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World on Red Alert: Making China great again Transcript 1/2/18 The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ezra Klein, Nicholas Kristof, Evan Osnos

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: January 2, 2018 Guest: Ezra Klein, Nicholas Kristof, Evan Osnos


And as you can see, and as I think you know, when a guy takes too many days off from work, this beard thing happens.

And Rachel, you know, it`s been out there on Twitter for or against the beard. Got an overwhelming response. I think it was like two trillion in favor of the beard and amazingly two trillion opposed to it.

So, it`s a tie that you have to break right here and now. You can tell me what to do. And this will either be here tomorrow or not. It`s completely up to you.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: I -- well, I was going to say I`m 100 percent in favor of the beard. I am 98 percent in favor of the beard be, I am 2 percent curious as to how it would look if it was just here. The mustache down to the jaw line --

O`DONNELL: Rachel, you`re never going to know!

But listen, let`s get back to the story you broke earlier in the hour, the Fusion GPS story.


O`DONNELL: And here it is, they`re just asking for full transparency about what they have worked on and what they have revealed to the committee.

MADDOW: Yes. And we`ve sort of knew that was going to be an issue. Because the first time that Glenn Simpson from Fusion testified, it was 10 hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And his lawyer put out a statement after that saying this transcript is the property of the committee. We expect that they may release it. Chuck Grassley was then asked at an Iowa town hall by a constituent, it`s your committee. Will you vote to release that transcript? He said essentially yes, essentially after we clean it up and make sure nothing needs to be redacted.

We were able to report a few weeks ago that that redaction process was complete. And so, it`s in Grassley`s hands if he wants to hold a vote in his committee to release that thing. Fusion really wants that thing out there. Obviously, it would be of intense public interest. It`s not in their power to release it, but it`s hard for me to see why Chuck Grassley wouldn`t now let that out into the public domain. He told his constituents in Iowa he`d do so. And he hasn`t explained why he hasn`t.

O`DONNELL: And they do, as the Fusion people point out, they continue to want to leak and try to publicly manipulate aspects of this story without having the full disclosure.

MADDOW: Yes. And what Fusion is breaking in its own terms tonight in this op-ed is a lot of really red hot information. They`re saying that they told the Senate in August that the dossier wasn`t the basis for the FBI investigation. Well, a lot of Republican senators who have been inveighing against the dossier should probably have to answer for that if they had that information.

They say they`ve given the committees information about Trump and his links with Deutsche Bank, Trump and potential money laundering and foreign business dealings. I mean, if they handed all the information over and were willing to testify to it under oath, there will be intense public interest if these transcripts can be released.

O`DONNELL: And, Rachel, also tonight, we have -- and it`s always hard to say, this is the craziest Trump tweet ever, but it`s certainly among the most dangerous if not the most dangerous. President Trump basically taunting North Korea about nuclear war, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just started -- stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I do have a nuclear button, but it is much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works?

Rachel, I give you the floor. I`m a bit speechless in reacting to that.

MADDOW: I don`t want the floor on this one. I mean, the president knows the idiom that he is playing with here, right? I mean, when the Marco Rubio issue with him criticizing the size of the president`s hands came up in a presidential debate, it was because the president knew the Freudian, you know -- we know what he was talking about. And everybody was afraid he was going to take his pants off in that debate in order to prove himself, right?

In this case, him saying to Kim Jong-il, mine`s bigger and mine works is essentially begging Kim Jong-il to prove him wrong. And that`s amazing psychology when you`re a grown man. But that`s really specific. Kim Jong- un, excuse me. But that`s really dangerous when you`re talking about nuclear weapons.

O`DONNELL: Donald Trump once again inadvertently making the case for more women in government and more women in presidencies around the world.

MADDOW: And nuclear disarmament.

O`DONNELL: All those things at once. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And so, tonight, here we are at the beginning of what will be the year-long 50th anniversary of the year that changed America, the year that changed American politics, 1968. It was a year like no other in our history, especially our political history. It was a deadly year for the 16,589 Americans killed in the Vietnam War that year. And it was a deadly year on the presidential campaign trail with the anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy being assassinated when he seemed to be on his way to winning the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Kennedy assassination came two months after Martin Luther King Jr.`s assassination which rocked the country and rocked the presidential campaign. And it was the year when the right wing in Republican politics finally managed to coalesce around an acceptable candidate and win the presidency. It is that same right wing that 50 years later has given us President Trump. And in that 50 years, the American right wing has not gotten any wiser.

And its candidate is now clearly the most dangerous person who has ever occupied the White House. The first and only president who casually issues threats of nuclear war on a whim, as the president did tonight in a tweet that should have already activated the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to remove the president as unfit to serve under the 25th Amendment.

That tweet, as I just read, says: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I to too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works?

Fifty years ago, you could get in serious trouble in this country by even suggesting that you were willing to use nuclear weapons as one of the vice presidential candidates did in the 1968 presidential campaign. I titled my recent book about the 1968 presidential campaign "Playing with Fire" because to some extent that`s what all the presidential candidates were doing, some knowingly, and some unknowingly. But no one in presidential history has ever played with fire more publicly and recklessly than Donald Trump.

Tonight, the president is threatening nuclear war with a country the size of Pennsylvania. This is a level of madness never seen before anywhere in the world. There has been open speculation about President Trump possibly starting a nuclear war simply to distract attention from or to use as a cover for dismantling the special prosecutor`s investigation of the president. And no one can say that that is wild and irresponsible speculation.

As we enter the 50th anniversary of 1968, it is easier than it should be to imagine 2018 being even worse than 1968, worse only because a profoundly reckless man of questionable sanity is president of the United States. Richard Nixon won the 1968 presidential campaign, and that is when he began committing the political crimes that eventually led to his resigning the presidency.

In an interview with "Politico", Richard Nixon`s counsel John Dean sees the similarities between team Nixon and team Trump.


JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It`s really how remarkable little they`ve learned about what went on in the past. They`ve -- every signal they have thrown from the get-go has been, we`re covering this up. They`ve done nothing to try to really dispose of it. The whole attitude has been we`re hiding something. And so, they -- I can only conclude they are hiding something.


O`DONNELL: Recent reporting by "The New York Times" reveals that the Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos played a crucial role in the FBI`s decision to open an investigation last year into the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia, opening that investigation while the campaign was still going on. According to "The New York times," during a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos made a startling revelation to Australia`s top diplomat in Britain. Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Court documents show that about three weeks earlier, a professor with alleged Kremlin contacts told George Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails. Following the release of the hacked Democratic Party e-mails, Australian officials warned their American counterparts about the information George Papadopoulos had provided to this Australian diplomat.

As "The Times" reports, the hacking and revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation.

Now, when a large political organization like the Nixon administration or the Trump campaign or the Trump administration is being investigated by a special prosecutor, no one in that organization knows exactly who else in that organization is in possession of the most damaging information. No one in the Trump campaign or in the Trump Organization knows exactly what everyone else knows or might know. And so, no one knows who the biggest threats are, the biggest threats to Donald Trump himself.

Is Michael Flynn, who has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI a bigger threat to President Trump than George Papadopoulos? How much does Michael Flynn know? How much does George Papadopoulos know?

Here is John Dean again on that question of how much do they know.


DEAN: They didn`t know how much I knew. I knew much more than they thought I did. Not that I was involved in it. But just I had picked it up over the years of being there. And so, I became their worst nightmare.

And, you know, I was determined to end it once and for all and just clean the whole thing up, when I did finally testify. With Flynn and his proximity, he even had more proximity than did I. He could be a remarkable witness.


O`DONNELL: A remarkable witness, their worst nightmare.

Joining us now: Ezra Klein, editor at large at "Vox" and host of the podcast "The Ezra Klein Show". Also with us, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and an MSNBC contributor. And Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times."

Nick, first, on North Korea, on the tweet tonight, you have been to North Korea. You have been able to assess their reaction. I was going to say to these kinds of things. But this is a whole new level of Trump tweeting about North Korea.

So, what do you think the reaction is tonight in North Korea?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the North Koreans are always asking me to try to decode President Trump. They don`t understand him. And I think this will add to the bafflement.

I mean, look, there are plenty of things that could go wrong in 2018. But I think there is pretty broad agreement among international relations specialists that the single thing that could be most disastrous would be a war with North Korea. And in that context, it`s incumbent on both North Korea and the U.S. to try to ease tensions, to bring them down.

And tweets like this essentially pour gasoline on that blaze. President Trump is goading Kim Jong-un to test a nuclear missile again, to prove its reliability to show him wrong. And fundamentally, I think it comes across as two kindergartners who are jostling each other, except that each has nuclear weapons.

O`DONNELL: Yes, and, Ezra, I just want to go to you on North Korea. We`re going to talk about it more later in the program. But one more point on this. The -- Kim Jong-un had issued a statement that included some positive indicators of opening of possible talks with South Korea all around the Olympics and the possible participation of North Korea in the Olympics.

So, that was a very positive element to what he said. He also said that thing about his nuclear button. And so, the president of the United States decided to react to the negative line and to ignore the positive -- the possible positive opening here.

EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, VOX.COM: I don`t even know I would call what Donald Trump did here decided to react. This is not a reasonable form of reaction no matter what part of Kim Jong-un`s statement he wanted to respond to.

I`ve said this before. I don`t think this kind of thing can possibly be overestimated. We are not used to thinking in terms of risk as bad as nuclear war. And one of the thoughts I keep coming back to under the Trump administration is in this country, we have begun to overestimate the dangers of impeachment and underestimate the dangers of a deranged president retaining control over a nuclear hyper-power.

I don`t think we have an emotional pitch that is appropriate to this. But this cannot happen. Like this is not something our civilization can unleash just because we elected the wrong man.

O`DONNELL: Yes, Ezra, you have written about -- aught authoritatively about the impeachment process and a reconsideration of considering it. Much more of a relatively routine step under certain circumstances, as it is with federal judges and others who face it from time to time.

Jill Wine-Banks, I want to take you back to your days of investigating President Nixon, who also had the nuclear codes in his pockets at all times. Was there ever a moment like this where the world is wondering tonight, might the president of the United States engage in a nuclear exchange simply to distract or dismantle the special prosecutor`s investigation?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Lawrence, I don`t think there was ever a moment until possibly the very end of the Nixon administration when it was reported that Nixon was drinking heavily and having prayer meetings with Kissinger that anybody thought that he would start a nuclear war to divert attention from the investigation. That was never a possibility.

I don`t -- I agree with what Ezra said, that possibly the danger of a nuclear war is the greatest threat facing us when you have an unstable president. That is something that we have to worry about. I also worry about the possibility of basically a civil war of his supporters if impeachment proceedings are not unanimously voted upon. If there is any doubt, I`m afraid that there would be some real disruption from his followers.

So, it`s a very different kind of climate now than it was at the time in the `70s when there was actual bipartisanship in the Congress and there was bipartisan support for the impeachment. And it was the Republicans who went to the president and said, you will be convicted if you don`t resign. That`s what led to the resignation was the Republicans telling the president the evidence was overwhelming.

Now, we have very significant evidence. And over the weekend, much more was developed. And as was said, I believe that Mueller must have a lot more than anything we know. And there may be a lot coming.

O`DONNELL: And, Nick, to Jill`s point and to John Dean`s point, they didn`t know what I knew. That has to be haunting Donald Trump right now. And his tweet comes tonight after a devastating weekend of reporting for him by your newspaper.


O`DONNELL: By "The New York Times" on this issue of Papadopoulos telling the Australian ambassador in London that Russians had the dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of e-mails. That that might be something that the president certainly didn`t know was communicated at that time. But if he`s communicating that, if this campaign operative is communicating that to the Australian ambassador in London, how could he not have communicated it to his own campaign?

KRISTOF: I think that`s exactly the point. That we know that on around April 26th, that George Papadopoulos learned that the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton e-mails. What we haven`t known is whether or not the Trump campaign knew that. But, you know, if this is being discussed over drinks in London with Alexander Downer, then clearly Papadopoulos is sharing that with other members of the Trump campaign, which means they knew about those e-mails well before the DNC did.

And, you know, one other thing that I think squares the circle on this, Jill was and you were talking about the nuclear issue under Nixon. James Schlesinger, the secretary of defense at that time, at the very end of the Nixon era, he gave orders to the military that if Nixon were to order a nuclear strike on any country, that those should not be followed unless he as defense secretary or unless Henry Kissinger confirmed that order because he was afraid of Nixon issuing some kind of a nuclear strike.

This was completely unconstitutional, probably illegal. And yet it was clearly the right thing to do. And I sure hope people in the Pentagon are thinking along those line took place.

O`DONNELL: Yes, and, Ezra, that action was taken in regard to President Nixon when the House Judiciary Committee was moving toward impeachment. And so, the defense secretary could know that this is probably a temporary condition that they`re under. And they might be moving on to the next president very soon at that point.

KLEIN: Yes. This is the terrible position we`ve been left in. I mean, you hear a lot of people ping for what would in effect be a soft coup for the military itself, for the military men and generals around Trump to reinterpret his orders to stand in the way of his orders.

And this goes back. I apologize to keep bringing it back to this. This goes back to I think the importance of taking seriously, do we have the right person in this position? When we begun discussing the possibilities of a nuclear war based on schoolyard tweets, when we begun discussing the possibilities of having military essentially abrogate the orders of the duly elected commander-in-chief, at some point, the risks of removing the person are not as bad as the risks of keeping them in office.

We`re either looking at the possibility of real civilization of disasters or genuine convulsions of our system of government that could have very, very difficult and very unexpected long-term consequences. So, these are things we have to take very seriously. And I see a lot of looking for sort of downstream triple bank shot ways of containing the damage instead of just saying, listen, a person who tweets like this and speaks like this given the kind of power they`re wielding has not taken that power responsibly enough to continue wielding it.

O`DONNELL: And, Jill, when you got involved in the special prosecutor`s investigation of President Nixon, impeachment was 100-year-old idea. It had happened once 100 years before. But the Senate, you know, poured the cold water on it and didn`t let the impeachment go through.

And, institutionally, you were up against a concept that institutionally people in Washington could not really conceive of. They had no familiarity with it. And it seemed as though in those days largely because of the nuclear codes in the president`s pocket, we couldn`t play games with something like impeachment. The president was too serious for impeachment to any longer be relevant.

WINE-BANKS: I don`t think we thought in the special prosecutor`s office much about impeachment in the beginning. Our job was to investigate whether crimes had been committed. And we did have an extraordinary witness with John Dean. And he may be right that Flynn or even Papadopoulos or someone we don`t know about is an equivalent witness who will be giving us the smoking gun information that`s necessary.

But we were looking at crimes. And it was only when we came to the conclusion that crimes had been committed by the president that he could be indicted if he was an ordinary citizen, that we had to consider is impeachment or indictment the correct procedure? And what is the best thing for American democracy. And we ended up going with -- giving a report to Congress that set forth a road map to impeachment, which was really basically here are the crimes that have been committed. And the House did in the Senate went forward, using that, and concluded that it was an impeachable offense.

O`DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks and Nicholas Kristof, thank you both for joining us tonight. Ezra, please stick around.

Coming up, Donald Trump`s tweeting tonight is just one of the reasons why so many foreign leaders and foreign diplomats around the world believe that he is, quote, insane. That is a word that they are using in a new report.

Also, "The New Yorker`s" Evan Osnos will join us. He has been inside North Korea. He will join us with what he believes is the reaction to tonight`s tweet by the president.

And later, is Mitt Romney on his way to becoming Senator Romney, the junior senator from Utah?


O`DONNELL: -- of the night, Donald Trump has once again proved to the world`s diplomatic corps that he is, in their words, insane. This guy is insane. That`s what Susan Glasser reports, is the worldwide reaction to Donald Trump in her new article in "Politico" magazine. Those words, "this guy`s insane" came from some foreign diplomats based on their actual private meetings with Donald Trump.

And tonight, the president who they consider insane tweeted this. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button, but it is much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works?

That is exactly what diplomats and adults around the world consider insane. And the Trump tweet comes just as there were signs of hope for possibly better relations between North and South Korea. South Korean President Moon has been hoping that the Winter Olympics in South Korea, quote, will be able to promote the peace between the North and South Korea and become an Olympics for peace.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in his New Year`s address yesterday said North Korea`s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people. And we wish the games will be a success.

In that same New Year`s Day address, Kim Jong-un also said a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat.

Joining us now, a reporter who has recently visited North Korea, Evan Osnos, whose latest mandatory reading article in "The New Yorker" is entitled "Making China Great Again" which focuses on the Chinese view of President Trump.

Evan, thank you so much for joining us tonight. And first of all, I want to get to your reaction to the president`s tweet tonight about North Korea.

EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, what I found in North Korea is that they follow his tweets to the syllable. They follow it in real-time, incredibly closely. We`d wake up one morning in Pyongyang, and analysts from the North Korean government had been up overnight responding and thinking about it and trying to figure out what to make of the president`s tweets. As they said to me, we can`t decide if he is irrational or if he is too smart, which is to say they weren`t sure if this was improvisation or this was part of a plan.

But what it does is something quite clear, which is that in the North Korean political system where Kim Jong-un is young, he remains in many ways still a vulnerable figure surrounded by older military and intelligence figures, he has no choice but to respond to a personal provocation of this kind, because if he doesn`t, then he risks his own domestic political stability, his own survival politically and otherwise.

So, in a sense, this is not the kind of thing that a North Korean official, a North Korean leader can allow to go unanswered. So, I`m afraid that we are now back into this dynamic where instead of pointing us in the direction of perhaps talks and negotiation, we can expect there is going to be more of this tit for tat to come.

O`DONNELL: Evan, in your new extraordinary reporting in "The New Yorker" about China and their reaction to Trump, you report they seem to have figured out he is all bluster, he is as they put it, a paper tiger. And all of his threats about China during the campaign have proven to be false. And he has turned out to be the best thing that they could have hoped for in an American president, especially after pulling the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and then not going through with any of his other threats, because that actually helps China, pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, but then not going through with any of his other threats about China.

OSNOS: Yes, they were actually initially very worried about Donald Trump. When he emerged on the scene as the Republican front-runner and then he was elected, they were shocked. They thought he was their mortal enemy as somebody put to it me. And then they conclude over the course of the next several months that, in fact, he was as a Chinese military general said in an internal speech to the Communist party, he has been a great gift to China, because what he has done is pulled out of the TPP, which was designed to contain or at least limit China`s commercial sort of growth in the region.

And he has cleared the space for China to redefine Asia around its own commercial and economic objective. So, in literal terms, China has its own alternative to the TPP, which it created called the RCEP, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which if it is, in fact -- if it`s approved as people expect later this year, it will be the largest trading bloc in the world. And the United States will not be a part of it.

So, we have by pulling out, we have really sort of cleared the way for China.

O`DONNELL: So, is this a moment where China says to North Korea, look at our experience. Look what he said about us, raping the American worker, to use Donald Trump`s phrasing during the Presidential Campaign. And look how Trump doesn`t do anything negative to us. Might China teach North Korea to not pay attention to what Donald Trump says in these situations?

OSNOS: Well, China is in an awkward position because they don`t trust Kim Jong Un, frankly. He has never visited Beijing. He`s never had any face to space meeting of any kind with the Chinese leadership. But frankly, they also don`t trust Donald Trump and increasingly they see evidence that Donald Trump is not like the Presidents that they`ve dealt with before in any sense of the word.

What they want is to try to prevent Donald Trump from using military action in North Korea. But any attempt that Donald Trump might take to try to build some sort of strategic partnership with China so that we could address the North Korean threat together, every time he does something like this, it undermines confidence in Beijing that he is a reasonable person to deal with. So it makes harder to find some sort of negotiated solution.

O`DONNELL: Evan quickly, South Korea`s reaction to this tweet tonight, just as they were warming to South Korea over the Olympics.

OSNOS: Well, this is exactly the worst thing that South Korea could have had happen. They thought they were edging towards some sort of deal in which North Korea might participate in the South Korean Olympics. They wanted Donald Trump to take a moment to step back from hostilities. And instead, this is in a sense actually Lawrence, this is sort really sort of achieving what the ends of Kim Jong Un`s speech was intended to do which was to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States.

O`DONNELL: Evan Osnos, thank you very much for your invaluable perspective on this, having been inside North Korea and your latest extraordinary reporting in The New Yorker on making China great again. China`s view of Donald Trump. Evan, thank you very much, appreciate it.

OSNOS: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Mitt Romney warned the Republican Party about Donald Trump last year. And now Mitt Romney might be planning to take his opposition to Donald Trump to the United States Senate as the next Senator from Utah.


O`DONNELL: Tonight with the President of the United States casually tweeting possible threats of nuclear war with North Korea. Donald Trump is behaving exactly as many observers last year warned he would behave, as an unhinged President. One of the people warning the Republican Party about Donald Trump last year was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Today Mitt Romney changed the location of his twitter bio from Massachusetts to Utah after Utah`s Senior Republican Senator Orrin Hatch announced he will not run for reelection. Today a source close to Mitt Romney told MSNBC that it is highly likely Romney will run for that Senate seat. And that top Romney aides have been putting pieces in place for a campaign. Here is what a switch in Utah from Senator Orrin Hatch to Senator Mitt Romney could mean for President Donald Trump.


ORRIN HATCH, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Mr. President, I have to say that you`re living up to every -- everything I thought you would. You`re one heck of a leader. We`re going to make this the greatest presidency we`ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever.

MITT ROMNEY, FMR. GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I`m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart. He is not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as leader.

His imagination must not be married to real power. Dishonesty is Donald Trump`s hallmark. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Josh Earnest, former White House Press Secretary for President Obama and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Also joining us Max Boot, Senior Fellow for National Security Council on Foreign Relations and a Foreign Policy Adviser from Mitt Romney`s 2012 Presidential Campaign and josh, here we are once again on something you could not possibly have conceived of when you were working in the Whitehouse, a President tonight casually tweeting about the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea. And indeed, encouraging that possibility.

JOSH EARNEST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Lawrence, we typically have relied on American Presidents to actually be a stabilizing influence in the international community. And when faced with the responsibility of protecting the American people, we have a stockpile of nuclear weapons in place and ready and maintained around the clock by highly trained professionals to protect the United States so that we don`t have to use them. Not actively threatening to use them against other people.

So this is obviously a stark departure from bipartisan tradition and is genuinely destabilizing around the globe. And certainly does heighten the risk that the American people face. And it`s deeply disturbing.

O`DONNELL: Max Boot, I`ve known Senator Hatch a very long time and worked in the United States Senate when he was there. I never had an uncomfortable or negative moment with him in fact. Watching him there in the rose garden saying that Donald Trump could be the greatest President ever. I don`t believe I have ever seen an 82-year-old Senator more lost. Talk about his possible successor in that seat, Mitt Romney, who you know well, and what that would mean in the United States Senate.

MAX BOOT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it will certainly be an important change in the dynamics of the Senate. I mean I think it`s still a little bit early to know how it`s going to shake out because remember that two of the more caustic critics of Trump in the senate, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are going to be leaving the Senate. So but now you have the possibility of Mitt Romney basically stepping into their shoes and being a voice of moral authority and challenging the outrageous conduct of President Trump in a way that Orrin Hatch and most of his Republican colleagues simply refuse to do.

You played the clip earlier from 2016 of the very eloquent denunciation that Orrin Hatch gave of Donald Trump. And you know what? Looking back on it, he was right in every single particular. Everything he said about Donald Trump has come to pass, the lying, the irresponsibility, the misogyny, the grandiosity, the egomania.

Everything he diagnosed about Donald Trump. Donald Trump has shown himself to be time and again. And I trust and hope that Senator Hatch, if he in fact becomes Senator -- if Senator Hatch is replaced by Senator -

O`DONNELL: Romney, yes.

BOOT: By Senator Romney, that he will continue to speak out and not allow his voice to be silenced in a way that it seems like perhaps it has been to some extent since he briefly had that flirtation with becoming Secretary of State for President Trump.

O`DONNELL: And josh, we know if Mitt Romney does make the run, and if he makes it basically as an anti-Trump candidate, that doesn`t look like a bad idea in Utah where he is way ahead in polls there for this possible seat. There was an October poll showing Mitt Romney at 44 percent for that as a possible successor for that seat. And, Josh, when you look at that tweet tonight from the President, it was close to 8:00 p.m. when he did it.

And the first thing I wondered was, OK, what time does the Whitehouse Chief of Staff leave? What time does he go home at night? What time do the adults, if we can call them that in the Whitehouse, go home at night to solve the President can feel free to do this?

EARNEST: Lawrence, it does seem the President has been left to his own devices with his iPhone and is in a situation in which he is tweeting things that are destabilizing and dangerous and certainly don`t reflect the tradition and values and norms that people like H.R. McMaster and John Kelly have dedicated their careers to protecting. And certainly they understand how those norms are critical to America`s National Security. And they just have not succeed in impressing the current Commander in Chief about the value of protecting that kind of conduct.

But Lawrence, when it does come to Mitt Romney, the one thing I do think it`s important for people to keep in mind, while I do think Mitt Romney`s approach to serving in the Senate is likely to be different than the approach that Senator Hatch has brought. What is notable to me is even people like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and Ben Sasse, who have chosen moments to be outspoken and critical of President Trump, they have not proved to be a particularly effective check on President Trump.

They have voted to confirm a large number of people to lifetime appointments on the Federal bench, the vast majority of them white men. Many of them, at least some of them have been singled out as actually not being particularly well qualified or well suited to those positions. They supported repeal of Obamacare.

They supported this tax cut bill that is going to give a significant windfall to corporations and wealthy people at the expense of working people and our national deficit. So I think the real question is going to be is Senator Romney going to be somebody who does more than just talk, but actually use the authority that we give to individual United States Senators to stand up and serve as a check on President Trump? Lots of democrats have been willing to do that, but we have not seen Republicans be willing to do that this far.

O`DONNELL: Let`s put that question to somebody who has known Mitt Romney and has worked on the Romney campaign. Max Boot, two things. First of all, Will Mitt Romney run for Senate? What`s your prediction on that knowing him as you do? And secondly, will he be the kind of Senator that Josh Earnest just described?

BOOT: I mean I think all indications are that he probably will run. In terms of what kind of Senator he is going to be, I do think you have to realize that Mitt Romney is a pretty conservative guy. So he`s not necessarily going to disagree with Trump on every single thing because you know where Trump takes kind of a conventionally conservative positions I suspect that Romney will vote along with him which is the kind of behavior you could expect.

But I also think that Romney, assuming he gets into the Senate, will not hesitate to criticize the outrageous conduct of President Trump that goes beyond any kind of policy. And that simply is kind of bizarre behavior that you see today, for example, with his nuclear taunting of Kim Jong Un. And I think that you know Mitt Romney could be a critical voice in the Senate for another respect as well because you know what happens if the Democrats take control of the House in November, which now seems a likely occurrence. One would think that impeachment proceedings would be the order of the day. And of course then it would be up to the Senate to pass judgment on -- on the articles of impeachment.

And have I the utmost confidence that Senator Romney, assuming there is a Senator Romney, would be completely fair and neutral in judging the evidence. And if he feels that President Trump has in fact violated his oath of office, has in fact committed high crimes and misdemeanors, I would imagine he would vote his conscience and vote to remove him. And frankly, that`s something that would be very hard for me to imagine something like Senator Hatch to be doing.

O`DONNELL: Max Boot and Josh Earnest, thank you both for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.

EARNEST: Thanks Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, what the Trump administration was doing while the president was playing golf.


O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is now the golfiest President in history. He has played more golf than other Presidents have even dreamed of. And while the President was playing golf during this holiday vacation, some in the Trump Administration found ways to stay busy. Three days before Christmas, the Interior Department reversed an Obama Administration decision and renewed expired leases for a Chilean Mining Company for a copper and nickel mining operation near Minnesota`s boundary waters canoe area wilderness.

Now the man who owns that Chilean Mining Company also owns the home that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner rent in Washington, D.C so guess who he had to lobby to get that from the Trump Administration? On Christmas Eve, the New York Times reported the Trump Administration is scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or place them in grave risk of injury.

And on December 29th, the administration announced new regulations weakening offshore drilling safety measures designed to prevent another deepwater horizon oil horizon oil spill which killed 11 workers on that oil rig and so from endangering the lives of workers to endangering the lives of nursing home residents. Someone in the Trump administration is always trying to get away with somebody that they hope voters don`t notice. Up next, more from Ezra Klein on the dirty little secrets in the Trump administration


O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein is back with us and it seems while the President golf`s, someone in the Trump administration is always doing the dirty work.

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I`m not sure it`s all that different when he`s not golfing. My sense of the way the Trump Administration works is someone else is always doing the work. Donald Trump does a lot of tweeting, a lot of meeting. But he is more less led to the conclusion people want him to have, he signs on to other people`s agendas. But yes probably there`s a lot going on behind the headline news.

And one of the things that people have been talking about, the Washington Post had a good piece touching on this and others have as well is the unbelievable gutting of the Federal Government below Trump. This doesn`t get a ton of front headline coverage but we have a huge turnover in the administration. Burking (INAUDIBLE) said it`s been the highest turnover in the first-year presidency ever.

We`re seeing a huge number of jobs go unfilled with the bureaucracy. We`ve seen a huge number of jobs that are political appointments go un-appointed. When people leave jobs they`re not getting replaced. There`s been a tremendous brain drain from the State Department.

These are things that is the government`s quality and ability do its work degrades that we`re going to be feeling for a very long time. Losing this amount of talent out of the government is something that`s going to hurt us in ways that we cannot currently predict for much beyond the life cycle of the Trump Administration itself. I think it deserves a lot more coverage it`s been getting.

O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein, thank you very much for joining us. appreciate it.

KLEIN: Thank you.

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


O`DONNELL: The last time I appeared on this program it was actually Thursday night by phone to tell Ari Melber who was hosting the show that we had just broken over the $16 million mark in raising money for the K.I.N.D. Fund, kids in need of desks. That`s for kids in schools in Malawi where they have never seen desks. We have those desks made in factories in Malawi by workers in Malawi, delivered to those schools as you see there. We also include a scholarship fund for girls to attend high school in Malawi where the girl`s gradation rate is half the gradation rate for boys.

And so that was last Thursday night when i talked about that new total. And since then, you kept giving even though Christmas was over. You kept giving, as did I online, and since Thursday night over the New Year`s holiday we have raised an additional $584,488 bringing this year`s total so far to $2,286,372.

And, as I said, the total from the beginning of this program seven years ago is now $16,635,304. I want to thank all of you for participating in this and helping us so consistently. Many of you have been repeat givers and that`s why this has worked so well. It`s your continued support and the support of Andy Lack who is the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC and Phil Griffin who is the President of NBC. without their continued support this program, the K.I.N.D. Fund would not exist. I want to thank them for everything they`ve done to keep this going. But most of all, thank you for your generous giving that has continued.

I want to read some of your tweets but I`ll do that tomorrow night. That`s tonight`s last word. The 11th Hour starts now.


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