THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL March 21, 2018 Guest: John Heilemann, Jim Messina, Jill Wine-Banks, Kevin Ruse, Roger McNamee, Kevin Ruse
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Where's Steve Kornacki when we need him? Finally, we have the concession.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: I know. If we -- if we kept Kornacki working between first ballots cast and when these races were decided, Steve Kornacki would have a very small life.
O'DONNELL: Rachel, I could have just watched for a whole a whole other hour watching you talk to Emma Gonzalez and Jaclyn Corin and Sarah Chadwick. I -- really, it was just wonderful to hear from them, wonderful to see them with you, getting to finish sentences in a -- in a calm and reasoned conversation. They're just so impressive.
MADDOW: They're very impressive and they know what they're doing, and we're all learning from them and they're cognizant of it and they're still being decent to each other and creative and it -- you know, kind of gives you hope.
O'DONNELL: They are just such an amazing combination of good soldiers and good leaders at the same time.
MADDOW: Yes, right on. Thanks, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
Well, "Vanity Fair" contributing editor Fran Lebowitz has been observing Donald Trump's moves in New York City for decades. She knows more about Donald Trump than most of the political reporters who've only been covering him for a couple of years now. And she said something very important about Donald Trump this week that we should always keep in mind in every Trump story, every story about the current president the United States.
In an interview with a British newspaper, Fran Lebowitz said: Everyone says he is crazy which maybe he is, but the scarier thing about him is that he is stupid you do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump. You just don't.
And Donald Trump proves that every time he says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm like a really smart person. I have like a very, very high aptitude and intelligence.
I know words. I had the best words.
I went to the Wharton School of Finance.
Great schools, great brain.
Trust me, I'm like a smart person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: No smart person has ever said any one of those things.
So, when Donald Trump gets caught doing something very, very stupid, he always has to publicly pretend that it's the right thing to do, even when he privately realizes that it wasn't the right thing to do.
And so, today, "The Los Angeles Times" reports the President Trump was privately furious today, all day, just furious that his White House leaked the fact that he was specifically told, warned "do not congratulate" before he made a phone call to Vladimir Putin yesterday and congratulated Vladimir Putin for winning the rigged election for president of Russia. Putin himself, of course, rigged the election by jailing his strongest opponent and other things, something Donald Trump no doubt would like to have the power to do.
The Trump White House leaked, leaked that in the briefing materials given to Donald Trump before the phone call, it said in capital letters, do not congratulate. Now, there's more than one possible reason why Donald Trump then congratulated Vladimir Putin. But one of the possible reasons that's always present in everything that all Trump does is what Fran Lebowitz said about him, the scarier thing about him is that he is stupid and that is very scary, deeply scary, because that would mean that even a well- intentioned version of Donald Trump could make colossal and deadly mistakes as president of the United States.
"The Associated Press" is reporting Trump has told confidants that he believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him said White House officials. So, Donald Trump thinks the leak was meant to embarrass him, but how could it embarrass him if congratulating Vladimir Putin was the right thing to do, the smart thing to do?
It could not embarrass Donald Trump unless, unless after the fact Donald Trump realized how wrong it was to congratulate Vladimir Putin for winning an election rigged by Vladimir Putin. It could got embarrassed Donald Trump unless after the fact Donald Trump realized that congratulating Putin made Donald Trump look stupid and incompetent and possibly a partner of Vladimir Putin or a servant of Vladimir Putin, a colluder with Vladimir Putin.
So while Donald Trump spent the day infuriated and embarrassed by the leak that he that he was warned do not congratulate he had to publicly pretend to be proud of the thing that we know privately embarrasses him. And so, he tweeted: I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory. In past, Obama called him also. The fake news media is crazed because they wanted me to us excoriate him. They are wrong.
"The L.A. Times" is reporting, quote: one person who speaks regularly with White House officials said the most recent leak seemed particularly geared toward infantilizing Trump, who has ignored numerous suggestions that he rebuked Putin and I'm pretty sure there's going to be a scalp over this.
So, who's going to be fired for this leak? How is the leakiest White House in history going to catch the person or persons who are responsible for this particular leak?
We now know that all of the White House leakers have signed a completely ridiculous and unenforceable confidentiality agreement that they violate every time they leak something. It was the Trump family's idea to force White House staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. Ivanka Trump was a big cheerleader for that idea. It was a profoundly stupid idea, carried into the Trump White House from the Trump family business.
In all, the reporting on Donald Trump's furious embarrassment today, every account stresses as "The L.A. Times" put it, White House chief of staff John F. Kelly also is said to be infuriated on a warpath, according to the person in close contact with national security officials.
John Kelly is, of course, on the suspect list for this leak, if not suspect number one. He does leak to the press. John Kelly does speak off the record to the press. John Kelly is unprofessional and incompetent when he speaks to the press.
John Kelly has lied to the press and been caught in those lives. John Kelly has told reporters completely inappropriate things like exactly where in the bathroom Rex Tillerson was sitting when John Kelly told him on the phone that he was fired.
The president is probably not entirely right when he tells people that the leak was meant to embarrass him. The leak was also meant to remove the embarrassment from the White House staff, the embarrassment that the president of the United States congratulated Vladimir Putin for winning the election that Vladimir Putin rigged. Most people working in the Trump White House have no idea how wrong it is for Donald Trump to congratulate Vladimir Putin for winning the election that Vladimir Putin rigged.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Does the White House believe that the election in Russia was free and fair?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, in terms of the election there, we're focused on our elections. We don't get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country and that's not something that we can dictate to them how they operate. We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: There is no publicly available evidence that she is even 1 percent smarter than that answer, but some other people in the White House are and they were no doubt embarrassed and infuriated that Donald Trump did congratulate Vladimir Putin after he was told not to and say -- and so, they probably wanted to put the stain of that embarrassment where it belongs, which is entirely on Donald Trump, and they wanted to send the signal to the rest of us and through the world that not everyone on the Trump White House thinks Vladimir Putin should be congratulated for winning a fraudulent election.
And that's a good thing to know. We are better off tonight knowing that not everyone in the White House is in Putin's pocket. And there was only one way to communicate that through this leak.
Now, in my experience in government, I found that people who leak are often the ones who pretend to be the most infuriated about the leak. So, John Kelly trying to get the word out to every reporter in every newspaper that he's infuriated about the leak makes him no less a suspect.
And another likely suspect is, of course, Donald Trump himself who we know is constantly complaining to people outside the White House on the phone about his White House staff, and it is entirely possible that Donald Trump himself told several people that they actually wrote do not congratulate on his notes and that one of those people or many of those people might be among the leakers of this information.
The weakness of that theory, of course, is that Donald Trump actually read any of the words that were written for him in his briefing materials before getting on the phone with Vladimir Putin, because Donald Trump famously does not read. The president reportedly made the call to Vladimir Putin not from the oval office where these calls are usually made surrounded by experts and advisers, he made the call from the White House residence and it is not yet clear who if anyone was actually present during the phone call.
For those details, we might have to wait for the next Michael Wolff book or the next book like Michael Wolff's book that will be lavishly supplied with leaks from all of those people who signed all those Trump non-disclosure agreements in the White House.
Joining us now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, and Ned Price, former senior director and spokesperson for the National Security Council and our former CIA analyst. He is an MSNBC contributor.
So, John Heilemann, there's going to be a scalp, according to one source to "The L.A. Times", that they are really mad about this leak -- and they're really -- they're going to find the leaker this time, and fire the leaker. When should we expect that to happen?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: How many leaker so far have been fired? Yes, I mean, (INAUDIBLE) fired.
HEILEMANN: Some of them had been leakers, yes, but have any of them been fired for but for a specified leak?
HEILEMANN: I believe that number --
O'DONNELL: Had to be zero.
HEILEMANN: Close to zero if not exactly zero.
I don't think anybody's going got get fired and I think you know there's a chance that the leaker might be H.R. McMaster. At some point, Kelly's going to get fired. McMaster thoughts he's going to get fired. The only person who's not going to get fired at least Trump is Donald Trump. Donald Trump may be excavated from the office, but not going to fire himself.
I don't think anything's going to happen in terms of personnel changes. I do think that there's a lot of interesting theories about why the -- what would generated this leak.
O'DONNELL: Go ahead.
HEILEMANN: Well, I think there's -- you know, the two main competing theories if you assume it's not Donald Trump seem to be one that the national security establishment and the intelligence community is really upset about the fact that Trump cozies up to Putin at every opportunity. The other theory seems to be that people's vanity has been wounded by the notion that they put this briefing paper in front of Trump, they told him what to do, they said do not congratulate and then he disregarded their advice.
Again in the same way that you pointed out to your experience that the people who complain against about leaks are likely leakers, it might view is that when it comes down in White House's generally between the argument on principle were upset that he's too friendly to Putin, versus the argument on "Vanity" were upset that he ignored my advice, it's almost always vanity that is the thing that's driving people in these instances.
O'DONNELL: And Ned Price, it can be both.
HEILEMANN: That's true.
O'DONNELL: It can be a stroke it can be people who are upset that the advice wasn't followed but also believe it was really important and good advice and they want to get the message out that there are people in this White House who don't think like the president.
NED PRICE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's exactly right, Lawrence. I think the complicating factor in all of this as we know, this White House is a snake pit and it's hard to disentangle one leak from the next, and especially when you look to motivation on some days, it's vanity, on fewer days, for a few days, I think it's principle.
This leak is interesting though and I think this may in fact be one of those leaks of principle for a couple reasons when you look at that "Washington Post" description of the sources it describes them as two officials familiar with the note card. There was no denigration of other officials. It was just a very simple leak that the president failed to heed the headline of that note card.
And when you read that headline it's also important to note that it doesn't seem like they leaked any classified information. Do not congratulate is an unclassified statement, there's nothing all that sensitive in there, especially when President Trump himself before this story came out said that he had spoken with Vladimir Putin.
So, I think unlike most leaks in this White House, there actually is a more compelling in case that maybe this was done on principle, maybe this was done by people who were seeking to do right, people who are remembering the oath that they took to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. They could see a threat from the inside here.
O'DONNELL: Ned, let me go back over one point there because there has been this these comments today indicating that this is classified material. The president's briefing material for a call with the president of Russia, so any leak of that could even be illegal, but were you making the point that -- I just hear you make the point that there can be material in within those files that is not classified, especially if it's a separate card that simply says do not congratulate. And since that's not classified material, that that would not be a violation.
PRICE: Well, look, Lawrence, it's a little bit complicated, but typically how this works is you have a briefing package for the president and that briefing package when the president talks to a foreign counterpart, the entire package will be classified typically secret or top secret. But individual snippets, discrete snippets within that package can in fact be unclassified. And to me, the headline "do not congratulate" seems unclassified.
It would be classified if they were seeking -- if they were seeking to keep this call secret, if they wanted this call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin never to see the light of day. But that's not the case. Of course, the Kremlin, as it always does, went to the press immediately. Donald Trump later gloated to the White House press that he had this great conversation with President Putin. So, clearly, they were not trying to keep this call secret and there is nothing that seems to me to be at all classified in that headline of that note card.
O'DONNELL: Let's look at the Republican reaction to this which was the negative reaction which was stronger than usual.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I don't agree with congratulating Putin. I don't think you congratulate someone for a fake election.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Every time you talk of Putin, and you give him a pass, that emboldens him.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: When I look at a Russian election, what I see is the lack of credibility, calling him wouldn't have been high on my list.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I'm not sure why the president felt like he needed to call and congratulate Vladimir Putin on what was a fake election.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Poisoning people with nerve gas. That's a criminal activity. I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: The most striking for me there, John, was Mitch McConnell -- I mean, obviously, Chuck Grassley was much more forceful.
O'DONNELL: But Mitch McConnell never criticizes the president.
O'DONNELL: And the way he put it was, calling him wouldn't have been high on my list.
O'DONNELL: But for Mitch McConnell, that is kind of the anger equivalent publicly of Grassley saying, I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal.
HEILEMANN: Right, or just coming out and calling the president an idiot.
HEILEMANN: You know, like for Mitch McConnell. But this actually that the chorus of Republicans here outspokenly saying that it was a mistake for the president to call Vladimir Putin to congratulate him and to not raise any issues of contention, raise the 2016 election meddling, raise the poisoning in the U.K., that very chorus points back to the quest to the leak, which is that there is such a giant bipartisan establishment consensus on it being a bad idea for Trump to have done these things that you can imagine easily, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster or any number of other White House officials wanting to broadcast of the world, yes, guys, we're with you. We know this was a bad idea, but don't blame us.
There's only one culprit here. The culprit is the guy in the big chair who couldn't read the big block letters that said "do not congratulate". It's not -- I'm washing my hands here, it's all on him.
O'DONNELL: Yes, we're going to have to break it there.
Ned Price, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
PRICE: Thanks so much.
O'DONNELL: Coming up, he is afraid of the president of Russia and we already know just by saying that sentence, we know who we're talking about but you might not know who said at this time. A lot of people have said.
And we now know that the man who Jeff Sessions fired last Friday night had authorized an investigation of Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think he's afraid of the president of Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: So what's the most amazing thing about that statement by President Obama's CIA Director John Brennan? I think the most amazing thing about it is that we all know who he's talking about even though John Brennan didn't say a name.
He just said, I think he's afraid of the president of Russia and we all know who the he is, the entire world knows who that he is, because the entire world for the last year has been wondering why the president of the United States talks and behaves as if he is afraid of the president of Russia, the very first president of the United States in history to appear to be afraid of the president of Russia.
John Brennan is a former director of the CIA. He is now an NBC News and MSNBC senior national security intelligence analyst. As a former director of the CIA, he knows a lot more than he is saying all the time.
It's one thing for you to say you think Trump is afraid of the president of Russia, it's one thing for me to say I think Trump is afraid of the president of Russia, which I've said many times. But that is nothing -- it's nothing when I say it compared to a former director of the CIA saying that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: I think he's afraid of the president of Russia.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: Why?
BRENNAN: Well, I think one can speculate as to why, that the Russians may have something on him personally, that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult. Clearly, I think it's important for us to be able to improve relations with Russia, but the fact that he has had this fawning attitude toward Mr. Putin, has not said anything negative about him, I think continues to you know say to me that he does have something to fear.
He's acting more and more like a cornered animal and lashing out in whatever way he can and who knows what that cornered animal will do once there really see the threat to their survival?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: John Brennan began speaking on "MORNING JOE" this morning at 7:03 a.m. He was interrupted by the next commercial break at 7:18 a.m. At 7:11 a.m., right in the middle of what John Brennan had to say, the president of the United States tweeted a quote from Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.
Special counsel is told to find crimes whether a crime exists or not, I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be special counsel. I am still opposed to it. I think president Trump was right when he said there never should have been a special counsel appointed because there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime collusion or otherwise or obstruction of justice, so stated by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
The misspelling of the word counsel in the president's tweet is not the fault of Professor Dershowitz, but, of course, the fault of the president of the United States who has been guilty of more public misspellings than any president in history. "The New York Times" editorial board was watching "MORNING JOE" this morning as they probably always do, and their editorial in tomorrow's paper is based on what John Brennan said on "MORNING JOE" today.
The headline of the editorial is: Why is Trump so afraid of Russia. The editorial quotes John Brennan on "MORNING JOE" and then goes on to catalogue a long list of Donald Trump's weakness in the face of Putin's aggression. The last line of the editorial is: If Mr. Trump isn't Mr. Putin's lackey, it's past time for him to prove it.
This afternoon, former Army Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN.BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET), U.S. ARMY: Everybody's been tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. Why is the president United States acting this way? Do they have something on them? I'd say there's a significant chance they do.
Putin's going to stick it to him for sure sooner or later. He's got a rope around his neck if there's actually incriminating embarrassing evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Jim Messina, the former deputy chief of staff for President Obama from 2009 to 2011, campaign manager President Obama in 2012, and John Heilemann is still with us.
And, Jim, I wanted to get your reaction to what John Brennan had to say -- I having worked in the same administration as he has. This is a former director of the CIA talking about the president being afraid of Putin.
JIM MESSINA, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR PRES. OBAMA: Yes, it's unprecedented. I mean, Lawrence, there's an old country song that says, you got a dance with the one who brung you, and Donald Trump is dancing with Vladimir Putin. There's no question that he is refusing to criticize him at every single -- every single moment. I think the interesting thing about what Trump did yesterday wasn't what he said in the congratulations, although that's unprecedented. It's more what he didn't say.
Because I've been with President Obama when he made a bunch of these calls, and typically, a normal president would then say, and here's where we want to work together and more importantly, here's our issues that we have real problems with you that we need to get done in your second or third term. He didn't talk about the fact that Donald Trump is the only president who hasn't condemned the Russian government for poisoning -- potentially poisoning a spy in the U.K. He didn't talk about the fact that Russia is still colluding or attempting to affect our elections here in the United States. He didn't talk about any of this.
All he did with his moment with Vladimir Putin was say, hey, buddy, congratulations and that is what you do when you are someone's lackey.
O'DONNELL: Jim, could you take us inside what would have been the Obama phone call to Putin in, what is just weeks after the -- this case of Russian being murdered, attacked in England? How would the president United States talk about that to the president of Russia when the president of Russia is suspect number one in that case?
MESSINA: Well, look, these things are really carefully negotiated across agencies and there would have absolutely been a discussion with the president beforehand in a memo to say, do not congratulate him. We do not congratulate people who have rigged elections, that there is no opposition. And instead you're going to say, I understand you've been reelected.
Now, here's what we want to do to work together. He would have mentioned the disarmament thing and they would have had a set of issues that very quickly the president would have walked to the foreign leader through that they want to work together to fix. And we would have had including in those things our biggest concerns, and there's no question under any single other leader in the world, Lawrence, the very first thing would have been the British poisoning and our own elections.
And the fact that he didn't mention either one of those in that call and thanks to the unbelievable leaking in the White House, we know exactly what was said is just -- it's not only unprecedented, it's inexplicable. And the only thing you can conclude is he doesn't want to screw with a Vladimir Putin for really clear reasons that John Brennan who, by the way, I worked with for two years the White House is one of the single, most nonpartisan, great individuals I've ever worked with.
And the fact that John Brennan is coming out and saying this has to be a siren call to the rest of the country to wake up.
O'DONNELL: John, John Brennan knows how we are all going to react to him saying things like this, who knows the importance of every word he says and every word he says publicly. He spent years weighing those words very, very carefully as a CIA director. And we also know that when a former CIA director is speaking, it's always the tip of the iceberg of what he knows, he's always suppressing most of what he knows and you just wonder when you hear a statement like that from John Brennan, what else might there be that he could tell us -- that he knows that he can't tell us?
HEILEMANN: I think there's a -- there's a vast amount and I think one of the most interesting questions if you are going to get into a parlor game would be who knows more about the dark side of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or John Brennan? They probably both know a lot many of the same things.
If you think back to how a lot of the a lot of the largest events of our time in the Trump administration got the earliest inception of them, it was John Brennan in the spring of starting to get wind through intelligence channels that there were funny things happening between people in Donald Trump's orbit and the Russians. Donald Trump -- John Brennan knows about Donald Trump's complex financial history, much of which is now under scrutiny by Bob Mueller. He had enough -- not necessarily proven but enough actionable intelligence to go to Jim Comey and the FBI and say, we need to open up a counterintelligence investigation right now a week after the Republican convention into the Trump campaign its ties to Russia. That's where it all started.
And Brennan was there throughout the fall, he was there with -- at the first briefings for Donald Trump at the highest level, he was there when Jim Comey had to walk in the room alone and briefed Donald Trump on the Steele dossier. He knows Christopher Steele and is probably because of five ISIS probably known Christopher Steele for decades, knows Christopher Steele's reputation, knows if not exactly in the early phases what was in the dossier, the kinds of things that add up in the dossier, and then, of course, he ended up actually knowing what was in the dossier.
On top of that, everything else that leads -- that's even that's sharp into the funnel so to speak of what John Brennan knows. So, when John Brennan decides as he has not just yesterday but over the course of the last few weeks to start to escalate his criticism of Donald Trump in the way that he has, on Twitter, on television and then today to say that they have -- that he thinks Vladimir Putin has something personally on Donald Trump, that doesn't necessarily mean his personal life doesn't necessarily mean sexually although it could, but it be could very well mean his personal finances and his business. It is a matter of enormous significance and a huge tell, a huge kind of thing. I can't tell you what I know, but trust me, this is just a little tiny sliver of what's really there.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Go ahead, Jim.
JIM MESSINA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And :Lawrence -- and Lawrence here's the crazy thing, any other politician you and I have ever worked with, would go out of their way if Donald Trump to prove they weren't beholden to the Russian government. They would be the toughest person on the Russian government, unless to John's point, there was a reason why they couldn't.
And the fact he's not pushing on the British assassination and the fact that he's not going after the election stuff, is proof he can't and he can't because he's worried about what they know and what they have. It's unprecedented. Every other politician I've ever worked with, would go overtime to prove they're not Putin's Lacky. And all Donald Trump does is say great job, congratulations.
O'DONNELL: Jim Messina gets the last word on one tonight. Jim Messina, John Heilmann thank you both for joining us, really appreciate it.
MESSINA: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Coming up we know Andrew McCabe was investigating Jeff Sessions for perjury. But Jeff Sessions said he didn't know that when he fired Andrew McCabe last Friday.
O'DONNELL: Three sources tell NBC News tonight that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had previously authorized an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied to Congress about his contacts with Russians. Andrew McCabe was fired by Jeff Sessions on Friday night allegedly for not being completely truthful. NBC News reports that Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Al Franken referred a perjury inquiry to the FBI last year after reports surfaced that contracted Jeff Sessions under oath testimony to the senate judiciary committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL FRANKEN, UNITED STATES SENATOR: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump Campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: After he said he did communicate with the Russians it was reported that he met with the Russian Ambassador several times during the company and Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian Investigation over that issue. NBC News reports that the investigation of possible perjury by Jeff Sessions was referred to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
A Justice Department official told NBC New tonight that the McCabe authorized investigation of Jeff Sessions was not something that Jeff Sessions knew about last week when he decided to fire Andrew McCabe. Tonight, Jeff Sessions' private attorney Chuck Cooper released this statement, the special counsel's office has informed me that after interviewing the Attorney General and conducting additional investigation, the Attorney General is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to congress.
Joining us now is Jill Wine -Banks, former assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor and an MSNBC Contributor and Jill working backwards through what I just talked about. What do you make of the statement by Jeff Sessions' private attorney tonight saying the Attorney General now is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress.
JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It's possible it's correct. He quotes the Mueller office and that's dangerous to do because they might contradict it if they didn't say that. So for now i guess we have to assume that Mr. Cooper was repeating accurately what he heard.
O'DONNELL: And we have reason to believe now that Jeff Sessions was investigated for that or there was some investigation of it and Andrew McCabe authorized that investigation.
WINE-BANKS: Well that's an interesting thing. And whether he is currently under investigation or not, it is much more doubtful that he didn't know that he was under investigation. So if his lawyer could say today that he had already found out that it was over, it seems quite unlikely that last Friday, a few days ago, he didn't know that there had been an investigation. so that part doesn't seem as likely to be true to me.
O'DONNELL: And interestingly there, Jill, it's two different sources. so the private attorney is releasing that public statement tonight and it's a Justice Department official who told NBC News that Jeff Sessions just didn't know about that, that Andrew McCabe had authorized an investigation of Jeff Sessions when Jeff Sessions fired him.
WINE-BANKS: Right. But they both work for Attorney General Sessions, one in his government capacity and one in a private capacity. So they're both likely to be saying something that Jeff Sessions wants conveyed.
O'DONNELL: And this includes -- the lawyer's statement tonight includes the fact that Jeff Sessions has been interviewed by the Special Prosecutor. And so -- as this investigation continues, is it possible that Jeff Sessions' status in that investigation could change?
WINE-BANKS: Well, he's always been a likely witness, not necessarily a target. But he certainly is someone who had dealings with the Russians that were undisclosed. And that made him part of an investigation of who worked with Russia And what did they do and what did they know and when did they know it? So his status stays important to me as a potential witness, possibly against the President.
O'DONNELL: Jill wine-banks thank you for joining us tonight. Up next Mark Zuckerberg speaks finally. The Facebook founder is sounding very surprised that anyone could use Facebook to try to manipulate voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK FOUNDER: If you told me in 2004 when I was getting started in Facebook that a big part of my responsibility today would be to help protect the integrity of elections by interference by other governments I wouldn't have believed that would be something I would have to work on 14 years later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: That was Mark Zuckerberg finally breaking his silence days after reports that the Trump Campaign's Digital Firm Cambridge Analytica secretly harvested the private information of 50 million Facebook users.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZUCKERBERG: So this was a major breach of trust, and I'm really sorry that this happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect people's data. And if we can't do that, we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Zuckerberg said Facebook will investigate apps that have access to user data and restrict developer's access to that investigation. And now according to ABC News, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for the last several weeks has had a growing interest to better understand the relationship between the campaign, the Republican National Committee and Cambridge Analytica which also means Facebook. Up next a New York Times reporter who spoke with Mark Zuckerberg today and an early Facebook investor will join the discussion.
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ZUCKERBERG: I don't know about you. But I'm used to, when people legally certify that they're going to do something they do it. But I think this was clearly a mistake in retrospect.
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O'DONNELL: Joining me now, Roger McNamee. He was an early investor in Facebook and a former mentor to Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Ruse, a business columnist for the New York Times and writer at lartge for the New York Times Magazine. He also interviewed Mark Zuckerberg today.
And Kevin some of what he said in his television interview is word for word things that he said to you. One of them from your article is this, Zuckerberg said feel a lot better about the systems now, at the same time I think Russia and other governments are going to get more sophisticated in what they do to.
So we need to up our game. This is a massive focus for us to make sure we're dialed in for the 2018 in the U.S. but the Indian elections, the Brazilian elections and a number of other elections that are going on this year that are really important. What does that mean? What does dialed in mean? What are the specifics of that? Do we know?
KEVIN RUSE, MNSBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well he said they're taking steps to use artificial intelligence and other tools to identify people behaving badly on their platform. So for example he revealed for the first time today that Facebook had caught some Macedonian accounts trying to interfere in the Alabama special election last December by pushing false news on Facebook. He uses the example of those kinds of tools but he's talking about getting ready for all possible ways that a foreign government, bag bad actor might try to gain Facebook and exploits platform to tip an election.
O'DONNELL: Roger, Mark Zuckerberg said something I find difficult to believe, he said, I don't know about you but I believe people in business when they tell me they've done something. I suspect mark Zuckerberg has contracts with people and with companies and that's when he believes that something is actually real, only when there's an actual written contract to perform something.
ROGER MCNAMEE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Lawrence, You are so right. I mean, I've known mark since he was 22 years old. And the one thing I can tell you is that the issues he's talking about today have been on the table since 2011 when they signed the consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. They have essentially pretended as though that consent decree did not exist, they have not put in the keep of infrastructure necessary to protect consumer data. They've not done anything to vet the people who have been grabbing the stuff. And this notion that somehow they should be allowed to have time now to figure out this out i think is laughable.
And I look at the election stuff. And let's get real. All of these problems exist because of an advertising business model that creates perverse incentives and gives them the incentive essentially to create these bubbles around people where people person has their own set of facts and where they're easily manipulated by backed actors.
O'DONNELL: Roger, to stay on that, you're saying the consent decree required Facebook to protect all of this kind of data that Cambridge Analytica obtained?
MCNAMEE: Well, actually, it required them to have clear notification and customer approval for any use of the data. And they clearly did not do that. They buried things deep into their terms of service, which are buried deep in the site. They made no constructive efforts.
They didn't have anybody on the team, as far as i can tell, to go out there and actually audit the people who were getting all of this data. and so if you look at this, the company was growing really rapidly. they viewed all of that kind of regulatory stuff as friction. And their strategy was just to ignore all friction and just assume none of it was going to be a problem. The only reason they feel sorry about it now is because they got caught.
O'DONNELL: Kevin, Mark Zuckerberg has said repeatedly today, he keeps using this word certify. He keeps saying that Cambridge Analytica certified that they weren't doing these things. What does he mean by certify?
KEVIN RUSE, MNSBC CONTRIBUTON: It's unclear, but there's been some reporting that what he means is that they sent a letter and said, check this box if you haven't been done anything untoward with our data, and they sent it back, and that was the end of it. And I think that's sort of the approach they've taken is they've given away now data through millions of apps. Millions of apps have been built on top of Facebook.
I checked my open Facebook to see how many apps I had been given permission to, 98 apps, some of which i haven't used in many years. So everyone has been doing this for so long, giving permission for their data to be used by these apps that this is now trying to put something back in the bottle that escaped a long time ago. There's so much data out there. And Facebook has no real way of clawing most of it back.
O'DONNELL: And Roger, go ahead.
MCNAMEE: Lawrence, the real problem here is remember that when Cambridge Analytica took this content from Facebook, Facebook should have had people monitoring at the time. It took them a year to find out. they found out because The Guardian reported it. And then worse than that less than a year later, Facebook had embedded people in the Trump Campaign, working side by side with Cambridge Analytica people, who were trying to get Trump elected, working together using the exact same data.
You cannot convince me for a minute that the people in Facebook headquarters did not realize that this is the same Cambridge Analytica that had -- they had punished less than a year before. I mean, all of this is just completely unbelievable.
O'DONNELL: And Kevin, you know, I'm no visionary in these matters. i never could have foreseen how Facebook was used. But mark Zuckerberg, he's thinking about facebook and its capacities and the potentials and theoretical potentials, he's been thinking about them since he was in college. And he's now going to act very, very surprised that this kind of thing was possible?
RUSE: Well he's not wrong that Facebook is a very different thing than it was in 2004 when it was a social network for college kids. Facebook is now this global platform for information and communication. They haven't changed their approach entirely since they were that social network for college kids. And sometimes I think Facebook is like the -- in old cartoons where the guy's on the train, it's going down the tracks, he's laying the tracks right in front of the train. It feels like that sometimes.
New problems are hitting them every day, whether it's foreign interference in elections or fake and false news or Macedonians trying to interfere in Alabama. And they're just trying as hard as they can to catch up. And I don't know that they'll ever get there. I think it might be an insurmountable problem.
O'DONNELL: Roger, is there an instant angle here that would go along the lines of, yeah, they knew they should try to protect this data, but if they failed to protect this data, what's the worst that could happen?
MCNAMEE: Well you could lose democracy in Western Europe and north America. I think the fundamental problem we're dealing with here is if I use Kevin's thing, they were going too fast, they need to slow down and do it right the first time.
O'DONNELL: Roger Mcnamee, Kevin Ruse thank you both for joining us, really appreciate it. Tonight's Last Word is next.
O'DONNELL: Time for tonight's Last Word.
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STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Bringing in a new lawyer might mean Trump has to lose another one of his legal counsels, namely Trump's personal lawyer and Cadbury meat egg John Dowd. According to reports, Dowd is has contemplated resigning because he has concluded he has no control over Trump's behavior. You just figured that out? Come on, man. Trump doesn't even have control over Trump's behavior.
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O'DONNELL: Cadbury meat eggs. Stephen Colbert gets the tonight's Last Word. There will be more about what Mark Zuckerberg has to say today. Kara Swisher talked with Mark Zuckerberg and she will join Brian on the 11th hour with Brian Williams which starts now.