Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 2, 2018 Guest: Neera Tanden, Austan Goolsbee, Susan Page, Natasha Bertrand, Maya Wiley, Jeremy Bash
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. It`s Friday night. I am Ari Melber in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
Unglued. That is Donald Trump`s current condition, at least according to an inside source who just spoke to NBC News.
And while many may say Donald Trump`s presidency isn`t exactly known for being very glued together to begin with, this week`s chaos has been pretty intense even grading on any kind of, say, Trump curve.
Think about the new reports that the Mueller probe is now eyeing Jared Kushner and whether his debt and business issues drove any foreign policy corruption inside the Trump White House. Mueller`s team asking witnesses about Kushner`s efforts to secure financing for his family`s real estate properties, discussions during the transition from individuals from Qatar, Turkey, Russia, China, and the UAE.
And we have more on that tonight, plus which country actually says it has evidence on Kushner. Right now, though, I want to begin with our top story, and that`s the way that Bob Mueller`s heat may be reshaping Donald Trump`s inner circle as we know it.
The report`s that Trump wants his own family out. While Trump has, quote, never told Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump they should keep serving in their roles, "The New York Times" reports that, actually, he`s privately asking Chief of Staff John Kelly for help in moving them out.
Think about the intrigue and deception that`s packed just into that single line of reporting. We have a president/father pushing to fire his kids through an intermediary while denying it to them.
Well, what`s the point of that whole deception? If Kelly does fire the kids, the ploy lasts until, what, the next family meal?
As for Jared Kushner, his weak standing in the Trump versus Kelly paradigm exposed for all to see this week when Trump left in place Chief of Staff Kelly`s downgrade of Kushner, his Middle East envoy`s access to intelligence.
And why does that matter? Well, if Jared Kushner can`t get Trump to sign a piece of paper to keep his intel access, how certain is he that he can get Trump to help him keep his job?
Now, the intrigue does not mean that Trump has been sitting idle. In fact, he pledged new blanket tariffs on imports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to be instituting tariffs next week. We`ll be signing. It will be 25 percent for steel. It will be 10 percent for aluminum. And it will be for a long period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A long period of time. And that surprise announcement rattling the stock market, angering some allies.
Report is that the backdrop for this economic action was actually Trump`s other headaches and that the report he is unglued came after, quote, Hope Hicks testimony to lawmakers investigating Russian interference, the conduct by his embattled Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, as well as the treatment of, as we`ve been discussing, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner by his Chief of Staff.
Trump angry and gunning for a fight, the sources say, and he chose a trade war which may be why the announcement had no messaging remarks prepared, no legislative strategy. That is the scene leaked by insiders. And those are people who say they want Trump to succeed.
Now, he is pushing back that trade wars are good and easy to win. Maybe so are celebrity feuds because Trump also took a shot at this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Thanks so much. Your show is so great. Huge ratings. Of course, not as big as the ratings for my State of the Union speech which was watched by 10 billion people.
BALDWIN: Including all of China. They say there`s only seven billion people on Earth, so where the other three billion come from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illegals.
BALDWIN: Illegals. I don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump, with all these going on that I just told you about, began the day blasting Alec Baldwin and arguing that, instead, actor Darrell Hammond should play him. I`m not going to read the whole tweet because it`s not actually that news worthy based on its content.
It`s only even mentionable based on its context. Because we are bearing witness to a man who built his career as an entertainer playing a character, now promoted to the top job with real power, real things to do, and what is he focused on today? The other entertainers who play his character.
It would all be funny if it all weren`t so ominous.
Joining me now is Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today"; Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama and a professor of economics at the University of Chicago; and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress.
Neera, it`s Friday night. I`d begin with you. Maybe you can make us all feel better or at least give us your truth.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Sadly, I do not think I`m going to make anyone feel better. I have worked for two presidents. I worked even for a president who was going through an impeachment, and I have never seen anything like the spectacle of this week.
And the idea that the President of the United States would start a trade war kind of off the cuff in which we do have allies, our actual allies, now discussing retaliation against different elements of American industry, from Harley-Davidson to Bourbon from Kentucky, strikes me as a kind of lunacy the American presidency hasn`t seen in my lifetime.
MELBER: Well, Austan, are we on a trade war? And please address me like I know nothing about tariffs because I know nothing about tariffs.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: OK, you know nothing about tariffs. We might be in a trade war. We fired a shot.
It was intended to be shot at China, but now you come to find out China`s not even one of the major steel exporters to the United States. The biggest steel exporters to the United States are our military allies, Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea.
So the question is, how do those countries react to us doing this? Hopefully, they will keep this measured.
But, Ari, I guess I was just going to object, you -- your criticism of the President for, at a time like this, being concerned about "Saturday Night Live."
I`m begging the people in the White House to get the "Saturday Night Lives" and just show him reruns of "Saturday Night Live," get his thinking off of policy because this -- when he thinks about policy, it`s quite terrifying.
MELBER: Well, let me read to you, though, in all fairness to the President, his rebuttal. And I want to mention, some of it is in all caps.
We must protect our country and our workers. Our steel industry is in bad shape.
GOOLSBEE: Truly, is this fair to the President? Let`s not be fair to the President.
MELBER: And then in all caps, Austan, he writes, if you don`t have steel, you don`t have a country.
And as you know, Austan, because I`m sure you`re hip with the Internet, if it`s written in all caps, it`s shouted.
GOOLSBEE: Look, the -- I don`t think the President is fully up on the historic precedents that trade wars lead to depressions, but I wish somebody there would go tell him that. I think this is the consequence of having a hundred plus people who don`t have a security clearance, so they can`t read the intelligence briefings and they`re going to make decisions.
I understand that they made this trade decision without even telling the staff.
GOOLSBEE: The major economic advisers didn`t even know he was going to announce it.
MELBER: Right. Well, Susan, here`s Alec Baldwin`s response to this. Yes, this is real life.
Agony though it may be, I`d like to hang in there for the impeachment hearings, the resignation speech, the farewell helicopter to Mar-a-Lago. You know, the good stuff that we`ve all been waiting for.
Susan, maybe you can tie it all together for us. Is that the feud that Donald Trump wants? Because he does like attacking the famous people, the people that he really never felt fully accepted by, according to a lot of accounts of his life, and that now, as president, he feels further spurned by which, in his own mind, is a kind of a tragic sad thing.
And how do you tie that together with the reporting I just mentioned that says something very serious, serious for people whose jobs are affected here -- I mean, the steel stuff is real because this is real consumer issues and real jobs -- is that this was all, according to the reporting, partly a way for him to soothe himself and find a new fight with all the other fights he is apparently losing this week?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, what strike -- Neera said she worked for two presidents. I`ve covered six presidents.
And there have been times when previous presidents have had rough patches. You know, you think about the economic crisis President Obama faced or the aftermath of 9/11 or the impeachment period for President Clinton.
What makes this different, it seems to me, is that the crises that this White House faces are almost entirely self-created. And it raises -- I think the -- it raises many -- it`s funny. In some ways, it raises some serious concerns.
The most serious concern is, how will this White House react when a real crisis erupts? Either an economic process or a foreign policy crisis of a very serious sort. That will happen. That will happen during President Trump`s term in office.
And it just -- this is what made this week particularly crystallize, I think, concerns about the ability of this White House to respond to the big problems that we know are ahead. We don`t know exactly what they`re going to be, but we know there will be a crisis ahead. How will they handle it?
MELBER: Well, Neera, go ahead.
TANDEN: I would just add -- I guess I would say, you know, I totally hear Susan, and she`s a hundred percent right that the problem is Donald Trump himself does seem to create these crises. You know, one can argue about the merit of tariffs or not.
The idea that you would just sort of roll them out at the end of your remarks, not tell your allies, not tell your State Department, not tell your own economic council, just sort of willy-nilly state it out there, give very little justification.
I mean, the possibilities here for what it`s going to do to jobs and costs and inflation, prices for consumers, and the idea that he just sort of willy-nilly did that, I think that`s what`s deeply worrying, is he`s creating possible crises for the country.
You know, we hire a president to protect us from emergencies or problems, not to create them for us.
MELBER: Well, I mean, you put it so well.
GOOLSBEE: But it`s -- the President --
MELBER: Austan, one sec. I`m going to get to you in a sec. But, Neera, just to follow-up on that point, is it -- does it sort of bum you out?
Or is it sort of -- kind of remarkable that we`re living through a period of time where if you have, whatever it is, 300 million people in the United States, you have one of the most important far-reaching jobs, it`s the job -- the presidency affects everyone else, and it`s as you -- and you`re telling, it`s being filled by someone who has almost no interest whatsoever in how to do the job?
TANDEN: Yes, and, you know, what I think -- I think Austan is right. When he`s actually interested in policy, it doesn`t seem to go well. I mean, I would prefer feuds with Alec Baldwin or response to, you know, Oprah Winfrey because that doesn`t actually affect anyone`s lives.
But, you know, when prices go up for cars and goods, you know, that`s -- that could be deeply worrying. So I think, you know, I -- you know, what I`m optimistic about is it does seem more and more Americans think this is insane and ridiculous and oppose Trump.
So, you know, we`ll have the midterm elections. And hopefully, there will be an actual check on this behavior.
GOOLSBEE: Look, take a step back. You can see -- you`re not blind -- the President of the United States has massive impulse control problems. That the President United States has impulse control problems is about the most terrifying thing that has ever happened in this country, so I don`t quite know how to process it.
The fact that they`re now talking about firing the President`s children has me wondering, who are they going to get to replace them? I mean, how deluded would you have to be to walk into the middle of this situation now?
MELBER: Well, Susan, to that point, look at this reporting about Jared Kushner and sort of his falling reputation within the White House.
"Washington Post" says colleagues now privately mock Kushner as a shadow of his former self, one official likening the work of Kushner`s office of American innovation to headlines in "The Onion." That`s a terrible news website.
Of course, as you know, Susan, it`s not that private, that mocking, if it`s in the paper and on the news.
PAGE: Well, there is a civil war going on in this White House as there has been almost from the start. And certainly, Jared Kushner has been a combatant in that against some figures. Now, the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, seems to have prevailed over Jared Kushner at the moment.
There have long been -- there has long been speculation that Ivanka and Jared Kushner would go -- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner would move back to New York. That`s certainly a possibility.
But it is -- and, in fact, many -- there are multiple people at the White House who might be interested in other jobs. You can imagine that after how exhausting it must be after a year in this White House. But I think it also makes a good point. It may be hard --
MELBER: When it`s exhausting just to be near the White House.
PAGE: Just to cover it, yes.
MELBER: Just to look at it.
TANDEN: To watch it.
PAGE: Imagine being -- doing it. It`s got to be even harder. And I think that the idea that it will be hard to find people with experience, high quality people with experience, in Washington and policy making to take those jobs, I think that is, again, one more thing to worry about when you think about the good of the country and the need to have a well-functioning White House.
MELBER: Austan, go ahead.
GOOLSBEE: No. Look, I -- as you might imagine, I totally agree with that sentiment. I mean, I think it`s not to -- we should not understate the damage that this trade war would do if they actually enact it.
I`m hopeful that he got himself worked up about something and that when people start telling him, wait a minute, this is going to lead to thousands of Americans losing their jobs and the price of a whole bunch of stuff -- cars and soup and Airstream trailers -- and all the people who are affected by that, it`s going to be a negative.
I`m hoping that he backs away from it, and it becomes just one of the -- one more of the things that he`s said that he doesn`t care to do.
MELBER: Yes, well, I don`t want to --
GOOLSBEE: But if not --
MELBER: I don`t want to --
GOOLSBEE: -- we`re going to have a segment talking about the beginnings of recession in this country.
MELBER: Well, and that`s a major statement given that the economy is the one thing that -- whether he gets credit for it or not, given that these gains have been going since the previous administration`s policies. It`s the one thing that might have been helping him in perception.
As for your hope, Austan, now is the part of the segment where I read you a new thing from Donald Trump. He says, quote, when a country taxes our products coming in at, say, 50 percent, and we tax the same product coming into our country at zero -- all caps -- not fair or smart. We`ll be starting -- all caps -- reciprocal taxes so that we will charge the same thing as they charge us. $800 billion trade deficit. Have no choice!
So that`s where he`s at. He`s not backing down.
TANDEN: Can I just add? Look, there is a reason to be concerned about the U.S. competition with China and the things that China does. I take that point.
I think what`s disconcerting to Americans and should be disconcerting to, I think, really people around the world is that -- you know, that we have a president that sort of shoots from the hip on these things and doesn`t communicate them to our own allies who are now exploring retaliations.
I mean, perhaps there were some other step he could take. I think the big issue here about the chaos is that we have had a year and a half of chaos.
There have been moments where the chaos seems less or the chaos seems more, but essentially -- I mean, talking about Jared Kushner, he was fighting with Steve Bannon a year ago. Now, there`s some new person he`s fighting with.
These people are not putting the public interest and, like, American interest ahead of their own petty squabbles and ahead of, you know, just being normal functioning White House staffs who care about what actually happens to the American people.
MELBER: Well, and you make a great point and I go to Susan to round it all out, to close it out. Help us, Susan, because I think what Neera just said is actually also very significant, if you will.
It is the epistemology of the pettiness of the information chain that we have. Why do we know so much bad stuff about so many of these people? Why did we know so much about Jared Kushner`s conflicts of interest?
Well, if you read "Fire and Fury" or you look at the reporting we have or you look at how many sources are essentially ID`ed as current or recent Trump aides, we only know all these terrible true stuff because they`re all leaking it out about each other.
PAGE: That`s right. It`s like a competitive leaking competition there. I mean, we really never see anything where we know so much through the leaking and through the tweeting by the President.
We know so much about the internal workings of this White House that we haven`t known about a previous one. And I think that that has contributed to a really deep sense of unease on the part of Americans.
Now, Americans think the economy is doing well. They say we`re in a recovery, and yet they still, 60 percent, say this country has gotten off track.
MELBER: Well, Austan Goolsbee, I thank you. The others, I`m going to see later in the show.
GOOLSBEE: Thank you.
MELBER: Up next, we look at why Jared Kushner`s bad week is getting worse because Mueller, probing his business relationships. Which country might be more than willing to help out the Mueller probe when it comes to Kushner?
And this NBC report, Vladimir Putin on Russian`s election interference in that Megyn Kelly exclusive.
MELBER: Bob Mueller now probing if Jared Kushner`s foreign business ties are influencing White House policy. He`s asking witnesses about Kushner`s efforts to get money for family real estate properties, including those discussions with individuals repping Qatar, Turkey, Russia, China, UAE.
The issue is whether Kushner shaped these policies to benefit or retaliate against those he spoke to. What`s the implication? Well, you can probably tell. The idea is that kind of conduct, if it did occur, would form the basis of criminal charges.
Take Qatar. This is where Kushner met with the nation`s former Prime Minister at Trump Tower, who just happened to also be talking to Kushner`s family about investing in their most important property, the debt-ridden 666 Fifth Avenue.
Now, after the deal fell flew through, the White House strongly backed an economically punishing blockade against Qatar. Now, the officials there say maybe that blockade was some kind of Kushner retaliation.
I want to be clear tonight, there are also possible other innocent explanations, and Bob Mueller is not just going to take the word of anyone, let alone the word of foreign diplomats who may have their own geopolitical agenda. He`s not going to do that without evidence.
But if there is evidence that Kushner`s debts or financing goals corrupted U.S. government policy, you can bet Mueller`s looking for it.
Joining me now is attorney Maya Wiley, a former counsel to the Mayor of New York City, and Natasha Bertrand, a staff writer at "The Atlantic."
You covered this story in and out. What do you think of these new facets with Kushner who has famously been dealing with a lot debt on his company`s side?
NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, it`s entirely unsurprising, right? Kushner came into this administration having not actually divested himself from any of his -- well, from the vast, vast majority of his interest in Kushner companies.
And he came into the transition period and into the White House administration with this 666 Fifth Avenue debt very, very heavily on his mind. He was --
MELBER: Does it ever weird you out that the building that they owe now close to a billion on is literally like Lucifer`s address?
BERTRAND: I mean, yes.
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY: There`s been a --
BERTRAND: I think that everyone`s thought about the fact that it`s --
WILEY: There`s been a number of New York jokes about that one.
MELBER: I mean, if it were a movie and they were like, oh, the thing is the -- that would be too much.
BERTRAND: It`s been like the devil on their shoulders. I mean, it`s been impossible for them to get rid of it basically, and they`ve been -- they`re over $1 billion in debt, and they`ve been looking for a wealthy investor to kind of revamp that building which they bought over about a decade ago now.
They reached out to Qatar. They even reached out to Russia at one point. Russia -- Jared Kushner had that meeting with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank in December. And of course, that was around the time that he tried to set up that back channel to Moscow.
MELBER: So let me take it to Maya on the legal part as a lawyer. There`s a lot of things people do that are sleazy, duplicitous, poor judgment.
WILEY: Just dumb.
MELBER: Just downright stupid that aren`t crimes. When you look at this, do you think Mueller really sees an actual federal statute here?
WILEY: Oh, yes. There actually is a criminal conflict of interest law. And so if it is as it appears and we don`t know and Mueller may not know yet, there`s no question that there could be a criminal violation here.
I think the problem for the White House is that anything that looks like there`s a connection between an interest and a decision you make creates the optics that you`re dirty. And any investigator that gets hold of that is going to look for public corruption.
And this, in the context where you already have an investigation with any number of potential criminal law violations means, of course, you`re going to go down that track.
MELBER: So, but what would the violation look like, knowingly trying to abuse the position?
WILEY: That`s right. So if you are a person with a government job -- unless you`re the President. Actually, Trump is the only person who would be exempt under this particular statute. But Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, they are not.
And so if you are gaining any financial interest in change for your -- basically, your position in office, that would be a criminal conflict of interest if you knowingly did that.
TODD: Right. And this is all against the backdrop of witnesses leaking about what they have been asked about, so it gives a hint to what Mueller is looking at.
I, on my show that airs at 6:00 p.m., "THE BEAT," had a rare thing -- and, Maya, you were there for it -- of an aide to Donald Trump who had come straight from, basically, his Mueller interview, and he talked to us about his experience.
And then he made news by basically implicating Donald Trump Jr. in a problem. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: I think it`s probable that that meeting with Don Junior, I am sure Don Junior reported to his father what they had heard. I don`t think there`s anything wrong with that, by the way.
MELBER: Wait, you --
NUNBERG: And I`m also --
MELBER: You think Don Junior told his father everything he was hearing about getting offers of dirt?
NUNBERG: Yes, I`m sure he did.
WILEY: I`m sure too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What were you thinking when he said this?
WILEY: I`m still sure. I`m still sure.
WILEY: That`s what I`m thinking. I was thinking, oh my God, I cannot believe he just said that, and does he have a law degree for real?
Because it`s not that that alone would establish the crime. I mean, the fact that Donald Trump was told by his son, hey, look, we can get some dirt on Clinton and use it for the campaign. That, in and of itself, wouldn`t necessarily prove the violation, but it certainly establishes one of the elements that you need to get to that.
MELBER: And on top of that, Don Junior reportedly testified to Congress that he didn`t tell his father.
WILEY: Absolutely, but we already know that there have been a number of inconsistencies in this investigation.
MELBER: Does it surprise you how much we are learning? And I mentioned this point to some degree in the top of the show, how much we`re learning from the actual principles.
You know, in the new Jay-Z album, "4:44," he says, why do you all tell on yourself? And you see this. It seems some of these people are publicly telling on themselves.
WILEY: I think there is one -- two things are happening. And I`m guessing here, but two things appear to be happening. One is an incredible ignorance of the law. And enough arrogance that they don`t actually get really good and follow really good legal advice and just are going to --
MELBER: Ignorance and arrogance, do you agree?
BERTRAND: Totally. I mean, I also think that there`s a certain degree of warfare going on between different factions of Trump loyalists or people who have been kicked out of the campaign like Sam Nunberg was. So I think it is important to note that Sam Nunberg definitely has a bone to pick with people in Trump`s orbit.
That being said, with regard to everything that we already know about Donald Trump Jr., his lifetime of trying to seek approval from his father pretty much not doing anything without letting his father know about it first, it`s been well reported that that`s the case.
It`s -- it will be very, very difficult to believe if he had received an e- mail from this music publicist last year offering dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians and didn`t immediately tell his father.
MELBER: So you`re assessment and analysis is you don`t see Don Junior as a highly independent operator in the Trump landscape?
BERTRAND: No, I think it`s pretty well understood that even when they were -- when -- even when Donald Trump was just running his organization and Donald Trump Jr. was helping him do that, there was no decision that was made without --
MELBER: Yes, I was just --
BERTRAND: -- Donald Trump`s approval.
MELBER: I was just kidding, you know.
MELBER: Like I don`t think Don Junior -- I mean, come on.
WILEY: Can we make one other point, though, in this story?
WILEY: So Ivanka Trump has the same problem that Jared Kushner has. I mean, she has -- she actually had a meeting in April, back in April, with the President of China. And the exact same day she had that meeting, she had -- her company got three trademark approvals from the --
WILEY: -- from China.
MELBER: Right. Right. Maya Wiley and Natasha Bertrand, thank you both. This was very interesting.
Up next, this NBC report with Vladimir Putin talking about the 13 Russians indicted in the Mueller probe. How does Putin respond? We`re going to show you.
And is he in it or is he out of it? We`re going to try to figure out where Donald Trump actually landed after all the flip-flops on the important issue of gun control.
MELBER: Let`s put the Russia probe to the side for a minute. And we can even put to the side the debates over how much impact Russians may have had on Trump`s victory.
Let`s consider actual U.S. foreign policy with Russia tonight right now after Trump declined to issue any response this week to Vladimir Putin`s rather major public threat that Russia has, quote, invincible nuclear weapons that could reach anywhere in the world.
That is the state of play right now between Russia and the U.S. and context for what we`re going to show you here, which is more of NBC`s exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin who has denied any Russian government involvement after U.S. charges of election meddling.
What about Russian citizens, though, who have been indicted in that Special Counsel probe? NBC`s Megyn Kelly asked him today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): We cannot respond to that if they do not violate Russian laws.
MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS HOST: Would this violate Russian law?
PUTIN (through translator): I have to see first what they`ve done. Give us materials. Give us information.
KELLY: Hacking into the Democratic National Committee, creating interference in our election by creating bots that spread false information on Twitter, on Facebook, spreading misinformation when it comes to Black Lives Matter, when it comes to our presidential election. That`s what I`m talking about.
PUTIN (through translator): With all due respect for you personally, with all due respect for Congress, you must have people with legal degrees -- one hundred percent you do -- and people who are well educated who must understand that we, Russia, cannot prosecute anyone if they have not violated Russian law.
If you don`t have a legal degree, I can explain to you.
KELLY: I do.
PUTIN (through translator): Then you have to understand what it takes is an official request to the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation. Give us a document. Give us an official request.
KELLY: You said that the last time, and now I`m back with an indictment.
PUTIN (through translator): This has to go through official channels, not through the press or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We`ll have much more of Megyn Kelly`s reporting from Russia in the coming days.
Joining me now is Jeremy Bash, an MSNBC national security analyst and former Chief of Staff at the CIA and Defense Department. And Neera Tanden from the Center for American Progress is back with us.
Jeremy, Megyn Kelly does have a law degree. I have a law degree. A lot of people have law degrees and understand that there is not even an open extradition process that works very well with Russia. But what did you make of what Putin is doing in that interview?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Well, first of all, he`s denying. He`s making counter-accusations, he is obfuscating, and he referenced somebody, the General Prosecutor. He said, send the papers to my General Prosecutor.
If that title sounds familiar, Ari, it`s because it was the General Prosecutor who Rob Goldstone and Natalia Veselnitskaya promised Don Junior, Jared, and Paul Manafort in that meeting, the General Prosecutor had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was --
MELBER: Are you talking about Yury Chaika?
BASH: Well, I`m talking about the --
MELBER: The Russian prosecutor or --
BASH: Yes. Yes, the individual who was going to be allegedly presenting information that was going to be the Russian government`s effort to --
MELBER: Right, you`re making the --
MELBER: You`re making the very important point that even in what you`re calling the obfuscation, the reference is to go back to someone who would potentially allegedly be a part of this international conspiracy.
BASH: Right. So, look, what Putin is saying basically, hey, talk to my person. In fact, his person was -- is one of the people who was involved in interference in our election.
So if we`re talking about trying to get Russians extradited to the United States, this makes no sense, Ari, because, of course, it`s Putin`s inner circle that was actually interfering.
BASH: How will they extradite themselves? There`s no such thing as self- extradition.
TANDEN: You know, when I heard about this interview and then saw the snippets of the interview, I think the thing we should be really misfocused on because Vladimir Putin, just like Donald Trump, is excellent at making us chase other shiny objects like what the extradition process is, et cetera.
I mean, the reality is that we know that the Russians interfered with our election, and President Trump has declined to do a single thing about this. We are in week after week after week in which the President of the United States is defying the Congress by protecting Russia and refusing to do the sanctions, the Russian sanctions, that were specified by an act of law.
And on top of that, Donald -- Putin is making additional threats of some kind of new form of weapon that will undermine or actually makes Americans less safe. He has visual imagery of targeting parts of the United States.
In a normal administration, the President of the United States would respond to that. But I think we are essentially seeing the quid for the pro quo, which is Donald Trump was helped by the Russians to become President of the United States and has done nothing to stop their aggression against the United States and against our interests around the world.
BASH: And the consequence, of course, Ari, is that Putin feels totally emboldened. He is not fearful at all of the consequences of his action.
He can go out there and make accusations against us. He can roll out new nuclear weapons that can overwhelm our missile defenses. And he feels like he has a clear playing field. And he`s gotten absolutely nothing in the form of deterrents from the United States of America.
MELBER: What would be the right response, in your view, of the U.S. President given the nuclear threat?
BASH: I think the President should go out there and say these weapons do not threaten us, and, in fact, they violate the National Arms Agreement. Russia is not playing by the rules. And, by the way, we have a very strong deterrent capability and if you try to develop these weapons, we will respond.
MELBER: Right, which is not what he did.
TANDEN: I have --
TANDEN: I have an idea. Why doesn`t he implement the sanctions? I mean, we have sanctions against Russia for what they did in our elections. You know, step one, pretty basic, could be to just to implement them. That would have some harm on the Russian economy and Russian targets.
MELBER: But, Neera, at this point -- and that`s a very important fair point you make. At this point, you`re -- I think what you`re putting forward tonight is your view that this essentially is a Manchurian candidate as president. Are you sure you would feel that way regardless of your role in sort of being on the losing side of the 2016 election?
TANDEN: I think what we`re seeing in front of us -- and it`s so obvious we don`t focus on it -- is that we know that the Russians contacted the Trump campaign to help them. We know that they attacked Hillary Clinton`s campaign.
And we know that the President has refused to take any action to sanction Russia. And, you know, not just on this issue but on Syria. And therefore, it seems to me, we have quid pro and quo.
BASH: And the reality is, Ari, just that we`re living in a very dangerous world because, now, the Russians have these weapons and the United States is not -- can`t do anything about it.
MELBER: Wow. Well, have a good weekend, everybody.
MELBER: No, no. People, we`ve got to report it, we`ve got to hear it.
Jeremy Bash and Neera Tanden, thank you very much.
Up next, another important issue that you know Lawrence has talked about here on THE LAST WORD.
Donald Trump began the week lunching with the NRA. He ended the week having dinner with the NRA. So what does this mean for gun reform and the control that he talked about midweek? The gun control, that`s next.
MELBER: Donald Trump has been talking a lot about guns. He embraced the NRA. He huddled with victims of gun violence. He embraced the NRA again. But then he said this about confiscating guns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Number one, you can take the guns away immediately from people that you can adjudge easily are mentally ill like this guy. You know, the police saw that he was a problem. They didn`t take any guns away. Now, that could have been policing because, you know, you`re taking them away anyway, whether they had the right or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Whether they had the right or not. Now, that statement upset the NRA which released a response that was apparently trying to issue some sort of sick burn against their ally, Donald Trump, because they said his stance was, quote, great T.V. but bad policy. That would not keep our children safe, end quote.
Republicans questioned how committed the President is to protecting what they view as Second Amendment rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I will have to admit that the idea of taking a person`s property before the due process, that did take my breath away a little bit. It doesn`t work that way in America. But, look, I think there is an old saying about this president which is take him seriously, not necessarily literally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Yes, we all remember that. And I guess it kind of applies because within a day of President Trump calling for that kind of gun confiscation, he scheduled a meeting with the NRA in the Oval Office last night.
And Chris Cox, their director, attended the meeting and then tweeted this, I had a great meeting tonight with Trump and the Vice President. We all want safe schools, mental health reform, and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS and the Vice President support the Second Amendment, support strong due process, and don`t want gun control.
And then you see it there, the hashtags -- living together in harmony, NRA, and MAGA.
So does the President want to do what he said he wanted to do about gun control, or is this another flip-flop to make the NRA happy?
The answers do matter and we`ll discuss them right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m a fan of the NRA. I mean, it`s -- no bigger fan. I`m a big fan of the NRA, but that doesn`t mean we have to agree on everything.
It doesn`t make sense that I have to wait until I`m 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don`t know. So I`m just curious as to what you did in your bill. You didn`t request --
TOOMEY: We didn`t address it, Mr. President. But I think the --
TRUMP: You know why? Because you`re afraid of the NRA, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Real tough guy. Joining me now is Jon Allen, national political reporter for NBC News Digital. And back with us, Susan Page.
Jon, you are familiar with projection, yes?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I am.
MELBER: Did you see any of it in that tough guy meeting where he actually is addressing the people on a bipartisan basis, by the way, who tried to actually do something about gun control because there are a lot of people who think there are things that can be done and he accuses them of being afraid of the NRA which he has taken his late night meetings with?
ALLEN: Well, you know I`m not a psychologist. What I can say, having watched that, is what the President did was effectively scramble the board. Pick up the playing board and throw all the pieces in the air.
You heard Republicans reject it. He rolls out this plan. They basically say it`s a lemon. They were ejected.
And now, you know, just a few days ago, there was a lot of momentum for this relatively modest John Cornyn/Chris Murphy bill that would shore up the background check system. Now, there`s no urgency about that on Capitol Hill. People were confused about where the President stands.
And you know, I think, for right now, gun owners are -- continue to be pretty happy about the fact that there is no plan to move forward with any sort of gun control or even background check legislation in Congress.
MELBER: Susan, I`m curious of your view but also put it in the context of this very interesting poll that "USA Today," your paper, has out about standing up to the President.
PAGE: You know, it`s interesting. We asked people, in the elections in November, do you want to elect a Congress that mostly stands up to President Trump or a Congress that mostly cooperates with President Trump?
And by two to one, registered voters told us that they would like to elect a Congress that mostly stands up to President Trump. And this is, of course, reasonably alarming news for Republicans.
And it`s a little bit of a surprise because, traditionally, Americans want a Congress -- they want a government that cooperates and gets things done.
But in this case, I think Americans have some concerns about President Trump and his leadership on various issues, and they`re looking for a Congress that is going to stand up to him. And I think it is entirely possible that that is what they are going to get.
MELBER: Take a listen to -- also on the same vein, Jon, to a Fox anchor, Greg Gutfeld, talking about whether the President makes any moves here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS HOST: If there is a Republican who moves to the middle, you know it`s going to be Trump because he`s a populist. And a populist -- when a populist hears somebody say, don`t take away my guns, he`ll say I`m with you. And then if somebody else says, get those guns away from those creeps, he`ll say I`m with you.
Because a populist is with the popular opinion. And if that -- and if the population has two different opinions, he will say yes to both of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Jon, Greg Gutfeld, not a big reader of Richard Hofstadter. He doesn`t seem to understand the actual political definition of the word populist.
But I wonder what you think of that analysis and if that fundamentally means that the only way to get any gun bill through would be to catch -- you know, catch Donald Trump on the right day, have him sign. Then he couldn`t un-sign it because you can`t take it back once you sign it into law.
ALLEN: I mean, I think Mr. Gutfeld`s point, some of them were accurate there. I mean, the President does like to be liked. What was fascinating --
MELBER: Which is -- and that`s what populism means.
ALLEN: Well, no, that`s not my definition of populism exactly but --
MELBER: Well, hold on, don`t do that. There are words, they have definitions.
ALLEN: All right. But, look, what I thought was really fascinating about what the President did is, what he thought was popular at that moment was, I`m going to roll out a plan that says we`re going to take guns first, ask questions later.
And then Republicans on Capitol Hill were first to deal with a president who had just launched an assault on the Second, Fifth, and 10th Amendments in one phrase.
MELBER: Fair. I mean, fair. It was not artful, Susan, and if you want to be fair to the process, there is -- you know, there is a set of procedural rules about the confiscation of property.
But it goes deeper than that, right? It goes to the fact that there are overwhelming majorities for certain types of gun reform, and we did seem to see something -- something -- coming out of Florida for a moment there.
PAGE: You know, that`s right. We have a national consensus when it comes to some gun laws for national -- universal background checks on assault weapons.
On some of these issues, there is a two-thirds of Americans, 75 percent -- in some cases, 90 percent -- of Americans agree that they would support these actions. It`s really the politics that`s paralyzed, not the views of Americans on what needs to be done about the issue of gun violence.
MELBER: Yes, very well put. And we wanted to make sure to hit this because with everything going on this week, this is still a very important thing. And the President`s evolution on it, if you want to call it that, or whatever you want to call it, very notable.
Susan Page and Jon Allen, thank you both.
ALLEN: Thank you, Ari.
PAGE: Thank you.
MELBER: Have a good weekend, guys. And I will tell you, we have one more thing here. Tonight`s last word is next.
MELBER: Now, tonight`s true last word goes to some of the moments we thought you should see in this week`s late night T.V.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": True story, White House communications director Hope Hicks reportedly admitted to investigators that she told some white lies on behalf of President Trump.
O`BRIEN: Yes. Then Hicks admitted that that was a white lie, and in fact, she actually makes up (INAUDIBLE) all the time.
TRUMP: The level of craziness and viciousness in the movies, I think we have to look at that, too. Maybe we have to put a ratings system on that.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Well, if you`re looking for fresh ideas, that guy, he is your man.
COLBERT: Yes, why don`t we have some sort of ratings systems on movies?
SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": According to CNN, the chief White House calligrapher now has greater access to sensitive information than senior adviser Jared Kushner.
MEYERS: After Kushner`s security clearance was downgraded. Said the calligrapher --
TEXT: Suck it, Jared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And that is tonight`s last word. And you always find me weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on my show, "THE BEAT."
This Monday, we`re actually launching a new weekly segment called "The Realist" so tune in for that. And we have some special guests for it, including Baratunde Thurston.
Now, if you want to find me online where we have highlights in the show, including that interview I showed tonight of Sam Nunberg describing what it was like in Bob Mueller`s interview room, facebook.com/thebeatwithari or Instagram account, @arimelber.
Now, let me tell you what`s up next live. Brian Williams talking to Stephanie Ruhle about her new Trump reporting and some interesting stuff in there.
Plus, General Barry McCaffrey will be talking to Brian Williams about those new Putin statements. A lot the unpack.
I`m happy to tell you "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" is up next.