepare what he was going to do about that, it was a consequential decision.

He wanted others to review it. There`s nothing improper about that as long as he didn`t reach a final decision and didn`t make a statement until the investigation was done.

I mean, after all, he had spent months already looking into this issue. The law was pretty clear to him.

And so the fact that he prepared a draft of a statement before it was over, shared that draft with others, got input on others, means nothing as long as he withheld a final decision and withheld issuing that draft until the investigation was complete, which is what happened here.

O`DONNELL: And David, one of the key elements of the investigation, if not the key element of the investigation, was what was on that e-mail server and what were in the actual e-mails?

That is something that the FBI had completed the study of by the time James Comey started forming -- clearly forming his opinion, as I think the senators are right, that he was in the process of forming his opinion.

And in forming that opinion, he already had the information of what was actually in the e-mails.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, JOURNALIST: Right, well, Lawrence, it`s -- as Ron pointed out, it`s not at all unusual to start drafting something you generally know where the facts are going to go.

It`s like journalism. You know, you prepare a draft of a story that -- what ultimately appears in print could be entirely and totally different from what you`ve otherwise seen.

But there`s nothing amiss about that, and clearly at the point that Comey would have written something, he knew a lot of information.

But what`s going on here is dirtying up anyone who is going to go after Donald. It`s a basic strategy he`s used for years, dirtying up anyone who is going to go after him.

O`DONNELL: So Mieke, if you`re the special prosecutor, and let`s just look at the -- let`s take the senators` letter at face value --

JOHNSTON: I am now, it wasn`t them --

O`DONNELL: And let`s just assume that they`re right completely. Let`s assume that James Comey did make up his mind before all the investigative work was done.

How would that affect James Comey as a witness to what Donald Trump said to him in the Oval Office?

EOYANG: Not at all, Lawrence. The -- whether or not James Comey made up his mind beforehand, which I assume that he did not because he could have gotten more evidence in later that would have changed his final decision, that -- he wouldn`t have made up his mind.

But it`s one of those things where they -- it doesn`t matter what he was thinking in the Hillary Clinton investigation.

What matters is why he was fired. And Donald Trump probably didn`t know what was going on inside the FBI at the time.

The senators only just found this out. So that wasn`t a factor in Donald Trump`s decision. So the decision on whether or not to fire Comey, to remove him from the Russia investigation has nothing to do with the Senate letter.

O`DONNELL: So, Ron, let me give you a shot at that. Let`s just assume that you can find evidence that James Comey handled a certain investigation, whether it`s the Clinton investigation or some other investigation -- did a really terrible job handling a certain investigation and pre-judged the evidence on a certain investigation.

KLAIN: Yes --

O`DONNELL: How would that affect him as a witness to what Donald Trump said to him about the investigation that he was conducting?

KLAIN: Well, I think I agree with Mieke here. I mean, obviously it will color his testimony at trial or something like that.

But as a legal matter, it doesn`t affect it at all. It goes back to this argument you mentioned a minute ago, the Trump lawyers` argument that Trump had the inherent authority to fire Comey.

Well, of course he did. But he can`t fire him, he can`t exercise authority inherently, otherwise for an illegal reason.

Now if someone walked in with a sack of cash to the Oval Office and said, fire Comey and put my brother in, that would be bribery.

That would be illegal. He has the authority to fire and hire an FBI director, but he can`t do it for an illegal reason.

And the evidence here is pretty clear that the reason he fired Jim Comey is not because he messed up an investigation but because he was pursuing an investigation, the Russia Investigation. And Trump`s firing him to stop that investigation. That is obstruction of justice.

And however Comey might have botched one way or the other the e-mail investigation. It doesn`t change the fact that Trump had no legal right or was committing a crime if he fired Comey to obstruct an ongoing investigation.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And David, that brings us to the Obstruction of Justice matter that the President`s lawyers seem to be very concerned with. Here they are delivering memos to the Special Prosecutor, pleading that the firing of James Comey is not Obstruction of Justice.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Lawrence, just as you can have a perfectly legal act become illegal by its intent, what we should keep sight of here is that Congress decided to put the FBI Director into a five-year position. And the reason they did that was to -- or 10 year position, to depoliticize the job. And what Donald Trump did here was make it very clear that he was going to run contrary to that.

Comey testified that he thought the president had a right at any time to ask for his resignation. I thought that was a strange thing for him to say because you`re only supposed to get rid of the FBI Director for cause. And there`s no indication of any cause here whatsoever except Donald Trump`s clearly corrupt effort to try and shut down an investigation that was threatening to him.

O`DONNELL: Mieke, as I said before, we know -- at least publicly we know the two big pressure points in this investigation are that June meeting in Trump Tower and the President`s firing of James Comey and the President`s lawyers are proving that this is their principal concern by delivering these memos to the special prosecutor, arguing their defense case now to the prosecutor on obstruction of justice.

MIEKE EOYANG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It makes sense lawyers would try to argue their case as soon as they can and they better make a case for the President or they`re not doing a very good job as lawyers. But when they try to argue that James Comey is not a reliable witness, I was one of those Congressional Staffers who took testimony from James Comey for what happened in the Bush Administration on electronic surveillance and let me tell you James Comey is a very reliable witness.

He has excellent recall. He is very objective at saying what`s happening in the room. He admits to when he has made a mistake.

He is not someone we found was an unreliable witness. So for them to make that argument that he`s unreliable in Congressional Testimony. It just doesn`t fly.

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

Coming up, we have more breaking news tonight. A new report tonight that insiders believe that Donald Trump is on what they`re calling an inevitable collision course with his new Chief of Staff General John Kelly, who the Whitehouse staff -- some of them anyway -- now call "The Church Lady


O`DONNELL: Tonight the Washington Post reports some of the President`s friends are worried that he`s on a collision course with Whitehouse Chief of Staff John Kelly. Trump chafes at some of the retired Marine Corps General`s moves to restrict access to him since he took the job almost a month ago said several people close to the President. They run counter to Trump`s love of spontaneity and brashness, prompting some Trump loyalists to derisively dub Kelly the Church Lady because they consider him strict and morally superior.

The Washington Postt article also says Trump appears to pine for the days when the Oval Office was a bustling hub of visitors and gossip over which he presided as impresario. Ron Klain is back with you. Ron, you`ve worked in well organized Whitehouse`s, and what Kelly is trying to do is just what we would call business as usual in the Whitehouse.

KLAIN: Yes. you know, Lawrence, only in a Whitehouse that was like this one, which seems like it was written by Damon Runyon, would someone trying to impose some basic order on the place come across like they were a Church Lady. I mean if anything, you`d have to say what these stories point to is how modest an effort to control John Kelly is putting on. He`s largely given up on controlling the outputs from the Oval Office. He said he`s not going to try to control Trump`s Twitter. He`s not trying to control Trump`s statements.

He`s only trying to organize the inputs into the process. And that`s a pretty modest level of organization, truth be told lower than any other Whitehouse we can think of. And even so, this crazy hall of mirrors white house is rebelling against even that level of control.

O`DONNELL: And General Kelly refuses to play some of the Trump games like, say, when Donald Trump tries to call him up onstage during a rally. Let`s watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John -- where`s John? Where is he? Where is General Kelly?

Get him out here. He`s great. He`s doing a great job.


O`DONNELL: And Ron, John Kelly was there. He just refused to go out.

KLAIN: Yes. Look, General Kelly is a very serious person. He`s not going to be a political prop for Donald Trump. He`s not going to be a rally toy.

He`s not going to be something sold on the Trump website for 40 bucks. You know, he`s put his credibility and his career on the line in trying to sort out what`s going on in the Trump Whitehouse. And he`s not going to play the kind of games that Donald Trump likes to play. So we`re going to see how long that lasts. Whether or not Trump is willing to stick with this kind of organization or discipline, as modest as it really is by historical standards, or whether or not even this modest level effort to keep Trump somewhat organized is going to fall apart.

O`DONNELL: You know, from the day he was named for the job, I was wondering how long will it be before we`re doing this segment. And, Ron Klain, thank you for joining us in the first Trump versus John Kelly segment. I`m sure there will be more. Thank you, Ron.

KLAIN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, when Donald Trump makes a promise, always, always stakeholder for the receipt.


O`DONNELL: The Washington Post`s David Farenthold won a Pulitzer Prize exposing Donald Trump`s lies about his charitable giving. No one has told more public lies about charitable giving than Donald Trump, who might just be the least charitable self-proclaimed billionaire in America. Sandra bullock, who is not a billionaire, is contributing $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief to the American Red Cross. And so after that the President, who claims to be a multi-billionaire, sent the Whitehouse Press Secretary out to say this.


Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Whitehouse Press Secretary: I had a chance to speak directly with the President earlier, and I`m happy to tell you that he is -- would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we`ve seen across this country do, and he`s pledging $1 million of personal money to the fund.


O`DONNELL: Most of Donald Trump`s public charitable giving has been done with other people`s money that has been contributed to something he calls the Donald J. Trump Foundation. NBC actually contributed half a million dollars to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. So that Donald J. Trump could pretend to be contributing to charities on his TV Show.

It was really just all part of the show`s budget. So when Donald Trump makes a public promise to make a charitable contribution, there are two questions to be asked. First, whose money is he going to use?


REPORTER: Will that be coming from Trump personally as opposed to the Trump foundation or the Trump Organization?

SANDERS: I know that the president, he said he was personally going to give. I don`t know the legal part of exactly that, but he said his personal money. So I would assume that comes directly from him.


O`DONNELL: David Fahrenthold never assumed that, which is why David Fahrenthold now has a Pulitzer Prize. The other question to always ask about any Trump promise on charitable giving is when can we see the receipt and a copy of the actual cashed check? The other way for Donald Trump to prove he`s made a charitable contribution is, of course, to show us his tax returns, but we might only see those if Robert Mueller introduces them as an exhibit in a courtroom.

And so today the president added a White House press briefing room stunt about charitable giving to his response to Hurricane Harvey, we`ll have more on the president`s response to Hurricane Harvey next with Ana Marie Cox and Charlie Sykes.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Texas is a unique place. It`s a great, great state, great people. And I think you`ll be up and running very, very quickly. Really very quickly so, yes, I think you`re going to be in a fantastic shape.


O`DONNELL: That is but one of the platitudes that President Trump offered this week when the death toll earlier in the week for Hurricane Harvey was still in single digits. Today as the death toll rose to 32, the president`s response was to promise to make a personal contribution of a million dollars to Hurricane Harvey relief. Walter Shaub the former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics tweeted this in response.

If POTUS really does donate a million dollars of his own money not his children`s money, not his company`s money, not his foundation`s money, not money from others to an actual legitimate 501C3 charitable organization. Not one that he or his family or company controls. Not his foundation that uses donations to buy a portrait of himself.

And provides the public with verifiable proof that he fully completed the transaction in the reasonably near future not distributed over ten years, not whenever the IRS tax audit is completed then I will gladly offer up a genuine thank you to him for donating one, one hundredth of one percent of the $10 billion that he purports to have which would be exactly equivalent to a donation of $100 by a family of four Americans with a home, a retirement plan and personal savings worth a combined total of $1 million.

Joining us now Ana Marie Cox a contributor to the New York Times Magazine and the host of the podcast "With Friends like these." Also with us Charlie Sykes, author of the forthcoming book, "How the Right Lost Its Mind." Charlie is a MSNBC contributor and Ana your review of the president`s response to Harvey so far?

ANA MARIE COX, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: Underwhelming I guess would be the gentlest critique that I could give it. You know I was actually driving somewhere earlier this week and heard Mike Pence on the radio talking in Texas. And I had this like moment of like both fear and relief at thinking he might be the president.

Then you know it`s -- it`s a low bar to sound presidential these days. But this guy who has the personality of a Ken Doll managed to seem compassionate and empathetic in comparison to the actual president who literally did not see any of the flood damage himself. Literally saw nothing on his own with his own eyes about the devastation that`s going on there, didn`t touch a single survivor.

It`s - it`s astonishing. I mean I also -- you know you did a lot of really good contextualizing for his donation so-called. I would like to point out it`s also one tenth of one percent of the billion dollars that the Trump budget proposes to cut from FEMA among other disaster aid agencies. The other reason why a lot of us give money in times like is because we can`t do anything else. Like this is the way that we choose to feel involved.

We`re far away so we can`t get physically involved. We`re not a member of the government. So we can`t do anything structurally so we give money. The president can do a lot. A million dollars is -- even if he literally -- even if he actually gives it it`s literally almost the least he could do. He could do a lot more in terms of preparedness, in terms of climate change, in terms of getting people to realize that we need to change the way we think about development.

I am going on a little bit. I want to hear from Charlie.

O`DONNELL: OK. Charlie, the president -- the president could make out that personal check to the United States Treasury, just send it in there. Of course then it would not be a deductible. He would not be making a charitable contribution but certainly FEMA they know what to do with the money.

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, I mean Congratulations if in fact he writes out the check but all the questions you`re asking -


SYKES: Are completely legitimate. I - I like your comparison with Sandra Bullock was right on point but no one`s going to think of asking whether Sandra Bullock`s really going to write out the check really you know and whether it`s her own money because unlike the president of the United States she is not a grifter when it comes to charity, that`s the problem.

But also and I think Ana Marie was - was - was touching on this. You know the - the absolute complete lack of empathy by this man was on display this week. And I actually think people are starting to see this. You know, you watch some of the - you watch some of the focus groups. Look at some of the polls. You know people are sort of stepping back and going, OK we might have supported him because we thought he was going to fight for us.

But it turns out it`s always all about him. It`s all about Donald Trump. And you can kind of sense you know a growing sense of understanding about the character of this man. And, again, now when you have a natural disaster like this is it too much for the president of the United States to be a healer. Somebody who will focus the nation`s attention? Do the kinds of things that Ana Marie was talking about.

Is it really too much to ask that? And the contrast between Mike Pence who is not necessarily the warmest, bubbliest, you know cuddliest guy in the world and Donald Trump was pretty - was actually pretty dramatic this week I thought.

O`DONNELL: And Ana the -- the congress has a lot of important business to do in September. Raise the debt ceiling, get a budget passed and pass some new money that -- money that no one has contemplated until now. Pass some new money for this Hurricane Harvey relief and that`s going to be a very, very big package.

The truth of where the president is on this will come in how he tries to help in managing that legislation.

COX: Or if he doesn`t do anything at all.


COX: Which is what I imagine is going to happen. I think he is going to tweet Fox and friends and talk about what he saw on TV. His entire reaction to the storm seems to be as though it was sweeps week. You know as though he was watching a weather channel special and not actually seeing this horrific, catastrophic event take place and in something that is going to be unprecedented that is unprecedented in terms of how many people displaced and how much rebuilding there is going to be. He -- he doesn`t feel anything except what he feels for television.

O`DONNELL: And Charlie we`ll see how much he pushes the congress to get this done.

SYKES: Yes, absolutely or -- because I - I - I do -- I do think that you know for him it is the show it`s not the policy it`s not the results.

O`DONNELL: Ana Marie Cox and Charlie Sykes, thank you both for joining us tonight.


COX: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.


O`DONNELL: President Trump reportedly has his problems with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This could be one of them.


REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Particularly I want to thank the government of Mexico for its offered assistance to the state of Texas. They have offered a wide range of assistance, coordinated with the governor down in Texas and also through FEMA. But a very generous of Mexico to offer their help with this very, very challenging time for citizens down in - in Texas. Thank you very much Mr. Secretary.

LUIS VIDEGARAY CASO, MEXICO SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You`re absolutely welcome. And we are - we`re here to help. We are neighbors. We`re friends and that`s what friends do.


O`DONNELL: That was yesterday at the state department. That`s tonight`s last word. The 11th Hour starts now.



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