Mueller's team interviews Reince Priebus Transcript 10/13/17 The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: October 13, 2017

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Hi, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, it`s been a long week for you, but I`m going to ask you to stay one extra minute?

MADDOW: OK.

VELSHI: You got a very full show. I`m an economics guy. When I hear that the chairman of the campaign of a presidential candidate may have had a loan for $60 million from a Russian oligarch, as an economy guy, that sends up red flags.

If you don`t focus your entire career on the economy, I suppose that sends up a lot of red flags as well. It just seems weird.

MADDOW: Yes. Well, it`s also strange that it`s undisclosed this far into this investigation and this far into all the public scrutiny that Manafort has had.

So one of the really interesting things in this reporting from Richard Engel tonight is not just the size of the financial relationship between this Putin-linked oligarch --

VELSHI: Yes.

MADDOW: -- and Paul Manafort. It`s that the Manafort spokesman withdrew part of his statement to NBC News after he had initially given NBC a statement that said that Manafort had never been indebted to his clients and wasn`t at the time of the Presidential campaign.

VELSHI: Yes.

MADDOW: Rescinding that statement after initially giving it to NBC is yet another red flag. It`s very, very good shoe-leather reporting from Richard.

VELSHI: Incredible.

MADDOW: And we`ll see where it goes. Yes.

VELSHI: Indebtedness to a foreign adversary while running a presidential campaign to the tune of millions of dollars. Let`s just let that sink in.

MADDOW: Exactly.

VELSHI: Rachel, have a great weekend. Thanks so much.

MADDOW: You too. Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. The President is tweeting tonight about ObamaCare and the Iran nuclear agreement, two deals that he appears to hate the most. But the biggest problem with them, according to reports, is that they were both done by President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: President Trump announced today that he would no longer certify the landmark Iran nuclear deal.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: He put the ball in Congress` court.

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION: Our Congress is highly unlikely to be able to resolve this issue.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The President has kind of rolled the grenade in the room. Had it go off without having a strategy as to where we`re going.

TRUMP: You saw what we did yesterday with respect to healthcare.

JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There is no affirmative reason for pulling back these subsidies for the insurance companies other than to wreck it.

MIKE FELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it does come down to empathy. Healthcare, Iran, Puerto Rico, there are people`s lives at stake.

TRUMP: And I met with the President of the Virgin Islands.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: You`re the President of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

TRUMP: I didn`t have a schedule. But if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule.

GEORGE WILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the people who understand these things did have a schedule: repeal and replace by March, tax reform by August, infrastructure by Christmas. Strike one, two, three.

TRUMP: Well, guess what, we`re saying Merry Christmas again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: A lot has happened on this Friday the 13th, but the two big policy announcements from the Trump White House in the last 24 hours on healthcare and the Iran deal appear to have something in common.

Here is the "New York Times" in June on what guides Donald Trump`s decision-making. Quote, whether out of personal animus, political calculation, philosophical disagreement, or a conviction that the last president damaged the country, Mr. Trump has made clear that if it has Mr. Obama`s name on it, he would just as soon erase it from the national hard drive.

Today, the President attempted to unravel two of President Obama`s signature initiatives, ending key ObamaCare subsidies that help lower the cost of premiums for low-income Americans as we first reported on this show last night. And this afternoon, decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, putting most of the responsibility for the future of the deal on Congress.

The President is currently tweeting about the deal as we speak, which we`ll get to in a moment. But in his speech this afternoon, the President claimed that the deal was just a short-term delay in Iran`s quest for nuclear weapons.

Despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that Iran is honoring its nuclear commitments, Trump claimed Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: While the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal, the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement criticizing the President`s remarks. Russia also called it, quote, troubling, but Israel praised President Trump`s words as courageous.

Now, we should note, despite the President`s rhetoric, the deal is not dead yet. It falls to Congress now to decide whether to attach new conditions to the agreement or to reimpose sanctions and end the deal.

Here is President Trump after his announcement this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re going to see what happens. We`re going to see what they come back with. They may come back with something that`s very satisfactory to me. And if they don`t within a very short period of time, I`ll terminate the deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now, the punting of this football to Congress was reportedly a compromise between the President and senior administration officials. "The Washington Post" reported this week that President Trump was, quote, incensed by arguments from his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense that the agreement, while flawed, offered benefits.

He didn`t want to certify to Congress that Iran was complying with the deal, even though the evidence is that Iran is complying with the deal. Quote, he threw a fit, said one person familiar with the meeting. He was furious, really furious. It`s clear he felt jammed.

So White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and other officials came up with this to, as "The Post" put it, accommodate Trump`s loathing with the Iran deal without actually killing it outright. So inasmuch as there is a Trump doctrine, some of it is reportedly accommodating the President`s loathing.

Joining us now are Steve Clemons, editor-at-large at "The Atlantic" and MSNBC contributor, and Ilan Goldenberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Gentlemen, good to see you both of you. Steve, I remember talking to you shortly after the Iran deal.

I was in Tehran while it was being negotiated, and no one in Tehran, in America, or anywhere else where this deal was being talked about was under any impression that Iran was suddenly going to become a friend of the West, a friend of America, was going to get out of the business it was in in Yemen or with Hezbollah or with Assad. So the concept, the idea, that Iran is violating the spirit of the deal is uninformed, at best.

STEVEN CLEMONS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE ATLANTIC: That`s absolutely right. I mean, this arrangement between the United States and Russia, China, Europe, Germany, with Iran, was based on high levels of mistrust.

This was not a warm and fuzzy relationship. This was not a naive arrangement. This was something that was based on mistrust and with deep, deep verification.

In fact, the head of the IAEA said there`s no nation in the world that has deeper and more profound verification standards in place now than we have with Iran. And so it was under those conditions that this was done.

And I think many of us, too, who have been watching this come apart, we learned today -- I learned today from Ben Rhodes, from Wendy Sherman, others that did a call, is that the Barack -- the Obama administration had evidence that Iran was just too months away from having enough fissile material for a warhead and actually crossing that line.

And so this was an imminent issue where there was a vector that we either get a deal or you were faced with a possibility of some form of potential kinetic military action by the United States, and perhaps Israel, against Iran.

Those were the stakes in place and Donald Trump acts as if he is completely unaware of any of these issues. And that`s where we are today.

VELSHI: Ilan, I remember this deal not being particularly popular amongst Americans. It just wasn`t a particularly popular deal. People in America don`t trust Iran.

And probably, the only other -- the only competitive arena of mistrust is in Iran because the people in Iran don`t trust America. There are hardliners in Iran who have been waiting for this moment to say, this is our opportunity to walk away from this deal.

What is the danger -- what is the danger -- that this tough talk about the Iran deal actually results in some parties walking away from it and the deal collapsing?

ILAN GOLDENBERG, SENIOR FELLOW AND DIRECTOR OF THE MIDDLE EAST SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Sure. Well, the good news is that in the short term, that doesn`t look like what`s going to actually happen. But the bad news is that I think we have actually got the worst of all worlds.

We basically have the President generate this artificial crisis because he doesn`t want to sign a document that acknowledges that something Barack Obama did was actually half-good and working. And so instead, we create the crisis.

We shake the confidence of our European partners, but then we come up with this solution that punts it to Congress in a sort of this confused mess that isn`t actually that intimidating or that effective. So what you end up with is the worst of all worlds.

The Iranians are probably looking at this and saying, on the one hand, we don`t trust this guy and this could be the end of the nuclear agreement. But on the other hand, for all this bluster, this is it? It`s actually not very intimidating.

And then you add to the fact that you have others -- the Russians, the Chinese -- looking at this probably scratching their heads. And the Israelis and the Saudis. Even though the Israelis came out and said that they supported it publicly, probably overall underwhelmed.

I mean, what this is, is the President doesn`t need Congress to do any of what he actually laid out today. He could do all of this by himself if he wanted to, simply by laying out some red lines. And instead, he punts it over to Congress because he can`t make a decision himself.

VELSHI: Well, Steve, if you were worried about the fact that you are working late on Friday night, you`re not alone. Other than the two of us, Ilan and I, the President is working tonight.

He has tweeted just a little while ago: many people talking with much agreement on my Iran speech today. Participants in the deal are making lots of money on trade with Iran.

The President is right on that part. In fact, the only reason it seems that Iran came to the table finally, after two years of negotiation, and agreed to the deal was that its economy was collapsing. The United States had imposed restrictions on trade, on the transfer of money --

CLEMONS: Absolutely.

VELSHI: -- on the use of credit cards. The Iranian economy was collapsing, the rugs they used to sell -- this is an industrialized --

CLEMONS: Absolutely.

VELSHI: Yes, this was an industrialized country.

CLEMONS: Right. Well, we`ve --

VELSHI: They needed into the global economy again.

CLEMONS: We brought the entire world together -- the entire world together -- to close off Iran, to create, what were called then, crippling sanctions, and we worked together with the Chinese. We worked together with the Russians, the Indians, the Brazilians, the Europeans. And we created conditions that basically changed Iran`s calculus about what it was willing to do.

And that is part of this arrangement. When we`re talking about the nuclear side, I agree with everything that Ilan just said. But another part of this was that Iran was going to forestall the various pathways that it might have to a nuclear capacity, a nuclear bomb.

They never basically said they were trying to build a nuclear weapon, but they closed those down but in return for economic activity, for the removal of sanctions, for the normalization of economic relationships.

And so I got to tell you that the Iranians, privately, have already been saying that the United States has already, technically, violated their part of the deal when Donald Trump was in Hamburg at the G-20 meeting and actively lobbying against other national leaders from investing in Iran. That`s what they`re in it for.

VELSHI: Yes.

CLEMONS: And we have been violating that part of that.

VELSHI: All right. We`re going to have to see where this goes. Steve Clemons and Ilan Goldenberg, thank you both for joining me tonight.

CLEMONS: Thank you. VELSHI: Joining us now is John McLaughlin. He`s the former acting director of the CIA and an MSNBC national security analyst.

John, thank you for joining me. I want to play you something that Leon Panetta said to MTP DAILY today about how, in doing this, Donald Trump has rolled a grenade into the room. Hear it in Leon Panetta`s words.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANETTA: The President has kind of rolled the grenade in the room. Had it go off without having a strategy as to where we`re going.

The reality is that we now have a decertification of this agreement, and that they`re not in compliance when they are, in fact, in compliance. We`re out there alone without of our -- our allies. We`ve broken our word.

And the bottom line here is, we`re throwing this whole mess to Congress, which doesn`t have a very good record of trying to deal with anything, much less the situation in Iran. It`s going to create a tremendous amount of confusion in a world that`s already very dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: John, I mean, to just put a finer point on that, Congress can`t get the easy things done. I`m not sure they could successfully name a post office these days.

And we have a situation where the President and the administration are coming out and saying our allies are actually supportive of the President on this, which is just absolutely not true, particularly the allies involved in this deal.

And then we have the abrogation of a deal where the verifying entity, the International Atomic Energy Agency, continues to verify that Iran is doing the right thing, and we are still decertifying. This thing is fraught with problems.

MCLAUGHLIN: No, absolutely, Ali. The International Atomic Energy Agency has certified compliance with this deal on eight separate occasions since it was inaugurated. And Leon Panetta has this exactly right.

In fact, I would go even maybe a step further and say that I think this is one of the most damaging decisions that Donald Trump has made since becoming president because of the scope and the breadth of the impact that it will have.

Separating us from allies, strengthening hardliners in Iran, pushing our allies closer into positions with Russia and China. At the same time, also creating conditions that will make it much more difficult, should we go into negotiations with North Korea, to bring them along with any credibility on anything we agree on.

So across the board -- and you know, I think -- a thought I was having tonight is that I suspect most of his close advisers, Secretary of Defense and so forth, H.R. McMaster, I suspect they generally see it about the same way --

VELSHI: Yes.

MCLAUGHLIN: -- that I just described.

VELSHI: Yes.

MCLAUGHLIN: And so what we saw from Donald Trump today is the best they can manage with him. And I`m not talking -- I wouldn`t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to concern and suspicion about Iran.

VELSHI: Absolutely.

MCLAUGHLIN: I`ve held that throughout my career. But no reason to, as Leon said, throw a grenade into the room over one part of this arrangement with them that`s generally working. And it`s the most important part of the arrangement, the nuclear arrangement.

VELSHI: Right, and that`s what the two years of negotiations were designed to do. One of the things that "The Washington Post" is talking about is that Bob Corker, Senator Bob Corker, is saying that --

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

VELSHI: -- Donald Trump is publicly castigating -- sorry, publicly castrating -- that`s a bad one to get wrong, publicly castrating Rex Tillerson. Let me just tell you what it says here.

As Corker sees it, the biggest problem is that Trump is neutering his own chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and thereby inviting binary situations in which the United States will have to choose between war and a North Korea or Iran capable of threatening the United States with nuclear weapons.

Corker says, you cannot publicly castrate your own Secretary of State without giving yourself that binary choice.

Let me ask you this, John. This was work that was done by chief diplomats around the world -- Federica Mogherini from the European Union, Sergey Lavrov, Javad Zarif from Iran, Senator John Kerry -- or Secretary of State John Kerry from the United States -- working really hard for two years. People who had different positions on all sorts of things.

And now, we have a Secretary of State who really can`t pull up to the table and speak with the authority of the American government.

MCLAUGHLIN: No, I think that`s right. And one of the tragedies of what we see going on now is that diplomacy, generally, as one of the tools in the foreign policy toolkit, has been dramatically weakened. Not only by the things that you mentioned but by the -- in a way, the decimation of the State Department which, during my career, I always regarded as one of the jewels in the crown of American security. And we`ve heard that from Secretary Mattis as well.

Plus, on the diplomatic front, you know, what we see happening here in this speech today is "America first" colliding with the necessity in the world today of coalition with allies and cooperation with allies to get important things done.

So we have damaged our credibility here with people that we need to accomplish great things in the world because it`s very hard for the United States to just muscle through on its own these days in a complex world.

VELSHI: Yes.

MCLAUGHLIN: And this agreement was one in which, as your previous guest pointed out, we had managed to bring the world together on one of the most controversial problems of our age. This is probably, I would say, the most important step that we have been able to take in years in limiting the most dangerous weapons we have in the world.

VELSHI: Yes, it was. There were a lot of people at the time who didn`t think it was a great deal. They thought it was the deal that we could achieve.

John, thanks very much for joining us. John McLaughlin is the former acting director of the CIA.

Coming up, the President made another move to dismantle ObamaCare today, but some of the people who it could hurt voted for Donald Trump.

And new NBC News exclusive reporting tonight about what Donald Trump`s campaign chairman owed Russian interests during the campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to have great healthcare in our country. We`re taking a little different route than we had hoped because getting Congress -- they forgot what their pledges were, so we`re going a little different route. But you know what, in the end, it`s going to be just as effective, and maybe it will even be better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Well, better is not really the way Democrats and even some Republicans are describing President Trump`s latest move in what seems to be his plan to unravel ObamaCare.

Just in the last hour, President Trump tweeted about his decision to end government subsidies to health insurance companies, writing: money pouring into insurance companies` profits under the guise of ObamaCare is over. They have made a fortune. Dems must get smart and deal.

And then he said, ObamaCare is causing such grief and tragedy for so many, it is being dismantled. But in the meantime, premiums and deductibles are way up.

But actually, the Congressional Budget Office predicts getting rid of those subsidies will increase premiums for those who would qualify for the so- called cost-sharing reductions. It would increase them by 20 percent.

Earlier today, President Trump called those subsidies a payoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That money was a subsidy and almost, you could say, a payoff to insurance companies. And what we have to do is come up with great healthcare. What would be nice, if the Democratic leaders could come over to the White House, we`ll negotiate some deal that`s good for everybody. That`s what I`d like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: But the Democratic leaders say President Trump is purposefully sabotaging ObamaCare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Make no mistake. Last night, the President single-handedly decided to raise America`s health premiums for no reason except spite and cruelty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: And in case you think this is purely partisan, it`s not. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada said this: it`s going to hurt people. It`s going to hurt kids. It`s going to hurt families. It`s going to hurt individuals. It`s going to hurt people with mental health issues. It`s going to hurt veterans. It`s going to hurt everybody.

Republican Senator Susan Collins, who was a consistent no vote on the Republican healthcare bills, said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: This subsidy is not a bailout for the insurance industry. So if you don`t have the CSR subsidy, low-income people are going to have a very difficult time -- in fact, for some, it may be impossible -- affording their deductibles and their copays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us is Governor Howard Dean, a medical doctor, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and an MSNBC political analyst; and Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

Gentlemen, good to see both of you.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Ali.

VELSHI: Howard, I`m going to hold you for the medical stuff for a second. I want to start with you, Jonathan, because the working thesis we have right now is that, in the absence of any real legislation, Donald Trump is on a mission to unravel anything Barack Obama touched.

But let`s talk about the top 10 states which have the percentage of the marketplace enrollees with the CSR, with the cost-sharing revenue. Look at where they are. They`re mostly in the southeast.

Mississippi has 78. Alabama, 76. Florida, 74. South Carolina, 73. Georgia, 67. North Carolina, Utah, Louisiana. Oh, look at that, Massachusetts is in there. Massachusetts is the only state with that high level of marketplace enrollees that didn`t vote for Trump.

So what`s the working thesis here? Because by doing what he did today, he hurts his base.

CAPEHART: Yes, I am mystified by what he is doing. Look, the Republicans, ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, have been voting -- have been promising fellow Republicans, Republican voters, that they are going to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Then it was repeal ObamaCare, that they had a better way. They voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and they failed. Part of their presidential campaign was that they were going to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and put in something new, something better, something great, something grand.

And so President Trump seems to have it in his head that, you know, facts be damned, lives be damned, we`re going -- he is going to, by any means necessary, get rid of the Affordable Care Act. And if it hurts the people who voted for him, that`s on them. If it hurts healthcare in this country, that`s on them. He has no responsibility whatsoever.

And I think it`s a good sign for the country that it`s not just Democrats who are coming out against what the President is doing. That it`s Republicans like Congressman Charlie Dent and Susan -- Senator Susan Collins who are coming out and saying that this is the wrong way to go.

Look, if you want to get healthcare to more Americans or try to cover as many Americans as possible and help with premiums and things like that, this is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to, yes, call in Democrats to make a deal to improve the Affordable Care Act that is on the books and is law of the land right now.

VELSHI: Governor, you`re almost a Canadian. You know, I am Canadian and you`re from pretty close to where we are.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: And I think the only way to do this is do what 34 -- the other 34 of the world`s richest countries do, and that is find some form of universality. Fifty-eight countries in the world have let.

Let me just take Donald Trump`s side for a second on something, though, because as a guy who looks at things through the lens of economics, there was a payoff to the insurance companies to get them to participate in these marketplaces because the insurance companies said, we don`t know how this is all going to work out for us, and we`re really used to making a lot of money.

So in some ways, the President is right in saying that the very profitable insurance companies are benefiting from these cost-sharing subsidies.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: Well, I mean, that was because the weakness of the Obama bill was to continue to rely on insurance companies, whereas if you`d had --

VELSHI: I knew you are Canadian.

DEAN: -- Medicare for all or a public option, which would have given the average American the choice of enrolling in Medicare no matter how old they were or staying with private insurance, that would have been a better bill. And we missed that by a single vote in 2009.

So where we are right now is that -- first of all, none of this may happen. Trump has no idea what he is doing. His advisers didn`t think this was a good idea. The advisers who did think it was a good idea don`t know anything about healthcare. So who knows where this is really going to go?

Sixty-eight percent of Republicans actually think that Trump should not be repealing this. So, you know, this is fascinating. I think it`s a big liability for him because, as you pointed out, nine of the 10 states which is hurt -- are hurt the most by this are Trump states.

You know, there are 15 attorneys general who are already suing him. They`re going to ask for an injunction. This is -- we got a long way to go here. I think this is just more sort of reality television on the part of the President. It hasn`t been thought through and we don`t really know where it`s going to go.

VELSHI: Jonathan, let me ask you about this because Donald Trump is looking -- the biggest part of his tax cut proposal is a tax cut for businesses. And he made the argument, as did Gary Cohn, that in giving tax cuts to businesses, they will somehow turn around and give that to their workers as a bonus. That never actually happens.

But this is the guy who is saying we`re not interested in corporate welfare. Every other part of the agenda seems to be very interested in giving as much benefit to corporations as he can, but not this time. He draws the line at health insurance companies.

CAPEHART: Right. And, again, Ali, if you are asking me why is he doing that? I have no idea. I just come back to the grand plan of trying to keep a promise that the Republicans have always made and have been unable to fulfill.

And as Governor Dean said, and reminded all of us, that it most likely will not happen, and that this might be yet another sort of reality show tactic of the President to look like he is doing something but, in the end, not doing anything substantively at all.

VELSHI: As you were speaking, we just put this up. Seventy-one percent of people, in a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, say they want the President to make the Affordable Care Act work. Only 21 percent want it to fail.

Howard Dean, thanks very much. Jonathan, stay with us.

DEAN: Thank you.

VELSHI: Coming up, exclusive NBC News reporting tonight about Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman and the money he owed to Russia during the campaign. It`s a lot of money. Stand by for this.

And later, the President spoke at the Values Voter Summit put on by the Family Research Council, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Breaking news tonight in the Russia probe. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was interviewed by investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller at Mueller`s office. Priebus` lawyers says his client was interviewed voluntarily, and that he was, quote, happy to answer all of their questions.

Priebus was one of many current and former White House aides who are expected to speak to the Special Prosecutor`s teams as they look into whether there was collusion between Trump`s president campaign and the kremlin, in addition to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

This summer, "Vanity Fair" reported that Trump`s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, wanted Reince Priebus to testify to the Special Counsel that Jared Kushner played a key role in getting Comey fired.

Also tonight, NBC News` Richard Engel reports exclusively that former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a central figure in the Russia probe, had much closer financial links to a Russian oligarch than previously thought.

An NBC investigation has revealed that it now appears that a total of at least $60 million in loans were made by the man on the right, Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, to accounts connected to Paul Manafort.

Deripaska is known to be a close confidante of the Russia leader, Vladimir Putin. U.S. investigators have previously acknowledged that they are looking at Manafort`s financial ties to prominent Russian figures.

Joining me now is Jill Wine-Banks, a former assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation and an MSNBC contributor.

Jill, good to see you again. This has taken the intrigue around Paul Manafort to a new level, a level of indebtedness to a Russian oligarch who, we know, is tied to Vladimir Putin. Obviously this is information that Robert Mueller has. What do you make of this?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, to start with, I thought $30 million in debt was a lot of money.

VELSHI: Was a lot of money.

WINE-BANKS: So making it $60 million and doubling it makes it doubly suspicious, and it certainly provides a motive why he might tried to force policies that were favorable to Russia, favorable to the Russian side of the Ukraine country.

And it gives him a reason for why he might have been motivated to collude with the Russians, and therefore, it makes him a real target for Mueller.

And it`s very interesting. It`s something we need to really follow. His statement in terms of what he was doing, saying I wasn`t indebted when I went to work for the President and I`m not indebted now, was then withdrawn. He said that originally through his spokesman --

VELSHI: Well, let me actually put this on the screen.

WINE-BANKS: Sure.

VELSHI: We got two comments from Jason Maloni, Manafort`s spokesman. And this is interesting.

The first one read as follows: Mr. Manafort is not indebted to former clients today, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign.

That was a lie for a little while. Now that statement is gone. Here is the revised statement.

It says: recent news reports indicate Mr. Manafort was under surveillance before he joined the campaign and after he left the campaign. He has called for the U.S. government to release any intercepts involving him and non-Americans in hopes of finally putting an end to these wild conspiracy theories. Mr. Manafort did not collude with the Russian government.

Jill, those are two very different statements. They have taken out the reference to him not being indebted to Russians, and they have now gone on the offensive, saying the U.S. government was snooping on Manafort and they should release those transcripts.

WINE-BANKS: Actually, Ali, what I think it is, is it is an attempt to refocus and to throw the Special Prosecutor off of his game. He is trying to change the focus from the money and the debt and the motive to, well, just release the tapes. Release what you know about me and show that I wasn`t co colluding.

That isn`t what this is all about. The money is a motive, no matter what you do. I trust that Mueller will not be thrown off, that he will keep the investigation going, and that he will release anything at the appropriate time.

And it`s not up to him to release it, so we just have to wait and see what kind of case Mueller ends up indicting.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about the quid pro quo in things like this because, generally, with a loan, the quid pro quo is you give me money, I give you interest. But we know that "The Washington Post" reported on September 20th that Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska private briefings.

Mr. Manafort made the offer in an e-mail to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past.

As a prosecutor, you`d be looking for what the trade is against the $26, $30, or $60 million. Even if it were $500,000, you`d be looking for what you -- what are you are getting in exchange for the loan?

WINE-BANKS: I would certainly be getting -- looking at that. You are absolutely right. But the other question is, did he ever pay that back?

He says he is not now indebted. Did he pay back that money? How did he pay it back? Did he pay it back with interest, or did he just return the money?

Did he use it -- he bought, at least, we know, one condominium with it. Did he sell that condominium for a hugely inflated price?

Experts in money laundering are very suspicious of these loans and are very suspicious when an LLC, a private company, buys a condominium. It`s not illegal, but apparently, it`s often used for money laundering.

So there are a lot of suspicious things going on with this that we can`t know. I`m sure that Mr. Mueller knows a lot more than we do.

VELSHI: Right.

WINE-BANKS: But we can certainly be suspicious.

VELSHI: As you often point out when you and I talk, Mr. Mueller has a lot of tools at his disposal to follow the money and get the details.

Jill, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining me.

WINE-BANKS: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: Jill Wine-Banks is a former assistant Watergate special prosecutor.

Coming up next, Donald Trump became the first sitting president to speak at the Values Voter Summit. What he said and why some gay rights groups were especially outraged today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You tell me. Who is better for the gay community and who is better for women than Donald Trump? Believe me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In the last 10 months, we have followed through on one promise after another.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I didn`t have a schedule. But if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was just one of the confusing things Donald Trump said today at the Values Voter Summit. Who knows what he meant by that. He hasn`t passed any major legislation. Maybe he is ahead of schedule on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, we`re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don`t talk about anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: They don`t use the word Christmas because it`s not politically correct. You go to department stores, and they`ll say happy New Year or they`ll say other things. And it will be red, they`ll have it painted, but they don`t say. Well, guess what? We`re saying merry Christmas again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Yes, we`re making America great again. That was the President`s biggest applause line, by the way. It was confusing when Donald Trump said this about hurricane relief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And I will tell you, I left Texas and I left Florida and I left Louisiana, and I went to Puerto Rico. And I met with the president of the Virgin Islands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was confusing because the president of the Virgin Islands is Donald Trump. The White House later had to correct the official transcript to say that Donald Trump spoke with the governor of the Virgin Islands.

Donald Trump is the first sitting president to address the Values Voter Summit where the free swag bags on offer today included a flier on, quote, the health hazards of homosexuality and then, quote, I don`t believe in the liberal media, bumper sticker.

Here is another provocative comment from Trump today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The American founders invoked our creator four times in the declaration of independence. Four times. How times have changed. But you know what, now they`re changing back again. Just remember that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: But what exactly is the President changing back? I`m going to ask Joan Walsh and Jonathan Capehart next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In America, we don`t worship government, we worship God.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Inspired by that conviction, we are returning moral clarity to our view of the world and the many grave challenges we face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Joining me now Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation." And MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Capehart is also back with us.

Joan, let`s start with you. Presidents don`t usually go to the Values Voter Summit, even though it`s a good place candidates actually often go --

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Candidates do.

VELSHI: -- to them. Run by the Family Research Council, which is labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center largely because of their anti-homosexual tendencies.

WALSH: Right, very extreme.

VELSHI: And they actually put out a pamphlet, a book, about homosexuality called "The Health Hazards of Homosexuality: What the Medical and Psychological Research Reveals."

I really can`t get my head around it, but I understand why candidates sometimes want to court this kind of an audience.

WALSH: Right.

VELSHI: But as the President of the United States, this is not a broad- ranging group.

WALSH: No, but this is his base, Ali. I mean, I think one of the central mysteries of last year`s election -- there are many, many of them, but one of them is, why did White Christian evangelicals go overwhelmingly for this guy who had been married three times, four bankruptcies, accused of sexual harassment at minimum by 14 plus women?

Why was he this libertine the candidate of these folks rather than, say, somebody like Ted Cruz who seemed much more along the lines? Ben Carson? Why it was Trump?

And I think, you know, that clip that you played right before the break where he said, times have really changed --

VELSHI: Right.

WALSH: -- but we`re changing them back is so illuminating. It was such a great gift to us because what polls have found is that these Christian voters, they went for Trump not thinking so much about his morality, not keying in on, you know, maybe Ted Cruz has obeyed Christian dogma more, but that they believed that Trump really was going to bring us back to a place --

VELSHI: Right.

WALSH: -- where men are men, women know their place, people of color know their place, gave --

VELSHI: And people say merry Christmas to you when you walk into the store.

WALSH: And people say merry Christmas to you. That he is going to turn the clock back. And he sees it. He gets it that that`s what they want, and he`s telling them that he`s done it already.

VELSHI: Jonathan, there are some who say it`s nostalgia, and there are some who say that`s all code, things are changing back. Something as innocuous and benign as they`re going to merry Christmas again really means something different.

CAPEHART: Yes, it`s code. Remember, make America great again, the people who gravitated to that phrase are the ones who were saying, around the time of the rise of the tea party in 2010, that they wanted to take their country back. And, of course, Joan and I, we`ve always asked this question, take the country back from whom?

We know what`s going on here. There are people within the President`s base who are very uncomfortable with the demographic changes that are already underway in the country. And so they are very nostalgic about a time when they were central to the political life and concerns of this country.

And, you know, if we are ever going to get anywhere in terms of solving all the economic issues and things like that, we have got to come to terms with the fact that everyone who is in this country right now wants to be an American. The ones who are citizens are Americans. And we`re all here to foster and move along the -- this great experiment that is America.

And there are a lot of people who are supporting the President who think that America is for them. And to be perfectly blunt, Ali, America is a White Christian nation. That`s what a lot of the President`s base thinks.

WALSH: Right.

VELSHI: And, Joan, America is a prosperous place. And as a result, we -- prosperous nations have fewer children. We don`t have a good worker placement rate. We have an aging population.

WALSH: Right.

VELSHI: So we use our immigrants do what any country that wants to economically grow does, we -- it creates a workforce.

WALSH: Right.

VELSHI: I know Donald Trump, endlessly, talks about this unachievable economic growth number, but you can`t even achieve that if you wanted to without immigration.

WALSH: If you kick these people out, yes.

VELSHI: So it`s not just DACA. It`s the legal immigration that the President wants to stop.

WALSH: Right.

VELSHI: And Stephen Miller, again, painted that in terms of English- speaking, better immigrants. Again, it`s code. It`s not actually economically sound.

WALSH: No, it`s not sound at all. You know, there has been great research by the Public Religion Research Institute, Ali, that I would send people to look at. And what they`ve found is that this cohort of people, they are aware that they are -- White Christian America is no longer the majority.

Now, America is a very Christian country. If you look across color lines and welcome people, look across ethnic lines, there are lots of Christians -- Black Christians, Latino Christians, Asian Christians.

But they -- but this group sees itself as being marginalized and doesn`t look across these lines to find common cause, even common religious cause. They feel like they own a version of Christianity as well. So it`s not very well thought through in terms of the either the economic implications or the social and cultural ones. Or the religious ones, I would add.

VELSHI: Yes. I don`t know what it is we`re taking ourselves back to, but it`s interesting.

All right. Joan, thanks very much.

WALSH: Yes.

VELSHI: Joan Walsh is a national affairs correspondent for "The Nation" and an MSNBC political analyst. Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

Thanks to both of you. Tonight`s last word is up next.

CAPEHART: Thanks.

WALSH: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: As the President was pushing his tax plans, Stephen Colbert noticed an unfortunate coincidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Brings it all the way down to 20 percent and cuts tax rates for small businesses to the lowest level in more than 80 years.

(APPLAUSE)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes, bottom line, he`s taking our tax plan back more than 80 years to the 1930s, the era that will forever be known as the Great Happiness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. He`s obviously talking about the Great Depression back then. We are apparently taking those tax cuts down to a point far in the past. That is tonight`s last word.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow at 12:30 Eastern for "VELSHI AND RUHLE, THE WEEKEND EDITION" with Stephanie Ruhle and me. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams is next.

END

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