Video disproves attack on Rep. Wilson Transcript 10/20/17 The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Christina Greer, Tim O`Brien, James Peterson, Jared Bernstein, Matt Miller, Christopher Kang

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: October 20, 2017 Guest: Christina Greer, Tim O`Brien, James Peterson, Jared Bernstein, Matt Miller, Christopher Kang

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD. Ari Melber is sitting in for Lawrence O`Donnell. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Briefly, Rachel. I`m glad you`re staying on the story. We`re going to keep following your coverage of it. Obviously important.

MADDOW: Yes. Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: And I will definitely be watching your interview with former Attorney General Holder. It should be very interesting. I hope you have a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you very much. I will be contacting you for questions to help me cheat in my prep.

MELBER: Two is better than one, OK.


MELBER: Have a good weekend, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: I am Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Yesterday, John Kelly went to the briefing room to defend Donald Trump. Today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders had to go to the briefing room to defend John Kelly.

And as one journalist summed it up tonight, quote, it was a spectacularly shambolic week for the White House and Trump has no regrets about any of it.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Watching a grieving military family become a political football. Pretty disgusting.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that`s something highly inappropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you`re the Chief of Staff of the White House and you say something that`s wrong, we are going to call you out on it. And we are going to look into it and we are going to investigate it and you are responsible for what you say.

SANDERS: I`ll put it a little more simply, as we say in the South, all hat, no cattle.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Now, I`m not familiar with that expression, but I know this one: when you`re in a hole, stop digging.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: I think he is, along with many other people who come into contact with Trump, is lesser at the end of this week than he was at the beginning.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: And overnight victory for President Trump. Senate Republicans finally passing a budget in a close 51 to 49 vote.

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY TO FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER: Instead of celebrating that victory, he`s in this hopeless, revolting back and forth with the family of a slain serviceman. And it`s awful.


MELBER: The Trump White House has a problem with the truth. General John Kelly said he was going to fix it. He would improve the information flow. But tonight, we know it`s information, current events, recent history, and lies that are haunting the White House.

What began with President Trump misrepresenting other presidents` interactions with Gold Star families and escalated in a fight over what Trump said in a, quote, condolence call to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson killed in Niger with three other staff sergeants has now turned into something much, much more problematic.

Donald Trump allegedly told Myeshia Johnson he knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway. That, according to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. And the President deny he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what did you say to Sergeant Johnson`s widow on the phone yesterday?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn`t say what that Congresswoman said. I didn`t say it at all. She knows it, and she now is not saying it.


MELBER: Didn`t say it at all. OK. That`s a denial defense. But then General John Kelly stirred up more controversy with something else. A justification defense suggesting Donald Trump did say it, and it`s OK.


GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting in to by joining that the -- that one percent. That`s what the President tried to say to a -- to four families the other day.


MELBER: And the point isn`t really the exact word choice, although it doesn`t help that Trump denied the words that Kelly then seemed to confirm. The point is Kelly contradicted Trump and then attacked the Congresswoman who shared this story.

This is not the President`s political spokesman or a campaign strategist. This is the taxpayer-funded Chief of Staff launching this allegation against a sitting Congresswoman.


KELLY: The Congresswoman stood up. And in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money.

And she just called up President Obama. And on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building. And she sat down. And we were stunned.


MELBER: She got the money. She stood up. She talked about the money, herself, Obama. And then she sat down. And he was stunned.

Well, that allegation, today, was demolished. A fact check reviewed Representative Wilson`s entire speech and determined Kelly got it wrong.

Tonight, MSNBC`s Joy Reid aired the entire speech, so everyone could see all the facts and the entire address themselves. We have reviewed it here, as well.

The video shows Wilson spending most of her time praising FBI agents who were killed on duty and crediting Republican Speaker Boehner by name for their teamwork in a vote on legislation, not money, for naming a FBI building after two agents.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: I went to the speaker, Speaker Boehner, and I said, Mr. Speaker, I need your help. The FBI needs your help, and our country needs your help, and we have no time to waste.

He went into attack mode. And in two days, pulled it out of committee, brought it to the floor for a vote.


MELBER: Now, let me be as fair and precise as possible. It could be that John Kelly innocently misremembered this. And today`s tension could have been tamped down with any kind of acknowledgment of what the video shows.

If you had a court case that was built on this allegation against Representative Wilson and this video emerged, that case would just get tossed out of court. But instead, today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who reports to General Kelly, says her boss stood by it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does General Kelly still stand by the statement that he made yesterday that he felt that she was grandstanding and that taking -- she was taking credit?

SANDERS: Absolutely. General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress.


MELBER: Faced with the fact check and the video, Kelly has an employee claiming he was stunned by Representative Wilson working with Republicans on legislation. And I can tell you Trump aides, now, say maybe she made other comments at some other time at the event that just isn`t on video. And then Sanders, today, went further.


SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that`s up to you. But I think that that -- if you want to get in a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that`s something highly inappropriate.


MELBER: This is not another squabble born of Donald Trump`s neediness. It now includes a general dispatching a federal employee to tell the nation he`s not subject to debate.

This cannot be said enough. General Kelly, you will be debated. You will be questioned. The oath you take to uphold the constitution, that document places the military, which we respect, under civilian control, not above it.

And that`s relevant not only to this bitter fact challenged dispute. It`s relevant tonight to the incident that got reporters pressing the White House in the first place, the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger.

We have no idea if findings in the future will show things should have been done differently or not. It`s obviously too early to say.

And there are also new reports that after this bruising week, Trump shows tonight, quote, zero remorse, even for dragging Chief of Staff Kelly into the mess while Kelly was looking for and more, quote, dispirited as the week went on.

And then after business closed at the White House tonight, I can tell you Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out an additional statement. And I`ll read it to you.

It says, quote, of course everyone can be questioned. But after witnessing General Kelly`s heartfelt and somber account, we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate.

There you have it. Another effort to move the goal post. Journalists find a video contradicting Kelly`s attack on a member of Congress, and then they respond with this.

Of course, the factual dispute`s not about those fallen heroes in this particular moment. And by the way, this is a free country. So if people did want to debate that, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders refers to, they could debate that, too, whether you`re in or out of uniform.

Many in Washington had hoped that when John Kelly came to the White House, he could change Trump. Tonight, it looks like Trump may be changing him.

Joining me now for more is Tim O`Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg View and author of "Trump Nation" and a former defendant in a lawsuit with Donald Trump over that reporting.

Christina Greer is an associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University. And James Peterson, an MSNBC contributor and director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University and the host of WHYY`s "Remix" podcast.

Christina, it`s not often we get that Friday night statement that, at least, reflects the awareness of a problem with suggesting you can`t question a general, but does not, as I point out, deal with it.

CHRISTINA GREER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, in this particular case, we have now seen General Kelly dragged down to the level of Donald Trump. And unfortunately, this particular administration does not respect women. They definitely don`t respect women of color.

We see that he, you know, keeps calling Representative Wilson "that Congresswoman." He has called the widow of Sergeant Johnson just "the widow" or "the wife." Her name is Myeshia Johnson. We know we`ve had Donald Trump talk about Susan Rice, about Maxine Waters, about Jemele Hill, about the Gold Star families.

I mean, he clearly has an issue where, whenever he`s in attack mode or whenever he is, you know, sort of wrong or lies, he just goes into attack mode.

And unfortunately, the people around him don`t actually encourage him to ever tell the truth. They double down. And we`ve seen, time after time after time, the people around him begin to lie as well. And that goes for General Kelly.

And so now, we have Sanders, we`ve got Kelly, and Trump, all lying all week long and just really disgracing the office of the presidency and a congresswoman who has been a public servant since 1998. Like, I mean, something that Donald Trump has never done.

MELBER: And on that point, regarding the call and how the call is being treated, listen to Donald Trump in new sound coming out tonight, interview with Fox Business, which is his account of what he says bothers John Kelly about it.


TRUMP: He was so offended because he was in the room when I made the call, and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call.

He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn`t believe it.

Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not - - and he knew it. I was so nice. I was -- look, I have called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it.


MELBER: Tim, as you know, in these settings, you have government phone calls. There are often parties in the room.

Masha Gessen, who was a journalist who`ve fled Vladimir Putin`s Russia, wrote about this today, noting that "The Washington Post" had previously quoted the White House on the same argument he just made.

The President`s conversation with the families of heroes who`ve made the ultimate sacrifice are private. And the statement, she writes, contains a classic Trumpian reversal, the President claiming for himself the right to privacy that belonged to his interlocutor.

But Myeshia Johnson apparently voluntarily shared her conversation with the mother-in-law and Congresswoman Wilson by putting the President on speakerphone.

If the call is for her as a Gold Star widow and she happens to be with those people -- they didn`t plan to catch the Trump call but they were together -- and she chose to share it, and we are in that opening grief period, where does the United States government get off saying the privacy is one way?

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, I mean, I don`t think this is a new phenomenon with the Trump administration.

I think they conveniently define interactions with the Congress, with people in their own White House, with the public on whatever terms suits them vis-a-vis the President defining narratives that make him look good in any situation where he looks bad.

And I think in this particular situation, they`ve already said that they had a number of people in the West Wing who were listening in on the call.

MELBER: That`s not a private call. It`s not a one-on-one.

O`BRIEN: And so it`s just --

MELBER: Right.

O`BRIEN: De facto, it`s not a private call from the very beginning. I think the second theory thing that`s happened here is that they`ve put John Kelly in harm`s way. I think that he`s --

MELBER: But he is an adult.

O`BRIEN: He is an adult. They`ve had -- but they have had a series of very inept spokespeople. I think they put his capital on the line. He has put his own capital on the line to go out there. And I think he`s blown a lot of that in this week.

He really -- you know, walking, I think, in Arlington Cemetery, no one is going to give him any shade about what it means to be a member of the military and make that sacrifice. But I think you can only play that card once or twice before it starts the lose some of its traction, and he put that out there in the service of a president who`s been dissembling.

And I think one of the phenomenons in this White House is anybody who goes out and speaks for the President looks like they`re on a hostage video. And you get this sense that somewhere back in the Oval Office, some of their children are being held back unless they do exactly what the President wants them to do.

MELBER: James, go ahead.


And I also want to be clear, along with my panelists here, that there is a distinction to be made between General Kelly and Chief of Staff Kelly. As Chief of Staff Kelly, he`s making a political intervention this week that, unfortunately, besmirch his record as a general.

And at the end of the day, when we think about the sensitivity around these issues, we have to also include interpretation and the sense of tone, right?

So let`s just say this is a tone thing. Maybe the words sounded a certain way to Chief of Staff Kelly and to President Trump on their end, but the tone had different implications for the family members and for the widow, Mrs. Johnson, while they were listening to it.

They have the right to interpret the tone of the President, and their interpretation of it is that it was disrespectful. That it was harsh.

Now, given the discursive track record of this president, I think we`d have to say that him being tone deaf, him being insensitive, him being rude, or him being insulting is not something that`s out of his bailiwick as the President of the United States.

And so I think if we just look at it on its face, you know, the real response that should have come out of this White House, that should`ve come out of Press Secretary Sanders was, hey, maybe we got it wrong. Right?

If everyone`s saying how sensitive this is and how precious this is -- and, again, I come from a military family, Ari. I hate that we`re discussing these things on political news shows. It doesn`t make a lot of sense to me.

But it was politicized by this administration and their inability to acknowledge a different interpretation, to acknowledge the fact that this President has shown himself to be tone deaf over the long course of his time as President of the United States, and unable to, in that moment, say, hey, maybe we got it wrong. Let`s apologize to this family.

This family is in pain. Do you understand the pain that this family is in right now? Like, can we acknowledge that? Can we acknowledge the fact that this family is still -- just like we, this family doesn`t have any answers about what happened in Niger. They don`t know why La David was left behind.

And let`s speak to Congresswoman Wilson just for a moment because I`ve met her once or twice at CBC events over the course of the years. She`s an extremely credible representative of her district. She has the kind of authenticity that this President does not have nationally.

And the idea that she would be over politicizing this or making this up just doesn`t make sense, not to her constituency or to anybody who knows her. So we just need to be reasonable and sensitive about this particular issue, and I just don`t see that coming from this White House right now.

GREER: Well, I mean, I think it goes back to the fact that, you know, the Trump -- Donald Trump is calling a sitting member of Congress -- and keep in mind that the presidency, Congress, and the courts are an equal lateral system. So he should respect the members of the Supreme Court and the members of Congress just as he expects respect, as well.

Just because she wears hats, he`s calling a sitting member of Congress wacky. She has been a public servant --

PETERSON: Nobody calls Roy Moore wacky. Nobody calls Roy Moore wacky.

GREER: Exactly. Exactly.

PETERSON: Nobody calls gun-toting, cowboy hat wearing Roy Moore wacky.

GREER: Yes. None of this people. So he`s calling her wacky. She`s been a public servant for almost two decades. This is a president who had five deferments for his heel spurs and never served his country, and we have a 50-year record of him never serving anyone else.

So the pain is real, but it`s also a deflection tactic because we are not talking about Niger. We aren`t talking about why this Sergeant Johnson was left behind for two full days, who actually, you know, found him and brought him back to the United States.

We`re not talking about the fact that Donald Trump was golfing. That`s why he`s calling the family. He`s not even there to greet the family. So all these diversion tactics, to say nothing else about his systemic failure after failure legislatively but also the lies every single day.

And we have to make sure we do not normalize the fact that this President is a liar, and he has surrounded himself with liars. And this is the way they are treating the American public, which is, quite frankly, un- American. And we have to call it out consistently.

MELBER: And, Tim, this was -- who we`re talking about, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, on CNN, with regard to the funding.

Anyone who has covered Congress knows there is an appropriation process which provides for funding. There`s an authorization process. The naming process of these buildings is different.

These are things, by the way, that General John Kelly is quite familiar with. He`s got a long record on these issues.

And she speaks to that with regard to why this was, in her view, a false claim in this interview.


WILSON: I heard him say that I bragged that I secured the money for the building of the FBI building in Miramar. Well, that`s a lie.

You know, I feel sorry for General Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can`t just go on T.V. and lie on me.

I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured. So that`s a lie. How dare he?


MELBER: And what we`re seeing here, Tim, from General John Kelly seems to be the view of he`ll come out to the briefing room. He will give his lectures.

Yesterday, he put a military spin on selective press censorship by saying he would only call on reporters who know Gold Star family members. And here, he`s been caught. We watched the video. And we aired on MSNBC the entire video, and it just says what it says.

And so it seems that if General Kelly were back serving in the military or this were 10 years ago and he watched a politician act this way, he probably would hold them in some consternation for this. And yet, now, he is becoming that.

O`BRIEN: Well, I think it`s emblematic. Beyond just the disaster of this week is this complete lack of adult discipline in this White House, even when you insert someone like Kelly in there.

Why didn`t they get their ducks lined up on making sure they had it right about all of the events in Florida? About all of the communications with the family? And then at least get on the same page with each other.

But what`s happening is we`ve got a president who creates these outrageous fires, day in and day out -- whether it`s on race, whether it`s on the tax bill, whether it`s on immigration -- there on huge issues. And then he has to send someone out there to clean up the mess.

MELBER: Right.

O`BRIEN: And they don`t have any process around it, an adult process for managing this, and then they just dig themselves in further. And it sort of sucks everything into it. It`s as if the West Wing right now is just a giant pit of quicksand.

MELBER: James Peterson, I want you to carry us home, if you would. Give us where we go from here if we want to respect our military and also make sure that, as a society, as citizens, journalists and the rest, we maintain the tradition of civilian control and not give in, not an inch, not a foot, not a mile, because how it starts doesn`t tell you how it ends.

And we don`t give in at all to what we`re being told by the government tonight, which is, more or less, generals are different and better than other people and won`t be questioned. Which is certainly not the oath that they take.

PETERSON: I mean, first, I would say that for this administration, it`s kind of open season on Black women. Those are the most vulnerable targets for them. And I think for their followers, those are the most successful targets for them.

And so I think we should just look at who they have attacked and how they have attacked folks and what they`ve talked about, and understand that piece.

But the narrative around the Trump administration, Ari, has been that these generals are going to balance them out. They`re going to serve as this moral core. They`re going to protect this nation.

MELBER: Right.

PETERSON: They`re going to keep everything intact. The fact that Chief of Staff Kelly made a political intervention that was not accurate based upon the facts of the situation suggests to us that, basically, that narrative is null and void.

These generals in this administration have succumb to Trumpism. And the only way out of it is for us to be vigilant and understand our rights as American citizens.

MELBER: James Peterson, thank you very much. Other guests, please stick around. I have more for you.

Coming up, the White House is not the only place Republicans are having some factual problems. Mistruths on the Republican tax plan. We have an expert to break it down.

And later, my analysis on this news that Donald Trump is personally interviewing potential prosecutors but only in certain places like one with jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Those nominations could make for important confirmation hearings. My breakdown on that later tonight.


MELBER: Today, Donald Trump told Fox Business how he`s helping his legislative agenda.


MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS NEWS HOST: I think there`s a personal thing going on between you and Senator McCain. Do you worry that this bickering and feuding gets in the way of your agenda?

TRUMP: No. And sometimes it helps, to be honest with you, so we`ll see what happens in the end. But I think, actually, sometimes it helps. Sometimes it gets people to do what they`re supposed to be doing. And, you know, that`s the way it is.


MELBER: President Trump and Republicans hoping to pass tax cuts before the end of the year. Thirty-four percent of Americans are favoring what they know to be the current Trump plan.

Today, Speaker Ryan said the President and Republicans are changing part of it.


CHARLIE ROSE, CBS THIS MORNING HOST: How are you going to make that case that this is not a tax cut for the wealthy?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Well, that`s why we`re introducing the fourth bracket so that high-income earners do not see a big rate cut and that those resources go to the middle class.

The President is the one who has been very insistent that we reintroduce what we call the fourth bracket. Meaning, we don`t lower taxes for high- income individuals.


MELBER: Now, obviously, there has been much talk all year about how the Republicans are going to do taxes after the failure of healthcare and some other legislative proposals. It`s what they hope to bring home so, of course, they`ve worked this all out and have a coordinated message. J.K. Here`s the President.


TRUMP: Paul mentions maybe one more category, which I`d rather not have. It may not happen. But the only reason I would have, and he does say this -- he`s very plain on what he said -- is if, for any reason, I feel the middle class is not being properly taken care of.


MELBER: I`m joined now by Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and chief economist to Vice President Biden and an analyst for us at MSNBC.

I don`t have a question for you. Just tell us what we need to know.

JARED BERNSTEIN, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: Well, first of all, I think the fourth bracket sounds like an interesting science fiction movie for tax wonks. So let`s just get that on the table.

Secondly, when he says, I`m going to make sure I take it to the middle class, boy, they really do take it to the middle class but not the way the middle class wants to see it.

Even if they were to add a higher bracket, that`s not where the real action is on this tax cut. And kudos to you for calling it a tax cut versus tax reform because it`s all about the cut.

The vast majority of high-income beneficiaries from this tax cut come through the business side of the tax code, so there`s a large cut in the corporate tax rate. Foreign earnings get zeroed out in this tax code. So that`s been under reported.

MELBER: So if you don`t --

BERNSTEIN: There`s a big, new loophole --

MELBER: If you don`t own -- if you`re watching at home and you don`t own a company --


MELBER: -- all those corporate tax cuts, those don`t help you?

BERNSTEIN: Go buy a company because that`s where the money is. There`s --

MELBER: Just a small -- find a small, you know, lemonade stand. Something that you really own yourself. Let me show you --

BERNSTEIN: Yes. And that will limit --

MELBER: Let`s show you deficit numbers, Jared. We heard so much about the deficit from the tea party.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, right.

MELBER: Here`s "The New York Times" analysis. This tax measure from Trump could add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade.

BERNSTEIN: Yes. I think that`s probably lowballing it. And by the way, now that Republicans, in their budget, have signed off on this in the Senate, it`s moving over to the House where they`re probably going to sign off on it, too.

So, you know, these folks have made reputations for themselves as fiscal hawks. They`re fiscal chicken hawks when it comes to tax cuts. They simply don`t care about the debt and the deficit, unless they can use that to badger Obama and other Democrats.

MELBER: And let me show you Steve Mnuchin who says if the markets are up right now, that`s because of future successes they haven`t achieved yet. Take a listen.


STEVE MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: There`s no question that the rally in the stock market has based into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done.

To the extent we get the tax deal done, the stock market will go up higher. But there`s no question in my mind, if we don`t get it done, you`re going to see a reversal of a significant amount to these gains.


MELBER: Is that a true, a maybe, or a false?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I`d say, in a sense, it`s a maybe because the stock market, when it goes up, it`s essentially reflecting future expectations about corporate earnings.

And what`s fascinating to me about all this is it really belies this claim that White House economists have made that all these benefits are going to flow to the middle class.

Now, 80 percent of the stock market wealth is held by the richest 10 percent of shareholders. So if they`re the ones who are going to get rich off of this tax cut, how is it going to trickle down to the middle class? Of course, the answer is that it`s not.

By the way, Mnuchin keeps making what is really a rookie error here. He keeps making the stock market a report card for the administration.

Now, that`s fine when the stock market is on a tear like it`s been, but what goes up will go down. And I appreciate having a chance to come back and we can talk about the excuses that they`re going to be cooking up when that occurs.

MELBER: Let`s do it. I know Lawrence and THE LAST WORD loves you here at 10:00, and I love you at 6:00 on "THE BEAT." So we`ll get you somewhere soon. This story is not going away.


MELBER: Thanks for the fact checking, Jared Bernstein.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Coming up, my take on the news that Donald Trump has been personally interviewing potential prosecutors. That`s next.


MELBER: Politico reports that President Trump personally interviewed two candidates for U.S. Attorney, to be federal prosecutors.

A president interviewing these candidates is totally unusual. In fact, no former Justice Department officials can recall another recent president interviewing these kind of nominees. There are about 90 across the country.

To be clear, it is not illegal. But it does go up against a tradition of keeping the President away from these prosecutors for independence.

And there`s something else that caught people`s attention. Of the 93 U.S. attorney positions that Trump administration has to fill, right now, according to these public reports, it`s only in three places where Donald Trump has decided to get so personally involved that he wanted to meet candidates face to face.

The Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, and the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. All three positions obviously intersect with potential cases that could involve Donald Trump or the Trump Organization and the Special Counsel`s investigation of collusion.

A U.S. official tells NBC News, Trump has also spoken to Senator Rubio about the nominees for one other place. A particular part of Florida. It`s southern district, which has jurisdiction over Mar-a-Lago.

Now, on Monday, President Trump said filling other kinds of positions, including judicial positions is the untold story of his entire administration.


TRUMP: Something that people aren`t talking about is how many judges we`ve had approved, whether it be the Court of Appeals, circuit judges, whether it be district judges.

So Mitch and I were saying that has consequences 40 years out. Depending on the age of the judge, but 40 years out.

So numerous have been approved. Many, many are in the pipeline. The level of quality is extraordinary.


MELBER: Now, extraordinary, generally, is just a matter of opinion. The qualifications for these types of posts are also assessed by the nonpartisan American Bar Association.

It determined that Charles Goodwin, one of Trump`s federal judge nominees from Oklahoma, is, quote, not qualified. And we can tell you that`s actually the first time a judicial nominee has gotten that label in over a decade.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Republican, said he had a, quote, big problem with Jeff Mateer -- that`s another of these judicial nominees from the White House -- after it emerged that, in a speech, the nominee, quote, referred to transgendered children as proof of Satan`s plan and implied that the Supreme Court decision supporting marriage equality is, quote, disgusting and could lead to polygamy or bestiality.

Two former Obama officials who know the judicial process inside and out are going to join me next to discuss all of this. Stay with us.


MELBER: Senator Richard Blumenthal was a U.S. attorney for four years in Connecticut, a federal prosecutor, before becoming the Attorney General of that state for two decades.

Now, he was the one who pushed our current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, about something I was just mentioning, President Trump`s unusual interviews with federal prosecutor candidates.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Do you know of any president anywhere in our history previously interviewing a candidate for United States attorney?

I certainly wasn`t interviewed by the President. You weren`t interviewed by the President before we were appointed United States attorney.

Has it ever happened before? How many other attorneys general candidates has the President interviewed besides New York?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not aware. I`m not sure I remember whether he had interviewed for New York, but if you say so, I assume so. And he has the right to but -- for sure, because he has to make an appointment, and I assume that everybody would understand that.


MELBER: Joining me now is Matt Miller who worked for Attorney General Eric Holder -- and he`s also an MSNBC analyst -- and Christopher Kang who was Deputy Counsel to President Obama and oversaw judicial nominations for four years.

Matt, there`s a slight of hand that I think viewers will be quite familiar with when Attorney General Sessions went, well, he has the right. You could say something really terribly offensive and have the right to say it because that`s the country we live in.

But it is very striking, number one, that these interviews are taking place when they never have before. And number two, as you have been pointing out, where they`re taking place, Matt.

MATT MILLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Yes, that`s exactly right. So one thing that the Attorney General said, you know, the President obviously does have the right to interview these people. They`re presidential appointees.

But the important point is he`s not interviewing all 93 U.S. attorneys that he`s nominating. He`s nominee -- he is interviewing only the ones in districts where he has potential exposure, either people where he`s lived and operated businesses.

Or in the case of D.C., the U.S. attorney who would oversee any criminal cases, not just into the White House but into any cabinet members. If there is any scandals that erupt in the cabinet that require criminal investigations, those would likely be launched out of the D.C. U.S. attorney`s office.

So it`s very unusual. It never happened in the Obama administration. The President didn`t interview one U.S. attorney candidate in eight years. And I think it -- you know, the fact that the President is doing it in just these three, you know, really calls into question his motivation in doing so.

MELBER: And then on top of that, Christopher Kang, you have how we`re learning about it. You know, there are plenty of nominees where we know, in the press, we get the leaks.

When he was interviewing FBI candidates, they made a point of showing some of who they were. They are even public meetings we saw during the transition.

They`re not announcing this, Christopher. It`s only coming out, like so many stories lately, through a lot of shoe leather reporting.

CHRISTOPHER KANG, FORMER DEPUTY COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right, and you have to wonder if the reason why it`s coming out is people are troubled with it. This president has a very different understanding about the rule of law than we expect from our presidents.

And I think that, if given an even playing field, there`s a good chance that what his actions are would be found either illegal or unconstitutional. And so he`s trying to put his thumb on the scale, whether it`s influencing independent prosecutors or stacking the courts.

MELBER: And then you have Preet Bharara who was the federal prosecutor in New York with the jurisdiction over Trump Tower. He was summoned by President Trump to Trump Tower.

And then we know, both from leaked e-mails that came out through FOIA and later, his statements, that the outreach he got from Donald Trump was so repetitive and concerning that he consulted the rules that you`re old boss had put a memo on about whether you can even return the President`s phone call.

Take a listen to Preet Bharara here speaking about all of this.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: There needs to be some arm`s length distance between the president, the political people in the White House, and the effective, fair, and independent administration of justice in the field which is done by United States attorneys all over the country.

Now, it`s perfectly lawful for the President to interview people that he appoints. But there`s lots of things that are lawful but are yet stupid.



MILLER: You know, Preet`s exactly right. Look, there`s a pattern here. The President was trying to cultivate a relationship with Preet Bharara.

First, through the interview and then through two phone calls before he took office. And then the one phone call actually after the President was in office that Preet didn`t return because it would have been a violation of Justice Department rules.

So I think we`re going to have to ask the question, is it just the interviews, or is the President going to try to continue an ongoing relationship with these U.S. attorneys the way he tried to do with Preet Bharara and that Preet ultimately objected to and reported to the Attorney General?

That is -- that would be a troubling thing for the President to do. And ultimately, it`s up to Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein to police that and tell the U.S. attorneys they cannot return phone calls like that from the President. And ultimately tell the President, cut it out, keep your hands off the Justice Department.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, Christopher, should Jeff Sessions basically re-up the memo? We`ve seen that happen on DEA.

When the President made these bizarre and offensive statements that maybe you should rough up suspects, the DEA chief sent out guidance saying don`t do that. I mean, is that where this needs to go, Christopher?

KANG: I think he needs to do more than just re-up the memo at this point. I think that the fact that he is not even aware that the President is interviewing potential candidates for these U.S. attorney positions should be troubling to him.

It should be troubling to the entire Department of Justice. And he should reach out to the White House Counsel right away and say this has to stop because this is inappropriate.

MELBER: Christopher Kang and Matt Miller, thank you both. Two people who know the process well.

Coming up, the week that was in the Trump White House.



KELLY: I am not so frustrated in this job this job that I`m thinking of leaving.

This is, in my view, the most important job I ever had. I would offer, though, it is not the best job I ever had.


MELBER: That was just a week ago, not the best job he`s ever had. And still this week, Donald Trump trying to manage some other issues on the agenda. Remember healthcare?


TRUMP: Lamar Alexander`s working on it very hard from our side. And if something can happen, that`s fine, but I won`t do anything to enrich the insurance companies.


MELBER: And the President and General Kelly`s feuds are distracting from what they said was their last best hope for a single legislative victory this week -- I mean, this year -- excuse me, week in review. Taxes.


TRUMP: Our tax plan will insure that companies stay in America. We will lift our people from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to total beautiful prosperity.


MELBER: Total beautiful prosperity. Rolls off the tongue, sounds wonderful. Stay with me. We`re going to fit in a break, and Christina Greer and Tim O`Brien will weigh in. That`s next.


MELBER: We are back. Tim O`Brien, Christina Greer, as promised.

As we say, Christina, it`s been a week. It`s been a real week. And --

GREER: It`s been a real nine months.


MELBER: And I`m just going to make a very basic political point. We talked about ethics. We talked about truth tonight. We talked about civilian and military relations.

On the politics, this is a nightmare for Donald Trump trying to build the bridges and the capital to do the thing they said was left, which is we`ll get taxes, and people won`t notice a lot of the other failures.

I don`t think -- I`m asking you a question but I`ll give you my view first. I don`t think this week was a net gain on the march to a coalition for tax reform. What do you think?

GREER: So this is man who just gave himself a 10 out of a 10 in Puerto Rico when we still have over -- what? Almost 3 million people without running water or electricity. This is a man who consistently speaks in superlatives about himself and what he`s doing, and his legislative record is pretty abysmal.

He has unified government, which means he has Republican control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency, and we have not seen repeal and replace of ObamaCare. We have not seen any huge legislative victories. The biggest victory he`s had is Gorsuch.

Now, tax reform, I don`t see it being a success because this president doesn`t actually know how to build coalitions. He`s got a lot of factions. He`s actually -- he`s a businessman, and he says he knows how to negotiate.

He knows how to bully. And the tax reform and all the micro communities that exist in this country are way too important for certain senators and members of the House to just sort of roll over.

And so this president doesn`t know how to get things done because he doesn`t know anything about D.C.

MELBER: Right.

GREER: He hasn`t read the constitution. And he`s not a public servant, and he doesn`t understand that he works for the American people and putting their best interests first.

MELBER: Now, Tim, I`m going to play some of the same day attacks from two former presidents, which was really remarkable. We have never seen anything like that. I don`t know if you know, in the rules of the former presidency, there`s what is sometimes known as the three-six mafia rule -- keep my name out your mouth.

O`BRIEN: Right.

MELBER: So they don`t really criticize the current president by name, but I`m pretty sure they were talking about Donald Trump. Take a listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People of every race, religion, ethnicity, can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or White supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we can`t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before. That dates back centuries. Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed.


MELBER: The politics we see now, we thought we put to bed. Blasphemy against the American creed, referring to racial division from President Bush. Were they talking about President Trump?

O`BRIEN: Of course, they were talking about Trump. The White House will say they weren`t talking about Trump.

What they also -- the White House may not recognize is what a breath of fresh air it is to have two rational former presidents standing in front of a group and talking about values, which we have not gotten out of this president.

The other thing I think that`s interesting about it is it`s only a former member of the GOP who is willing to really go after Trump on some of these issues, or members of the GOP on their way out. Corker and McCain.

The GOP itself, the heart and soul of the party, has yet to demonstrate the same --

MELBER: Absolutely.

O`BRIEN: -- kind of political courage about what is contemporary conservatism, what do they stand up for, what does Trump represent vis-a- vis all of that. It`s been left to former President Bush who, by the way, left office without a halo around his head. He was very unpopular --

MELBER: Yes, he was. He was --

O`BRIEN: -- obviously, because of the Iraq war. And --

MELBER: Son, he was missing more than a halo.


MELBER: But, Christina, it is not an endorsement of everything George Bush did as president, right? He got a lot of things wrong.

GREER: Mm-hmm, oh, dear.

MELBER: But there was a thing he got right. When it was hard. Because after 9/11, it was a tough time --

GREER: He gave a speech that said we will not denigrate Muslims. And when his brother was running against Donald Trump, he went to South Carolina, and he said, this is not an American value system where we sit here and we talk about Muslims --

O`BRIEN: He stood up --

GREER: -- we talk about Mexicans. When -- he is from three generations of public servants. Donald Trump is from three generations of grifters and greedy people. I mean, this is -- he`s from charlatans. Like, he is not from public service.

George Bush, when the rubber hits the root, his father --

O`BRIEN: His brother.

GREER: -- his brother, his grandfather have served this country in multiple ways, and he knows better and he does better.

MELBER: As we often say in newsrooms, preach, but also we`re out of time.


MELBER: Christina Greer, Tim O`Brien, thank you both.

O`BRIEN: Thanks.

MELBER: That is tonight`s last word. Lawrence is back Monday. You can always find me 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "THE BEAT."

On Monday, I`ll be joined by Howard Dean, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, as well as Motley Crue guitarist, Nikki Sixx. Six p.m. Eastern.

Brian Williams is next.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.