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Trump "furious" over leaks. TRANSCRIPT: 03/20/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ezra Klein, Jennifer Rubin, Jeremy Bash, Gabe Gutierrez

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL March 20, 2018 Guest: Ezra Klein, Jennifer Rubin, Jeremy Bash, Gabe Gutierrez

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, I visit. I have 4-19. I wrote it down.

And I got to say as someone who is interested in your reporting and James Comey's career, I could not be more interested in what you're going to do on April 19th.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Can you hold that up again?

MELBER: Yes, I can hold -- I have it.

MADDOW: Do you do little graffiti letter there's? You didn't just write that in a big sharpie. You kind of spelled that out. Did you used to write on the side of your sneakers in school? You did.

MELBER: I appreciate your attention to detail. I see this as kind of a nerdy banksy.

MADDOW: Fair enough. It's bank Arisy (ph), I understand, I understand. Well done. Thank you, my friend.

MELBER: Rachel, we'll be watching. Thank you for a great show.

Donald Trump is facing new legal challenges tonight and we're going to get to that in a moment.

I also want to tell you there is a press conference expected in Austin, given the series of explosions that we've been monitoring. We've been reporting on this.

You're looking at the footage there where we expect to get law enforcement authorities to come out and detail what they know at this late hour about the series of serial bombings. I'm telling you that because what we're going to do is monitor it in our control room tonight. And if we see important news coming out of that or important disclosures, I tell you, we will bring it to you as soon as we get it. And a lot of people keeping their eye on what has been a very unpredictable situation down there in Austin, Texas. So, we'll keep an eye on that.

The other big story, though, that is our top story is a move away from not only the criminal probe by Bob Mueller that's put so much heat on Donald Trump. Tonight, at least, that criminal case has been overshadowed by three cases in civil court brought by women who say they deserve their day in court.

Now, I'll tell you straight up tonight. We didn't choose to bring you these three cases. This isn't some kind of editorial decision to compare three different women suing Trump or looking at their legal arguments.

This is just literally the news breaking on all three of these separate cases right now, a new woman filing suit today, another who won a procedural step as the judge green lights her case today. And the third, Stormy Daniels releasing new evidence in her case that dates back far before the presidential campaign.

So let me begin with a brief explanation, though, of the newest case filed today by Karen McDougal. She is a former Playboy model. She is suing the "National Enquirer's" parent company, saying she deserves the right to speak about her alleged relationship with Trump dating back to 2006.

Now, she says she signed a deal before the 2016 election for $150,000 that would enable "The Enquirer" to basically silence her story. But now she says she views that contract as void. She says she was tricked into signing it while being misled as to its contents including by her very own lawyer.

Then case number two, a judge clearing the path for a defamation suit against Donald Trump by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos.


SUMMER ZERVOS, TRUMP ACCUSER: He put me in an embrace, and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us, and I said, come on, man, get real. He repeated my words back to me. "Get real", as he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again with my hands still on his chest, and I said, dude, you're tripping right now, attempting to make it clear I was not interested.


MELBER: Now, many Republicans argued Bill Clinton should face exactly these kind of civil lawsuits while he was president. And that's the exact case that was cited against Donald Trump today. The judge noting no one is above the law. It's settled. The president has no immunity and is subject to the laws for purely private acts.

Then case three, news breaking today about Stormy Daniels' lie detector test. Her lawyer who joins me in a moment releasing this picture of a test she took in 2011 to support her claims for a detailed interview with "In Touch" magazine about this alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump.

Now, this information is definitely newsworthy because it undercuts an attack made on Daniels, the idea that this whole dispute was just about the 2016 election. The new material shows some of the lengths she went to support her story all the way back in 2011 when the idea of Donald Trump being president of the United States was widely considered a joke. Ha, ha, ha. Here we are.

Now, does the tested self mean everything she said is automatically true? As a matter of law, no, courts don't generally admit these tests. They have about a 70 percent accuracy rate. Now, this particular test asked if Daniels had intercourse with Trump, whether it was unprotected, and whether he offered to get her an appearance on "The Apprentice." The examiner asserting she passed the test clearly.

Now, Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti says he paid $25,000 for the tape over this test for one reason.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: We caught wind of the fact there were a number of main party, some in the mainstream media that were attempting to purchase the video and the file for use in what I will describe as nefarious activities.


MELBER: That very lawyer in the eye of the storm joins me now, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, back on THE LAST WORD.

Thanks for being here.

AVENATTI: Thanks for having me, Ari. How are you?

MELBER: I'm all right. This case stays in the news, and partly because there seems to be new evidence that comes out. For viewers who see what I just walked through that you've released, what is the import of it?

AVENATTI: W, I think you put your finger on it, Ari. The import is that back in May of 2011, my client sat in a room in Las Vegas with a licensed polygraph examiner, was given a polygraph examine, and she passed with flying colors.

You know, I do want to correct one thing. The three questions you put up, she passed the first two. It was determined she was telling the truth. As to the third, as to whether she was promised a spot on "The Apprentice," the polygraph examiner concluded that it was inconclusive.

So, it was -- he did not conclude she was telling the truth. He did not conclude she was lying. It was inconclusive.

So, you know that I strive to be very accurate as it relates to the information that comes out. And so, when I see something that is not quite right, I want to make it known. So, that was the detail.

MELBER: Appreciate that nuance.

AVENATTI: That was -- it is a nuance, but it's important.


AVENATTI: Because we don't want the get over the tips of our skis.

But I think it's important because we've heard various attacks on my client relating to her motivations for doing this. People have said that she was trying to blackmail a presidential candidate in the waning days of the election, which is patently false. And it's one of the things that I think is most important about this.

Now, look, this is another piece of evidence. And it's another document that's being presented to the American people. They can go online. They can download it. They can read it for themselves. They don't have to take your word for it, or my word or anybody else's word.

There is going to be other pieces of evidence that are going to come out in this case. There's going to be this interview that is going to be broadcast on Sunday where the American people are going to be able to observe my client's demeanor and hear her answers. And they're going to be able to judge for themselves as to whether she is telling the truth or not.

And this has always been what we've said for weeks now. Don't take my word for it or someone else's word for it. You should hear from my client. Hear her story. Hear her version of events and judge for yourself.

And to the extent that Mr. Cohen or the president have a counter-narrative or a different version of the facts, they should go on a show, have a press conference, they could have a White House briefing, they could do any number of things and explain their version of the --

MELBER: You're giving Donald Trump a little media advice here on this evening.

Let me read to you from Michael Cohen, because he's speaking out to "Vanity Fair," says that Daniels' former attorney, your predecessor, said her number was $130,000. Cohen relates it was strange, a not entirely round number, but he accepted, recalled he asked this lawyer why she would tell her story when she previously denied it?

Quote, he said she needed the money. I didn't come up with this number.

Is that false?

AVENATTI: Absolutely. And we're going to prove it's false.

And, you know, here's the best thing that I can say about Mr. Cohen's veracity. Here is the best thing I can say. Highly suspect.

MELBER: So, Michael Cohen, in your view is not telling the truth about your client needing money. Why?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't think he is telling the truth about a whole host of things, starting with the fact that he wants the American people to believe that he drafted this agreement on his own, negotiated it on his own. Mr. Trump never knew anything about it, didn't have anything to do with the payment.

And, by the way, here is an interesting question, Ari. If that's to be believed, then why is Mr. Trump's signature line in the agreement? Why is he listed as a party?

MELBER: And why did he jump into it on Friday?

I want to bring in our panel, and stay with me.

AVENATTI: I mean, this is very important question. It's a very simple one. If the whole plan was that Mr. Trump was never going to be a party to the agreement and was never going to sign it, wasn't even going to know about it because Mr. Cohen, his very close friend, didn't want to bother him in the waning days of the campaign, and he was just going to pay the money and never even tell Mr. Trump about it, then why did Mr. Cohen draft an agreement with Mr. Trump's name littered throughout the document with a signature line for him to sign?

MELBER: I will tell you my legal analysis. I think it's a good question. Stay with me.

As promised, I want to bring in a few more voices, Matt Miller, former spokesman for Attorney General Holder, MSNBC analyst, as well as Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney from Alabama, and a professor at the University of Alabama Law School, also an MSNBC analyst.

Joyce, when you hear this and you hear the lawyers fighting and you see the lie detector come out, what is your view of the wider significance?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC ANALYST: Lie detector tests are really interesting, Ari. You've noted that they're not admissible in court, and that's because their scientific validity hasn't been established yet. Not to say it couldn't be done in the future. And perhaps this would be the case.

But lie detector tests are widely used in law enforcement, particularly early on in cases when people are trying to decide whether a witness is telling the truth. Also, widely used in the Justice Department as an employment device. So, the introduction of this lie detector test, not as evidence, but as an indication that Ms. Daniels is being truthful at least in so far as her story about having intercourse with the president is very compelling here.

MELBER: And, Matt Miller, when you were serving the Obama administration, I don't recall him making a joinder motion for any lawsuits like this.

MATT MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No. We never dealt with anything like this. Look, I think Mr. Avenatti is pursuing this case the way you would expect for somebody in his position. He is being very aggressive both in court and with media strategy.

What is surprising is how you see the president responding. You know, if Stormy Daniels were to come out and just start talking and explain that she had a consensual affair with Donald Trump, I don't think that would surprise anyone. I'm not even sure it would hurt the president very much.

But when you see the president pursuing this strategy to silence her in court, something we've not seen from previous presidents, something that is completely inappropriate for the occupant of the oval office to do to a private citizen.


MELBER: Let me ask you about that, matt, and then I want to go back to Michael. You're putting your finger on the fact that for a long time it was said that Donald Trump would fight everyone in public but Vladimir Putin. And there were inferences that some drew from that.

It seems that now here in the second year of the presidency, he will have a public fight with everyone but Vladimir Putin and Stormy Daniels.

MILLER: Yes. And the question you have to ask, is he worried about something damaging in this case in particular? Maybe. Maybe not.

Or is he worried about the precedent it might set, if there are other nondisclosure agreements that he sign order that Michael Cohen signed on his behalf, in a strange arrangement where Michael Cohen was a party and maybe the president was or wasn't? Are they worried about setting a precedent here that if they let this one go by without a fight, that it opens the doors to other people coming forward and talking?

I don't think we know the answer to that yet. But that would be one way to explain the president's very aggressive, very unusual posture.

AVENATTI: Ari, I'm used to -- I'm used to playing chess, OK, in my cases. And I've had the good fortune to go up against some really good chess players from around this country.

MELBER: Is Michael Cohen playing chess with you?

AVENATTI: Well, let me just say this. Really good chess players. I mean, lawyers at the top of their game, really good lawyers that are really good chess players, OK? And I like to count myself as a pretty good chess player.

Right now, we're playing three dimensional chess, and these guys are playing tic-tac-toe, quite honestly. And they're not even playing tic-tac- toe that well, all right?

When we filed this case, there was one response that made sense, and one response only. And that response should have been, you know what? You're right. I was a party to the agreement. This is the president speaking. She is free to talk. She can tell her story and I'm going to tell mine.

And guess what? Had that happened, I wouldn't be sitting here right now and we wouldn't be talking about it. T

The fact of the matter is, that's not what has happened. They have stepped into every trap we've laid in this case the last two weeks. It's remarkable. I've never seen anything like it. I've never had any good fortune like this, OK?

We're going to keep shooting until we miss. And the problem, Ari, is, is that now, they're doubling and tripling down. Now, we have the president of the United States, and I think it's important to take a step back and think about this for a minute. We have a sitting U.S. president who is carrying out a vendetta against a woman who alleges that she had an affair with him and suing her for $20 million.


AVENATTI: And is attempting to continue to silence her and put her under his thumb. That's what this is about.

MELBER: I think that's a significant part. And look, we have covered the story, and we've covered it especially assertively since Friday, because for everyone who says well, here is this Stormy Daniels story over here, why should it be about the president? No. Starting Friday, the president inserted himself and is literally seeking to bankrupt a private citizen for their speech, for their words. I mean, that is clearly important.

I want to read for the benefit of response, Michael Cohen addressing when you were questioned about whether your client faced threats of physical harm and you said, yes. Michael Cohen's new response, I've never spoken to her, I've never e-mailed her, I've never texted her. Every interaction with her was through a previous attorney. I reiterate, I've never threatened her in any way, and I'm unaware of anyone else doing so.

Your response?

AVENATTI: And the agreement was drafted without the knowledge of Donald Trump and Mr. Cohen made the payment and no one else ever knew about it.

MELBER: Do you have reason to believe that specific denial is misleading?

AVENATTI: Yes. And I think people --

MELBER: Do you have evidence that Michael Cohen would know about the physical threats allegation you have made?

AVENATTI: I'm not going to answer the question as to what we have and what we don't have. But here is what I will say. People should be very careful about representations they make, unequivocal reputations. That's what I'm going to say.

MELBER: Joyce, your thoughts on any of the above?

VANCE: Well, it sounds like there is a little bit more evidence that Mr. Avenatti has that we'll all learn about in the future. There has been at least some indication that there is additional evidence, that there are documents. I think he said that.

And, of course, the nondisclosure agreement represents a whole host of potential pieces of evidence, text messages, other information about former sexual partners. So, I think a lot of folks will be looking forward to listening into the "60 Minutes" episode if it airs. But at the end of the day, we got to remember that what we have going on here is really a credibility matchup between the president's lawyer and a porn star.

And that is a phenomenal place for this country to be at this particular point in time. And the president is in a real box because he's denied knowing her. He has denied knowing that they ever had any type of an affair. For him to walk that back to the point where he could let her tell her story and he could tell his I think is a very difficult path for him to walk.

MELBER: Right.

VANCE: And he may have really put himself in a box he can't get out of here.

MELBER: And on that point, Matt Miller, your final word on us. I'll hand the mic here to Stormy Daniels who wrote today, technically, I didn't sleep with POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping. He was a goofy reality TV star. But I digress. People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to visit covered up. PS, I'm not going anywhere, XO, XO, XO.

MILLER: Yes, it's tawdry. It's trashy. I mean, but what do people expect? This is what happens when you elect a reality star president, someone who has for years operate kind of in the tabloid world, in the trashiest ends of the legal world and of the media world.

This is the kind of thing you get with Donald Trump as president. And I don't think that Stormy Daniels or the other two women who have filed or are attempting to file suit against him, I don't think these are the last of these cases we're going to see.

MELBER: Matt Miller, Joyce Vance, and the lawyer Michael Avenatti, thanks to each of you for joining me tonight.

Coming up, there is breaking news President Trump was specifically warned don't congratulate Putin, but he chose to do that over advice from his own national security adviser.

Also tonight, reports Steve Bannon was supervising the misuse of data from Facebook two years before the Trump campaign. All of that coming up.

And we've been following of course as I mentioned the serious breaking news out of Austin, Texas, tonight. I want to mention again for our viewers, keeping an eye on this important story, we are still awaiting this law enforcement news conference.

They were called about an incident at a Goodwill store, a reported explosion a short time ago. We can tell you police says it does not appear that that new report, however concerning it is, is at this time connected to the string of bombings. One person injured.

After investigating, Austin police also tweeting this out, quote, there was no package explosion in the 9800 block of Brodie Lane. Items inside the package were not a bomb rather, but they called them an incendiary device. There have been five explosions in Austin since March 2n. And as I say, we're also following that story. We'll update you when we get it.

More of THE LAST WORD after this break.


MELBER: Donald Trump's digital firm in hot water tonight. News breaking their CEO suspended after a hidden video scandal broke this week.

Now, "The Washington Post" reporting Steve Bannon, who has long been linked to the firm, Cambridge Analytica, was involved in how they used Facebook to collect and potentially misuse data. The source here is former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie, who says the 2014 effort was part of a high-tech form of voter persuasion.

Under Bannon, they identified and tested the power of anti-establishment messages that later would emerge as central themes in Trump's campaign speeches. Messages tested included: drain the swamp and deep state.

Now, Bannon helped launch Cambridge in 2013. He also served on its board. And while Trump may want to get some distance from this firm right now, that just got harder with the next wave of undercover videos leaking. And we're going to show them to you, the now suspended CEO, Nix, boasting how they met with Trump personally.


REPORTER: Have you met with Mr. Trump?


REPORTER: You have?

NIX: We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We run all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy.


MELBER: Other video showing Nix boasting they could set up political rivals on tape for financial or I guess sexual scandals, and then they would weaponize that online.

Now, we can all take stock of the obvious irony that that man, Nix, boasting about all that was caught on tape and led to his suspension.

Also, members of Congress now demanding that more people linked to the scandal come testify. Key Trump aides involved in Cambridge's work include Kushner, Manafort, and the digital director Brad Parscale who Trump recently promoted to run the entire 2020 reelection campaign.

Now, one of the more dramatic claims that Nix made on tape was not even illegal, but it probably is familiar to anyone following the alternative facts strategy of this Trump White House. The tape also caught him saying: it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don't necessarily need to be true as long as they're believed."

Joining me now, Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Election Commission Reform at the Campaign Legal Center. And Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor.

Betsy, your view of the significance of this and the -- what is revealed in the link there between an alternative facts approach to politics and a digital campaign that might be relentless at pushing misinformation.

BETSY WOODRUFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It speaks to the time we live in, and ultimately, the responsibility for how -- whether or not these ads work falls with the consumers, the people who see the ads. At the end of the day, these ads only work if Americans don't follow politics closely enough, don't take the time to put in the legwork, fact check, and get a sense of whether or not the things that they are reading, the media they're consuming is coming from reliable sources or not.

It's harder than ever in this Internet age in some ways, but there is such a rich variety of fact checking sites, and amazing Websites and newspapers and television networks creating wonderful journalism that fortunately, it shouldn't be as difficult as sometimes it seems to be.

Now, speaking of the significance of this news we have, one thing I can tell you is that I don't think people should view the suspension of Alexander Nix as big of a deal as perhaps it's being covered. A suspension is not a firing. It's not a termination. And one thing I can tell you, as someone who has covered Cambridge Analytica going all the way back to 2015, to the early days of the Republican primary, is that I've been told by newsroom rose people that Nix has or still has a close personal relationship with Rebecca Mercer.

MELBER: Right, which is key.

WOODRUFF: Rebecca Mercer on the board of Cambridge Analytica. She is a millionaire heiress.

MELBER: I think you're making --

WOODRUFF: And until she kind of turns on him, I think there is a good chance he'll be back in the good graces of the company.

MELBER: Well, I hear you making two points of skepticism. One, the suspension might be meaningless window dressing during the week the heat is on them. And two, that lies only work when they are believed, which fits with what he was saying.

And yet, Brendan, I would take part -- I would take part issue with the idea that this is also up to consumers, because at the end of the day, the reason that you have fraud laws is there will always be different types of fraud. And do you see anything from these reports that suggests anything beyond what is just shady or scummy and the implications of law?

BRENDAN FISCHER, FEC REFORM DIRECTOR: Sure. Sure. Well, one takeaway from this is that whether we're talking about foreign governments or reclusive billionaires, it's clear that there are vulnerabilities in our laws. And there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited by actors who don't have the best interests of the American public in mind.

And Congress has failed to update our laws and regulations as political campaigning increasingly moves online.

You know, one point I want to make about how Cambridge Analytica used this data is through highly targeted ads that were only viewable by the individuals to whom these ads were targeted. And Cambridge Analytica was very explicit about the use of fear, about the use of fear in trying to motive voters to vote for Donald Trump or to deter potential Hillary Clinton voters from voting at all. And when you're using highly controversial fear-based messaging with no accountability whatsoever, there is a tendency to further divide the American public.

And, of course, fear is not --

MELBER: Brendan, what about the thing I asked? Do you see any laws broken here?

FISCHER: Sure. So one -- what brought Cambridge Analytica on to our radar back in the 2016 election was the fact that the Mercers, who own Cambridge Analytica were operating a super PAC that was working very closely with the Trump campaign. And super PACs are supposed to be operating independently of the campaigns that they're supporting.

We know that the Mercers requested that the Trump campaign hire Steve Bannon as campaign CEO. They did so. We know that the Mercers requested that --

MELBER: But you're not seeing it in the videos? It's OK if the answer is no.

FISCHER: Yes, well, so the short answer is we believe that there is evidence that the Trump campaign and the Mercer-backed super PAC were coordinating was --

MELBER: Right. Potential illegal coordination.

FISCHER: -- through Cambridge Analytica.

MELBER: Got you. Which is a little different than what's on the videos.

Betsy, final question on the Russia probe. Nix also on this video is caught sort of suggesting that he didn't have any problems with his House testimony. Did you see this being a bigger flash point there with whoever is left investigating that?

WOODRUFF: To be totally honest, I don't think it is. The House investigation at this point is basically running on empty. They're putting together reports there is going to be two different reports.

And unfortunately, the maxim that Alexander Nix handed down to us, that people will sometimes believe false things is something we're going to see playing out when the House reports come out, and when there is a high likelihood that within at least one of those reports, there will be deliberate distortions of fact. So, people have to be vigilant news consumers. They have to take these things seriously. They have to think critically.

And they have to remember that the way democracy works, what makes democracy work is people putting in the work and the effort that it takes to make sure that they have a correct, clear understanding of what things are actually happening.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate your candor there. It's certainly true. The Republicans have locked most of this down.

The last part was Nix saying, caught on tape, regarding his testimony to the house Republicans there, no secrets. They're politicians. They're not technical. They don't understand how it works. And then he said they're always just puppets, which was quite something for Trump's director to say about Republicans who, according to some allegations, were trying to defend him anyway.

Betsy Woodruff and Brendan Fischer, thanks for your expertise tonight.

WOODRUFF: Sure thing.

FISCHER: Thank you.

MELBER: Up next, President Trump hiring new lawyers to go on offense against Bob Mueller, and only a handful of Republicans seem to be stepping up to the plate. What are the others going to do? That's next.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know, people say Donald Trump's impulsive, including his critics. But it can be a mistake to use just that lens about all things Trump. There is evidence that shows he can also be quite canny and premeditated.

Bob Mueller is certainly probing whether Trump's more than impulsive because proving the mental intent for obstruction usually requires usually more than impulse. It requires corrupt planning. Consider that for ten months, Donald Trump avoided ever criticizing Bob Mueller by name or ever impulsively even tweeting his name, until now.

After the Friday night firing of Comey deputy Andrew McCabe, Trump is now singling out Mueller by name. It looks like a new phase. It looks deliberate. It does not look impulsive.

And some Republicans I can tell you tonight apparently agree. Speaking out in the most direct terms we've seen about what happens if Trump tries to illegally remove Mueller. They're talking about potential impeachment.


HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HOST: If the President fired Robert Mueller, do you think that would be an impeachable offense?

LINDSEY GRAHAM, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Probably so, if he did it without cause, yes. I think what the President will have done is stopped an investigation into whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign. I can't see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose to stop the investigation without cause. I think it would be a constitutional crisis.


MELBER: Or take Republicans Senator Jeff Flake who wrote this just tonight. We're begging the President not to fire the Special Counsel. Don't create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact through impeachment.

No one wants that outcome, he writes. Mr. President, please don't go there. Mitch McConnell tried a different tact insisting that Mueller won't be going anywhere. And Paul Ryan claims he has assurances.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you prepared to take any action to protect the special counsel and Rod Rosenstein if it comes to that?

MITCH MCCONNELL, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Yes. I just don't think it's necessary. I don't think Bob Mueller is going anywhere. I think there is widespread feeling and the President's lawyers obviously agree that he ought to be allowed to finish the job.

PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Special Counsel should be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely. I am confident that he'll be able to do that. I received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration.


MELBER: Not even under consideration. That sounds good. But it was more than considered. the New York Times reported Trump tried to fire Mueller in June and was only blocked when his own White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to ask the DOJ to dismiss Mueller, saying he would quit instead. I'm joined by Jennifer Rubin a conservative opinion writer to the Washington Post and an MSNBC Contributor as well as Ezra Klein, editor at large at VOX and host of the Podcast the Ezra Klein Show. Ezra, when you look at this breakdown between leadership and some other republicans making some noise, what direction do you think we're headed in?

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Nowhere good. So I think you see a couple things here. one, as much as I admire what Senators Graham and Flake are saying, if they had the power that I wish they had in the Republican Party, we would have had a solution, say, on DACA long ago. So I don't think you can look at them as the way of taking the temperature of where the center of the party is.

What I do think is surprising is how little instinct for self-preservation McConnell and Ryan have here. There are plenty of bills that could protect Mueller right now. You could make him genuinely independent. You could create an independent Congressional Commission.

There are all kinds of things that are in Congress right now that you could do to protect Mueller to make sure you never have to face a scenario they're worried they're going to have to face, which is a where they either have to act or protect Trump at the cost of their own legacies. That they haven't done that. they're relying on Trump's good temperament to keep him out of trouble here strikes me as a bet that if I were them, I wouldn't want to make.

MELBER: And Jennifer, a lot of this comes down to whether it's time to issue these warnings and talk about the I word, or whether if you follow the logic of some of the Trump defenders, that's getting ahead of what's happened which is Mueller has been on the job for 10 months. I don't know if you ever listened to the Rapper Dave East but he famously said I'm like a bad doctor. I ain't got no patience. And there's a Trump defense here that nobody has patience to just let this play out. Which side do you think is right?

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think Ezra is right. It's dangerous to take assurances from this White House about anything. And what if next time Don McGahn takes direction and does tell the Special Prosecutor that he is toast, or does decide to fire Rod Rosenstein? So it is really playing with absolute fire.

There is no reason, for example, why they can't pass a simple resolution which should pass unanimously saying that this would be an impeachable offense. That at least would set out a clear line for the President. There is nothing that prohibits them from doing that. There is no constitutional prohibition on that.

I would say, though, I think Lindsey Graham unintentionally gave us a very interesting argument. If corrupt intent would be demonstrated by firing Bob Mueller, why isn't corrupt intent shown by firing James Comey, by coming up with a false cover story to explain the Trump Tower meeting, by all the whole litany of things that he has done? And in essence, Lindsey Graham is acknowledging that these actions in the course of his presidency if made for his own self-preservation are impeachable acts, it doesn't have to be just the firing of Bob Mueller.

So someone should get a hold of Lindsey Graham and say but what about all these other things that he has been up to? So I think the Republicans are chasing their own tails here. They're trying to simultaneously avoid the issue at the same time trying not to look like utter hypocrites. And I don't think they're doing a very good job, nor are they fooling the American people into believing they're actually doing their job.

MELBER: Ezra, speak to Jennifer's point that essentially; if you're talking about firing law enforcement officials for the criminal probe, it's already happened. Why is there a celebrity aspect around Mueller when these other people were also important?

KLEIN: I have often wondered what it is exactly that we are waiting on Mueller to prove. I think a lot of people are expecting something to be revealed that has not been revealed. And I think there are a lot of details that are. But in the question of whether or not there has already been a obstruction of justice, of course there is.

Donald Trump want on NBC and said it forthrightly. It is perfectly clear what he did and why he did it. One of the things I do worry about in all this, what we are actually watching, more than the firing of Mueller, that's been sort of a specter hanging over this. We're watching the one so discrediting of Mueller on the right. There has been a long-running and fairly successful campaign within the Fox News universe, within the Republican Congress, if you look at what House members who are conservatives have been saying to discredit Mueller's findings before they come out.

And the other is that by drawing this out there simply in acculturation process. People become less and less shocked by what they're hearing. They become used to what they already heard.

Well look, he already fired Comey and nothing happened so he could go and do the rest of it. People become used to things. And one thing that concerns me is Bob Mueller could come out with a searing report months from now. The report could show without a shadow of a doubt obstruction of justice.

And then what? Republicans and Fox News are going to say some of it is old news and they already knew about it. Some of it will just disbelief. And there isn't a remedy. This is a political process. And politically Republicans have done everything in their power to recover and protect Donald Trump. I don't see what we're expecting to be different in the coming months.

MELBER: Ezra Klein giving everybody a lot of good vibes to go to bed to.

KLEIN: Always.

MELBER: The slow flouting of all constitutional norms and the lack of political backbone to save our republic. Having said that, I think you are both articulate these concerns well. Ezra Klein and Jennifer Rubin thank you both.

Coming up, more breaking news. Warned not to thank Vladimir -- excuse me, not congratulate Vladimir Putin on the Russian election, and then he went ahead and does it anyway. Also, we're going to keep monitoring the situation as I mentioned in Austin, Texas. The Austin PD called on the scene of this reported explosion.

Police that was incendiary device. but -- but what police are saying, what I'm hearing fresh from our control room as told you we would monitor, this law enforcement briefing is that the latest materials that were collected in the latest investigation they're doing on that most recent site was not actually incendiary. That was not actually what they view to be explosive materials and not connected to the other bombings.

You may recall we mentioned some of the reporting on that. What's new right now, as you can see on your screen is law enforcement officially saying that on the record in this briefing. We wanted to get you that update, and we'll have more on that coming up, including a report from NBC's Gabe Gutierrez that a mail employee was going through basically some materials that had been dropped off.

That there was a kind of a flash, and there were minor injuries sustained. So I wanted to mention our reporting from my colleague Gabe Gutierrez as well as we monitor those events and bring you more as we get it. I'm going to fit in a break and have more politics after this.



DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory


MELBER: This looks bad. The Washington Post" is breaking news tonight Trump's own top security advisers told him bluntly don't congratulate Putin on his reelection because the U.S. as policy doesn't try to condone the anti-democratic activities there. So you just saw Trump ignore that warning in public, and in his private call to Putin as well that you could say, hey, let's be fair maybe Trump missed the advice.

But here is what is new in this Washington Post report tonight, and why that's unlikely. It says the warning in his briefing was in all caps letters stating do not congratulate, which as everyone knows shouting in a security memo. The report also says Trump also chose not to be heed talking with some agents talking him to condemn Putin about this recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. with a powerful nerve agent. Senator John McCain weighing in saying an American President does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future. And Lindsey Graham said this.


GRAHAM: What is disappointing is President Trump didn't mention the poisoning of the two people in Britain or the continued interference in our election. Every time you talk to Putin and you give him a pass that emboldens him. It's clear to me we're not sending the right message to Putin about his behavior here in our own backyard, and we had a chance to reinforce an ally and we missed that opportunity.


MELBER: The subtext there, Lindsey Graham saying Donald Trump all but sided with Putin over our ally Britain. I'm going to turn next to Jeremy Bash. He joins us for this breaking news and what it means for the Trump White House.


MELBER: Donald Trump under new fire tonight for refusing to confront Putin about the poisoning of a spy on British soil. Once again Trump a long ways from where most Republicans draw a line with Russia.


JOHN MCCAIN, UNITED STATES SENTOR: Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer and a KGB agent.

MITT ROMNEY, FMR. GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Donald Trump says he admire Vladimir Putin. At the same time he called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Putin Regime is a totalitarian, autocratic regime that preys off the people of Russia. He's a crook, he's a thug.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: the Russians did a number on us. I hate Putin. ...


MELBER: Joining me now, Jeremy Bash, MSNBC National Security Analyst, former Chief of Staff to the CIA and the Pentagon and Jennifer Rubin back with me. Jeremy, let's start with a negative interpretation of this that is not the worst interpretation. The worst would be the ongoing questions about whether Vladimir Putin has some sort of reason to have sway over Donald Trump.

A better but still negative interpretation would be that Donald Trump can't be told what to do. He's going through some sort of coming of age, self- discovery as President, we're told by the New York Times this week. He feels unbridled. I don't know what that means, if the last year plus was bridled. But this is more about him acting out and rejecting advice of something larger. Your view of that theory?

JEREMY BASH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Or maybe he can't read all caps. I mean I think really Ari this is the latest manifestation of President Trump pursuing an American foreign policy that is manifestly pro-Russian and therefore anti-American and fundamentally weak. It undermines our allies, in particular Great Britain which suffered this nerve gas agent attack on its soil. And also it sends a horrible message around the world because it basically telegraphs to our adversaries that the President will easily capitulate to you if you flatter him or show him so favor.

MELBER: Jennifer?

RUBIN: Yes. I think the -- Trump doesn't read anything that's put in front of him is a probably a good one. But I do agree with Jeremy. There is no person whose so intimidates Donald Trump and renders him speechless as Vladimir Putin does. And how does this comport to his behavior towards everyone else? Why is it that Donald Trump is so compliant, so afraid to confront Vladimir Putin?

It doesn't make sense when you look at his America first boasting. So the only conclusion you can come away with is that he's scared of Vladimir Putin. And why would he be scared of Vladimir Putin? Well that's back to the initial quandary, the initial question that's at the heart of the Russia investigation.

MELBER: There you go again, Jennifer, as the saying goes.

RUBIN: Exactly. And you know if you can come up with a better explanation for why he's afraid to confront Putin on mangling and misleading and twisting our electoral process, why he won't confront them about the poisoning on ally soil of two people, and why he feels compelled to congratulate him for a victory in a non-election.

Other than that, I don't know what it is. By the way, this extends a little bit beyond Putin as well. He also, if you recall, congratulated Erdogan in Turkey after he ran a fixed election. So this is what Trump does. He doesn't really understand or care to understand the difference between a real election and a fake election, which should be of concern. And this is not America first, this is Russia first.

MELBER: Russia first. And you know Jeremy, earlier in the show I played a little bit of Mitch McConnell trying to dodge questions on Mueller. I will note that Mitch McConnell did take a harder line of disagreement with Trump on this Putin issue today.


MCCONNELL: When I look at a Russian election, what I see is the lack of credibility and tallying the results. I'm always reminded of the elections they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the dictator was at the moment always got huge percentage of the vote. So calling him wouldn't have been high on my list.


MELBER: Jeremy?

BASH: Well, it shows you that the mainstream Republicans are anti-Putin and that Trump is really out of step with them. And I think Jennifer kind of points to the ultimate question here, why? What is the leverage that Putin has over Trump? Why has Putin become kryptonite, if you will.

The mere mention of his name despite warning from his aides basically render the President and therefore America powerless. It's really stunning. And I think obviously part of it is what Bob Mueller's looking at. Part of it has to do, I think, frankly with longstanding business ties and financial relationships between Donald Trump, the Trump organization and people around Vladimir Putin who have lent him money and who have actual financial leverage over him and who could wipe him out at a moment's notice if they called those loans.

MELBER: Jeremy Bash and Jennifer Rubin digging right into it. Thank you very much for joining us on the Last Word. As promised, we turn again to new updates on this breaking news. Authorities in Austin have wrapped up that press conference. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez was there on the story. What can you tell us?

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC REPORTER: Hi there Ari. Well this news conference just wrapped up and as you mentioned. And authorities now say that this incident just a little early on today, one, is not relate to do that string of bombings, the serial bomber the authorities described before. But they also described a little bit of how this unfolded at a goodwill store here in Austin. They say that someone dropped off an incendiary device, an artillery simulator, what they described as a military memento that dropped off in a bag of donations.

One of the employees of goodwill e took it out back, was suspicious and then there was some sort of flash. That employees suffered minor injuries through his hand and then treated and released. Now Ari, this is a neighborhood that is extremely on edge, and over the last several weeks has now had at least five explosions, and in addition to that, a sixth package that was intercepted before it could explode.

So certainly this is an ongoing investigation. Hundreds of Federal Agents, ATF and FBI, working this case but again the breaking news. The early reports of a new explosion here in Austin. It appears to be a false alarm at this point. That's what we were just hearing from authorities, Ari.

MELBER: And so, Gabe, putting the wider context beyond just this incident which we've been monitoring tonight to see, OK, was it related and what's going on down there, how does this relate to the larger investigation they have going which has been scary for that community, this seemingly series of events?

GUTIERREZ: Right. Well I think this really speaks to how seriously authorities are taking this, even the first whiff of any explosion. They sent massive amounts of police here. This is a serious investigation. We're now looking at five explosions that appear to be linked, six packages overall.

Two people have been killed and at least five injured. Today we learned a lot of new information that these packages are now being spotted in FedEx facilities, one near the San Antonio area that exploded last night in the overnight hours. That had a minor injury with a FedEx employee. But then authorities found another package at a separate FedEx facility here in the Austin area near the airport.

They are now poring over surveillance video from another FedEx store where they believe the serial bomber or someone who knew the serial bomber may have dropped off those packages and mailed them through the FedEx delivery system. Ari, that is extremely significant, because up until now, we hadn't heard of any of these explosives being sent through official delivery channels. We gad those three packages and delivered on porches and in that trip wire bomb that exploded on Sunday. But this a massive investigation right now. And authorities are now trying to nail down a suspect by looking at that surveillance video, Ari.

MELBER: Gabe Gutierrez on the ground in Austin, thank you very much. Stay safe. That is tonight's LAST WORD. I'm Ari Melber. You can always find me on my show the Beat with Ari Melber 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, there is a former American Ambassador whose job was literally to give the kind of advice about Russia that the President would have received here today which he choose not follow. Also I want to tell you Steve Kornacki and that guest will join Brian Williams with a lot of new --