Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: April 19, 2018 Guest: Benjamin Wittes; Harry Litman; Ron Klain; David Frum
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I've been sitting here. I've been taking notes. I haven't missed a word of this.
I just want to get your reaction to what you think are the highlights of what you just discovered. It's hard when you're doing it yourself. But were there moments you popped and I didn't see that coming?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Well, listen, Lawrence, in the interest of full disclosure, dude is sitting next to me still, he's 6'8", so it's a little -- there's sort of a looming presence in the room. Also, I'm not sure that I breathed yet because we just did an hour-long interview, basically, without a break.
I will say that it is important to get Director Comey on the record right now live and in person at a time when his memos, which are part of an active ongoing investigation have been forced into the public eye and handed to the people who are presumably subjects of an ongoing investigation because of Congress trying to make that happen. I'm glad he's out talking to the public right now at a time when he can give context and explanation for those documents when they're being used for political reasons and I believe by people who want to shut the investigation down.
So, I think that having -- having him here able to talk about that stuff in addition to what he's able to spell out in the book in terms of his relationship with the president is valuable. It's a public service. It helps understand the other side of what I think a lot of people are trying to use it for.
O'DONNELL: Based on my fast read of the memos while you were doing the interview, I was listening to the interview and reading the memos at the same time, the basic thing about them that's so striking is that James Comey has used most of this material already publically in his testimony and in his book. There are a few items here and there, as you noticed when you asked about Dana Boente's notes for example about the suing. I had just read that piece in the memo, where he made a note of it. And, of course, you caught it before your hour was up.
But I also am struck in the memos by the kinds of detail -- James Comey is a writer. I think that's something that a lot of people in Washington are not used to reading when it comes to a government official. He makes observations about the room that writers make. He takes in atmospherics, he has a way of describing generally conversation with the president which I find to be some of the best writing I've seen about it, talking about in the memo the dinner conversation with the president was like a jigsaw puzzle of conversation, with pieces falling out here and there that you then try to put back in and figure out where they're going.
And so, that's one of the challenges he has and admits to in the memos in conversation with the president. And we've all seen it publicly, they're so disjointed and ramble in so many directions and they have so many tangents and circles and references that aren't completely clear that it is not easy to write a note that summarizes the conversation.
MADDOW: Yes. And I mean, I actually thought that was a helpful writer reference he made when he talks about the president seems to speak in monologues even when he's on scattered topics, he doesn't necessarily give you a way in. I mean, I've had precisely one personal conversation with President Trump in my entire life and I found that to be true. It was -- it was a phone conversation where I could have easily put the thing on speaker phone and done work while he was talking because there were not moments for me to interject. So, I hadn't actually how to sort of characterize that to other people before Comey wrote about it in a way that I recognize and said, yes, that is actually that I could have described it.
But, Lawrence, what you're saying about what's in the memos, it is a -- I mean, how do you prove your credibility, right? You prove your credibility by not ever getting caught in a lie and by doing what you say you're going to do and by accurately describing what you have done. And in the case of these memos, and that's why they're so important as evidence, we have a ton of consistency between what Comey said publicly about those interactions with the president, what he wrote down personally at the time and what he told other people at the time and they wrote down about those interactions.
And so, that level of consistency, down to the exact phrases from the president, in his recounting them, in his writing them down and in him telling them to other people who also wrote them down, that consistency is powerful when it comes to evidence. I mean, it may be hearsay when it comes to these guys being witnesses in any potential criminal case, but it's powerful evidence of credibility and, frankly, sort of good trade craft as legal -- as law enforcement officials for getting this stuff right.
O'DONNELL: Some of James Comey's critics in the House of Representatives are already out tonight with the statement about the memos. And, of course, let's just remember, we're reading these memos because they leaked, they were handed over by the Justice Department to the Republicans in the House of Representatives today and the clock started ticking on how many minutes it would take for them to leak them, which has now happened.
And some of the critics are saying, well, why didn't he take these kinds of notes in his meetings with President Trump? Why didn't he take these kinds of notes and meetings with anyone else, which is something he's already talked about publicly -- he took these kinds of notes after the fact because he was disturbed by these discussions.
MADDOW: Right. And I just asked him about that. I mean, I said, you know, why was President Trump the only president who you've served under, obviously, he served under George W. Bush. He served under Barack Obama. He was in high level public service even before those presidencies. Why were these -- why did these memos exist? But nothing similar to your time with President Obama, and he's been consistent in explaining in that all along, saying that he thought that these interactions were notable, that should be preserved for posterity, and in case they ever needed to be cited as evidence or in some sort of he said/he said in the future, and it was because of what he knew about the president as a person and because he was having remarkable interactions with the person in the president's role, and the president-elect's role.
I mean, the kinds of things that he was having to discuss with the president and the president were raising with him, were very unusual, were unprecedented in his life and as we know, probably unprecedented in the life of any law enforcement official at that point. And so, yes, he took note of it. I don't know how anybody is going to use that against him, but I'm sure we'll see congressional Republicans try.
O'DONNELL: And, Rachel, one other thing that popped was the Rudy Giuliani story. Rudy Giuliani, the news of the day being that the president is now engaging him officially as an attorney representing him, as you described, to close the Mueller investigation in the next two weeks, which is going to be a fascinating legal miracle to see take place.
But when James Comey said that Rudy Giuliani speaking publicly during the campaign the way he did, the way you showed him speaking on Fox News, that those kinds of comments provoked investigative curiosity by James Comey and the FBI when they were being said in the campaign.
MADDOW: Yes, he said he -- when he said he started an investigation he ordered the initiation of an investigation into leaks around that -- around that investigation, around the Clinton investigation. And he told me right here that he does not know what the outcome was of that investigation because he was fired before it was seen through. That's interesting.
I mean, we know, we've been told that the office of inspector general is looking broadly at the handling of campaign related matters during the 2016 campaign, presumably that might include whatever was going on with Rudy Giuliani and these contacts that Mr. Giuliani said he was getting from active FBI agents about current investigations that he was then rushing to tell both the Trump campaign and the Fox News audience, presumably that includes that.
But I don't know if that investigation that Mr. Comey started ended up as a separate criminal matter or whether that was folded into the inspector general. I imagine we'll learn that soon from the inspector general. I think that I.G. report is due out next month.
O'DONNELL: Rachel, the last tweet that I responded to before my hour started here was someone at 9:59 was tweeting, Lawrence should give up his time so Rachel can keep going with James Comey and I replied, OK with me! And apparently, the control room didn't pass that along to you.
But as you know, Rachel, this space is yours whenever you needed it. If you wanted to keep going with James Comey, that was perfectly fine with me.
MADDOW: You are a gentleman and a dear friend, and I would never ever do that, if only for the good of the guest. But thank you, my friend. Thanks.
O'DONNELL: Rachel, great job tonight. Ground that no one else had covered. Really, really appreciate it. And we now have a lot to talk about what you just covered.
MADDOW: Thanks, my dear. Appreciate it.
O'DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, joining our discussion now, Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an MSNBC legal analyst, Matt Miller is with us, a former spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder and an MSNBC contributor, and David Frum, senior editor for "The altantic" and author of `Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic".
And, Benjamin Wittes, you know James Comey, you're a friend of James Comey, you were one of the first people to be aware of even the existence of these memos and these conversations that James Comey had with the president. I want to get your overall reaction to what you just listened to in the last hour.
BENJAMIN WITTES, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, I -- I -- I mean, it's obviously a pretty dramatic thing to see the -- to see that interview kind of -- and the memos sort of unfold through the lens of that interview.
Look, the really striking thing is that these memos say the same thing as the book, and that the book says the same thing as his testimony. And, you know, as Rachel just said, you know, when you're looking for indicia of credibility, consistency over time is one of the key ones. And, particularly, the ability to recount in detail an incident that you recorded and talked to people about in real time when you then don't have access to that material, and to do it in a way that's consistent in a lot of particular details, it's entirely consistent. And I think, you know, over time that's going to sink in for people that this isn't a joke, this isn't an effort to smear the president, it's just what happened.
O'DONNELL: And, Matt Miller, we see in the first memo that James Comey wrote. He suggests at that point a classification of secret but he also offers to the archivists and others handling this memo that he would accept any recommendation to either raise or lower the classification level. So he wasn't himself deciding exactly how these memos should be held.
MATT MILLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, that's exactly right. One of the other memos, the one that's most important where he reports on the conversation with the president where the president asked him to back off the Michael Flynn investigation. That's the one he gave to a colleague of his, a professor at Columbia Law School. And that colleague gave it to "The New York Times".
That memo was actually unclassified and that's important because that's been dispute among Republicans on the Hill who tried to argue that he leaked classified information by doing so. We found out today, it was confirmed that that wasn't a classified memo and it wasn't at least a violation of classification to share that with someone outside the government.
O'DONNELL: And, David Frum, as we said, one of the big news of the day is Rudy Giuliani formally signing on as part of the Trump legal defense team and the Mueller investigation towards the end of Rachel's interview, James Comey reveals that based on some of the things that Rudy Giuliani was saying publicly during the campaign, about possible October surprises, that the FBI, at James Comey's insistence, started to investigate that kind of thing at that time, during the campaign.
DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, that was something. Can I -- there's one thing that struck me, it's a picky thing, but this is the picky thing I picked up on. It's an indication of what a strange fantasy world the president lives in.
James Comey says that President Trump told him that Vladimir Putin said we in Russia have the best hookers in the world on a phone call. Now, supposedly, according to the record, that is the very first phone call, the very first conversation that President Trump and Vladimir Putin ever had.
What a strange thing even for Vladimir Putin to say. You know, that story comes from a press conference that Vladimir Putin had on television alongside the president of Moldova in January 2017, where Vladimir Putin spoke not of hookers but of what he called girls of lower social responsibility and said ours in Russia are the best in the world. He said that on television.
In the course of explaining why Donald Trump was innocent of the allegations in the Steele dossier.
So, Donald Trump saw this. It looks like what happened is Donald Trump saw this on television, as we all did, and internalized this as something that Vladimir Putin said to him, very improbably, and then told the director of the FBI that this thing that he said on TV was something Vladimir Putin said to him. It just resonates with me as an example of how much of the things that Donald Trump said that are untrue are probably untrue as in this case, are things that he himself does not know the truth or falsity of.
O'DONNELL: Yes, David, you sent the control room scurrying for that video of Vladimir Putin which we all remember, but it would be nice to take another look at it tonight.
Let's stand by, everyone. We're going to be joined by phone by NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams, who has now read the full set of Comey memos.
Pete, your highlights from what you've been able to study in the memos.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Sure. So, remember, we've heard this three times at least, once in Comey's written statement before he testified after he was fired, when he testified and again in the book, and I guess you could say, four, five, six, seven, eight times in all his interviews. But a few things that were not in the book in his testimony, the fact that in the dinner with the president on January 28th, Mr. Trump said he had serious reservations about Michael Flynn's judgment.
He talks about an episode when the president was toasting Theresa May and saying she was the first call after his inauguration to congratulate him, and that Flynn interrupted and saying, no, she wasn't the first. And then the president later criticized him for not telling him earlier when Theresa May had called, and according to memo, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said the guy has serious judgment issues.
Then in the meeting on February 8th at the White House, he says the chief of staff Reince Priebus asked, do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn? And then Comey paused and answered, but didn't say what the answer is, and says you shouldn't get the answer from me directly, here's how you get it.
On the thing you talked about a moment ago, pardon the expression, Putin saying we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world, meaning the U.S., the memo says the president did not say when Putin told him that, and he says, I don't recall.
And then, finally, the other thing that stood out to me as new is the February 14th meeting where the president asked can't you let this Flynn thing go. And they talked about leaks and the president said that the way to stop leaks is put reporters in jail, according to Comey memo, Mr. Trump said, we need to go after them. We need to -- he referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago, we put them in jail to find out what they knew and it worked.
And he said to the FBI director, they spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend and they're ready to talk. Comey says I laughed as I walked to the door that Reince Priebus had opened.
O'DONNELL: And, Pete, the response so far from -- as only a few Republicans, we have three Republicans, Devin Nunes, Trey Gowdy, and Chairman Goodlatte, Bob Goodlatte of the Judiciary Committee. They are saying what they find in the memos is what was never said. They say they show that James Comey believed that he was being obstructed and that his work was being obstructed or that he felt, quote, obstructed or threatened. That is their reading of the memos.
WILLIAMS: Well, nor has Mr. Comey ever said that directly about the conversations. What he has said and what he suggested in the book is that his firing, which, of course, comes after the memos, and the fact the president tried to get him to call off the dogs on Michael Flynn could constitute obstruction but he said that's a legal judgment someone else would have to make.
O'DONNELL: They also say that the idea that the president wanted the cloud lifted was not a reference to interference in the election but it was a reference only to the salacious allegations in the Steele dossier.
WILLIAMS: I'm not sure that's entirely clear. And I know that Mr. Comey himself has been asked about that. It does seem that it's possible to read the memos also to say it's the -- it's the suggestion that there was a connection between him or his senior campaign people and the Russians -- the Russian meddling issue, the center piece of the Mueller investigation. I think it's possible to read the memos and think the president is referring to that as the cloud.
O'DONNELL: Pete Williams, thank you very much for joining us.
WILLIAMS: You bet.
O'DONNELL: And having done a complete reading of these memos. Really appreciate your input Pete. Thank you.
Going back to our panel, Benjamin Wittes, Matt Miller, David Frum.
And, Benjamin Wittes, again, to the -- we have two things to deal with here, you can blend them as you like, the memo release leaked, by the way leak released tonight from Congress, and James Comey's interview with Rachel, the -- and what we've all been finding so far, including Pete Williams, is that the memos are fundamentally the same as James Comey's public testimony, which is fundamentally the same of what we read in James Comey's book, which is fundamentally the same of what we hear in Rachel's interview and each interview James Comey has done since Sunday night.
WITTES: Yes, and I would say speaking personally, it's fundamentally consistent with the tone of my conversations with him in real time as these events were happening. I mean, there's a lot of stuff -- I've been very clear about what he did and didn't tell me at the time, but the memos are entirely consistent with -- if you go back to what I wrote about our conversations, they're entirely consistent with that, too, you know?
And, look, I do want to say one thing particular about the interview. You know, yesterday I wrote a long piece criticizing the reaction of -- and the focus of a lot of the press in reacting to the book and to, you know, Jim's various interviews, that this sort of obsessive focus on relitigating the conduct of the Hillary Clinton e-mail matter, as well as the physical descriptions of the president and sort of some other odds and ends in the book.
I really think it's striking that Rachel really didn't do that. She spent that entire hour talking about the crisis of our current moment. And the way the president's interactions with Jim, you know, are a big part of that story. They're not the whole of the story, of course, but they're a part of it.
And I really think that the contrast between the focus on -- her focus on those interactions and what they say about the moment that we're in and the marginalia that a lot of other people have engaged is actually -- was really interesting to watch. And it was, I think, really edifying.
O'DONNELL: And, David Frum, we have spent the better part of the week hearing questions about why did you describe the president's hair, and I go to you, as the writer among us to discuss what happens when a writer walks into a room and what a writer picks up in a room and how that is different than what non-writers might be focused on. It is inconceivable to me that someone could write extensively about close contact with Donald Trump, that a writer could write about it, without ever mentioning the hair.
FRUM: Look, to be personal about this, Donald Trump gives a lot of people the creeps. And if you were in the room with Donald Trump and he gave you the creeps, you would notice it. It would be something you would think about.
I want to recommend so much Ben Wittes piece from the day before yesterday, it's so powerful and wise. There are people watching the program who are probably not intense James Comey fans. But whatever you think about him, I would ask -- I think this is what Ben is asking. Separate two things what you think of Comey's judgment, you can have whatever opinion about that you like, and what you think about his truthfulness.
There's -- a lot of people are truthful with bad judgment a lot of people have good judgment but aren't truthful. What we are seeing tonight is James Comey is a truthful man and he had that Lawrence, as you say, he had that impression. That was his reaction to the president. The president gave him the creeps, as he would give a lot of people the creeps.
He told you what he saw. He told it accurately and it stands up. Meanwhile, the line of Donald Trump that he quotes about Vladimir Putin is almost certainly an example of the president seeing something on TV and representing it as his own experience. And every encounter with the president, that president is not truthful.
And if this is he said versus he said, we have one of the most truthful men in the America, whatever you think of his judgment, and one of the least truthful men in America.
O'DONNELL: Matt Miller, how do you see the release of the memos affecting the investigation?
MILLER: You know, I don't think there will be much impact on the investigation. If you look at the stuff in these memos, most of this -- the vast majority of it, other than the things that Pete Williams flagged a moment ago, we've already known about. So, there's not going to be any impact on the investigation. I think if there would have been, Mueller would have objected very strenuously.
Long term, though, it's a very damaging thing for the department to set this precedence, something they almost never do to release information in the middle of an investigation, because what it tells Congress is keep asking -- keep interfering with these investigations, keep asking for information, keep pushing and pushing and browbeating the Justice Department to do things they never do and you might get what you want. It's a very inappropriate thing for Congress to do. Rod Rosenstein was in a tough position, I wish he hadn't given them over.
But I understand when you have a president who won't back you up, how tough it is.
I want to say one other thing, though, that Pete Williams flagged, though, that that is this piece from the memo where the president told Jim Comey to start putting reporters in jail. Take by itself, that is obviously just a horrendous thing for president of the United States to say. But the exact example he referred to, he said 10, 15 years ago we did that, and it got reporters to talk.
He could only be referring to one thing, and that would be Judy Miller, who did go to jail in the Scooter Libby investigation because she wouldn't talk about her conversations with Scooter Libby. Well, now, you have the president of the United States last week in pardoning Scooter Libby, saying he's heard that was an inappropriate prosecution, that he was treated very unfairly.
I think it won't surprise anyone to hear this, but a president who at one point thought it was appropriate to put reporters in jail when he thought it was convenient to him, now abandoning that principle because it was somehow useful to him to pardon Scooter Libby.
O'DONNELL: Matt Miller, that is such an important catch in these memos. That is really important.
I just want to widen our discussion now to include former deputy assistant attorney general and former U.S. attorney, Harry Litman, get another legal voice in here.
And, Harry, I just want to leave it hope to react to any moving piece you've experienced in the last hour, the release of the memos, Rachel's interview with Comey, what you might have learned there, and where the investigation is tonight after the release of the memos and this point in James Comey's revelations.
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: OK. And thanks.
So, clearly, the headline is the consistency that -- of what Comey has said from start to finish and the -- and that you're able to be certain that his account is bona fide. So, that's the headline. That will be the headline for the probe as well. There is really nothing new that we didn't expect in terms of the highlights of the probe.
I felt, though, reading the memos, they're consistent but they're so much richer. There's this kind of literary quality. If you were, say, a biographer of Donald Trump in the future, looking to know the man, this -- an almost word for word account of the dinner where Comey says they go an hour and 20 minutes, Trump never lets him have a word in edge wise, he's sort of doddering and neurotic, and having -- raising all kinds of different -- returning again and again to certain subjects on his mind. The whole thing had this sort of literary quality that really struck me.
I also think his habit of being -- reciting the facts gives us valuable information without his really saying it. So, we know now that he thinks Giuliani is a brow-beating megalomaniac and that maybe Loretta Lynch wasn't up to the job. And yet, if you read it carefully, he's not saying that. He's just giving certain, very precise observations that sort of put us there and let us make the conclusion.
I mean, overall, as a literary document, I thought it was valuable for the probe and also sort of as a historical window into what Trump is like.
O'DONNELL: I just want to share a passage that I think is the kind of thing you're referring to in terms of the literary quality of the writing, which includes important powers of observation. In the memo of the dinner -- there are these two paragraphs. It says the conversation which was pleasant at all times was chaotic, with topics touched, left and returned to later, making it very difficult to recount in a linear passion, normally I can recall the pieces of a conversation and the order of discussion with high confidence, here given the nature of it, there is a distinct possibility that while I have the substance right, the order was slightly difference. It really was conversation as jigsaw puzzle in a way with pieces picked up, discarded, and then returned to.
And, Matt Miller, that's a tough one to try to -- to try to, after the fact, sit down and lay it all out in a way that will make sense.
MILLER: Yes. I think now, James Comey knows how it feels to be a reporter covering Donald Trump's public rallies, because that account of the dinner sounds a lot to me like Donald Trump you see speaking public where it's this kind of constant stream of consciousness, where he leaves one piece of conversation, you know, heads to something else, focuses on matters that are trivial, matters that are important and everything in between.
I do think he did a good job of kind of putting you in that room in the book. And oddly enough, he did a good job of putting you in the room in the memos, even if that's -- I'm not sure that's entirely what he intended.
O'DONNELL: You know, I recently had a chance recently to read James Comey's writings when he was a college student, he was on the college newspaper, he first started as a reporter and then as a columnist, and you can see him flexing his muscles as a pro stylist in college as a columnist, it doesn't surprise me at all that he has matured and improved those muscles.
We're going to be joined this discussion now by phone by MSNBC's chief legal correspondent Ari Melber.
The release of the memos tonight seems to be the big new news of the night.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I agree, Lawrence. Long-time viewer, first time caller, thank you for having me. The special coverage has been fascinating. I think what comes through, that some of your guests have alluded to, is James Comey's memos do match his testimony under oath as well as his book which I finished this weekend.
So, count one for honesty and authority for him there. I think Rachel did explore some of the questions about judgment, including his treatment of Loretta Lynch, due process usually requires confront people in advance. But I think the other thing that comes through is this is still a president who is canny and detail-oriented in private. And the number of times the memos cite his interest in Andy McCabe, his worry that McCabe was a threat. This is a President, the court though the memo that a President who sees law enforcement only as a personal of threat, not as on public servants who are enforcing the law.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Ari, how do you see the release of the memos affecting the ongoing investigation?
MELBER: Well, as people have said, it is very odd for them to come out. That doesn't make it automatically bad. We can see the redactions. And so that is a good process. I do think that the public feuding between James Comey and Andrew McCabe is what Donald Trump wants and not what Bob Mueller wants. I think the memos in some ways help Comey, like I mentioned. But in other ways they do what I think some Republicans in the Congress want, which is to further muddy this up and make it look like some kind of standoff where everybody has done "something wrong", quote/unquote, and everybody is a little dirty.
And so in that sense, the short impact of the memos in the public realm may not be good. In the end, as we know, Bob Mueller already had this stuff, he has already gone through it and used it in most of the high level interviews and is moving forward on his probe, which is why we are talking about this while there's a criminal referral in New York and while Michael Cohen is under serious pressure and that's why he dropped the Buzz Feed lawsuit on the dossier and all these other dominos falling.
So the memos ultimately are much more interesting to us in public as we learn, than I think that they are in the private process of the probe where they have existed for a long time.
O'DONNELL: Benjamin, what is - quickly, before we squeeze in a break here. I want to get your reaction to the idea that these memos might allow or already allowing Republicans in Congress to muddy the waters.
BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE: I mean, look. They are committed to muddying the waters. And they are using all kinds of material in order to do that. Including, when you don't release the memos, they threaten to, you know, impeach people. And when you do really, I'm sure people will manage to find things in these memos that they will use to muddy the waters, but I -- I actually am not all that concerned about that. I share Matt Miller's concern, however, that the precedence that we are setting by releasing significant material in the middle of an investigation is very damaging. And this isn't the first time this has happened. Of course, in the same we have released the Nunez documents, pressure to release some of the underlying FISA materials. And, of course, we released a large quantity of text messages between FBI employees. And so, I -- I do think the precedent of releasing this material midstream is extremely damaging.
O'DONNELL: We are going to have to squeeze in a break there.
When we come back, we will have more on what's been developing tonight with the release of these memos and Rachel's interview with James Comey and much more that developed in the investigations today.
O'DONNELL: Joining our group discussion now, Ron Klain, the former everything, former chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, former senior add to President Obama, and also a former staffer, chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, former chief of staff to attorney general (INAUDIBLE).
Ron Klain, I want to catch up with you on your reaction to Rachel's interview with James Comey and the release of these memos, James Comey's memos tonight, the leak of the memos.
RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: The leak of the memos. Yes. So the first point is I think the biggest mystery in Washington tonight is why did the Republicans on Capitol Hill think these memos help their side of this debate? I think the memos absolutely establish Jim Comey's credibility and paint a damning picture of our President, no doubt about that.
And look, I do think the point that David Frum made earlier, that whether you agree or disagree with Jim Comey's judgment, and I fervently disagree with the way he handled the email controversy in 2016, these memos really drive home the fact that he is a credible witness in the case against Donald Trump. And I think that's the biggest thing we should take away from this tonight.
Lastly, I think the person who comes under the microscope a bit is Rod Rosenstein because although, kind of seen Rod as a protector of the investigation, his decision to deliver these memos over to Congress to save his job, his decision to write the memo that led to Comey's firing in the first place and the report today that he told the President he was not a subject of the investigation those things raise pretty serious questions about Rod's judgment and his role in this mess.
O'DONNELL: Apparently, the report today is that he told the President he was not a target.
KLAIN: Yes. You are right.
O'DONNELL: And may very well be a subject.
Harry Litman, to Ron's point about Rod Rosenstein, your reaction to that?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. I mean, I really agree, you know, Rosenstein started his tenure coming out of the box with basically being exploited by the President to write that memo about Comey. And his stock basically fell 50 percent all over D.C. people thought he had been, you know, really used. And it seemed since then he had hunkered down and tried to focus on his job. He was last week saying, you know, here I stand, I can do no more. He was ready to be fired.
And then what Ron says is exactly right, troubling and puzzling, sort of boom, boom, you are not a target, which can't mean any more than what was said to the lawyers before. And then the release of these memos after this barrage of pressure. His personal decision and the poorest of reasons to deviate from long-standing DOJ policy, you know. I think Stormy Daniels can tell him, don't ever get in bed with President Trump. And he is somehow done it just in the last week and I don't think it will lead to any good for him.
O'DONNELL: Harry Litman gets the LAST WORD in this segment.
Harry Litman, Matt Miller, thank you for joining the discussion. We are going to come back with more discussion.
And some of my extraordinary discussion earlier today with a Trump lawyer, a long-time Trump lawyer, who told me that he believes that Michael Cohen could, if he testifies and cooperates in the investigation, that Michael Cohen could lead to the impeachment of President Trump. That is from a Trump lawyer that Michael Cohen could be the path to impeachment. You will hear that next.
O'DONNELL: New York attorney Jay Goldberg represented Donald Trump in both of his divorces. He has known Donald Trump much longer than Michael Cohen has known Donald Trump. And unlike Michael Cohen, Jay Goldberg has served Donald Trump in court as a real lawyer in touch situations.
Jay Goldberg is himself a former federal prosecutor and has decades of experience watching the way FBI investigations work and what they can lead to. And with all of his legal experience and his personal knowledge of Donald Trump and his acquaintance with Michael Cohen, it is Jay Goldberg's carefully considered legal judgment that the Cohen case is more dangerous to his friend Donald Trump than Robert Mueller's investigation, and that if Michael Cohen turns against the President, which Jay Goldberg thinks is an absolute certainty, then Michael Cohen's testimony could lead to the impeachment of the President of the United States.
Jay Goldberg joined me in a discussion earlier this evening, and here is just some of what he had to say.
O'DONNELL: Let's take your theory out to its logical end.
JAY GOLDBERG, TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Yes.
O'DONNELL: Michael Cohen cracks. You said there's less than a one percent chance --
GOLDBERG: It's not the issue --
O'DONNELL: Let's take it through, OK. Michael Cohen cooperates with the FBI, with the prosecutors, he tells them what they want to hear --
MELBER: -- in your view, and that leads to what jeopardy for Donald Trump?
GOLDBERG: I'm going to correct you. He doesn't testify to what he thinks the prosecutors want. He sits there and figures out himself and how he can earn --
O'DONNELL: OK. And when all that happens, what happens to Donald Trump?
GOLDBERG: Well, I would hope that there would be no trial, because prosecution discretion decision, and that the President is not put upon to disregard world affairs like the Syria and North Korea and the rest of those things, to engage in colloquy back and forth that can only cause disrespect for our country.
O'DONNELL: You remember Richard Nixon during the impeachment investigation was conducting the Vietnam War every day of that investigation.
O'DONNELL: So we have seen this before. We have seen a President being able to handle his job while being investigated. So when you say trial, do you mean the trial of Michael Cohen or trial of Donald Trump?
GOLDBERG: Well, after impeachment, that being the case, a President is subjects --
O'DONNELL: That's right. So you think that the Michael Cohen case taken all the way, in your theory of how it might work, could lead to the impeachment of the President?
GOLDBERG: Well, I think various review processes within the department of justice might see that justice is done. He certainly can't get justice done from networks that are committed to attacking him. I saw some commentator from your network say --
O'DONNELL: Wait can I get you to answer the question. So, are you saying that end of the road of the Michael Cohen case could lead to impeachment of the President?
GOLDBERG: It depends on what Michael Cohen is willing to say.
O'DONNELL: So it could?
GOLDBERG: It's conceivable because I believe that Michael Cohen is not stringed by any rule.
O'DONNELL: But knowing Donald Trump, knowing Michael Cohen, knowing their dealings, when you say it's conceivable that the Michael Cohen case could lead to impeachment of the President, what do you think would be the elements of the impeachment? What do you think are the kinds of things that they would discover or use, even if it illegitimately in your view from Michael Cohen? What would Michael Cohen tell them that could lead to impeachment?
GOLDBERG: There may be business affairs between the two of them. They may see events quite differently. But all I know from dealing with the man for two decades is that you, Lawrence, have him wrong.
GOLDBERG: And I don't know whether you are willing to accept that. But I sort of doubt that. Because --
O'DONNELL: Tell the President next time he calls you to give me a call and explain the case to me.
GOLDBERG: Yes. You better look at these things more dispassionately and realize that people of the type of person that Michael Cohen is do not want to go to jail.
O'DONNELL: I know that. I agree. You have me convinced on that.
GOLDBERG: They are not only under pressure from their own inner thoughts, they are under pressure from their family. And going to jail means that the family's in jail. The wife has to travel four hours, wait in line, submit to examination.
O'DONNELL: I get it. I believe every word you say about Michael Cohen and about Michael Cohen's possible threat to the President as a witness.
O'DONNELL: It was an extraordinary 20-minute discussion. We are going to put the whole thing on line. He talks about just how Michael Cohen will crack. Goes into great detail. H i's known Donald Trump for decades. It was just a stunning set of revelations that Jay Goldberg kept coming up with as we talked.
We are going to be right back with the panel.
O'DONNELL: Here's one more important bit of my interview today with Jay Goldberg, longtime Donald Trump attorney, who has recently given the President legal advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: The journal also reports that you advised the President to fire Rod Rosenstein. Is that true?
GOLDBERG: I think Rod Rosenstein has not set limits on the roving commission given to Mueller.
O'DONNELL: And do you think the President will fire him? Do you think he'll take your advice to fire him?
GOLDBERG: I have no idea. He said nothing to me. I don't know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Back in our discussion with Ron Klain and David Frum.
Ron Klain, your reaction to Jay Goldberg, and I urge you to watch all 20 minutes of it online. It is extraordinary.
KLAIN: Yes, my reaction is I'm racing home after the show to fire up my computer and listen to the rest of it.
But, look, you know, Lawrence, I think what strikes me and hearing that earlier segment and all the speculation in the past 24 hours from Anthony Scaramucci and other allies of the President over whether or not Michael Cohen will flip and the peril to Donald Trump if Michael Cohen flips.
You know, there is a technical phrase in the law for people who are at risk by their lawyers flipping on them, and that technical phrase is criminal. That is the kind of conduct that is at risk if your lawyer flips. And they are just betting on whether or not he's -- we're not having a discussion about whether or not the President is a crook. We are just having a discussion about whether he will be caught by his lawyer turning on him. And that is a very sad state of affairs.
O'DONNELL: Yes. And David, Jay Goldberg who knows Michael Cohen, knows Donald Trump, is 100 percent confident that Michael Cohen is facing serious jail time, and when he's presented with that, he will start talking about Donald Trump.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, as Ron said, what you normally say if you are associated with the President anyway in a situation like this is, we hope that everyone involved will testify fully and truthfully because we know that the more fully and truthfully they testify, the better it will be for the President who is of course completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And that is the thing that no one is saying that. They all hope that everyone involved with Donald Trump will testify as briefly and untruthfully as possible. That's the President's only way out.
O'DONNELL: And, Ron Klain, to be fair to Jay Goldberg, he is trying to insist that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong, but these prosecutors will manipulate Michael Cohen to come up with something that accuses Donald Trump of doing something wrong, and it will be so bad that it will lead to impeachment.
KLAIN: Yes. I mean, maybe. I mean I think it sounds like Mr. Goldberg thinks that Trump may be innocent on the Russian collusion stuff. But that the business dealings that are there in Michael Cohen's files, a lot of the tax stuff, who knows what's in there? It's crazy to hear not Trump's political opponents like me saying that, but Trump's own lawyer saying that. That is just a stunning thing to hear.
O'DONNELL: And, David, Jay Goldberg was on the phone with the President, giving him legal advice on Friday when, in a federal court here in New York City, a judge was considering how to handle the evidence obtained by the FBI in Michael Cohen's home, apartment, safety deposit box, hotel room. And among the advice Jay Goldberg was giving him was, fire Rod Rosenstein for allowing that to happen.
FRUM: You know, one of the things that as I watched that interview that I found most amazing is did anyone ever tell Jay Goldberg that one of the options before him was not to go on the Lawrence O'Donnell program and not to talk to you? And the idea that, like, he is talking to the President and then he goes on TV and blurts whatever is in his head. Amazing.
O'DONNELL: Well, I asked him about that, and I asked him about attorney client privilege because he says he still represents the President. And all of that is in the video that will be posted online.
David Frum, Ron Klain, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.
We will be right back.
O'DONNELL: That's tonight's LAST WORD.
We will have more on Rachel's interview with James Comey and the leak of James Comey's memos in the 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams, which starts now.