Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: December 1, 2017 Guest: David Frum, Barbara McQuade, Max Boot, Betsy Woodruff, Jonathan Capehart, Norman Ornstein
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: -- he had been leading the grand jury inquiry in the Eastern District of Virginia into Michael Flynn.
When Mueller took over all matters involving Flynn in May, Brandon Van Grack was the only prosecutor from that investigation who Mueller kept on. He dismissed everybody else, kept the spy guy.
So you`ve got famed terrorism prosecutor, famed espionage prosecutor working with Mueller for months now. We haven`t known where or when they would turn up.
Lookie-loo! The statement of offense against Mike Flynn, signed Brandon L. Van Grack and Zainab Ahmed.
You want to read some tealeaves? One good place to start might be those two names and their respective prosecutor superpowers. Stick a pin in what seems like it may be a prescient pearl of wisdom from that "New Yorker" profile of Zainab Ahmed.
When it comes to winning cases, quote, cooperators are the unsung heroes. They always know more than they think they know.
Tell me more. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow, and now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell.
Good evening, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. And so here we are, once again, at the what did the President know and when did he know it moment.
There is that scene at Mar-a-Lago that`s in this information of Michael Flynn getting the word from, apparently, Jared Kushner at Mar-a-Lago to go ahead and as a private citizen, negotiate on behalf of the United States with foreign countries.
And where was President-elect Donald Trump when that conversation was going on? Did he hear Jared Kushner say that? Did he tell Jared Kushner to say that?
MADDOW: Well, we`ve got -- and we`ve got these two different points that are raised in the statement of the offense and in the plea deal.
We`ve got that discussion that you`re talking about there, which is, reportedly, Jared Kushner advising Flynn to have those conversations about that U.N. resolution.
Then we`ve also got Flynn talking to -- Mar-a-Lago, talking to somebody from the presidential transition team about his conversations with the Russian ambassador over sanctions. And NBC News is reporting the person he was talking to on that matter was K.T. McFarland.
And the reason that ends up, I think, being really important is because while it is conceivable that Mike Flynn might have thought he had to answer to Jared Kushner on the U.N. resolution thing, there is no chance on earth that he ever thought he had to answer to Fox News personality K.T. McFarland, who had hired to be his -- was hired to be his deputy.
So when he was speaking to K.T. McFarland, it wasn`t to get instruction from her. She was obviously conveying word to Flynn from somebody else. And the person who NBC News reports that she was staffing at Mar-a-Lago when those conversations were happening was the President himself.
So Flynn has a lot to say, and I have a feeling the prosecutors know almost all of it already.
O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean, they wouldn`t have gone through with their deal today if they didn`t have it all. They, first of all, get a very clear outline of it in the proffer from his lawyers, as we know.
And then before they get to this stage today, they have to sit with him. They have to get it all down. And Michael Flynn risks committing another crime if he lies to them when he`s telling them what he`s willing to testify to.
MADDOW: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: And so this is the scariest night yet in that White House.
MADDOW: Well, yeah. And, you know, the agreement -- we had Paul Fishman here who was the U.S. attorney from this New Jersey -- from the Bridgegate`s --
O`DONNELL: Yes, I listened. Yes.
MADDOW: -- from the Bridgegate case, right? Talking to him about that negotiation, he said what really stood out for him in the court filings today was how there was basically no room to breathe for Mike Flynn in these filings.
What he has agreed to cooperate for and about is limitless, and the only thing that he`s given a break on, in terms of knowing what his fate is, is on a very tiny slice of what they might conceivably charge him for.
And so he has got to cooperate with them on everything, up to, like, taking a polygraph if they want him to, engaging in covert operations on behalf of the prosecutors if they want him to. He has to do everything, cooperate with them on everything, and the only thing they`re promising him a break on is lying to the FBI.
They haven`t charged him with anything else, which means that they could dump all of that on him, anything they`ve got, without restriction, depending on whether or not he gives them what they want.
O`DONNELL: And not just him. His son. His son is sitting there, liable for possible criminal charges if Michael Flynn doesn`t deliver exactly what he has promised to deliver.
MADDOW: Yes. I mean, it`s -- this is remarkable human drama for all the people involved here.
We -- I think, as a country, it`s important right now to watch for how the President weighs his pardon power and whether or not he does try to individually and -- try to not just push, pressure, other people but individually, personally try to end this thing by going after Mueller.
And if he does either of those things, this is -- becomes a very different situation for the country.
O`DONNELL: Well, it`s a little too late. You`ve got someone who`s already charged with that crime and that case is already filed. I think the President is learning tonight, if he hadn`t learned already, just how limited those powers are when it applies to this case and the stage that it`s at now.
Rachel, thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thanks for sticking with us a few more minutes tonight.
MADDOW: Sure. Appreciate it.
O`DONNELL: I really appreciate it.
Well, we do have a lot to cover tonight. David Frum will join us. Former federal prosecutor, Barbara McQuade, Betsy Woodruff, Jonathan Capehart, Max Boot, and NBC`s Ken Dilanian will also join us. All on the Flynn guilty plea and the Mueller investigation and the turn it has taken today.
And also, Norm Ornstein will join us later to discuss exactly what`s happening with the Republican tax cut bill on the Senate floor tonight. And if it passes the Senate tonight, what will have to happen to pass it again through the House and the Senate in identical form because, right now, those two bills are very different.
But that`s what it`s going to take, one -- at least one more big round for it to get to the President`s desk for him to sign it.
But first, it is too late. Sometime today, an enraged and very likely panicked President of the United States, no doubt, had to be told that it is too late to use his ultimate power. The only seemingly absolute power granted to the President of the United States in the constitution, the power to pardon.
In practical terms, the presidential power to pardon is not the superpower that it might appear to be. A close reading of the constitution shows that there is an exception to the pardon power written right into the constitution.
He shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.
And so no, the President cannot pardon himself to avoid impeachment.
The President cannot pardon the Vice President to avoid impeachment of the Vice President if, for example, Michael Flynn were to offer testimony to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, now that he`s cooperating with the Special Prosecutor, that would implicate Donald Trump or Mike Pence in crimes.
But today, President Trump, no doubt, had to be schooled in the utter uselessness of his power to pardon Michael Flynn.
Before Michael Flynn was allowed to plead guilty to the felony of lying to the FBI today in exchange for either a light sentence or possibly no sentence at all, Michael Flynn had to tell Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller everything that Michael Flynn knows.
That began with Michael Flynn`s lawyers making what they call a proffer. That`s the legal term for what they tell the Special Prosecutor about what Michael Flynn, their client, could tell them if the Special Prosecutor offers Michael Flynn an acceptable plea deal.
So before Robert Mueller and his team heard a word out of the mouth of Michael Flynn, they had already heard from Michael Flynn`s lawyers, at a minimum, a very convincing outline of what Michael Flynn had to say. Something very helpful to the prosecutors.
And then when they questioned Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn knew that lying to them during that questioning would just be another crime that he could be charged with.
And so Robert Mueller took in everything Michael Flynn had to say about Donald Trump, about Donald Trump, Jr., about Jared Kushner, about Jared Kushner`s wife -- Ivanka Trump, the President`s daughter -- about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about Paul Manafort, and everyone else working in the Trump White House, the Trump transition, or the Trump campaign, who is of interest to the Special Prosecutor.
And only after Michael Flynn answered every one of those questions honestly, to the satisfaction of those prosecutors, was Michael Flynn offered a deal. The deal that was announced today in federal court where Michael Flynn showed up to plead guilty after walking through a gauntlet of spectators on the sidewalk shouting lock him up, in echo of Michael Flynn having said this about Hillary Clinton at the Republican Convention last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Lock her up. Lock her up.
CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
FLYNN: You guys are good.
CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!
FLYNN: And damn right.
CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!
FLYNN: You`re exactly right. There`s nothing wrong with that.
CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
FLYNN: And you know why? And you know why? You know why we`re saying that?
We`re saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: A guy who knows this business. It is too late to pardon Michael Flynn because he has already told the Special Prosecutor everything he knows. And for President Trump, the whole point of pardoning Michael Flynn would be to save him from having to tell the Special Prosecutor everything he knows.
But even that would not have worked. The FBI has known pretty much all year that Michael Flynn committed the crimes that he admitted to today.
If Donald Trump had pardoned Michael Flynn on the day that he fired him in February, that would have done Donald Trump absolutely no good. That simply would have meant Michael Flynn would have been forced to tell his story to the Special Prosecutor even sooner.
If the President pardoned Michael Flynn on the day he fired him, he would have saved Michael Flynn from being indicted and pleading guilty today. But a person cannot -- but a pardon cannot save you from having to testify under oath after being subpoenaed to Robert Mueller`s grand jury.
And so if Michael Flynn had been pardoned when he was -- and then sworn in as a witness for Robert Mueller`s grand jury, he would have no Fifth Amendment rights because, then, Michael Flynn would not be able to incriminate himself with his own testimony because he had already been pardoned.
And so the practical problem with issuing a pardon to Michael Flynn earlier in the year was that, that simply would have freed Michael Flynn up to immediately become an under oath witness for the Special Prosecutor, knowing that the Special Prosecutor could still indict Michael Flynn for any perjury he might commit while testifying to the grand jury.
And so today was probably the day when Donald Trump was finally told by his lawyers that he cannot pardon his way out of this investigation. And it seems very clear that the Trump lawyers do not try to give Donald Trump any of the bad news before they absolutely have to.
It even seems that Donald Trump`s lawyers try to communicate with him, and only with him, in the press releases that they issue about this investigation because only Donald Trump could believe a word of those press releases.
Here is what the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, said today.
Today, Michael Flynn, a former national security advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.
The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel`s work demonstrates, again, that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.
And so that is clearly what Ty Cobb is trying to say to the President today in the Oval Office. Ty Cobb`s just showing us his notes of what he tried to tell the President to calm him down today.
Only Donald Trump -- yes, and maybe Donald Trump, Jr. and, oh, sure, Eric Trump -- and other people who have spent too much time in the bubble of Trump Tower could believe anything in Ty Cobb`s statement today.
And you know that referring to Michael Flynn as a former Obama official was President Trump`s idea. That was his personal input into that statement.
Michael Flynn is the lynchpin in a case of obstruction of justice against Donald Trump. Michael Flynn may have already told the Special Prosecutor that Donald Trump knew that Michael Flynn was illegally negotiating on behalf of the United States with foreign countries while still a private citizen working on the Trump transition team.
Michael Flynn may have told the Special Prosecutor already that Donald Trump ordered him to do that, directly or indirectly.
We do know that the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates made emergency trips to the White House in January 26th and 27th to tell the White House Counsel, Don McGahn, that Michael Flynn was in big trouble with the FBI.
She discussed the possibility of Michael Flynn being prosecuted for what she was reporting to the White House. She was in the White House discussing the possibility of Michael Flynn being prosecuted for what he had already done, and Donald Trump chose to do absolutely nothing about that. Nothing at all.
And then "The Washington Post," days later, revealed Michael -- that Michael Flynn and the White House had been publicly lying by insisting that Michael Flynn had no contacts with foreign governments other than to exchange pleasantries.
And only after "The Washington Post" exposed that, only then, did President Trump fire Michael Flynn, allowed Michael Flynn to call it a resignation, eighteen days after the White House was told by Sally Yates that Michael Flynn had been caught up in an FBI criminal investigation.
Eighteen days. What were they going to do? What was President Trump going to do if "The Washington Post" did not report that?
The day after President Trump fired Michael Flynn, knowing Michael Flynn was under FBI investigation, Donald Trump asked the director of the FBI, James Comey, to let the investigation go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: This is the President speaking -- I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.
Now, those are his exact words. Is that correct?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Correct. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is the President of the United States with me, alone, saying, I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. Now, I didn`t -- I didn`t obey that but that`s the way I took it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That is the clear outline of the obstruction of justice case against Donald Trump. And now, there is one more fact that we know about Michael Flynn.
That when Donald Trump was intervening on his behalf with the director of the FBI, Michael Flynn was guilty of committing federal crimes. He admitted that today.
And so the Donald Trump, the President of the United States, was trying to stop an FBI investigation, an investigation into someone who worked for him, someone who was guilty.
And when that FBI -- and when that FBI investigation did not stop, the President then fired the Director of the FBI. And when he talked about his reasons for firing the Director of the FBI, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I did is I was going to fire Comey, my decision. It was not --
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You had made the decision before they came in front of you?
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. I -- there is no good time to do it, by the way. They --
HOLT: Because in your letter, you said, I accepted --
TRUMP: They were --
HOLT: -- I accepted their recommendations.
TRUMP: Yes. Well, they also --
HOLT: So you had already made the decision?
TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. They --
HOLT: So there was recommendation (ph).
TRUMP: He made a recommendation.
He`s highly respected. Very good guy. Very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him.
He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And the President said in that interview that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired James Comey.
The Special Prosecutor`s investigation has now landed just one person away from Donald Trump. Michael Flynn is that person, one person away from Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has to be more worried tonight about the Mueller investigation than anything he has ever worried about in his entire life. Because Donald Trump doesn`t understand the law himself, he may be wondering tonight if he said anything to Michael Flynn that constitutes a crime.
Donald Trump might be wondering tonight if he ordered Michael Flynn to do anything that is a crime. And Donald Trump is definitely wondering tonight exactly what Michael Flynn has already told Robert Mueller.
Jeff Sessions is wondering tonight what Michael Flynn has already told Robert Mueller about Jeff Sessions. Donald Trump, Jr. has the same worry.
Jared Kushner has already been exposed today as the person who might have the most to worry about in Michael Flynn`s testimony because NBC News has confirmed that the unnamed senior transition official who was referred to in documents filed in federal court today is Jared Kushner.
It was Jared Kushner who told Michael Flynn to break the law and negotiate on behalf of the United States with foreign countries while Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner were both private citizens working on the Trump transition.
So it is already publicly clear that Michael Flynn has given up Jared Kushner in his plea deal with the Special Prosecutor. And so tonight, Jared Kushner and his lawyer should be wondering, what does Jared have to give up to the Special Prosecutor get him out of trouble?
If Jared Kushner needs a stay out of jail card, whose name is on that card? Who can Jared Kushner give up to the Special Prosecutor? We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!
STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It`s impossible to overstate what a big deal this is.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA: No one just lies. What is the lie covering up?
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: My hope is that General Flynn will tell everything he knows.
FLYNN: If I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.
CROWD: Lock her up!
FLYNN: Yes, that`s right. Lock her up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, David Frum, senior editor for "The Atlantic"; Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News; and Barbara McQuade, professor of law at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor. She`s also an NBC News and MSNBC legal contributor.
And, Ken, I want to go first to you about the information you have developed today about Jared Kushner`s role in the legal filings that we -- that the Special Prosecutor filed today.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That`s right, Lawrence.
Well, NBC News is reporting that Jared Kushner was the very senior transition official who tasked Mike Flynn with going to the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, about this United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories that the Obama administration was going to let pass by abstaining.
Now, and it ultimately did pass. The Israelis hated this resolution. The Trump team is very public in opposing it.
But what Mike Flynn was doing was trying to get the Russians to help them derail it. And that is part of a series of pieces of evidence here that the Trump team was essentially negotiating before it took office with the Russians on foreign policy.
And what that looks like, according to one person I talked to today, is a conspiracy to violate the Logan Act, the 1799 law that says you`re not supposed to do that. Now, that law has never been prosecuted, and none of these documents today mentioned it. There`s been no charges filed in that case, but it`s an interesting idea.
And we certainly know that, as a matter of tradition, we have one administration at a time in this country. And it`s not considered proper for the incoming administration to be negotiating and undercutting the current administration, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, as we close out this day of coverage on this, I just want to get your reaction to everything that has unfolded today in whatever order you`d like to give it.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, in your opening monologue, Lawrence, you very powerfully described the walls closing in on the President. But there is one other piece of the wall that is closing in today, and that`s on this -- a different track but the same timeline, and that is the Senate tax bill.
Now, probably, a lot of people watching your show are not enthusiastic about that tax bill, but the thing to keep in mind is that bill is the devil`s bargain that Senate and House Republicans have struck with Donald Trump.
Once they have his signature on that bill, should it pass, they don`t need him quite as much as they do. They have been his protective field until now. They have their business. That`s another piece of closing in wall that he has to contend with.
O`DONNELL: Barbara McQuade, I want to go to the question that has been vexing me all day, which is, why? Why would Michael Flynn lie to an FBI agent?
He had to know that lying to the FBI is a crime. He seems to also be aware that the conduct he was being asked about, if admitted to, constitutes a crime.
So do you -- can you -- do you imagine he was sitting there, staring at these FBI agents asking him these questions, realizing that if he admits to this, he`s admitting to violations of the Logan Act?
If he doesn`t admit to it, he`s taking his chances on getting away with the violation of the Logan Act and getting away with lying to an FBI agent, which just seems, I don`t know, inconceivable to me.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN: Yes, it`s difficult to know. You know, one thing that is important to understand is that when FBI agents are interviewing somebody as part of an investigation, it is part of the protocol to tell the person that it is a crime to lie to the FBI.
Part of that is just sort of fair notice to the witness, but the other part of it is, it`s an element of the crime that they`ll have to prove later that the person knew it was against the law to lie to them.
So the very first thing that they do, they show them their badges, make sure that everybody knows that this is for real, this is serious, and it`s a crime to lie to the FBI.
So with that, you know, this is not a passing moment of lapse of judgment. You have to think very carefully about whether you want to tell the truth in this situation.
And so to decide to lie, it is -- it`s hard to know exactly what was going on in his mind but a number of possibilities. One is that I knew I was violating the Logan Act.
I`m not sure he did. As you said, it`s a fairly obscure law that has never been prosecuted. So maybe he did. Maybe he didn`t know that there was a crime on the books.
I have to think that most people understand that you can`t undermine the foreign policy of the United States and that he was protecting not only himself but others who are higher in the administration and that the stakes were high.
O`DONNELL: And, Barbara, when you say the FBI agents announced that it is a crime to lie to them, in your experience, does that become -- does that function as actually an incentive for more people to tell the truth, some who might have been thinking about maybe shading things a little bit?
MCQUADE: Well, you hope it causes them to make a very sober assessment of what they are about to do.
You can`t blow smoke. You can`t exaggerate. This is serious business. The time is now. We`re going to ask you some questions, and we need you to answer them truthfully. And it`s a crime if you lie to us.
You would hope that that sends a message to most people that you need to take this seriously and answer these questions truthfully. And if you don`t, there could be very serious consequences.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, you`ve worked in government. I`m not sure anyone in government, from the interns up, have to be told that the worst possible thing that can happen to you is to discover that the FBI has some things that they`d like to ask you about that you have been doing.
That, just the knowledge that they want to talk to you, should be enough to straighten you into what you need to do, which is tell them the truth.
FRUM: Well, also, all the other things you might be in trouble for are actually easier to defend. I mean, you may remember -- and that was a decade ago -- the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame story.
Remember that Karl Rove, who also gave up Valerie Plame`s name, was never prosecuted because when the FBI or the -- sorry, the Special Prosecutor asked him, he havered a little bit, but in the end, he told the truth.
And the truth was, it turned out, that the actual underlying act was not illegal but lying -- the people who lied to the FBI got in trouble.
I mean, if all that Michael Flynn had done was violate the Logan Act, and he said to the FBI, you know, looking back on it, I probably violated the Logan Act and I don`t feel a bit sorry about it, nothing would have happened. No one`s ever prosecuted for violating the Logan Act.
And that makes me think it has to be more than that because, for the Logan Act, why would you lie?
O`DONNELL: Yes. Ken Dilanian, what does this tell us about where we are in the investigation?
There have been those utterly silly comments out of the -- Ty Cobb at the White House saying that, you know, it looks like it`s wrapping up soon. Those are comments that he must be trying to convince Donald Trump of because no one else can believe that.
DILANIAN: Yes, it wasn`t a good day for Mike Flynn. It also wasn`t a good day for Ty Cobb and for that position that he`s been espousing for weeks, Lawrence. Clearly, there is a long way to go.
But I`ll say this, you know, these court documents today did not really speak to the central issue of this Mueller investigation, which is, did the Trump campaign collude with the Russian effort to intervene in the election? Was there coordination over those leaked e-mails and WikiLeaks?
But you know who would know whether that happened if, in fact, it happened? Mike Flynn would know because he was in every significant meeting during the Trump campaign, particularly around national security. And he was in every important meeting in the first three weeks of the Trump administration.
So you can bet that, you know, Robert Mueller is expecting to hear everything that Mike Flynn may or may not know about the campaign`s contacts with the Russians.
And don`t forget there was that "Wall Street Journal" story that Robert Mueller is investigating whether Mike Flynn was part of an effort to try to find the missing Hillary Clinton e-mails during the campaign.
So I think there is a lot left to learn about what Mike Flynn may know about what happened during this campaign, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Ken Dilanian and Barbara McQuade, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.
DILANIAN: You bet.
MCQUADE: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, a look back at the person who tried to save Donald Trump from this day, President Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with President-elect Trump. It was wide-ranging. We talked about some of the organizational issues in setting up a White House. We talked about foreign policy. We talked about domestic policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And that was the day, that was the meeting, in which President Obama warned Donald Trump not to hire Michael Flynn for any job in the Trump administration.
Joining us now, Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor.
And also with us, Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former foreign policy advisor for McCain, Romney, and Rubio.
And, Max Boot, the President of the United States has to be regretting tonight that he did not take Barack Obama`s advice.
MAX BOOT, JEANE J. KIRKPATRICK SENIOR FELLOW FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: That`s for sure. Although he`s -- we also read that he`s regretting that he didn`t continue pursuing his crackpot allegations that President Obama wasn`t born in --
BOOT: -- in Kenya. So he has a lot of regrets.
O`DONNELL: Yes. That`s for sure.
BOOT: It`s a life of regret.
O`DONNELL: Yes, I know.
BOOT: It`s a life of regret, but, yes, you know. I mean, it was pretty obvious that hiring Mike Flynn -- it wasn`t just President Obama.
I mean, anybody who knew Mike Flynn realized this is not a guy who should be in this position. Especially when you realize that, remember, in December of 2015, he went to Moscow and accepted a payment from the Russian government to sit at a table with Vladimir Putin.
And of course, in the fall of 2016, while he was the chief foreign policy aide for candidate Trump, he was also taking money from the Turkish government. As we know, he was an unregistered foreign agent.
So all this stuff goes -- you know, the trouble with Mike Flynn goes well beyond the fact that he lied to the FBI and that he was knee-deep in complicity with the Russians. I mean, he was doing all sorts of stuff that would have set off alarm bells in any kind of normal campaign, but for Trump, it was kind of business as usual.
And the really disturbing thing, Lawrence, is that perhaps the fact that Flynn appeared to be so corrupt was part of the selling point for Trump. He liked the fact that this guy had this entree with the Kremlin, that he had these dealings.
If you`re taking money from the Kremlin, for somebody like Trump, that would be a recommendation. Whereas for anybody else, it would be, you know, a reason to jettison him instantly.
O`DONNELL: See, I had -- actually had not considered that, Betsy, that Donald Trump could have been hearing the reasons from Barack Obama why he shouldn`t hire Michael Flynn and that sounded to him like reasons to hire him.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. And I can`t speak to the conversations that the current and former presidents have had, but what we can say and what we know without a doubt is that this just highlights the extent to which the Trump presidency has overseen a dramatic and potentially irreversible shift in Republican foreign policy.
Just about any other serious Republican candidate who ran in 2016, all those folks shared one basic view about Russia, which is that this country was a geopolitical threat, that their activity in Ukraine was unlawful, that it threatens stability throughout Eastern Europe, and that, on the whole, Russia and Vladimir Putin were to be viewed with a high degree of skepticism and with an aspect of being very circumspect.
But with the Trump presidency, we have seen a dramatic and marked shift. And the thing that struck me today, just looking at the statement of offense that came out this morning, is the fact that just four days after Trump became president on January 24th, Michael Flynn, then his national security advisor, sat down for an interview with the FBI.
And the lies that he told the FBI, that he now admits to telling FBI agents, were specifically about two efforts that the Trump transition team undertook to influence the Russians.
We focus a lot on Russian efforts to influence American politics, but this is a case where it`s actually a flipped flip, right? It`s the opposite, Americans trying to persuade Russians to take certain actions.
That`s a massive shift in the way the Republican Party operates. And I think it`s a change that Republicans are going to have trouble potentially reversing if they`d like to.
O`DONNELL: I want to listen to what President Trump said about Michael Flynn just three days after Flynn was fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire --
Mike Flynn is a fine person. And I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He didn`t have to do that because what he did wasn`t wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now, Max Boot, we know that Donald Trump knew that what he did was wrong because Sally Yates made those two emergency trips to the White House to tell the White House exactly what Michael Flynn did.
And there is the President saying what he did wasn`t wrong. And then, that same president fires Jim Comey because Jim Comey doesn`t go easy on Michael Flynn.
BOOT: Right. I mean, Trump basically has an inverted moral code. Like, everything that everybody else thinks is normal, he thinks is wrong and vice versa.
I mean, so he attacks, you know, everybody on -- you know, Elizabeth Warren and everybody in Washington, but he has no -- nothing bad whatsoever to say about Mike Flynn.
And even in the last few months, he`s made comments that indicate that he still has a lot of affection for Mike Flynn. So it`s pretty clear that Mike Flynn was not a rogue operator here. He was really doing what Trump wanted, which was to reach out to the Kremlin.
And one -- you know, one of the spins that you hear today from some people who are friendly to Trump is, oh, you know, that -- the -- what he`s pleading guilty to is basically something that any normal national security official would do, reaching out to the Kremlin, establishing good relations.
Well, no. There is a reason he was lying about that because they were undercutting American policy.
And I suspect, Lawrence, that this was part of quid quo pro involving the campaign, which was that Putin was going to help get Trump elected. In return, Trump was going to help lift sanctions on Russia.
I think that was essentially the deal, and I think that was the deal that Flynn was communicating with Kislyak. And I think that`s the reason why he was lying, and I think that is what`s now coming to the fore.
O`DONNELL: And, Betsy, the day will come when Reince Priebus and Don McGahn will be under oath with the Special Prosecutor.
They will be asked exactly what they told the President about what Michael Flynn did that then got the President to fire Michael Flynn. And we just heard Michael Flynn tell America -- we just heard Donald Trump tell America that Michael Flynn didn`t do anything wrong.
WOODRUFF: Right. And there are certainly some perplexing disconnects in the public statements that senior, current and former, White House officials have made about Flynn`s short tenure as national security adviser. And the statement that Flynn signed on to this morning only exacerbates the disconnects that exist.
I think one thing that`s really important here is that the Vice President, Mike Pence, has been emphatic and consistent in his public statements that he did not know about conversations that Flynn had with Ambassador Kislyak before he apparently learned of those conversations. He specifically said he didn`t know about them.
However, at the same time, the statement that Flynn said indicates that he was talking with very high-level transition team officials while Pence was running the transition team. So how was the transition team operating? What kind of leadership was in place there?
It -- what we now have learned is -- just raises a lot more questions.
O`DONNELL: Max Boot and Betsy Woodruff, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.
WOODRUFF: Sure thing.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump has not tweeted a word about Michael Flynn cooperating with the Special Prosecutor. Jonathan Capehart, David Frum, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself -- I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. David Frum is back with us.
And so, Jonathan, the Lester Holt interview remains possibly the most important televised presidential interview ever done, other than possibly David Frost`s interviews with Nixon after he was driven out of office.
But there he is, saying I was thinking about the Russia investigation, which is to say I`m thinking about Michael Flynn when I`m firing James Comey.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, OK. I mean, it was bombshell news when it came out at the time when Lester, you know, just happened to have that interview the day after Flynn was fired.
And then the President, after that letter, went out saying, well, we fired him because of -- because he really treated Hillary Clinton so poorly in the e-mail investigation. But then the President sits there and tells Lester Holt, yes, I was thinking about Russia. I was going to fire him because of Russia.
And now, today, we see with the Flynn guilty plea that conversation, that interview, takes on a whole new importance. And I`m not sure that the President really realized then, and maybe he realizes now, just how much trouble he`s in.
O`DONNELL: And, David, there are reports indicating that Michael Flynn might have felt betrayed when Trump decided not to pay Michael Flynn`s lawyers` fees. Some people in the White House are getting help apparently on their lawyers` fees, but not Michael Flynn.
FRUM: Well, we`ve all seen -- I mean, it`s been in front of the whole world over the past year, the President, both with his comments from public platforms and Twitter, seem like to Michael Flynn. We`re good, right? We`re friends, right? I like you. I esteem you. You did nothing wrong.
He has given Michael Flynn more compliments than anybody in his administration. More than his Vice President, more than any member of his team, more, I think, even than the first lady.
Now, that relationship is ruptured, and we`re going to have a little test tomorrow. Does the President tweet from a place of strategy or does the President plead -- tweet from a place of pain and uncontrolled impulse? Because he`s going to wake up and he`s going to know, I should keep my mouth shut but maybe I can`t help it.
O`DONNELL: But, Jonathan, you know, when he understands how much trouble the Lester Holt interview has put him in, for him to wake up tomorrow and not be able to control himself on Twitter about this -- I mean, I would think for Donald Trump to tweet about Michael Flynn at this point that Michael Flynn is going to have to take a knee at an NFL game.
CAPEHART: That is good, but you know what? But you know what, Lawrence? I think anyone who has been paying attention to the President and his Twitter habits knows that the most tweet-tastic tweet storms that come from the President come usually Saturday morning.
And so if the President doesn`t go on a tirade on Twitter -- now that he`s got 280 characters, if he doesn`t go on a tirade on Twitter, maybe that will be the sign of -- maybe it will be a couple of -- a sign of a couple of things.
One, that the enormity of what happened today is sinking in, and he realizes that he really shouldn`t be on Twitter. Or two, someone within the White House, in the West Wing, in the Brady quarters, was able to wrestle the machine out of his hands to keep him from tweeting.
But we know this guy. He is going to erupt somehow. It`s just a matter of when.
O`DONNELL: And, David, when you look at what we know about the substance of the case, about what Michael Flynn has admitted to, all the prosecutors have been telling us all day, just take a glance at that because what they have done is they have got Michael Flynn to admit to the tip of the iceberg of what they could charge him with so that Michael Flynn knows there are other charges that he could get hit with.
Michael Flynn knows what those are. Probably, others in the White House don`t know what those other charges are, are guessing what those other charges are, and are -- and might be guessing who of them might be sunk in the possible other charges that the Special Prosecutor could bring against Michael Flynn.
FRUM: Well, I`m thinking about what Jonathan said just a moment in the last -- in his last answer. And whether the right thing for the President to do, from a cold-blooded theory, is not just actually -- this is the moment to escalate.
He, in a short time, may confront either the success or failure of the tax bill. Once it succeeds or fails, his relationship with the congressional Republicans becomes radically different. If the bill succeeds, they don`t need him as much as they did. If the bill fails, then they`re going to be looking out for themselves.
He needs somehow to make his survival Priority A for the Republican Party. And escalating this by creating some kind of crisis, whether it`s firing Mueller or doing something else, that may be his best and maybe only plan.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to consider some of that in the next segment. David Frum and Jonathan Capehart, thank you very much for joining us.
FRUM: Thank you.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the Republican tax bill is moving through the Senate tonight towards Senate passage without any help from President Trump who is, no doubt, locked in distraction about, hmm, something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: -- amendment violates Section 302(f) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Madam President.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Senator from Florida.
RUBIO: Pursuant to Section 9 of --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The United States Senate is now voting on amendments to the Republican tax cut bill with a vote in final passage in the Senate expected later tonight. Bob Corker is the only Republican senator who said he will vote against the Senate bill.
The Senate bill is different, in many respects, from the bill that has passed the House of Representatives.
After the Senate passes this bill, the Senate bill and the House bill, which are different, will then have to be reconciled into yet a third bill that both houses -- both the House and Senate will then have to pass in identical form.
Every word has to be the same in those two bills when they pass for what would be the real final passage before it can then be signed by the President into law.
Of course, as usual, when legislating at panic speed, the senators who are actually voting for the bill do not know what they are voting for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Page 257 out of the 479. Why did I pick this page? Because they didn`t have time to type it. They wrote it out in longhand.
I defy anybody to read it because the problem was when they copied it, they chopped off lines, so there aren`t full sentences here. They`re just kind of like little phrases and words.
This is your United States Senate at work. This is what happens when you push through a bill late at night desperate to pass it without really stopping to ask yourself, will this make us a stronger nation?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar and co- author of the new book, "One Nation after Trump."
Norm, no one`s watched more this legislation than you have, and I have to tell you that when I was writing tax legislation at the Senate Finance Committee and bringing it to the Senate floor, we never hand wrote it. It was never handwritten on the way it is tonight with these Republicans.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, you also didn`t have an almost 500-page amendment that nobody except a few lobbyists have read, brought to the Senate a couple of hours before the vote.
And the most stunning vote that we`ve seen tonight, Lawrence, in a bill that has gone through a process unlike anything, I believe, in the history of the entire country. An unconscionable process. I`ve never seen anything like this before.
Democrats said we haven`t been able to even look at this, give us the weekend. All 52 Republicans, including John McCain, who had given that wonderful speech about the regular order, threw all of that out the window and said, no, we`re going to rush headlong into voting for this tonight. And that tells you something.
That includes Bob Corker who may be voting against this on final passage but he voted in the Budget Committee to have this bill come to the floor, and then he voted not to give it any extra time.
So you have all 52 who are culpable in what is a disaster for the nation. And just as important, it destroys the Senate and everything it`s supposed to be.
O`DONNELL: Yes. In simple terms, the Democrats just, in effect, offered a motion to read the bill, to actually read it, and the Republicans voted against reading the legislation.
Norm, there are big differences between the Senate bill and House bill. They`ve got two choices here. Go into a conference and try to work out yet a third bill that would then have to pass each body, or the House could just take up this Senate bill and pass it right through.
Can they do that? It violates a lot of the principles of the House bill.
ORNSTEIN: Sure. But I think, you know, what may well happen here, there`s nervousness on the part of Republicans at this point at what might happen in Alabama.
They lose another vote and you get a little bit of time to look at what might go into both of these bills. And it could blow up this process, especially given what`s happened with Trump and Mueller and all the other things that are going on.
So I think there is a real chance that they`ll start a conference here. But if it doesn`t look good, they`ll bring that Senate bill to the House floor, and Paul Ryan will say to his colleagues, including the freedom caucus, sorry, this is the only chance.
This is the train going out of the station -- the only way to get those tax cuts for your donors and to starve the government because this is also going to have devastating effect on Medicare and a whole lot of other programs, especially with the pay as you go provisions -- so you either take it or we get nothing.
And so this may be the Senate bill. And the Senate bill is going to have provisions in it that are impossible to enforce and probably, in many cases, illegal.
O`DONNELL: And of course, Norm, as I know you`ve heard, that when they have those kinds of meetings of this is the way we have to do it, they always promise the reluctant members that don`t worry, we will fix all of your problems next year. And of course, then they don`t do that.
But, Norm, there is this theory developing today that when they`re -- if the Republicans get this bill passed, if they get the bill signed by the President, they don`t need Donald Trump anymore. And this actually puts more pressure on Donald Trump via the investigation.
ORNSTEIN: You know, I think there is some truth to that. But remember, they are intimidated by that base out there that Trump will whip up to try and keep them in line.
I do think that some of the votes tonight were because of the Mueller announcement today. They are now in a little bit of a panic to get this one big thing that is the one big thing that they have wanted. But their attachment to Trump, because they have nothing significant else on the agenda that they really want to move forward on, is going to be diminished.
And of course, Trump`s detachment from this entire process, not getting involved in the tax bill despite saying he would be there full boar, also tells you that they haven`t had any interest in having him be a partner in their legislative process. They just want a guy who will sign whatever they send him, and then do a spike of the football in the Rose Garden so that they can declare victory.
O`DONNELL: Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein gets tonight`s last word. Thank you, Norm.
ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
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