Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: April 27, 2018 Guest: Steven Harper, Michael Isikoff, Natasha Bertrand, Yamiche Alcindor, Betsy Woodruff, Maria Teresa Kumar, Wendy Sherman, Evelyn Farkas
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: I`m Ali Velshi in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
Tonight, we`re learning some stunning new details about that infamous Trump Tower meeting held during the presidential campaign. It`s thanks to the report that you just saw from NBC`s Richard Engel.
Remember, that meeting at Trump Tower in New York on June 6, 2016, brought together top officials from the Trump campaign -- Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner -- and a series of Russians and Russian associates.
Now, NBC News is reporting that a key figure from that meeting, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, has a closer relationship with a top Russian official than previously known.
E-mails obtained by NBC News from a Russian exile suggests that Natasha -- Natalia Veselnitskaya has been connected to the Prosecutor General of Russia since at least 2014 when she worked with him to thwart a civil fraud case against a Russian firm.
In November of 2017, Veselnitskaya told the Senate Judiciary Committee, quote, I operate independently of any governmental bodies. But once NBC`s Richard Engel confronts Veselnitskaya with the e-mails, here`s how she described herself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER (through translator): There are many things here from my motions. This was in one of my memos I passed along to the Prosecutor General`s Office.
ENGEL: But you can`t --
VESELNITSKAYA: But it isn`t there.
ENGEL: But you can`t confirm that you had this back and forth dialogue?
VESELNITSKAYA: No, I can`t confirm that.
ENGEL: I`m trying to find out, in this case, whether you were cooperating or colluding with the Russian state, which raises questions about your background --
VESELNITSKAYA: Of course I cooperated.
ENGEL: -- particularly in light of the fact that you were in the Trump Tower with the --
VESELNITSKAYA: The Trump Tower --
ENGEL: That`s what this is all about.
VESELNITSKAYA: Are you accusing me of dishonesty?
ENGEL: The only reason I`m asking you these questions is because of --
VESELNITSKAYA: Are you calling me a dishonest person?
ENGEL: -- of the contacts that you had with the most senior people who are now in our government.
VESELNITSKAYA: Listen once again, Richard. I do not care what kind of government you have and who is in it.
ENGEL: And you said your relationship with the Prosecutor General is what?
VESELNITSKAYA: I am a lawyer and I am an informant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Some important context here. In messages exchanged with Donald Trump, Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting, the alleged dirt that was promised to the Trump campaign was said to come from the Kremlin`s top prosecutor.
Those explosive new details of Natalia Veselnitskaya`s Kremlin ties broke just as House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a redacted version of their final report from a yearlong probe into Russia`s interference and influence operation.
The report accuses the intelligence community of significant intelligence tradecraft failings. It says investigators found, quote, no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government, end quote, even as the report details contacts between the Trump campaign officials and Russians like Ms. Veselnitskaya.
Today, President Trump celebrated the report`s findings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we were honored. It was a great report. No collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It`s a witch-hunt. That`s all it is. There was no collusion with Russia.
I was very honored by the report. It was totally conclusive, strong, powerful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Not so clear that it was all that conclusive.
Just less than an hour ago, President Trump tweeted this -- House Intelligence Committee rules that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as I have been saying all along. It`s all a big hoax by the Democrats based on payments and lies. There should never have been a Special Counsel appointed. Witch-hunt!
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released their own findings. The group says of Republican members, quote, they have engaged in a systemic effort to muddy the waters and to deflect attention away from the President, most recklessly in their assault on the central pillars of the rule of law.
House Democrats detail several leads that they say were not investigated. For instance, two days before the Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly had two calls with Emin Agalarov, the son of a Russian oligarch who was arranging logistics for the meeting.
Now, according to Democrats, quote, Donald Trump, Jr.`s phone records also show a blocked number at 4:27 p.m. between the two calls. Trump Junior claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.
The report notes former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the committee that Mr. Trump`s primary residence has a blocked phone line. Democrats appear to suggest that then-candidate Trump may have been in touch with his son at the time he was planning the meetings with the Russians.
But Democrats say, quote, despite the minority`s repeated efforts to obtain home or cell phone records for then-candidate Trump to determine whether the blocked call was Trump Junior`s father, the majority was unwilling to pursue the matter.
Joining us now are Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for "Yahoo! News" and co-author of the new book, "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin`s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump." Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer at "The Atlantic" and an NBC News and MSNBC contributor. And Steven Harper, attorney/professor at Northwestern University and creator of the Trump-Russia Timeline at billmoyers.com.
Welcome to all of you. Thank you for being with us.
Steven, let me start with you, as it relates to the timeline because this is something you`re a bit of an expert at. The Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee actually made some news.
What we expected from the Republicans is what we got, but the Democrats said there were lines of inquiry they wanted to follow and they were just denied the opportunity to do so. So when Donald Trump tweets or talks about the conclusive outcome of the report, Democrats are saying not true.
STEVEN HARPER, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, they`re absolutely right. It`s actually -- it`s silly to suggest that it is. And if you want to talk about it in a real -- in a sense that gives it some context, all you really need to know about that report is that Devin Nunes runs that committee.
Devin Nunes was on the Trump transition team. And at least back in December of 2016, when Mike Flynn was talking to the Russians about which he`s since pled guilty to lying to Special Counsel Mueller about it, Nunes said that he was in daily contact, sometimes more frequently than daily, with Mike Flynn.
So the Democratic response is correct. All you have to do is go through the litany of things that didn`t happen in that committee.
You know, Don Junior shows up and exert -- and asserts executive privilege as to conversations between him and his dad. Neither of them is a lawyer, but I guess because they thought a lawyer was in the room, that somehow entitled them to claim an attorney-client privilege. And as I said, it is absurd.
HARPER: And, you know, people like Hope Hicks and others come in and say, well, we`re only going to answer these questions or I`m not going to answer these question and, oh, but I`m not going to assert any privilege, which is --
VELSHI: Hope Hicks and --
HARPER: It`s a farce.
VELSHI: -- Corey Lewandowski and others.
Michael, you tweeted today about the House Intelligence report. WikiLeaks released DNC e-mails on July 22, 2016, per House Intel report. One week earlier, on July 15th, Flynn wrote an e-mail saying there are a number of things happening and will happen this election via cyber operations by both hacktivists, nation states, and the DNC. This is June 15, 2016, that famous --
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: July.
VELSHI: July 15, 2016, the famous White House meeting was June 2016.
ISIKOFF: Yes. I thought that was a stunning e-mail that was sort of buried in the report, almost no context, but here it is.
Here is Michael Flynn, a week before the WikiLeaks releases the DNC e-mails on the eve of the Democratic Convention. He is writing that e-mail to a communications adviser to the Trump campaign, the identity is blacked out in the report, saying there are things that will happen relating to cyber activities involving nation states and the DNC.
Now, you know, that raises so many questions as to whether Michael Flynn had some foreknowledge of what WikiLeaks was about to do.
And you put that together with another nugget in the report that hasn`t gotten a lot of attention, but that Michael Flynn, in December 2015, before he flies over to Moscow to attend the 10th anniversary celebration of the R.T., the Russian government propaganda station, and ends up sitting next to Vladimir Putin at the celebratory dinner that night and was paid $45,000 by the Russian government for this trip, he and his son meet with Ambassador Kislyak at Kislyak`s private residence as a precursor to the trip.
That is a meeting we didn`t know about before. So even though the report clearly shows that the House Republicans didn`t follow-up on so many leads, so many avenues of inquiry, and basically accepted what all the Trump folks had to say at every turn, you know, there are some nuggets in this report that do raise some new questions.
VELSHI: There are nuggets when -- Natasha, when Adam Schiff on the House Intel Committee, Democrat, a lawyer, was on with Katy Tur today. She sort of asked him, do you think it was a wasted effort since all of these lines of inquiry that you wanted to pursue were not pursued? This is what Schiff told Katy, which got my attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Sandwiched between the two calls of Emin Agalarov is a third call to a blocked number. Now, the President, then-candidate Trump, had a blocked number. And we sought to find out, was this the President`s son calling Donald Trump to find out whether he should go forward with this meeting with the Russians.
The Republicans refused to find out. They wouldn`t allow us to seek the phone records. Time after time, when there were very important investigative leads, the Republicans said, we don`t what to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I don`t know if that`s much of a coded message or he is basically saying, Robert Mueller, you probably already have this information.
But the bottom line is Robert Mueller can get those phone records. Robert Mueller can get anything that the Democrats couldn`t get out of the Republicans on this committee. So if there are lines of inquiry, as Michael Isikoff referred to -- or as Adam Schiff referred to, they`ll all be explored.
NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Right, Bob Mueller will likely already have them and will be picking them up where the House Intel Committee left off.
And that was always going to be the case, right? The House Intel Committee really has been tainted since March of 2017 when Devin Nunes, of course --
VELSHI: The midnight ride.
BERTRAND: -- made that midnight ride to the White House and really showed that he was compromised in a fundamental way.
I think that it`s really interesting, though, that they found out that there was this call sandwiched between two phone calls to Emin Agalarov from this blocked number. Of course, we know that Donald Trump`s residence does call from a blocked number.
BERTRAND: And it really raises questions about, well, did the President know that this meeting was going to take place? What do we know about the June 9th Trump Tower meeting? We know that Trump himself was in Trump Tower when that happened.
BERTRAND: He was a floor above. He knows the Agalarovs really well. It would have been very, very surprising if he had not been informed about this meeting at all. I mean, his campaign manager was there, his son-in- law was there, his son was there.
So this adds further, you know, corroboration to the idea that he was told about it prior to that meeting and whether or not the Republicans -- or the Democrats on the House Intel Committee were ever able to get to the bottom of that, you can be sure that Robert Mueller will.
VELSHI: Steven, what`s your sense of whether or not it`s a wasted effort that the Republicans didn`t do this?
We know, for instance, from the Senate Intel Committee that they`re nowhere close to having their work done. They still feel there`s a lot of stones to uncover, more people to interview, more documents to look at.
We all -- to Natasha`s point, we all knew from the beginning this House Intel Committee was not going to work out to give us a whole lot of information. What`s your sense of what we`re still to hear?
HARPER: My concern here, Ali, is that it`s even worse than a wasted effort because now it becomes simply another P.R. piece. And you can tell -- you read the tweet that Trump already issued an hour ago -- that Trump will continue to use and his defenders will continue to use to fundamentally confuse a very, very complex situation.
You know, one of the things that I think we lose in digging in deeply in this stuff, which we have to do, of course, is the thread. And you know, we forget that, you know, two years ago, in the middle of that campaign, all we were hearing from Trump was no contacts with Russians, no contacts with Russians, no contacts with Russians.
Well, guess what, CNN reported in -- as of the end of November, there were over 50 contacts between the Trump campaign and transition and Russia involving 12 different Trump people, up and down, all the way to the very top -- the very top -- of that campaign.
Well, it`s -- now, it`s not no contacts, it`s no collusion, which isn`t even the right concept. We should be talking about conspiracy against the United States. And then we get things like Trump Junior`s message saying, oh, e-mails, dirt on Clinton, I love it. Well --
HARPER: So we got to give that one up, too. So, I mean, we`re so far down from where we originally were, it`s -- you lose the thread, I`m afraid.
VELSHI: Michael Isikoff, your new book with David Corn is a fantastic read. You`ve been on the story for a long time.
Remember, when we first found out about that June 9th meeting and Natalia Veselnitskaya had suggested that she was acting -- it was about adoptions, which was sort of a perverted way of talking about the Magnitsky Act. But it was unbelievable. It was inconceivable.
Let`s just remind people of who she is. This is the conversation -- a little more of the conversation she had with Richard Engel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: How did you get picked to represent the intelligence agency?
VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): I did not represent the interests of the FSB.
ENGEL: You weren`t representing the FSB at all?
VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): I did not represent the interests of the FSB. I represented the interests of a military unit, which has a very remote association with the FSB.
ENGEL: So to be clear, you were working for a military unit that has ties to the FSB?
VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): I can`t tell you anything further.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I mean, it`s kind of incredible, Michael. She went from saying it was about adoptions, then there were some discussion that she was tied to prosecutors in Russia. Now, she says she`s part of a military unit.
I was speaking to Bill Browder earlier today who said, give it a few more weeks and she`ll come out and say that she was a Russian agent, she was a spy, because that`s the road this seems to be going down.
ISIKOFF: Sure. Look, this is far from the first piece of evidence we have about just how close she was to the Russian government and to the FSB.
In fact, in "Russian Roulette" we quote a Russian human rights activist who told us how he was threatened by -- threatened by her telling him that she -- he would go to jail because she was working with the FSB. And she was pressuring him over a business deal that was adverse to her client`s interest.
She said she was working with the FSB, and she would have the human rights activist put in jail if he didn`t back off. The human rights activist then fled the country and was granted political asylum by the Obama administration.
But I should just say, there is so much, when you read the report, that is missing. And we have details in "Russian Roulette" that are completely absent from this report talking about the context for the Trump Tower meeting.
Look, in January 2015, Trump himself met at Trump Tower with Emin Agalarov and Rob Goldstone, the two key players who set up the later Trump Tower meeting. You`ll find no reference to that in this House Intelligence report that was released today.
VELSHI: That`s kind of remarkable.
VELSHI: Kind of remarkable. You would have hoped that this report would`ve at least got us a little bit further in understanding that at least members of Congress are taking their responsibility seriously. But certainly, half of that committee didn`t.
Michael Isikoff, Natasha Bertrand, and Steven Harver -- Harper, thanks very much for joining me.
Coming up, the demise of Dr. Ronny Jackson as V.A. nominee and the surprising response that some Republicans give when asked who to blame.
And later, why the White House says Trump`s rant-filled interview with his favorite Fox News show may become a routine event.
VELSHI: In a week where the Trump administration has been convulsed by chaos and contradiction -- those are "The Washington Post" words -- the most damaging moment for Donald Trump may have been the mess surrounding his failed V.A. nominee, Dr. Ronny Jackson.
Here is what the President said today about Jackson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Ronny Jackson, admiral, doctor, is one of the finest men that I`ve met over the last long period of time. High quality. High quality family.
I just met them, and I explained what happened. I explained that Washington can be a very mean place.
The false accusations that were made about him by Senator Tester, from a great state -- I don`t think that state is going to put up with it. I`ve had it happen to me with the Russian collusion hoax. It`s a hoax.
But I came into the job understanding that things happen. He didn`t. He`s an American hero, and I think he`s been treated very unfairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: He may have been treated unfairly, but the person who treated Ronny Jackson unfairly is Donald Trump. At least if you believe a group of Republican senators speaking on the record to "The Daily Beast" today.
They described the White House`s handling of the nomination as unorganized at best and negligent at worst, from start to finish.
John Cornyn, the number two Senate Republican saying, quote, I don`t think the preparation for the announcement of the nomination was done. And once it was made, I feel like Jackson was hung out there by himself.
Trump officials are apparently now doing the vetting of Jackson that they should have done before nominating him and, in the words of Senator Cornyn, hanging him out there by himself.
"The Washington Post" reporting, quote, the White House today said officials had conducted a thorough review of Jackson`s vehicle record and found three minor incidents but no evidence that he wrecked a car after drinking at a Secret Service going-away party as was alleged this week.
It would`ve been handy to know that two days ago, wouldn`t it?
Joining us now is Betsy Woodruff, a politics reporter for "The Daily Beast." Also joining us, Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS News Hour. Both are MSNBC contributors. Welcome to both of you.
What a week. You know, when Stephanie and I were reporting on this earlier this week -- this was before it was really clear how serious these allegations were -- one of the things, Yamiche, that we were saying is that Veterans Affairs is a troubled department. It is massive, second in size only to the Defense Department with 375,000 employees.
This is not a matter for a doctor. It`s not a matter for anybody who`s run a small operation. This is one of the biggest jobs in the federal government. It`s not clear, irrespective of these allegations, that Ronny Jackson was the right candidate for this job.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you talk to the White House officials and you talk to President Trump himself, and I would say his supporters too, they elected somebody to do the opposite of what most presidents had done.
They didn`t want somebody that was going to be just another bureaucrat. They wanted people outside the box. That`s why you have Betsy DeVos in education. That`s why you have Ben Carson, who everyone was like, how are you going to run HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban affairs?
So there is that issue, but I talked to White House officials who said that they were frustrated with the way that President Trump was handling -- and the White House in general, handling Dr. Jackson`s nomination.
They said we should have done a better job backing him up. They said that -- they told me, we have all these paperwork. We have the paperwork of Barack Obama. Not just typed up stuff, we have handwritten notes from Barack Obama saying he needs to be promoted year after year after year.
Except that instead of, really, President Trump rolling that out, he was talking about the fact that if I was Dr. Jackson, I would probably back out now, too.
VELSHI: Yes, that didn`t bode well. A bunch of unforced errors though, Betsy, which is what happened with the other 23 nominees that also had to back out. Things that, if you had known ahead of time, you could have had a strategy around.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: If you`d known ahead of time, of course, is the key word there.
WOODRUFF: Trump said something very true in that footage you played of him earlier, which is that Washington can be a very mean place. But Trump has now been in Washington long enough and he can no longer plead ignorance.
WOODRUFF: He can no longer say he`s a political outsider and doesn`t understand how things work, and that`s why he makes decisions the way he made them.
Trump knew Washington was mean, and he threw Ronny Jackson to the dogs. He put him out there before they were ready to deal with these allegations, and that`s why so many Republicans went on the record --
WOODRUFF: -- to my publication to say that they thought this was handled poorly. So it raises a really big question as to who the next V.A. nominee will be and whether Trump will go through a more serious, arduous vetting process before throwing the next person out to the mean streets of Washington.
VELSHI: Well, Yamiche, he talked about that today. Donald Trump discussed who the next V.A. nominee will be, or at least what sort of person. Listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have many people that want the position, if you can believe it, with all of this being said. We have some excellent people, some very political people. Some people that a thing like that wouldn`t happen or if it did happen, I guess, they`ll handle it somewhat differently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: They`ll handle it somewhat differently. So, again, we`re still throwing Ronny Jackson under the bus for this one. The President is suggesting he didn`t have the mettle for the job.
ALCINDOR: Well, I think that there`s also -- you could also hear the words and say, well, maybe he`s actually admitting that the White House didn`t do the best at coming forth and really backing up their nominee.
So maybe there`s also this idea that they feel like the next time we roll somebody out, who might also be someone who didn`t run a big agency, who might also be someone who people will say is unqualified, at least they`ll be able to say, hey, we vetted this guy.
ALCINDOR: This guy is a really good guy or woman. He`s a good person, and we`re going to go out there and we`re going to roll out all these different paper works that we have ahead of time. Because, again, if you had Barack Obama handwritten signatures --
ALCINDOR: -- why did you not roll that out immediately? Why did you not say, I --
VELSHI: It would have silenced a bunch of people.
ALCINDOR: Yes. White House officials were telling me that this was really about someone who was a rival of Dr. Jackson`s, who was another doctor that was working for the White House who didn`t like him. And they were saying that it was former colleagues who didn`t really like him.
And if that`s the case -- and it could be true. Like, these allegations weren`t proven. There wasn`t like a steady stream of people who are out there testifying. So they could have said, hey, here is what we have. But, instead, they didn`t do that.
VELSHI: "Vanity Fair" is reporting today, Betsy, according to sources familiar with the situation, White House officials and Trump confidants are currently discussing the possibility of moving -- wait for it -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly up to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
They`re looking for a place for Kelly to land that won`t be embarrassing for him, one Republican briefed on the conversation said.
I mean, again, I remind people, this is the Department of Veterans Affairs. And I`m not saying that John Kelly is not qualified for this, but it`s not a good place to land somebody.
WOODRUFF: Right. This is an eyebrow-raising report. And to be fair, my colleagues who cover the White House haven`t been able to confirm this reporting. But one thing I can tell you is that it`s getting enough traction that it`s likely. Even if this idea hasn`t come from Trump himself --
WOODRUFF: -- that he will hear about this reporting, and the power of suggestion --
VELSHI: He`ll think it might be a good idea.
WOODRUFF: -- could be a powerful thing, exactly. That said, Secretary Kelly does have a lot of experience running major bureaucracies in a way that Ronny Jackson didn`t.
He ran the Department of Homeland Security, which is also a very troubled agency, has historically low morale, a sort of a jumble of all sorts of different aspects of the government, from the Secret Service to ICE.
So Kelly is somebody who would be seen as a more traditional pick to run the V.A. But as you said, the V.A. is just a complicated bureaucratic mess.
VELSHI: It is.
WOODRUFF: And it would be hard finding anyone, if you had your pick of anyone in the country who would actually be adequately suited to take on that really difficult and also really important job.
VELSHI: Betsy, Yamiche, great to see both of you. Thank you for being with us on a Friday night.
WOODRUFF: Sure thing.
VELSHI: All right. Coming up, today`s news about the President`s wild half hour with "Fox & Friends."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP (via telephone): I`m saying, where do we -- where do they even find these people? So I do appreciate the news.
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: I`m not your doctor, Mr. President, but I would recommend you watch less of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: But soon, we may get to watch even more of "Trump & Friends." The White House saw the President`s interview yesterday on "Fox & Friends" and said, let`s do this every month.
We`ll show you why late night T.V. writers are all for it. That`s next.
VELSHI: There have been all kinds of words used to describe the President`s phone interview with "Fox & Friends" yesterday morning. Stunning, unhinged, insane, a meltdown, a fiasco. Whatever you want to call it, today, Kellyanne Conway announced that we`d all get better -- better get ready for more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The President had a great time bringing his case directly to the American people. The President has said that he would like to, perhaps, come once a month and as news breaks.
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, come to "Fox &" --
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: Right.
CONWAY: But, you know, he`ll keep guesting.
DOOCY: Wait, come to "Fox & Friends" once a month?
KILMEADE: All right.
KILMEADE: That`s fantastic.
CONWAY: He said that he`d like to --
KILMEADE: That would be great.
CONWAY: That he`d be back on a pretty much a monthly basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now, if Donald Trump wants to replicate yesterday`s interview on a monthly basis, then late night will be ready to replicate the jabs its comedians took at the President last night. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The interview started strong, but then the President started talking.
SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Can you imagine Trump in court, the prosecution wouldn`t even need to be there. He can just cross- examine himself.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": It is the first lady, Melania Trump`s birthday today. He said he`s too busy to buy her a present, keeping in mind he said this during a 30-minute long rambling call to "Fox & Friends."
COLBERT: You`re a billionaire.
COLBERT: You got your wife a card? Do you know what she puts up with? I think she`s earned a shopping spree. I`m going to say around $130,000 worth.
KIMMEL: If you can spend $130,000 on a porn star, you can at least spring for a necklace.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": Melania made a wish, blew out her candles, opened her eyes, and said, oh, crap he`s still here.
MEYERS: If you raided the White House right now, you might not find evidence of collusion with Russia, but you would definitely not find a card or flowers.
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": I actually almost feel bad for "Fox & Friends." The only excuse they could come up with was that Trump probably had important things to do when it was pretty clear that he absolutely did not.
COLBERT: They got the President off the phone like an annoying relative.
KIMMEL: I`m going to miss him when he`s arrested. I really am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: In case you didn`t see it, Maria Teresa Kumar is with us. She`s the president and CEO of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor. Yamiche Alcindor is also back with us.
Now, of course, in case anybody didn`t watch this thing, toward the end, it was kind of remarkable. The hosts were telling him, we know you`ve got a million things to do. You`ve got to go, Mr. President.
You know, in our industry, if the President of the United States calls in to the show, it`s what you call a big get.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, VOTO LATINO: Yes.
VELSHI: If he called in right now, I`d have to say, excuse you -- excuse me to both of you.
KUMAR: And we would normally understand.
VELSHI: I`d think you`d understand, right. And I`d probably have to say excuse me to Brian Williams on the next show. So it was just weird. It was weird on a lot of levels.
ALCINDOR: I mean, as a reporter who covers the White House, if the President called me, I would be on the phone with him for hours if needed because --
VELSHI: If he`s going to stay on the phone with you, yes.
ALCINDOR: Yes, if he`s going to stay on the phone with me. In this case, watching this live happen as they were trying to wrap him, it wasn`t like they said, OK, well, goodbye, it`s nice -- this was like a 15-second trying to wrap him, trying to get him off the phone.
And it was incredible to see journalists at a network that he favors not, one, just -- I think they were asking him really good questions, so they kind of grilled him a little bit. And two, they pushed him off the phone.
KUMAR: Yes. And this was a 30-minute interview, and the only thing that it`s -- the closest that`s reminiscent of our modern-day time is what Fidel Castro used to do. This is a modern-day tactic of literally filibustering the airwaves.
KUMAR: If he does not like the way other people are representing him, he says, no problem, I`m actually going to go ahead and go on for 30 minutes and continue filibustering.
And I think the fact that he does it on the phone is a complete tactic because when you`re on T.V., you can see people`s body language if it`s getting uncomfortable. It`s really difficult to interrupt someone when you actually are on the phone.
VELSHI: I think it`s worth reminding people, there were a lot of references to Melania and her birthday. This was sort of a stunning moment because if you think it`s a tactic, he couldn`t have played this worse. Listen to what he had to say about his wife`s birthday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP (via telephone): Good morning. And I picked a very, very special day because it`s Melania`s birthday. So I said, let`s do it on Melania`s birthday. So happy birthday to Melania.
KILMEADE: Have you decided on -- or do you want to tell us what you got her?
TRUMP (via telephone): Well, I better not get into that because I may get in trouble. Maybe I didn`t get her so much.
I`ll tell you what, she has done -- I got her a beautiful card. You know, I`m very busy --
DOOCY: At this point.
TRUMP (via telephone): -- to be running out looking for presents, OK? But I got her a beautiful card and some beautiful flowers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I mean, it`s telling, Yamiche, because he brought it up. They didn`t. He brought up that it was his wife`s birthday, so the normal course of events in that conversation might go the way those Fox journalists took it. And he wasn`t even able to handle that.
ALCINDOR: I mean, it wasn`t that he -- I mean, I think that he handled it. He told the truth. He said I don`t have anything for her. I probably got her a card. I`m really, really busy.
I should say I got married about a month and a half ago. My husband better be getting me a birthday present.
ALCINDOR: I don`t care how busy you are. But I think that it goes back to this idea that he was kind of in this mood where he wanted to unload. He doesn`t have a communications director right now. That is a job that has not been filled after Hope Hicks left.
My reporting tells me that John Kelly is someone who does not really have a lot of control or power within the White House. So as a result, you have the President going out there, representing himself and going with his instincts, which are, I need to go and talk to Fox News on the phone -- which is how he won the election, a lot of people say.
ALCINDOR: And just really unload.
VELSHI: He did this for years.
VELSHI: This is what he did for years.
KUMAR: That`s right.
VELSHI: He called to reporters, he called into shows. I remember a show I was on that he called into. This is his thing and he thinks it works for him.
KUMAR: And it works very well. And, again, it`s this idea he is going to filibuster the airwaves. I think because he recognizes the tactic.
The question to ask, though, is, does Fox want him on the air? And if they do, do they, all of a sudden, become the official mouthpiece of the administration?
And those are crossing several lines. So I think that we may jest about it, but what he is really doing is making sure that not only does he own the airwaves but that we`re continuing having these conversations. So it becomes, basically, his agenda and we`re driving against -- and driving his tactics.
ALCINDOR: Well, I should say, as a journalist, they were asking the questions that most journalists would ask him.
KUMAR: They have, right.
ALCINDOR: They were asking about Michael Cohen, they were talking about the legal --
KUMAR: But it`s not -- but the way he -- his tactics, we assume that he`s going to play the media traditionally, that he`s going to answer the questions. We should know by now that --
VELSHI: Right. And that doesn`t work for the rest of us.
KUMAR: Yes, right.
VELSHI: So it`s kind of interesting --
ALCINDOR: Yes, yes, yes.
KUMAR: Exactly right.
VELSHI: -- that he uses that approach with them. But the question is, what does he -- does he get -- does he gain more support by doing this? Does this work for him, in your opinion?
ALCINDOR: Well, I think if he`s calling Fox News and he wants to appeal to his base, then, yes, it helps him. If you`re talking about whether or not he is -- whether or not it`s going to complicate things for Michael Cohen, who, I`m told, has a lot of information on him, who`s been really close to him for years, when a federal prosecutor is using your words --
ALCINDOR: -- and going to a judge to get an independent person to go through documents that were seized in a raid, that`s --
VELSHI: Right. And they did that.
ALCINDOR: Yes, that`s what they did.
VELSHI: Right now, there`s --
KUMAR: And 16 cell phones.
ALCINDOR: And --
VELSHI: Right. And right after this interview --
ALCINDOR: That`s when it becomes --
VELSHI: -- the prosecutors got involved --
VELSHI: -- in quoting from it and going to the judge.
ALCINDOR: And then they --
VELSHI: They were using his words against him.
KUMAR: Right. Look, but I think that -- I think that you`re -- the challenge is about Trump is about Trump, right? So it does not -- it almost doesn`t matter what Michael Cohen -- what he is facing now because he`s very much making sure that he is not only creating and crafting the narrative, but that it`s always about him 24/7. And this is freaking up a lot of people (ph).
VELSHI: Right. And he did throw Michael Cohen under the bus during this interview. He sort of said he is busy with a lot of other businesses and things are contrary --
KUMAR: He might be a lawyer, he might not be.
VELSHI: Right. So, you know, to the same stuff that he did with Ronny Jackson, the idea that he sort of threw him under the bus. He didn`t defend him the way he should have. This is what Donald Trump does. At some point that has got to, even for Donald Trump supporters, become --
VELSHI: Unseemly, a red flag that he is out for himself all the time.
ALCINDOR: Except that this is who he was and he`s not really acting -- I would say as a reporter who covered his campaign. He doesn`t -- he`s not only acting any differently than he acted on the campaign trail. And a lot of his supporters said they knew that they were voting for a, quote/unquote, wild card. They like the fact that he was brash.
So I don`t think people are surprised by what they`re getting here. So the people that he might lose support from are mainly people who are worried about the Department for Veteran Affair and maybe HUD, raising rent on poor families. But in terms of people who likes his style, I don`t think the -- I think this is going to help him.
VELSHI: Well, there`s a relative absence of policy discussion in that conversation. There were a lot of politics.
KUMAR: You`re being kind. No, no. I think --
VELSHI: Yes, so --
KUMAR: But that`s where he feels he`s most comfortable, when he`s talking about politics. He rarely likes to dig into policy because, often times, he`s wrong about it. And that`s what gets him, these --
KUMAR: -- those are the got you moments. But I think -- I mean, you`re right. They were trying to provide substantive questions, but we`re playing a completely different game.
VELSHI: Yes, I think that`s an astute observation to end this on.
Maria Teresa Kumar, good to see you.
Yamiche, thanks very much for being with us.
Coming up, first China, then South Korea. How likely is it that Donald Trump is going to be the next foreign official to meet with the leader that he called Little Rocket Man?
VELSHI: The leaders of North and South Korea signed a historic peace agreement on Friday pledging no more war and a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The 8-1/2 hour meeting began with another historic milestone. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un became the first president of North Korea to set foot in the South since the Korean War. The two leaders smiled and shook hands before crossing over the demarcation line. Basically, just a curb that you see there between the two countries.
While the meeting produced dramatic images and pageantry of public democracy -- diplomacy, Kim Jong-un did not provide specifics on how he would rid North Korea of nuclear missiles.
In a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump didn`t seem too concerned about the lack of detail from Kim Jong-un.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you do, Mr. President, to ensure that Kim isn`t just trying to play the U.S. like Kim`s had some success doing?
TRUMP: Oh, I don`t think he`s playing. No, I don`t think he`s playing. And, you know, it`s never gone like this. It`s never gone this far. I don`t think it`s ever had this enthusiasm for somebody -- for them wanting to make a deal.
And, yes, I agree, the United States has been played beautifully, like a fiddle, because you had a different kind of a leader. We`re not going to be played, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: While President Trump is intent on meeting with Kim Jong-un to make a nuclear deal, he`s threatening to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at a meeting in Brussels today, said Trump would leave the nuclear deal on May 12th unless there was a substantive fix. And President Trump would not say today whether he had an alternative to the nuclear deal or whether he would use military force.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t talk about whether or not I`d use military force. That`s not appropriate to be talking about.
But I can tell you this, they will not be doing nuclear weapons. That I can tell you. OK? They`re not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Well, what will President Trump do with nuclear deals with Iran and North Korea? That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, through all the translations, Kim Jong- un has never said directly that he`s willing to give up what nukes he has at this point.
TRUMP: I think it`s going to work out just fine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that?
TRUMP: I think it`s going to work out just fine. Let`s see what happens, but I think it`ll be very good. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: OK. It`s a little more complicated than that, so joining us to get into it a little bit is Wendy Sherman, the former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and a former special adviser to President Clinton on North Korea. She`s also an MSNBC global affairs contributor.
And Evelyn Farkas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of defense. She is also an MSNBC national security analyst.
Thank you to both of you for being with us on this Friday night.
Ambassador Sherman, let me start with you. I want to remind our viewers that leaders of the two Koreas have met before. They met in the year 2000, in 2007, and then again today.
This is definitely a positive development ahead of the Trump/Kim meeting maybe in late May or June. But do you think the President has a good understanding of how this is meant to go?
WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE: Well, look, Ali, I think that we should all be glad that we have dialogue, that we`re not on a march to war.
But pomp and circumstance, all the theater we saw today, may usher in hope, but it`s really precision and persistence and hard work that gets you a result. So, no, I don`t think the President fully understands the detail that will be necessary here.
The Iran deal itself was 110 pages long with the most extensive verification and monitoring provisions ever, and Iran didn`t have nuclear weapons and we knew where their assets were.
That`s not true in the case of North Korea. We don`t know where all their assets are, and there is no verification and monitoring and they have nuclear weapons. So a lot of hard work ahead.
VELSHI: Evelyn, one of the things that is worrisome that the President doesn`t understand the details of North Korea is that we have strategic alliances with Japan and with South Korea.
DR. EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EURASIA: Right.
VELSHI: Their interests here are different than ours are. We don`t want intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear tips on them. You can affect South Korea or Japan with much smaller weaponry.
They would like something more comprehensive. So they`re a little worried that the President may go in and make a deal that he can claim is good for America that may not be good for our strategic partners where there are lots of Americans and where we have allies.
FARKAS: Yes, correct. And I would say that of the two, the Japanese are the most concerned. And you saw Abe fly over here, you know, to get in Trump`s face, if you will, you know, to make him aware of what Japanese concerns are. So certainly, the ballistic missiles that can affect Japan, those are shorter range. They`re worried about them.
The Japanese Prime Minister also has staked a lot of his personal and political credibility on the issue of the Japanese abductees. There are about 13 or more, maybe, Japanese that were abducted in the `80s by the North Koreans.
FARKAS: He would really like some progress on that front. Last time we had a big --
VELSHI: And there`s real worry from --
VELSHI: -- the Japanese that the President is not going to put his back into a comprehensive agreement with North Korea because he likes deals.
VELSHI: He likes things that look like successes.
FARKAS: Yes. And even the South Koreans, while they may be less nervous than the Japanese, they also need us to back them up on a sort of a de- escalation, if you will, and withdrawal of artillery tubes, for example, where, you know, the South Koreans are in the North Korean artillery range.
FARKAS: Things like that -- which they talked about. You know, it seems that this agreement will address that. But actually going ahead and enforcing it and putting it into action is a whole other story.
VELSHI: Wendy, let`s just talk about Iran for a second because you were involved in this deal. The President definitely does not seem to have a handle on the details around the Iran detail. Very specifically, the amount of time it took to get that deal, the number of parties involved, and what it was intended to do, which many observers say it is doing.
SHERMAN: Right, indeed. It was meant to ensure that Iran never could obtain a nuclear weapon, and it does indeed do that. It is an incredibly detailed agreement.
The President has said it doesn`t take care of ballistic missiles. It doesn`t take care of Iran`s nefarious behavior in the region. That is true. It was never meant to.
Getting this, alone, took years of hard work, particularly the last two years.
And I think the other important piece here for people to understand is that if you want to try to put everything in the deal, I`d say to President Trump, make sure you get the American detainees in North Korea home.
Make sure you stop the cybercrimes that North Korea has perpetrated all over the world, including in our own country, hacks that we have identified including the Sony hack.
And finally, let`s go after those outrageous and disastrous human rights abuses in North Korea.
And if I said that to the President, he`d probably say, well, if you do that, then you may not get everything you want on denuclearization, a definition he doesn`t yet understand.
SHERMAN: Because the North sees that quite differently. Well, that`s what happened in the Iran deal. You can`t put everything on the table, or you`re going to have to negotiate away what you need to do on nuclear weapons, which are the most powerful, create the greatest deterrent and what we must get rid of to be able to deal with these other issues.
VELSHI: Senator Lindsey Graham, Evelyn, said today that if this goes -- if this succeeds in North Korea, the President deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It wouldn`t have happened without Trump. It may not happen, but it`s the biggest change since the end of the hostilities. The fact that the North Korean and South Korean presidents met and they vow to end the war, what happened?
Donald Trump convinced North Korea and China he was serious about bringing about change. We`re not there yet, but if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Lindsey Graham is not always one to back President Trump.
VELSHI: In fairness, though, what Lindsey Graham may be missing is that the new South Korean President was very big on having a meeting. He`s been talking about dialogue even when President Trump wasn`t talking about dialogue.
How should we be interpreting this maverick behavior by Donald Trump that, some say, resulted in the idea that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un may meet?
FARKAS: Well, I think what Senator Graham is saying there is that a lot of people, including the leaders of China, South Korea, and Japan believe that the United States President, you know, our president, was willing to use force to prevent North Korea from making the final steps that it needed to take in order to achieve its objective, which is, of course, a nuclear weapon that can attack the U.S. mainland and -- successfully. You know, we don`t -- they cannot do that yet as far as we know.
FARKAS: But they`re close. So, yes, his fire and fury, you know, all of his speechifying and his saber-rattling scared everybody. And for that, I think he probably does deserve credit.
A Nobel Prize, I think, will be a long-time coming because, as Wendy said, you -- first you need an agreement. You need to hammer out all the details. And then you need a really good verification regime, and we don`t have that.
FARKAS: So it will take time to see whether he truly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
VELSHI: Evelyn Farkas, good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
FARKAS: Thank you.
VELSHI: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, thanks as well for your time on a Friday night.
SHERMAN: Thank you.
VELSHI: Tonight`s last word is next.
VELSHI: That`s tonight`s last word.
Coming up, Brian Williams takes a look back at Trump`s crazy week and what effect it`s going to have on the Republican Party. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.