Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: January 17, 2018 Guest: Ron Klain, Norm Ornstein
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
You know, I`ve been thinking about the president and the porn star story but haven`t mentioned it on this show. And then, listening to your analysis of it, you raised a point that I hadn`t considered, which is this important point about who paid the money?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: Yes.
O`DONNELL: Who paid the $130,000 that`s reported as a kind of hush money, buying the silence of this former adult film actress? And that was one of the issues in the John Edwards case, was who was paying the money to keep that quiet. And that was investigated as an FEC violation, which is what you were getting at tonight.
MADDOW: Yes. Whatever you think about, you know, the president and his, you know, pants and stuff, the issue of money here matters, particularly when one of these alleged payments happened a month before the election, another one around that same time. These are both very credibly reported payments, $130,000, $150,000.
If the "National Enquirer" made one of those payments essentially as an in- kind donation to the Trump campaign, that may have FEC implications. That $130,000 that hasn`t been denied by Trump`s personal lawyer, we have no idea what the source of that is. But again, a month before the election, there`s potential criminal campaign finance implications there.
So, again, you don`t have to care about the sex part of it to know this could be a serious story for the president.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and I think it`s one of the stories because there`s a sex part of it, we`re distracted from the strike zone of the story you found, which is where the focus should be.
MADDOW: Yes, I put on like as me to bag and glasses with the aviator sides on it anytime I read the story. No distractions.
O`DONNELL: You`ve read more of it than I have.
MADDOW: I don`t want to talk about it.
O`DONNELL: OK. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: There she goes but taught us another important lesson tonight, Rachel did.
The president and the porn star has been a story since last Friday and I have not said a word about it because there are so many more important stories that we have to cover.
Now, this is the very first copy of "In Touch" magazine that I have ever held in my hands and I`ve learned a lot from this magazine. There`s a lot more in here than what`s on the cover, including a lot of stuff that I don`t have time to read. Like everything you could possibly want to know about everyone and anyone named Kardashian and there are some quick read items like are they going overboard with lip plumping I actually didn`t have to read that one to get the right answer which of course is yes. And there`s some really nice human interest stories like the couple that lost 407 pounds together.
And there`s a story about someone else in the magazine whose doctor would like him to lose some weight, this guy. That`s one of the pictures of him that appears in the cover story about the president of the United States and the porn star. On the cover of the magazine, the headline is: My Affair with Donald, and it promises you the details inside the magazine about, quote, secret hotel hookups, how they hid it from Melania, and the cover asks, will the first lady file for divorce? And I did not have to read the article to get that answer right to, which is no.
Here is how the cover story is presented inside the magazine. In her own words, Stormy Daniels, Donald cheated on Melania with me, with an explosive interview with "In Touch", a woman from Donald Trump`s past spills her secrets of their affair. And that is all I have had the time to read in this article about Donald Trump having an affair with a porn star four months after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, 10 years before he ran for president.
OK, I actually did read one more thing in the article. It`s the big poll quote in the middle of the article. It`s Stormy Daniels talking about her first date with Donald Trump. She says, I was definitely stimulated. I could tell he was nice, intelligent in conversation.
Intelligent in conversation, that is actually the article`s only direct contribution to the current controversy surrounding the president`s mental capacities. So, that`s a bit of good news. The president was able to pass the porn star intelligence test 10 years ago. We didn`t know that until today, but that`s it. That`s all I had time for in this story, the first time in history the president of the United States is on the cover of a magazine with a porn star in a story about them having an affair and the president paying the porn star $130,000 to buy her silence in the Trump White House. That is just another day at the office.
And the White House press secretary today was not asked a single question about the porn star in the president. Not one question. There is no clearer measure of how much Donald Trump has changed the presidency and how much Donald Trump has changed the White House press corps and the news media in America.
But he hasn`t changed the news media the way he wants to change the news media. He has not bent the news media to his will. He has not beaten them down to the point where no one in the White House press corps dared to ask about the president than the porn star today.
He has simply changed the news media`s ability to focus on the president and the porn star story by creating so many more important stories about his presidency more urgent stories, including so many more negative stories about his presidency, stories like his racist attack on all 54 countries in Africa, stories like the Trump White House chief of staff who decided that the right thing for him to do today would be to side with Joseph Stalin and Donald Trump against Republican Senator Jeff Flake who compared Donald Trump to Joseph Stalin on the floor of the United States Senate.
Talked about Senate history, that`s the first time a senator has compared president of the United States to Joseph Stalin. And we`re also covering stories like the president`s former White House chief strategist deciding to cooperate with the special prosecutor investigating the Trump White House. That is a more important story then the president and the porn star.
NBC News reports the source close to Steve Bannon`s legal team says that he is cooperating with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and will be interviewed by the special prosecutor`s team of investigators instead of being subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury. Sources indicated that it is still undecided exactly when that interview will take place. The source also tells NBC news the during Bannon`s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, roughly six hours were spent on questions related to the campaign and another roughly five hours were spent on questions related to the transition and balance time at the White House.
"The Associated Press" has new details about that. Steve Bannon`s attorney relayed questions in real time to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former Trump chief strategist. That`s according to people familiar with the closed-door session.
"The Associated Press" continues, Bannon`s attorney Bill Burck was asking the White House counsel`s office by phone whether his client could answer the questions. He was told by that office not to discuss his work on the transition or in the White House. It`s unclear who Burck communicated with, or whether it was top White House lawyer Don McGahn.
Burck is also representing Don McGahn in the special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation. Tonight, White House chief of staff John Kelly said this:
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BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: Did the White House tell him to invoke executive privilege?
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No.
Steve has had very, very little contact with the White House since he left. I know Steve a little bit. Not very well. He left the White House and has certainly never returned to the White House, with the exception of a few phone calls here and there, very, very little contact with the White House. And I certainly have never spoke to him since he left.
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O`DONNELL: And here`s what Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee just said to Rachel about this.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: They send General Kelly out today to say we haven`t invoked executive privilege. Technically, that`s true. But what they have done, which is more problematic, is saying -- telling witnesses, don`t answer the questions, but also don`t tell the committee that we`ve invoked executive privilege, we don`t want to look like we`re hiding something by invoking privilege, but we don`t want you to answer the questions, so don`t answer them.
If we allow this, it will not only obviously impair our ability to get to the truth, it will impair the ability of any Congress in the future to hold any administration accountable if we will simply take no for an answer when it`s convenient to the White House.
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O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast", and an MSNBC contributor, also with us, Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and Al Gore and a former senior aide to President Obama. He`s also a former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also with us, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
And, Ron Klain, I want to go to this news today about Steve Bannon Cooperating enough with the special prosecutor that they dropped to the threat of a subpoena to a grand jury. What is the difference for Bannon testifying to a grand jury where his lawyer would not be allowed in the room, I have to answer under oath and speaking in this less formal interview context with the prosecutor`s office?
RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, I think the difference is obviously, it`s part of Steve Bannon`s makeup tour with the White House and I think the differences you noted, Lawrence, is that his lawyer will be present and as you discussed a moment ago, his lawyer is also the lawyer for the White House counsel. So, that means that basically the White House`s lawyer`s lawyer will sit in the room when Bob Mueller asks Steve Bannon these questions and they will know what Steve Bannon said, they will know if he said something bad about the president or his son or whatever.
And so, it is an effort by, I think -- I think Bannon and his team are trying to get right with the White House. They`re kind of on an apology tour and this seems like it`s -- it`s part of that effort.
O`DONNELL: And, John, we just heard Congressman Schiff say that John Kelly was technically write to that on Fox News when he said no to the question of, was Bannon invoking executive privilege? But when you listen to the congressman, he said, yes, OK, so he was invoking some kind of privilege that doesn`t even have a name. I mean, least executive privilege has a name even though you would be falsely applying it.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALSYT: Yes, this has been one of the consistent frustrations for people on the Hill and one of the consistent frustrations I would hope for the American public that you`ve seen throughout these investigations over the course of 2017, Trump administration officials going forward and saying I`m not going to answer that question to Senate and White House investigators --
O`DONNELL: Yes. And in some of the televised hearings, it seems Jeff Sessions do that.
HEILEMANN: Many times and some of the national security people as well, and they have come back -- the senators have come back and said, well, are you invoking the executive privilege. So, I`m not talking executive privilege, I`m just not going to answer.
HEILEMANN: And it turns out the problem is this is a wrong without a remedy, because you can be censured by the committee, you could be censured by the Senate, you probably know more about Senate rules than I do.
But in the end, you can, it turns out, just say, I`m not invoking executive privilege, I`m not going to answer the question, slap me on the wrist if you want but I`m not going to do it. It`s profoundly anti-Democratic and it`s not at all helpful and it`s not -- it`s outside all precedent, but what`s new with the Trump administration?
And, Betsy, these witnesses know that the only real remedy Congress has in those kinds of hearings is to basically charge them with contempt of Congress which becomes a complicated legal proceeding which ends up in court and Congress has to be pushed really far to take that kind of action.
BETSY WOODRUFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Correct, you`d have to have a majority vote either in the House or the Senate to hold someone in contempt of Congress and then the either chamber would have to refer that contempt citation to the U.S. attorney for the district of Washington, D.C., and that U.S. attorney would decide whether or not to bring charges.
And one thing that I imagine your viewers may be aware of is that Jesse Liu, who`s currently the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., was a member of President Trump`s transition team. The likelihood that a Republican House or Republican Senate would refer four charges, one of the president`s former advisors, and then a U.S. attorney who was part of the president`s transition team would bring charges against that person is incredibly low.
And that`s why the Mueller investigation is so important because for all practical purposes, Congress just doesn`t have that much leverage, doesn`t have very many tools and it`s toolbox to get people in the White House to give it information.
O`DONNELL: And one of the great lines of the many great Steve Bannon lines in Michael Wolff`s book one of them is quoting Bannon now saying, there`s no executive privilege. We proved that with Watergate.
So, Bannon himself, without having gone to law school, gets it.
Let`s listen, I want to listen what Adam Schiff said tonight about Corey Lewandowski today. Corey Lewandowski was in the Steve Bannon chair today in the closed-door session with the committee. Let`s listen to what Congressman Schiff says about that.
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SCHIFF: Mr. Lewandowski came to testify. Yesterday, he said on Fox that he would answer every question we had. Today, however, he refused to answer questions like Steve Bannon that referred to anything after he left the campaign. Now, he`s not an administration official, never has been an administration official, is obviously no privilege of the promised here.
Those questions included by the way, did you have a conversation with the president United States within the last 24 hours where you discussed your testimony? And that is a question he would not answer.
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O`DONNELL: And, Ron Klain, that last question is something that lawyers ask all the time depositions in courtrooms who have you talked to to prepare your testimony. But the Lewandowski refusal to answer question is just inconceivable grounds for that.
KLAIN: Yes, you know, it goes back to what John said a minute ago. The Trump administration has invented the "I just don`t want to answer that" privilege and, you know, a kind of a toothless Republican Congress seems generally inclined to accept the "I just don`t want to answer that" privilege. And there are two problems with that, that one, it is a very bad precedent for the future. That`s a problem.
But I will say conversely, as Betsy referred to, this is not going to be the case when these people get in front of Bob Mueller. Bob Mueller is not going to accept the, hey, I just don`t want to answer that privilege. He is going to make these witnesses answer. They will answer voluntarily or he will go compel their testimony and it comes down to the question whether or not, particularly, Steve Bannon, wants to play on team Trump or is mad at the president, and whether or not Donald Trump has more to fear from Stormy Daniels or Stormy Steve, you know that`s the question we don`t know yet.
O`DONNELL: And we also have a report tonight, at least Bannon apparently gave at least one answer according to "Axios". They`re saying Bannon admitted that he`d had conversations with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and legal spokesman Mark Corallo about Don Jr.`s infamous meeting with the Russians and Trump Tower in 2016, June 2016.
And, John, that`s something he`s going to have to tell the special prosecutor all about, that conversation.
HEILEMANN: That crucial. It`s crucial and the reality is that there`s a bunch of things like that -- Ron is right -- the question is, does Bannon is he trying to kill the president or is he trying to make up with him? But the reality is, he`s now on the record in the Wolff book saying a lot of things that are interesting areas for exploration. This is one of the key ones.
It`s true that Bannon was not with this campaign and was not working for Donald Trump during the period of time when most of the things that we are concerned with, with respect to a lot of the collusion inquiry took place. However, because of the instance that you`re talking about, that is a pivotal incident in the obstruction of justice case and if he had the conversation that he admits that he had, presumably he did, he now has not only as he involved and have valuable testimony to give on the question of obstruction, but he also that has a window into the speculative stuff that he`s saying about what happened around the Russia meeting in June of 2016.
So, that opens up two lines of fruitful inquiry just on this one mistake that he seems to have made yesterday before the House Intel Committee.
And, Betsy, a conversation like that is a prosecutor`s dream because Bannon`s in a position to tell the prosecutor what Reince Priebus said that he knew about that meeting.
O`DONNELL: What Sean Spicer knew about that meeting, what Mark Corallo knew about that meeting, and beyond that, he -- you know, Reince Priebus might have said that he had heard from someone else some fact about that meeting all of that becomes discoverable material once Steve Bannon is talking to special prosecutor.
WOODRUFF: Certainly, and all of this really paints a picture of man and as potentially being a really vital witness to Mueller and to his team. That`s why it`s so important that what we`re hearing from Bannon world early last evening when he came out of that House Intel Committee hearing and then throughout the day is that Bannon is planning on being very candid very open with Mueller.
One source told me that Bannon is going to tell Mueller everything he knows. That`s really important for Mueller and his team. That said, one piece of context that I think is vital to this conversation, circling back to the White House section is that the White House has not been consistent in what its had senior staff do when they go before the House Intel Committee.
I was told by a source today and Congressman Schiff might have said this publicly, that a Rick Dearborn who`s currently the White House deputy chief of staff answered questions from members that he didn`t say that there was any sort of executive privilege or any areas that he wasn`t allowed to talk about that he was candid in a way that many members actually found to be sort of heartening, but also extremely out of step with the message the White House has been sending. So, it seems like and this will probably not shock folks to hear, that the White House is planning for these House Intelligence Committee hearings is not as organized and not as put together as folks in the White House may have hoped, it would be.
And the result is we`re seeing the president`s legal team and the White House legal team be caught flat-footed again and again, and what that means for Bannon talking to Mueller is that it`s very tough to game out how ready they`ll be from a defense perspective for any information that Bannon gave to the special counsel.
O`DONNELL: That`s all hugely important, Betsy. It does sound chaotic that there`s someone who does conceivably have grounds for a claiming executive privilege, who doesn`t at all, and then two other people who have seen lee no grounds for it are claiming some kind of mysterious privilege.
Betsy Woodruff, thank you very much for your invaluable input tonight. Really appreciate.
WOODRUFF: Sure thing.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Donald Trump has the Republicans headed for a possible shutdown this week a shutdown that the gut that the Republicans are come in complete control of one way or another. They control the House of Representatives, they control the Senate, they control the White House. The shutdown is theirs if it happens.
And that is why Paul Ryan is running scared. He`s running so scared that he has told people he will not run for re-election in Wisconsin, and the news for Republicans in Wisconsin got a lot worse last night.
O`DONNELL: -- secretary of state has reportedly referred to the president as a moron and some reports indicated he put a colorful and profane adjective in front of the word moron when he called the president a moron.
Today, the president`s chief of staff called him uninformed. And now, we are all uninformed about something. In fact, we`re all uninformed about most things. But we are supposed to be informed, in fact, very highly informed, about the knowledge needed to operate effectively in our jobs.
Today, White House chief of staff John Kelly said the president is uninformed about. It`s the kind of thing that provokes other people in your workplace to call you a moron.
Mitch McConnell is too much of a Kentucky gentleman to publicly say the president is a moron. But he said essentially the same thing today when he spoke to reporters and said the only problem to avoiding a shut down was that the president doesn`t know what he wants.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I`m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he`s not yet indicated what measure he`s willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor, but actually dealing with a bill that has a chance to become law and therefore solve the problem.
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O`DONNELL: As soon as we figure out what he`s for, and Republican senators standing around him nodding their heads about that. No Senate leader has ever publicly complained about the president of his own party not having any idea what he is for in legislation. Mark Meadows, the right wing extremist leader of a group of House Republicans who call themselves the Freedom Caucus says it is impossible for the Republican leadership to pass a government funding bill with only Republican votes.
Mark Meadows said, quote: They do not have the votes. And, of course, they do not have the votes because Mark Meadows won`t give them the votes.
That is why chief of staff John Kelly was on the Capitol Hill trying to find a compromise position between Democrats and Republicans that could create a large enough vote to avoid a shutdown.
"The Washington Post" reports John Kelly told Democratic lawmakers that some of President Trump`s campaign promises on immigration were, quote, uninformed. And Kelly reportedly said a concrete wall from sea to shining sea is not going to happen, and there will be no wall that Mexico will pay for.
Joining us now: Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of the book "One Nation After Trump". John Heilemann is back with us.
And, Norm, we have seen the government approached the whole government shutdown deadlines many, many times in the past. We`ve never seen it quite like this before.
NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL EXPERT: That`s for sure, Lawrence. We`ve had shutdowns when Ronald Reagan was president and at least one house of Congress was controlled by the Democrats. We had shutdowns when Bill Clinton was president obviously precipitated by then Speaker Newt Gingrich. We had one with Republicans precipitating one when Barack Obama was president.
This will be the first time if it happens when you have all of the reins of government effectively controlled by one party and by any standard, they could do it on their own and if they don`t, it`s their responsibility.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Lindsey Graham tonight on the Senate floor because the person he seems to be blaming for where we are now among others but high on his list is White House chief of staff John Kelly. Let`s listen to this.
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: General Kelly, as much as I admire you, for 10 years, I and many others in this body have been trying to find a way forward to fix an immigration system is broken they`re turning into a merit-based immigration system over time to get the 11 million right with the law. So, I haven`t been fiddling. What I asked the White House is find out what you`re for. I can`t read your mind.
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O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, that`s about as insulting as Lindsey Graham`s going to get to John Kelly and Donald Trump right now.
HEILEMANN: Yes, sir, that`s exactly right. You know, look, Lindsey Graham`s been landed at the feet of John Kelly and the White House staff and, you know, Kelly talked about this on Fox News tonight, so I went up and talked to my friend Senator Graham, he`s trying to figure out a way forward here.
But, look, I mean, in the end, this is not a staffing problem. This is not a John Kelly problem. This is not even really a Donald Trump problem. So, go back to Norm`s point. This is a problem of one of the latest of many vivid illustrations over the course of last year that the Republican Party is not a functional governing party. It is a deeply profoundly corrupt institution that made a bunch of promises for instance about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act for eight years and then got a chance to do it and had no idea how to do it. That was one vivid illustration.
This is another one, we`re headed towards a government shutdown because Republicans, even though they control every part of the government that`s relevant, this process cannot get their act together on not just this immigration thing, but on a wide array of things. This is not a hard thing for unitary government to do and they are on the brink of failing at this very basic task.
O`DONNELL: Norm, when you think of other president`s White House`s when they send up the White House chief of staff or, you know, their best political operative which is usually the White House chief of staff to work on something like this with the Congress, they`re sending up someone far more experienced than John Kelly who has absolutely no experience in politics. He has Donald Trump`s amount of experience in politics even less because he wasn`t on the Trump campaign.
And what`s going on there is politics and John Kelly is completely lost.
ORNSTEIN: And that`s true of almost everybody in the White House. But I think it`s important to note, Lawrence, that what John Kelly said in his interview with Bret Baier today reinforced something that we learned before, that it was Kelly and probably in conjunction with Steve Miller who killed the possibility of an agreement that Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin and Jeff Flake and others had worked out that might have avoided a shutdown and actually resulted in something constructive moving forward.
Kelly called Tom Cotton and then called Bob Goodlatte, two people who will never be a part of a comprehensive way of dealing with DACA or the rest of immigration to make sure that to make sure Trump didn`t do something they didn`t want. And Trump who didn`t know much about anything, much less what was in the agreement or what it would do was basically was set off by Kelly. So Kelly doesn`t know politics. But also intervened because of his own strong Nativist views, which have become apparent over a long period of time.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, that was very obviously. We have time for one quick prediction, question. One word answer, John Heilemann will there be a shutdown? Yes or no. OK, yes. Norm Ornstein, what do you think?
ORNSTEIN: I think so, yes.
O`DONNELL: And my vote is I don`t know.
ORNSTEIN: You can`t do that Lawrence
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Just it`s because it`s your show you get to do that.
O`DONNELL: I got no (INAUDIBLE). I said at the outset, we`re all -- we all have pockets of ignorance. This is mine. I can`t guess what`s going to happen.
HEILEMANN: That`s cheap and sad.
O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein thank you very for joining us.
ORNSTEIN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: I`m going to endure John Heilemann for another segment. Coming up, what history was made in the United States Senate today. It was a very sad history made there, when a Republican Senator actually compared the President of the United States to Joseph Stalin. And this is important, no one in the Senate was surprised and no one in the Senate objected.
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JEFF FLAKE, UNITED STATES SENATOR: "Not only has the past year seen an American President borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with this own language. That is reprehensible.
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O`DONNELL: Steven Spielberg`s new film The Post, a truly inspiring story of the free press at work has been banned in Lebanon. That`s the kind of thing previous Presidents used to condemn. But it`s now the kind of thing the President of the United States encourages. Here`s more from Senator Jeff Flake today who became the first Senator in history to compare the President of the United States to Joseph Stalin.
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FLAKE: The enemy of the people was how the President of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase enemy of the people that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of "annihilating such individuals" who disagree with the Supreme Leader.
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O`DONNELL: Tonight, on Fox News, Whitehouse Chief of staff John Kelly was not asked why he lied about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson 90 days ago and has never apologized for those lies even though video has proven that everything he said about Congressman Wilson was a lie. But when offered the chance to side with Joseph Stalin and Donald Trump or Senator Jeff Flake, that was an easy choice for John Kelly.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a speech today, Arizona Republican senator said the president`s description of the press as fake news is Staliness. How do you respond to all that?
JOHN KELLY, WHITEHOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it`s unfortunate that he would do that. I think he`s completely wrong. It suggests to me -- well, I just think he`s completely wrong. I think it`s beneath him. But he is a United States Senator and he has his opinions and he can voice them anyway he wants I guess.
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O`DONNELL: Joining us now Nina Khrushcheva, Professor of International Affairs at New School and the great granddaughter of Nikita Khrushcheva who once leader of the Soviet Union and Yascha Mounk a lecturer on government at Harvard and the author of the People versus democracy, why our freedom is in danger and how to save it. Nina, referee this dispute between John Kelly and Jeff Flake. John Kelly says, I think he`s completely wrong, when Jeff Flake was talking about comparing Trump`s language to Joseph Stalin.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: When I think John Kelly is completely wrong because enemy of the people was a very well known phrased that was used in Stalin`s Russia, was used in Hitler`s Germany to brand anybody who was disagreeing with the political system right from the top. So this is actually historical fact. It`s truth and, therefore, John Kelly is wrong.
Although, I do want to say when we speak about Flake -- Senator Flake comparing Trump to Joseph Stalin, I think we are wrong because he didn`t compare them. He just compared the language which I think in a democracy already is a coup but nonetheless it`s not a direct comparison between the two men.
O`DONNELL: Explain on that point in a democracy it`s coup if the President is using Stalin`s language.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well in a democracy it is a coupe because not only the President is using enemy of the people, not only summarily the press organizations today which we saw the results of the fake news award, which is remarkable in many ways, so it is a coup that the President summarily brands those who disagree with them as the enemies and those who produce fake information -- that is something that non-democracies do. so I think in this sense it`s a coup that in his language the President cites those well known dictators, and not just the 20th century dictators but all autocrats from and memorial.
O`DONNELL: That`s another point Jeff Flake went on to make. Let`s listen to more of what he said, talking about President Assad of Syria and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Let`s listen to this.
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FLAKE: In February Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed in one of his military prisons by saying you can forge anything these days, we`re living in the fake news era.
In the Philippines, the President Rodrigo Duterte complained of being demonized by fake news. Last month the report continues with our President "laughing by his side" Duterte called reporters spies.
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O`DONNELL: And Yascha Mounk the President has been fueling this kind of things since he started denying President Obama`s birth certificate was the President`s birth certificate.
YASCHA MOUNK, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, absolutely. I mean you know what we`re seeing is a full-scale attack on basic rules and norms of democracy. And most important of that is politics on the basis of truth.
You can`t go about as a top politician and simply make things up if it happens to be useful to you. In fact I think what Trump is doing one step further. Not just he lies when it`s convenient, which politicians do, it`s that he wants to overwhelm with so many claims and ridiculousness that nobody can actually orient themselves. That we all have to give up thinking what`s right, wrong, did happen and didn`t happen, and everyone goes with their own team. When that happens, you no longer have a rational basis for democracy.
O`DONNELL: You wrote saying Trump himself has not been normalized. But the fact that the President of the United States is deeply abnormal has. Expand on that.
MOUNK: Yes, I was reflecting on where we`re at one year into The trump presidency. if you remember the sort of mood after Trump you was elected and his first days in office, there were all these warnings and we would end up normalizing Donald Trump and what people meant is we would start to think that Trump and his policy and his administration are an ordinary part of American political life.
Look at the spectacle of the last day, the comments that Trump reportedly made about African countries, if you think about the extraordinary news about Stormy Daniels, even if you think about today`s fake news award, everybody knows this is not normal, right? Everybody realizes we`re living in this extraordinary bizarre times. But I`ve seen people over the last 12 months get used to it. they haven`t changed how they act, that`s true of Republicans in Congress who haven`t stood up to Donald Trump, it`s true of the stock markets that even though there`s downside risks from him, possibly government shutdown on so on, is going from one strength to another, and I think it`s even true with some of the people who most despise Donald Trump who want to stand up to him, a year ago, the huge protests against him, now the protests are much smaller. I think we have normalized living in an abnormal situation. And that is just as dangerous.
O`DONNELL: Nina Khrushcheva and Yascha Mounk thank you both for joining us. I really appreciate it.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you.
MOUNK: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Democrats got a big, big win last night. And now, Paul Ryan is more worried than he`s ever been. The Republicans are feeling the wave coming.
O`DONNELL: If any Republican couldn`t see the wave coming before today, they can all see it now. After a special election last night in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker tweeted, Senate District 10 Special Election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.
A very long time ago, actually about three years ago, Scott Walker was the front runner for the Presidential nomination, then came Donald Trump and now comes the wave. The wave that Republicans fare fear is going to wipe them out in this year`s Congressional elections. Wisconsin Republicans including Paul Ryan were already afraid, which is why Paul Ryan has reportedly told confidants that he will not run for reelection Congress this year. Here`s what Paul Ryan had to say about yesterday`s big Republican loss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with Scott Walker that last night`s results were a wake up call for Republicans and is it evidence that a potential wave election is coming in November.
PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well I know Sheila Harsdorf, very, very well. I know this district fairly well. It`s not my district. It`s over in Western Wisconsin. But typically we held the seat, and we lost it last night, so yes, I think we should pay attention for it.
O`DONNELL: It sounds like Ryan speak for it looks like the Democrats are in for a big win in the elections. John Heilemann and Ron Klain will l be back to discuss that next.
O`DONNELL: In that special election to the Wisconsin Senate last night, the democrat Patty Schachtner beat her Republican opponent by 11 points, 55-44. Donald Trump won that district by 17 points in 2016 and Republicans have held that seat for 17 years. Back with us John Heilemann and Ron Klain. And Ron, when you`re looking for -- looking at the horizon, looking for a wave, is this the kind of thing you look at?
RON KLAIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You know Lawrence I`m sitting here in front of the capitol. Were a 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean but even here you can see the blue wave forming on the horizon. And you know look I think it relates so much in the last segment you had. You know we are a democracy. And Trump`s excesses are going to have a reckoning.
I think that reckoning has been in these special elections all along. But particularly will be this fall with the Congressional Elections. And, you know, that`s largely because of a reaction to the kind of presidency Donald Trump has had, and because of tremendous activism and enthusiasm by the grass roots. What`s really exciting is these victories we`re seeing in special elections, 35 state legislative seats flipped since Donald Trump became President. That`s not because of people in Washington like me. It`s because of people in the grassroots are really getting active and really reacting to what they`re seeing.
O`DONNELL: And John, you always wonder how far down-ballot does presidential impact go. And now you`re looking at these state legislature elections. But when you have a polling question like this, new Quinnipiac Poll, is the President mentally stable? No, 47 percent, yes, 45 percent. That has never been a question in a poll.
HEILEMANN: He`s doing worse on that poll question than I would do, that`s a problem.
O`DONNELL: But we can`t even compare that to previous Presidents, because no one thought to ask the question. And when questions like that are being asked by the head of your party it`s got to be tough way down ballot.
HEILEMANN: Sure, it`s going to be tough very down the ballot. And look midterm elections are always referendums on the President whose in power. They are nationalized elections mostly at the House level and down ballot, not so much the Senator and Gubernatorial levels. They kind of make their own wind and weather.
But I`m not good at math but I think the number that we just looked at was a 17-point, 18-point swing. Cornell Belcher was on air earlier tonight saying you know a pollster, somebody who knows a lot about numbers more than I do. And he said you know you don`t see that kind of swing. That`s a crazy swing, right?
And you look at the generic ballot. You look at what we`ve seen in terms of the enthusiasm of the democratic base. You look at the way the voters are peeling off from moderate, suburban Republicans, who are peeling off from the party on Republican side. You look at all the evidence. You kook at everything that we`ve seen and then this.
Wisconsin is not really Trump Country. Wisconsin is the state that has been a blue state for a pretty long time. It`s purplish, right? Hillary Clinton didn`t go there in the fall campaign, sorry to say that To Ron Klain. But the campaigns did not send here there. And it allowed Trump to go in and steal the state.
Right now there`s a lot of places in the country like that. places like Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, that are not Trump country, and they are going to -- that is where you are going to see this down-ballot effect where there`s going to be the blue wave well into the industrial heartland and a lot of other places if we keep heading this direction.
O`DONNELL: Ands Ron, the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, his home state, Wisconsin. He`s trying to lead the House of Representatives, the Republican side of the House of Representatives, and he won`t tell them he himself will run for re-election this year. And apparently has privately told confidants that he won`t. He apparently doesn`t believe he can get re- elected in Wisconsin this year.
KLAIN: Yes, it`s like the scene in The Titanic where he people on the top decks are trying to get to the boats while everyone else is trying to figure it out. So, you know, Paul Ryan sees what`s coming. But the truth is, even if Paul Ryan`s trying to hide what he`s doing, a record number of House Republicans, a record number of House Republicans are retiring.
O`DONNELL: And the Chairman.
KLAIN: Chairman and people who have spent their whole careers being there for this moment. They`re retiring Lawrence for a reason, because they know that wave is coming and they know that this comeuppance for Donald Trump is going to take them down too.
HEILEMANN: The number at this date, eight House Republican Chairmen at this point. Something you never see, a year out, eight House Republican Chairmen who have decided to step down for no reason --
O`DONNELL: And there`s plenty of time for more of them to take that decision. Ron Klain, John Heilemann, thank you for joining us, really appreciate it.
KLAIN: Thanks Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s Last Word is next.
O`DONNELL: We have breaking news from the House of Representatives, the House Rules Committee has just voted on a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown that would fund the government till February 16th. It would include no provision for DACA, nothing on DACA.
It would include a six-year extension of the Child Health Insurance Program, children`s Health Insurance Program. It would also suspend for two years some of the taxes in the Affordable Care Act. That could be voted on in the House of Representatives tomorrow. That`s tonight`s Last Word. The 11th hour with Brian Williams starts now.
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