Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 8, 2018 Guest: Kurt Andersen, David Cay Johnston, Jim Himes, Nicholas Kristof, Josh Ernst
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And we woke up this morning worried about the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea and a trade war, now it`s just a trade war. It`s really nice for at least a few months have one of those wars kind of taken off the list of possibilities.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes.
O`DONNELL: Well, they plan to talk in May, and it sounds like things will probably be calm between now and then, and so maybe.
MADDOW: Maybe. I mean, here -- no president -- every North Korean dictator, every one of the Kim family wants a U.S. president to meet with them, they keep asking. They always do.
O`DONNELL: On equal footing, yes.
MADDOW: For decades.
MADDOW: They want this.
And no American president has ever said yes before. And so, I don`t think, we have any idea how they`re going to behave between now and when this meeting is ultimately going to happen because this is such a bizarre turn. Whatever anybody thought was going to happen between Trump and North Korea, I think the idea of just a no-strings meeting, giving the North Koreans this thing they wanted for decades, I don`t think anybody thought this was going to happen.
Certainly, Rex Tillerson and the State Department didn`t think it was going to happen as late as this afternoon. So, I don`t -- I don`t know what to say about what`s going to happen over the next few months.
O`DONNELL: You know, I may be extra eager to be hopeful in this arena because as you know, I do own a house on the Pacific Coast. And I just painted my garage. And it would be such a shame if anything were to happen to that garage.
MADDOW: I am a fan of the whole Pacific region, I got to say. I feel the same way my friend.
O`DONNELL: We like to keep the thing intact as it looks right now.
MADDOW: Well, let me -- let you -- I -- from your mouth to god`s ears. Let it be true that this is something that is going to lead to a period of peace or a -- maybe a long-standing march toward a more peaceful future. I don`t know. At this point, I just can`t believe he said yes.
O`DONNELL: Well, later in the program, we will be playing Bill Clinton`s moment where he thought he had some kind of deal like this and, of course, nothing came of that.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. We`ll see.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, first there was "Fire and Fury", Michael Wolff`s best- selling, worldwide bestselling book detailing White House chaos, which led to Robert Mueller interviewing the book`s main source, Steve Bannon. Then, Christopher Whipple`s update to his book, the "Gatekeepers" focused on former chief of staff Reince Priebus and revealed how Priebus reportedly reversed the president`s order firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an important revelation to a possible obstruction of justice case against Donald Trump. Surely, that book was of interest to the special prosecutor.
And today, Robert Mueller has a new must read book. David Corn and Michael Isikoff`s "Russian Roulette", they released the first excerpt from their upcoming book which sheds new light on Donald Trump`s ties to Russia, particularly the time period around 2013 and the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: You`ve got the Miss Universe pageant, you`re going to hold it in Russia.
DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: Right. That`s November 9th.
LETTERMAN: To coincide with the upcoming Olympics in Russia. Have you had any dealings with Russia?
TRUMP: Well, I have done a lot of business with the Russians.
LETTERMAN: Vladimir Putin, have you ever met the guy?
TRUMP: He`s a tough guy. I met him once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yes, that was the longest necktie in the history of "The David Letterman Show".
According to Corn and Isikoff, in "Russian Roulette" they could find no evidence that Donald Trump met Vladimir Putin. But there is plenty of evidence that Donald Trump was eager to meet Vladimir Putin four months before, telling David Letterman that he met Vladimir Putin once, Donald Trump tweeted, do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow, if so, will he become my new best friend?
My new best friend, that was Donald Trump`s ambition for Vladimir Putin. That`s how -- what he wanted Vladimir Putin to become in his life. His new best friend.
According to "Russian Roulette", Trump had for years longed to develop a glittering Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump realized he could attain none of his dreams in Moscow without forging a bond with the former KGB lieutenant colonel who was the president of Russia.
Vladimir Putin did not attend the Trump Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, but shortly after he returned from Moscow, a billionaire Russian real estate`s daughter, quote, showed up at the Miss Universe office in New York City bearing a gift for Trump from Putin. It was a black lacquered box, inside was a sealed letter from the Russian autocrat. What the letter said has never been revealed.
If special prosecutor Robert Mueller didn`t know about that letter before reading about it today in that excerpt of the new book "Russian Roulette," the special prosecutor will surely want to get his hands on that letter now. The book reveals a meeting in Trump Tower in January 2015, that was a precursor to the meeting in Trump Tower with Russian officials during the campaign. In January of 2015, nearly a year after Putin`s invasion in Ukraine, Trump had Emin Agalarov and Rob Goldstone as guests to his office in Trump Tower, a meeting that was never publicly revealed during the investigations that followed the 2016 election.
While they chatted, Trump was encouraging Emin, who had performed at the Miss Universe contest in 2013, maybe next time you`ll be performing at the White House. Seventeen months later, in June 2016, Goldstone would return to Trump Tower, this time escorting a Russian-led delegation dispatched by the Agalarovs, offering potentially derogatory information on Hillary Clinton courtesy of the Kremlin to the top officials of the Trump`s presidential campaign. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in that meeting in Trump Tower, hoping to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And today, Paul Manafort picked up a second ankle bracelet. He pleaded not guilty in a Virginia federal court to charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy. That is a separate case to the one Manafort has already pleaded not guilty in. And so, the second not guilty plea earned him a second ankle bracelet today.
Prosecutor Andrew Weismann who is the tax expert on the special prosecutor`s team said in court today that the prosecution is ready to go to trial soon, adding this about the Manafort tax fraud case, quote: I don`t think it`s complicated. Manafort`s defense lawyer countered with: I think it is complicated. He asked that the trial be delayed until at least November. The judge set a trial date of July 10th. A Washington D.C. court had had already set a trial date of September 17th for the first set of indictments returned against Paul Manafort.
Joining us now Kurt Andersen, host of the public radio program, Studio 360, and author of the book, "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire". Also with us, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who founded DCReport.org. He`s the author of the book, "It`s even worse than you think, what the Trump administration is doing to America".
And, David, I want to start with you as a student of Trump businesses, what we learned today in the "Russian Roulette" excerpt is, I think, as clear and explanation toward Trump`s attitude toward Russian sanctions as we`ve seen yet, because those sanctions came while he was in the middle of trying to set up the deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. When that collapsed because of the sanctions, Rob Goldstone is quoted in the book saying, Rob Goldstone suspected the demise of Trump`s project with the Agalarovs influenced Trump`s view of sanctions. They had interrupted a business deal that Trump was keenly interested in.
David, that seems like a simple explanation of the Trump attitude toward sanctions.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FOUNDER, DCREPORT.ORG: Yes, and I think it`s a logical and sensible explanation. It helps us also understand some of the antipathy that Donald Trump has for the Obama administration because if he thought he was about to get this deal that he longed for and lusted for for so long and it comes apart, that`s going to upset him.
And I have to tell you, the excerpt is -- I feel like if we were gold miners, we suddenly noticed there`s a whole new vein off in another direction that we need to start digging through because there`s more gold here to be mined.
O`DONNELL: And, Gene, there are details about setting up the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and what`s involved in that. There`s one quote here -- this is someone from the pageant saying, we all knew the event was approved by Putin. A Miss Universe official later said, you can`t pull off something like this in Russia unless Putin says it`s OK. Trump would only be making money in Russia because Putin was permitting him to do so.
And, Gene, there we see where Donald Trump`s first real engagement with Putin world occurred.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALSYT: Yes, we do. I think, my understanding of the way Russia works, that`s certainly true, you don`t make that kind of money and put on that sort of event in Moscow without his permission and his support.
But the letter in that black lacquered box, that`s what I want to see. That`s amazing. You know, maybe it was just, sorry, I missed you in Moscow. You know, we`ll run into each other some other time. Or maybe it was something more substantive than that. But I certainly want to see that letter. I guess Robert Mueller does, too.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and there`s real detail in here about what the financing was going to be for this Trump Tower in Moscow. And the book excerpt says this about it, it says, the state-owned Sberbank announced it struck a strategic cooperation agreement with the Crocus Group to finance about 70 percent of a project that would include a tower bearing the Trump name. If the deal went ahead, Trump would officially be doing business with Moscow and the Russian government.
A letter of intent to build the new Trump Tower was signed by the Trump Organization and Agalarov`s company. Donald Trump Jr. was placed in charge of the project.
And, Kurt Andersen, it was the Obama sanctions that ended it all.
KURT ANDERSEN, AUTHOR, "FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE": Well, it was the Obama sanctions, of course, coming after both the incursion and take over of Crimea, as well as the incursion into Ukraine simultaneously. Three months after, the Miss Universe pageant where Donald Trump was desperate, according to this book, to meet Vladimir Putin, which didn`t happen then.
So, one can see in terms of that quick adjacency of the Miss Universe pageant, his hopes high, and then it falling apart because his would be pal Putin invaded both Crimea and Ukraine. The other thing I find so interesting from the book is the Rob Goldstone beat who was there in Las Vegas, making the deal for the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow five months before the Miss Universe pageant. And then, of course, he`s there again in 2015 and then again in the famous June 2016 meeting.
Rob Goldstone is seemed like a comic secondary character, but I am more interested than ever in him. And, of course, he has already testified apparently to the Senate Intelligence Committee and has expressed a willingness to talk to Mueller.
I`ll be interested to see how he figures. I have a hunch he may be more than simply this funny comic relief character in this whole story.
O`DONNELL: Yes, David, I share Kurt`s view of Goldstone as he emerges in this book. And he seems to be a cooperative source in the book, but he is in the room for some of the key moments.
JOHNSTON: Well, and the comfort and familiarity that the Trumps have with Goldstone as we saw in the e-mails from June of 2016 suggests that there`s a lot more connection here than we`re aware of.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and, Gene, of course, Donald Trump his involvement in a beauty pageant has many dimensions. It`s not just about making money. He also involved himself in personally picking the winners.
I want to read this passage of it. This was Trump`s chance to review the contestants and exercise an option he always retained under the rules of his pageants to overrule the selection of judges and pick the contestants he wanted among the finalists. In short, no woman was a finalist until Trump said so.
If there were too many women of color he would make changes, a Miss Universe staffer later noted. If he didn`t like a woman because she looked too ethic, you could sometimes persuade him by telling him she was a princess and married to a football player, a staffer later explained.
Such as -- the view of beauty through Donald Trump`s eyes, Gene.
ROBINSON: You know, why am I not surprised, Lawrence? It`s just kind of the way you would imagine Donald Trump would comport himself running a beauty pageant. And speaking of Donald Trump comporting himself, there`s also the question of what extracurricular activities he got up to in his time in Moscow and, you know, maybe -- maybe there are characters in the story who can throw more light on that that hasn`t already been covered by the dossier. So, let`s ask Mr. Goldstone and others about that as well.
O`DONNELL: And, Kurt, Keith Schiller`s story is in this book that night in Moscow where he says he stood outside the door of the hotel room for a while to make sure that no one went in there but then at a certain point, he left and he can`t say what happened in that hotel room for the entire night.
ANDERSEN: Well, and again, it`s interesting, isn`t it, this weekend of the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas where the deal was signed and settled with Goldstone, with the Agalarov, Mr. Agalarov, it was just the Tuesday following that weekend where Donald Trump does what is to me his famous tweet saying, well, will Vladimir Putin become my new best friend, as you mentioned at the beginning of the show, when I go to Moscow.
So, the adjacency of this is one more instance of you can`t make it up. It`s so beyond any fictional version of reality, but as we find with Donald Trump, with revelation after revelation, it is -- it is -- it`s extraordinary. I mean, if he were looking not to leave a trail of suspicious activity, this is the opposite of that procedure.
O`DONNELL: Kurt Andersen, David Cay Johnston, Gene Robinson, thank you all for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: The president is reportedly furious with his press secretary because she said a little too much about his confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels, which among other things forbids Stormy Daniels from revealing any video images and still images that she has of Donald Trump. And it also forbids her from discussing, quote, paternity information, end quote, about Donald Trump.
And Corey Lewandowski was back in front of the House Intelligence Committee today, and like some of his other Trump teammates, including his former girlfriend Hope Hicks, he refused to answer certain questions. House Intelligence Committee member, Congressman Jim Himes, will join us.
O`DONNELL: Once again fired Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified to the house intelligence committee today behind closed doors and once again, Corey Lewandowski refused to answer certain questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This includes questions about the production of the false statement concerning the Trump Tower meeting, questions about the firing of James Comey and conversations about that, as well as any discussions that that Mr. Lewandowski had with the president about the potential of firing Bob Mueller. Witnesses don`t get to pick and choose when it comes to very relevant testimony to our investigation. So, we requested a subpoena.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Corey Lewandowski was the Trump campaign manager when a group of Russians went to a Trump Tower meeting. Corey Lewandowski left his wife and children in New Hampshire while he was working on the Trump campaign. He then embarked on an extramarital affair with Hope Hicks, who he met on the Trump campaign. Hope Hicks was famously involved in the drafting of false statements to the "New York Times" about that the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. That statement was drafted on Air Force One with President Trump a year after the meeting in Trump Tower when the "New York Times" began pressing for details about the meeting.
When Hope Hicks testified to the committee, she too refused to answer questions related to that Trump tower meeting. When Steve Bannon met with the committee, he refused to answer most of the committee`s questions. The top Democrat on the committee announced today that he would like to have Eric Prince return for another appearance before the committee after last night`s reporting in "The Washington Post" that his January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles was a planned effort to establish a back channel to Russia.
Erik Prince told the committee that his meeting with a Russian banker in the Seychelles was a purely coincidental encounter in a bar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: The meeting that Erik Prince had with the Russian banker was not happenstance, it`s at odds with what we heard in the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat from Connecticut, and member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Himes, we have more reporting tonight from the "Wall Street Journal" about that Erik Prince meeting, which he reported to you happened by happenstance. But the recent reporting indicated it was very well planned. And now, the new element of it is "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Mr. Mueller`s investigators have heard testimony from a witness that the donor, Erik Prince, wasn`t introduced to the Russian by intermediaries from the United Arab Emirates as he had told the House panel, the people said.
So, it looks like he wasn`t -- the intermediaries had nothing to do with it, according to the reporting we have most recently. And is that the area you want to follow-up with, with Erik Prince?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, yes, that`s right. I mean, this new reporting, and there`s not communication between the congressional investigations and Bob Mueller`s investigation. But this new reporting and this new shadowy character, George Nader, who apparently if reports are to be believed was at that meeting and there was some allegation that perhaps that meeting was designed in advance -- partly again, this is allegation -- to open a line of communications with the Russians.
That is a story, if it is true, I`m reading the same press reports that you are, if that is true, that is radically at odds with what Mr. Prince told the committee, and I don`t feel badly saying that because, of course, that transcript has been made public and the public can look at what he said. He basically said, if I might summarize, that, yes, I was just wandering around the lobby of the hotel, went and grabbed a beer very briefly with the guy, we didn`t talk about anything important and I moved on.
So, obviously, we would like to know if, in fact, he was being honest with the committee and if not, what that meeting, in fact, was all about.
O`DONNELL: And what do you have to do to get him back as a witness?
HIMES: Well, my suspicion would be -- if you read the transcript he wasn`t a particularly friendly witness. My suspicion is that we would have to subpoena him.
Now, this gets to the a larger issue about what is the Republican majority in the House willing to do, not just Mr. Prince, are they willing to have a subpoena because we have the possibility that he was not honest with the United States Congress? But are they willing to push back on all the other areas in which witnesses have basically thumbed their nose at the United States Congress? We have this broad assertion of executive privilege, as has been reported from Steve Bannon, from Hope Hicks, where they say we`re not talking at all about our time in the White House or even during the transition, a historically unprecedented assertion of executive privilege.
And remember, Lawrence, this is not just a -- you know, Trump -- anti- Trump, pro-Trump fight. This is a precedent for the United States Congress. You know, there will come a time when the Republicans want to do an investigation, we remember Benghazi, for example, when if anybody can just walk in and say, hey, I`m not answering those questions because I don`t feel like it, or because whatever, you have very badly damaged the ability of the Congress to do investigations.
O`DONNELL: And what -- this goes to the question of Lewandowski`s testimony too. He refused to answer questions apparently today, and the remedies for that, I guess, are the same issue of can you subpoena him? Will the Republicans agree to subpoena him?
HIMES: Well, and again, you heard from Adam Schiff, so I don`t think I`m speaking out of school when I say that, yes, Mr. Lewandowski and his attorney basically decided they wouldn`t answer any questions that they did not determine were relevant to our investigation. Now, they weren`t under subpoena, so there`s a whole conversation what you`re required to do when you appear voluntarily.
But again, there is no way that either Mr. Lewandowski or his attorney, who are not privy to any of the operations or history or evidence that has been presented to the Congress -- there`s no way they can make a judgment of relevancy.
So, again, my Republican friends need to make a decision. I understand that this whole investigation is steeped in bipartisan fervor. But they really need to make a decision whether they want the Congress, you know, some day they will want to work their magic on a Democratic president, somebody, they will want to work their magic on one Hillary Clinton, do they want Hillary Clinton to come to Congress and say, you know what, I`m not answering your questions because I don`t deem them to be relevant to your investigation?
O`DONNELL: Representative Jim Himes, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
HIMES: Thank you, Lawrence.
It looks like the leader of North Korea is getting what leaders of North Korea have always wanted, a meeting with the president of the United States. The "New York Times" Nicholas Kristof who has reported from inside North Korea will join us.
And who is Donald Trump`s biggest problem now? Kim Jong-un, Robert Mueller or Stormy Daniels? The president is apparently very angry about Stormy Daniels` appearance and reporters` questions and more angry about his press secretary`s answers.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight the President accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. South Korean officials were at the White House today they briefed the President, Vice President, National Security Adviser HR McMaster and his team on South Korea`s talks with North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUNG EUI-YONG, REPUBLIC OF KOREA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I told President Trump that now meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he`s committed to denuclearization. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises within the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue and expressed his eagerness to meet with President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump officiated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Shortly after that announcement the White House released a statement confirming that the President will meet with Kim Jong-un. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. And we looked forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime all sanctions and maximum pressure must relation. If you`re feeling a bit of deja vu about this, it could be because of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, 42ND U.S. PRESIDENT: today, after 16 months of intense and difficult negotiations with North Korea, we have completed an agreement that will make the United States, the Korean Peninsula, and the world safer. Under the agreement North Korea has agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program and to accept international inspection of all existing facilities. This agreement represents the first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist for the New York Times who has reported from inside North Korea at least three times as recently as September. Nick Kristof your reaction tonight`s news?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So I mean it`s extraordinary to go one moment from threatening to totally destroy North Korea to comparing nuclear buttons to then promising a summit with Kim Jong-un. And I think frankly it`s a dangerous gamble and a bad idea.
And in some ways I can`t believe I`m saying that because for years I`ve been arguing that we need to have direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea. But direct talks are one thing, and we need to have those negotiations. But any summit should be carefully preceded by -- by going through what the rules are. And this is essentially a gift to North Korea.
North Korea craves the recognition. It wants to be seen with its leader standing side by side with an American President. And it`s fine to have that as the outcome of a long process where we get what we want. But to give that away without getting anything back at the beginning I think is a mistake.
And I guess I also worry that President Trump, as we`ve seen in negotiations, will periodically impetuously assert something and if that`s in the context of a discussion about budgets or gun policy, then his staff can walk it back later and said well, he didn`t quite mean that. In international diplomacy working out a deal with Kim Jong-un, that may be harder to walk back.
O`DONNELL: What`s the difference between 1994 where we saw Bill Clinton feel himself on the verge of something similar and where we are tonight?
KRISTOF: Crucially, Bill Clinton did not actually go to North Korea. He had this --the agreed framework was worked out by diplomats over the course of many months and during the negotiations, he -- President Clinton required the North Koreans to stop reprocessing at their nuclear power plant at Nyongbyon. And in the end, of course, the agreed framework did not work out.
The U.S. has some responsibility for their failure, North Korea has plenty, too. They were cheating on that as well. So there are reasons to be skeptical. We should have engagement and we should be trying to solve the nuclear crisis. So, you know, if this were -- if he were sending Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang to talk about denuclearization to work toward a Summit. That would be great. But right off the bat, giving them a summit, it makes me worried.
O`DONNELL: Barack Obama in his first campaign for President said he would be willing to have direct discussions with North Korea without preconditions.
KRISTOF: I think that is like wise a mistake. I have somewhat more confidence in President Obama`s ability to follow a script and not suddenly go off course and promise things than I do in President Trump, but, you know, in either case, I think that a presidential visit is a huge gift to the North Korean regime, it legitimizes the regime. So it`s something to work toward. Something that we can deliver in exchange for things that they want but it shouldn`t be something that we just give away without even -- I mean, for example, there are three Americans who are still held prisoner in North Korea. A starting point should be a commitment for them to be released.
O`DONNELL: And what about the -- the notion that North Korea has promised to stop nuclear testing and their missile testing in the meantime. Isn`t that some kind of concession?
KRISTOF: Yes. That really is important. And it`s -- I think that is the most significant part of this, plus the fact that they accept we will have military exercises going ahead. So you do see what might be the outlines of an agreement. And that would involve their freeze on testing. But again, this should be an agreement to be hammered out by maybe HR McMaster and North Korean officials, and then sealed by the President. Rather than simply having President Trump sit down over dinner with Kim Jong-un and willy-nilly agreeing to who knows what.
O`DONNELL: Nicholas Kristof, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.
KRISTOF: Good to be with you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, so far in the battle of the White House Press Secretary versus Stormy Daniels, the White House Press Secretary is losing, especially on Donald Trump`s score card.
O`DONNELL: the President is reportedly very unhappy about his Press Secretary`s performance yesterday. The President is apparently very happy when his Press Secretary sticks to her two standard rules of performance, number one, lying and number two, pleading ignorance. I haven`t spoken to the president about that, is the press secretary`s most frequent reply. And sometimes that reply surely is also a lie.
And so it combines both of the principles of a successful Trump White House Press briefing at once. But yesterday Sarah Sanders took one giant step beyond her usual professed ignorance when she was asked about the President`s relationship with Stormy Daniels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there`s arbitration that`s already been won by whom and when?
SANDERS: By the president`s personal attorneys. For details I would refer you to them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you`re aware of them. So what more can you share with us?
SANDERS: I can share that arbitration was won in the President`s favor. And I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel for any details beyond that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The arbitration was won in the President`s favor. That is what the President is reportedly very upset about, that Sarah Sanders admitted that the secret arbitration over a confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels was won in the President`s saying that. In saying that she has given official White House confirmation to what we knew. That the confidentiality agreement signed by Donald Trump`s lawyer and Stormy Daniels was written to protect Donald Trump who was referred to in the confidentiality agreement by the alias David Dennison.
As Stormy Daniels`s lawyer insisted last night on this program, the arbitration process no longer governs this agreement because Donald Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen violated the confidentiality of the agreement by talking about the agreement publicly and Donald Trump never signed the agreement. The confidentiality agreement is now an exhibit in Stormy Daniels`s lawsuit against Donald Trump. Page five of the agreement lists four names of people who Stormy Daniels said already knew about her relationship with Donald Trump before she signed this agreement.
According to a CNN report, the second name on that list, Angel Ryan is the actress Jessica Drake, who is one of the women who came forward during the Presidential Campaign accusing Donald Trump of kissing her without permission and offering her $10,000 in exchange for sex. The same year that Donald Trump began his relationship with Stormy Daniels. And right around the same time. As I mentioned last night with Stormy Daniels` lawyer, the confidentiality agreement also contains some stunning details about exactly what Donald Trump is trying to keep secret, including video images, still images, and information about Donald Trump`s sexual conduct, as well as this, which is the bombshell phrase in the confidentiality agreement, "paternity information".
So what does the President want the White House Press Secretary to say when she is asked why does the President`s confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels forbid her to reveal paternity information? We`ll see if former White House Press Secretary Josh Ernst has any good ideas about how to handle that question next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY, STORMY DANIELS: At some point, Lawrence, the President of the United States needs to answer the very basic questions relating to his relationship with ms. Daniels. He needs to do so just like Bill Clinton did, just like Gary Hart did, just like countless other politicians have done over the last 30 years, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels`s lawyer who appeared on this program at this hour last night. Joining us now Josh Ernst, former White House Press Secretary for President Obama and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Josh, you`re here because I wanted the best. I wanted the best Press Secretary. I`ve never seen anyone better at that podium in the briefing room.
And I just want to see how you would handle the questions that come out of this confidentiality agreement, which is now public, including some of the questions that I tweeted today, which would be why does the President have a confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels ordering her to turn over video images, still images, created by Donald Trump? That`s just question number one. How -- how is the press secretary supposed to handle this?
JOSH ERNST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You reading about this, about the president`s dissatisfaction with the way that Sarah Sanders handled this line of questioning in the briefing, it reminded me of a question I faced in the briefing room
O`DONNELL: No it didn`t. Stop right there. There`s never any questions about Stormy Daniels in an Obama briefing. You lost me completely. Sorry.
ERNST: It`s preposterous, right? Of course President Obama never did anything this embarrassing or potentially illegal. So this is, obviously, uncharted territory. There`s no denying that Ms. Sanders is in a very difficult situation here.
Look, Lawrence, the first thing that you should do when you`re speaking on behalf of the President of the United States and you know that you`re talking about something that`s very important and knowing that it`s something that he himself cares personally about, you should go talk to him about it. That`s the thing that`s particularly peculiar about all of this, Lawrence, is that everybody in Washington is talking about this story. Journalists are asking the White House Press Secretary on live television asking her to talk about this story, but there are two people in Washington, D.C., that are not talking about this story, that`s the President of the United States and his spokesperson.
And that`s a problem. I had a trick for this when I first started as a spokesperson for the president in the White House. When I was the Deputy Press Secretary, I often traveled with the President which meant that I would brief reporters on the back of Air Force One and so I would often travel with the President on the helicopter from the White House to Andrews air Force Base where he`d get on the plane, I`d do the briefing. On that helicopter flight I`d often lean over to the president and say, Mr. President, these are a couple of questions I expect to get at the briefing today, how do you think I should handle them? And I`d get some feedback from him.
O`DONNELL: Ah, yes.
ERNST: And so there`d be two benefits to that strategy. The first is that I knew I`d be saying the thing I knew he would want me to say. But the second is Lawrence that I could say to the journalist back there you know I was just talking to the President about this and -- and then I`d be able to give the answer in a way that would enhance greatly my credibility.
And it would convince these reporters down the line that maybe we should pay attention to what this guy has to say because he seems to be spending a lot of time talking about these issues with the President of the United States. It would be a much more effective advocate in addition to making sure i do a good job in representing the president of the United States.
O`DONNELL: This is the one controversy where the President was staying out of it. Stormy Daniels is the only woman the President has not attacked. Donald Trump has never denied anything that Stormy Daniels has said about him. Donald Trump`s never denied anything that Stormy Daniels` lawyer has said about him.
So Sarah Sanders apparently yesterday crossed the line for the President when she acknowledged that that confidentiality agreement was written for him by his own lawyer, and it`s an agreement to keep Stormy Daniels quiet about the following things, alleged sexual partners, alleged sexual actions or alleged sexual conduct, related matters or paternity information. And the question to her is why does the President have a confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels about those subjects? Where can she go in the future questions that we know are coming about this?
ERNST: It`s not obvious where she can go. I think the only thing she can do is what she often does when asked about the Russia investigation, which is to refer all these questions to the President`s attorney. And look, I think there is an artful way for her to potentially say, look, i wasn`t working for the President of the United States when this agreement was drawn up, and you should go talk to the attorney who drew it up.
O`DONNELL: But Josh, one thing she does continue to lie about is she does repeatedly say the president has denied this involvement with Stormy Daniels. And in fact, he has never denied this particular woman`s claims about him.
ERNST: Yes. Yes, look, she is -- there are times where she hasn`t been particularly precise in describing certain facts of what the president has said and hasn`t said. That`s an occupational hazard working for somebody who says lots of different things that aren`t actually true and that he doesn`t really mean.
O`DONNELL: Josh Earnest, the last words master of diplomatic language. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Josh. really appreciate it. Tonight`s last word is next.
ERNST: Good to see Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s last word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O`BRIEN, TELEVISION HOST: president trump promised that his tariffs on steel and aluminum would be applied in "a loving way." Yeah, congratulations, President Trump. You can even make tariffs creepy. No one`s ever done that before.
ANDY RICHTER, HOLLYWOOD ACTOR: Get your tariffs off me.
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O`DONNELL: Conan and Andy get tonight`s Last Word. And the last word is tariffs, and in Brian Williams` hour coming up, you`re going to hear more about what`s happening on tariffs, what the President decided to do today after threatening to put on a worldwide tariff on steel and aluminum. He changed that somewhat.