Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: May 14, 2018 Guest: Michael Avenatti, Ron Klain, Nicholas Kristof, Joyce Vance
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. And it`s so sad to see what`s happened to what used to be called the food stamp program.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, "A.M. JOY": Indeed.
O`DONNELL: Which when it was created was one of the real bipartisan triumphs of the Congress. Conservative senators like Bob Dole from agriculture states teaming up with liberal senators like George McGovern from an agriculture state put that program together.
REID: Yes, and it literally goes directly into the cash registers of places like Walmart and super markets. Proctor and Gamble loves it, they sell a lot of macaroni and cheese and things like that. So, it`s interesting. It had that broad support, but no longer.
O`DONNELL: Nothing is the way it used to be.
REID: At all. Thank you so much, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Have a good night.
O`DONNELL: Well, finally, the president of the United States has said something that will command the agreement of even the most relentless members of the resistance to the president of the United States. Donald Trump`s most unforgiving critics agree with the spirit of the statement the president made today, even if they might choose different specific words.
As with most Trump statements, it need not be said that no president in history has ever said anything like this. Today, Donald Trump actually said his White House staff, quote, are traitors and cowards. For any White House staffers for whom working for Donald Trump wasn`t shameful enough before today, they can now add to their shame that even Donald Trump thinks they are traitors and cowards.
In a tweet late this afternoon, the president said: the so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over-exaggeration put out by the fake news media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!
So, the leaks from the Trump White House are fake but Donald Trump thinks that leakers, White House leakers are traitors and cowards and he`s trying to find out who they are. And while he is busy trying to find out who they are, 22 of those traitors and cowards teamed up to supply "The Washington Post" with its latest story based entirely on leaks the president is trying to stop, about a day in the life of the president under investigation.
The president vents to associates about the FBI raids on his personal attorney Michael Cohen, as often as 20 times a day in the estimation of one confidant. And they frequently listen in silence, knowing little they say will soothe him. Trump gripes that he needs better TV lawyers to defend him on cable news. He plots his battle plans with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, his new legal consigliere. Twenty times a day.
The White House staff who the president now calls traitors and cowards also told "The Washington Post" that, quote, they privately express worries that the probe may yet ensnare more figures in Trump`s orbit, including family members. There is particular worry about Trump`s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.
Last night on Showtime`s "The Circus", John Heilemann delivered the moment last week when Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, dramatically changed our understanding of what Michael Cohen was up to in Trump world before the FBI raided his home, his office and his hotel room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HEILEMANN, THE CIRCUS: You got a tweet written?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAYWER: Two tweets.
HEILEMANN: Two tweets.
AVENATTI: This is the first tweet. After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump`s attorney, Mr. Cohen, received approximately $500,000 from a company controlled by a Russian oligarch with close ties to Mr. Putin. These moneys may have reimbursed the $130,000 payment.
HEILEMANN: That`s a big deal. Give me the second tweet now.
AVENATTI: The executive summary may be accessed via the link below. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have a lot of explaining to do. It was just sent.
HEILEMANN: It was just sent. There it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann and Michael Avenatti will join us in a moment.
Michael Avenatti`s revelations about millions of dollars received by Michael Cohen for questionable consulting was all confirmed and then some by follow-up reports in newspapers, only that Michael Avenatti had understated the total amounts paid by some of those corporations.
Today`s "Wall Street Journal" carried new details about how Michael Cohen obtained those fees after Donald Trump was elected president. He would tell prospective clients large corporations worried about their lack of connections to President Donald Trump`s administration, that he didn`t know who he was advising them but that the company should fire them all, a person familiar with Mr. Cohen`s approach, said. I have the best relationship with the president on the outside, and you need to hire me, Mr. Cohen told them, according to this person.
"The Journal" reports that Michael Cohen traded on his labeling of himself as the president`s lawyer and leaned all the more heavily on companies that did not want to do business with him. Mr. Cohen repeatedly pitched Uber, which said, no, citing Mr. Cohen`s ownership of New York taxi medallions as a potential conflict of interest with the ride-hailing firm, a person close to the company said. He modified his pitch in response to those objections, reminding the company he was the president`s lawyer, this person said.
Michael Avenatti has once again expanded the dimensions of the Michael Cohen story by tweeting yesterday video images captured in the lobby of Trump Tower during the transition on December 12, 2016. Those images show Michael Cohen close to a bald man who appears to be Ahmed Rumaihi and another shot that some -- that same day of Michael Cohen in the lobby of Trump Tower with Michael Flynn.
In a follow-up tweet, Michael Avenatti said, why was Ahmed al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December of 2016? And why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials according to a sworn declaration filed in court?
And joining us now with what we hope is the answer to his own question, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels. Also with us, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s the co- host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus". And Joyce Vance is with us, former federal prosecutor. She`s a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and an MSNBC contributor.
Michael Avenatti, so do you have the answer to your question about what Michael Cohen was up to there in the lobby of Trump Tower?
AVENATTI: We have the answer, Lawrence, but we`re not going to disclose it tonight. Let me say this, I tweeted this out moments ago. I mean, I think when the truth relating to this meeting comes out shortly, it`s going to redefine the word ugly. When the truth comes out relating to what Michael Cohen was doing there that day in connection with these two individuals in this elevator at Trump Tower, we know that Michael Flynn was also there that day.
And, you know, Lawrence, the problem is, is that Michael Cohen was not a registered lobbyist. He was not a registered foreign agent. He had no formal role in connection with the transition, ultimately, had no formal role in the administration. So, I don`t think he`s taking these guys upstairs to pick up to-go dinners or anything of that nature.
I mean, they had to be there for something. I think it`s going to come out shortly as to why they were there, and I don`t think it`s going to come out shortly as to why they were there and I don`t think it`s going to be pretty.
O`DONNELL: Now, you mentioned an American lawsuit in which al-Rumaihi is quoted as bragging about in effect bribing politicians in Washington. Is it through that lawsuit that you expect the information to come out?
AVENATTI: Well, I don`t want to get into how I expect it to come out. But what I will say is, is that there is a declaration filed in that lawsuit that I think is absolutely bullet proof, that details the statements of this individual relating to the fact that he had successfully bribed administration officials, namely Michael Flynn. And I don`t think it ends there. We have a video and photographic evidence that shows that Michael Cohen was at the center of this.
We know from what we released last week, to your point that`s been confirmed, that Michael Cohen was selling access to the president of the United States. And let me also say, Lawrence, that I think the suggestion that all of this was going on with involvement by Michael Cohen, involvement by Michael Flynn and at the same time the president knew absolutely nothing about it is absurd.
O`DONNELL: Now, we all remember those days during the transition and Trump Tower and there were cameras set up all day and people moving in and out of there, sometimes dozens of people, including the likes of Kanye West, James Comey had his day in the lobby. All sorts of people passed through there.
Is it possible that it`s just coincidence that Michael Cohen is on that elevator at that time with al Rumaihi?
AVENATTI: No, because if you see the video actually, and I think we also post in the video, at least we designated portions of the video that people should go and look at on my Twitter feed, if you look at the video, he walks in with them, it`s clear as day he walks in with them and gets on the elevator with them. I don`t think this is just happenstance by any stretch of the imagination.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, once again the guy beside you has expanded the dimensions of what we are aware of -- I was going to say what we know about Michael Cohen, it`s more about a matter of what we are aware of, because I`m not sure what we know as a result of those images. Michael Avenatti`s promises in the past that there is more to come have generally proven to be the case.
HEILEMANN: Well, let me tell you about the story, and it`s going to take us into the weeds here, but it`s a little -- it`s pretty interesting, I think. You may have red in the last couple weeks about a lawsuit that was filed by -- the lawsuit that Mr. Avenatti is referring to which is a lawsuit filed by two individuals, Jeff Kwatinetz and Ice Cube, the rapper, who run a league called the Big3, which is an old timers NBA basketball league. They had some Qatari investors, including Mr. Rumaihi.
In the course of the -- there have been various financial entanglements and disputes between the league, those two guys, Kwatinetz and Cube, and those Qataris. They`ve now sued the Qataris, and it`s in the course of that lawsuit that this declaration have been made, that Mr. Kwatinetz, somebody I happened to have known since my senior year in high school, I went to college with --
O`DONNELL: No, no, the world is not that small. The guy I was reading about in this lawsuit today you went to high school with?
HEILEMANN: No. Someone I knew in my senior year (AUDIO GAP) I lived with for two years at Harvard, and graduate school, who is -- continues to be someone I know extraordinarily well.
So, he declares in the lawsuit that the reason that the Qataris invested in Big3 was because Jeff Kwatinetz, was a very good friend of Steve Bannon, and that the Qataris were trying to use their investment in the league to get access to Bannon and through Bannon influence Trump. And it`s a sworn declaration in this case where he says that in his discussions with the Qataris and Mr. Rumaihi, that he claims to had already bribed Mike Flynn.
And he said, you know, you should take our money to give to Steve Bannon, and Kwatinetz says this is a terrible idea, I don`t want to be involved with this. And he says, what are you talking about? A lot of Americans take our money, Mike Flynn took our money.
Michael Cohen is not named in that lawsuit. So, what Mr. Avenatti has done here, at least at this point, is connected a dot between this lawsuit and the allegations that the Qataris, they claimed according to this, that they had bribed Mike Flynn. Now, we have Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and the person who is said to have bribed Flynn in this elevator together.
I don`t know what the connection between -- what Michael Cohen is -- I know nothing about the Cohen connection to this, if there is any Cohen connection to this other than the fact they rode in an elevator together. But the story of these Qataris and their attempts to get into -- basically engage in what seems like an influence operation through this very strange medium, which is to say an old-timers basketball league, is an amazing story, that probably because it involves a rap star like Ice Cube.
But here we have an instance where it seems like again, one of the things that Michael Avenatti has done in bring various cases kind of bring threads together and sow -- create a garment. We don`t know exactly what the shape of this garment is, or at least I don`t yet, but the garment is starting to become a little more visible.
O`DONNELL: Joyce Vance, certainly the special prosecutor is aware of this sworn statement in the lawsuit and this -- and the way -- what Rumaihi is quoted as saying basically, is, do you think Mike Flynn didn`t take our money? That`s the kind of statement made in a lawsuit like that that would attract the special prosecutor`s attention.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It would attract a lot of attention if they had not known about it before the statement was filed in connection with the lawsuit. We`re seeing a lot of indication, though, that Mueller was looking at a lot of different threads in this investigation back late last year that we`re only just now learning that he was looking at back in that time period.
So, one rather suspects that he would have been onto this well before it became public knowledge as has been the case over and over again in this investigation and that`s really what you would expect. You would expect prosecutors to know much more and be much further down the path than the public is aware they`ve been able to travel.
O`DONNELL: And, Joyce, let me ask you another legal question about what we heard Michael Cohen quoted as saying when he was approaching these companies to represent them. At a certain point on saying to them, you need me. You need to hire me.
Does that begin to edge up toward something that sounds threatening?
VANCE: Lawrence, I think this is the real question in the Cohen investigation. Was he just a huckster? Was he someone who is self- promoting and trying to hustle some business? Or was he really selling access to the president of the United States?
That will likely have been the focus for Mueller and his team trying to determine whether Cohen was freelancing or whether he was actually selling access to the president. And there`s an interesting little bit of circumstance swirling around this, because if you`re going to set yourself up in a pay-to-play situation, you know, you`ve got to pay me if you want to play with this administration, there has to be some reasonable threat that you can really carry out.
So, here we have a tweet that the president was tweeting out about American companies and there were financial repercussions for the companies when those tweets happened. It will be interesting to see how this all compares as Cohen goes out and sort of bids with people, tries to get them to hire him, was there Twitter activity in that industry? Did any of these companies believe either from tweets or from other sources and other circumstances that they really did have to hire Cohen if they wanted to get contracts, get favorable treatment, have access? That will be what this investigation will be looking at.
And it`s not unforeseen. It`s not unpredictable that will happen. That is the bread and butter of prosecutors doing public corruption cases.
O`DONNELL: And, Michael, there`s another side of this legal coin. One side of it is you need to hire me in order to get benefits. The other side of it is, which is kind of the old mafia version of it, you need to hire me to prevent this president from doing serious damage to you. I will -- I will get this president not to do damage to you.
AVENATTI: Well, there`s little doubt, Lawrence, I don`t know this for a fact, but, look, based on the way I know Michael Cohen and the way he`s conducted himself, there`s little doubt in my mind that probably both messages were delivered. And, look, let me also say this, I seriously doubt that at the end of this, there`s going to be any doubt as to whether Mr. Trump knew what was going on here. Because otherwise, Michael Cohen would have had to string these clients along, month in, month out, month in, month out, relating to what he was telling the president, communications with the president.
At some point, these clients that retained him had to ask him, well, did you run it by the president? What did the president say? When do we get to meet the president? Or when do we have lunch with the president? What`s the president`s position? I mean, that had to have occurred at some point during this process.
So, unless Michael Cohen is absolutely lying to the clients that are paying him all this money, then obviously, the president had to have known that Michael Cohen was carrying the water for some of these folks.
O`DONNELL: And, John, the chances of Michael Cohen lying to the clients also seem to have a very high possibility. One of "The Wall Street Journal" reports talk how unhappy Michael Cohen was about his lack of relationship with the president while Donald Trump was in the White House.
HEILEMANN: One of the fundamental realities about Michael Cohen is that if you went back to the period in 2010, 2011, 2012, when President Trump was thinking about running -- candidate Trump was thinking about running for president, in the earlier cycle, Michael Cohen was with him constantly, and there was no one who covered Trump in that period as I did who didn`t expect Michael Cohen would be his campaign manager had he ran in 2012.
When you got to 2015, 2016, he wasn`t in the campaign in any essential way. And then, of course, we all know, Donald Trump didn`t want to take him to Washington. So, some distance had happened. And one wonders whether the extent to which Cohen was actually making legitimate representations about his connections with the president, versus overstating how close he was. We know he was depressed and felt betrayed about not getting to go.
A lot of questions there about where -- what the state of that relationship at the end of -- at the time when the transition was happening.
O`DONNELL: A quick last question on timetable, when will we find out what happened on December 12, 2016, at Trump Tower?
AVENATTI: I think soon.
O`DONNELL: Soon is a week? Soon is a month?
AVENATTI: Soon is soon.
O`DONNELL: Soon is soon. Michael Avenatti, soon is soon. That`s -- I think that`s on your business card.
HEILEMANN: Maybe on the other side of this break.
HEILEMANN: Who knows?
O`DONNELL: Michael Avenatti and Joyce Vance, thank you for your legal perspective on this. I really appreciate it. John Heilemann is going to stay with us.
Coming up, the disgrace of John Kelly continues and deepens as President Trump proves that John McCain was right in banning the president from his funeral.
And later, what is Mike Pence up to? That is the question some Trump staffers are asking each other.
O`DONNELL: John Kelly continues to find new depths of disgrace in his role as White House chief of staff. His vicious comments last week about immigrant families being ripped apart by the Trump government with children thrown into, quote, foster care or whatever, actually reflect John Kelly`s own thinking. That is something Kelly would happily opine about at any bar in the Boston neighborhood where he grew up.
That cruelty comes straight from John Kelly`s own heart. That cruelty is not something that he learned in the Trump White House. The immigrant from John Kelly`s own ancestry who came to this country not speaking English and never learning to speak English fit perfectly John Kelly`s description last week of people who should not be allowed into this country.
So, John Kelly managed to disgrace his own ancestors with those comments, but he sure sounds like he means it when he says it. At the same time, it is still impossible -- just impossible to imagine that John Kelly shares White House staffer Kelly Sadler`s disdain for Senator John McCain when she said this last week in a White House staff meeting in reaction to Senator McCain`s opposition to the president`s nominee to be the director of the CIA. Quote, it doesn`t matter, he`s dying anyway.
It is impossible to believe that John Kelly does not respect John McCain, the decorated former prisoner of war in Vietnam who comes from a family richer in military tradition than John Kelly`s own family. And so, John Kelly`s silence about Kelly Sadler`s comments has to be the product of John Kelly`s own cowardly fear of the wrath of Donald Trump.
Any other White House chief of staff would have fired Kelly Sadler immediately upon learning of her comment. Any White House staffer with the slightest sense of decency and duty to the White House would have immediately quit when her comment became public, so as to relieve the White House of that terrible controversy. But not Kelly Sadler, she doesn`t have that kind of decency.
She promised Senator McCain`s daughter, Meghan McCain, last week in a telephone apology to Meghan McCain that she would apologize publicly and she has not done it. And so, it is now very clear who is managing the White House response to the Kelly Sadler comments about John McCain.
Here`s the White House press briefing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why not just apologize so America doesn`t think that is an acceptable way of speaking inside this White House?
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I understand the focus on the issue but it`s going to be dealt with, and has been dealt with internally.
REPORTER: Can you explain how it`s been addressed internally?
SHAH: Obviously, if I explain all that, then it won`t remain internal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I can explain it, you can explain it. Anyone who`s been watching Donald Trump can explain it.
Donald Trump is obviously personally managing this controversy in the White House and he is forbidding Kelly Sadler from publicly apologizing to John McCain and he is forbidding John Kelly from firing Kelly Sadler, and he is forbidding John Kelly from standing with the American military hero John McCain and at least publicly condemning Kelly Sadler`s comment, even if he is not allowed to fire her.
There will be leaks. We might have to wait for another Michael Wolff book, but there will be leaks about how John Kelly handled himself inside the Trump White House when the day came to stand silently with Kelly Sadler or stand honorably with John McCain.
The White House press secretary conducted a meeting about the leak of what Kelly Sadler had to say about John McCain and "Axios" reports: a visibly upset and furious press secretary Sarah Sanders told the group, I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too, and that`s just disgusting.
And, of course, I can read you that quote of what the White House press secretary said in that meeting because it was leaked by one or more of those people who Donald Trump calls traitors and cowards.
Joining our discussion now, Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, and a former senior aide to President Obama. And back with us is John Heilemann.
And, Ron Klain, you have lived and worked in a White House. And all White Houses are concerned about leaks, but we have never seen anything quite like this.
RON KLAIN: No. Look, leaks are part of Washington, and they happen in all administrations, but this seems to be the worst by a factor of many than anything we`ve seen. But the fundamental problem is this, if the president wants to stop leaks of horrible, embarrassing information about his administration, he ought to stop doing horrible and embarrassing things.
I mean, the fundamental problem really isn`t that the stuff is leaking out, the fundamental problem is that this stuff is having. And that a member of the stay to say what Kelly Sadler said about John McCain, again, the issue isn`t that it`s leaked, it`s that she said it and nothing ha been done about it.
O`DONNELL: And by now, John Heilemann, we -- it`s fair to infer that President Trump thinks about John McCain exactly the way Kelly Sadler does.
HEILEMANN: Well, I think we could have inferred that sometime before given the history with him and John McCain. I really think that -- I don`t want to cut -- she said a horrible thing. Everybody we know has said something snotty, or something disrespectful or something nasty about someone at some point, and regretted it. And it`s the easiest thing in the world.
It`s hard. Not -- it`s not -- it`s not completely easy. But really, if you just come out and apologize, everyone will understand that you could have said something obnoxious. She apparently apologized privately to the McCain family. Having apologized privately, what is the reason why they will not apologize publicly?
It has something to do with Donald Trump`s attitude which is never apologize for anything ever.
And I think they just -- it`s the most insane prolonging of a ridiculous -- a story that`s doing nothing but bad for them, when all it would have taken was 30 seconds for the woman to say, and the White House to stand by her and say, yes, I said something terrible. Genuinely terrible, I`m really sorry for that. And it will all be over.
But, of course, that then would have raised the question, well, wait, your boss said that he started trashing John McCain when he first got in the race and isn`t what you`re saying just basically consistent -- a worse version, but a consistent version of what President Trump thinks about John McCain and then you have a whole other set of issues and troubles.
O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, different jobs have different standards of public conduct and different reactions to when private conduct becomes public. There`s no stricter standard that I`m aware of than the White House itself. Can you imagine something like this even if it was said -- her defense is, it was a joke. That`s her defense.
That can work as a defense in comedy writing rooms, in Hollywood. It can work in many settings. It can work in many workplaces. But what do you think any other White House, their reaction would be to a comment like this being made public?
KLAIN: Well, look, I agree with John Heilemann. Everyone says things they regret in politics and in public life. The key thing is to own up to them and to apologize both privately and publicly. That wasn`t done here.
I have doubts that this was a joke, though. I mean, as John mentioned, Donald Trump has said the most horrible things about John McCain, by the way, not just in this campaign, but all the way back to 2000 when Donald Trump started on this troupe that John McCain wasn`t a hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War, this man who avoided service to his country during that war. So, I think that the fundamental problem here is a lack of respect for Senator McCain.
Look, I disagree with John McCain on a lot of issues. I worked hard on a campaign to beat him for the presidency, but I also don`t see how anyone cannot respect the man, the hero that he is, his service to our country and that lack of respect is just evident in the Trump White House. The last thing I will say is, you know, John McCain has a lot of friends on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. Senate in particular. And this attitude from the Trump White House is going to cost them up on Capitol Hill if they want to try and get anything else done up there in the foreseeable future.
O`DONNELL: John Kelly famously said I remember when women were sacred, held sacred. Apparently he does not remember when prisoners of war were sacred.
JOHN HEILEMANN, HOST, THE CIRCUS: You would think if John Kelly had control over this White House and again, he`s a military man, he must, on some level -- he must respect John McCain`s sacrifice, respect John McCain, so he must either feel as though he`s given up on trying to contain some of the excess in the White House or he feels cowed by President Trump who he`s afraid if he were to order the person who committed this sin to atone that somehow he would face the wrath of the President for allowing anybody in the White House to apologize for anything. And so either one, either he is given up or he is afraid of Donald Trump, neither is a good look.
Ron Klain, your reaction to the former marine general, working in the White House, being absolutely silent on this comment about John McCain.
KLAIN: It`s sad. There`s no other way to describe it. John Kelly had great service to the country, paid the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of his son serving our country. And he is a dedicated loyal military man. And for someone with that kind of record not to have the authority or the will or whatever he has been deprived to say to Kelly Sadler, you march out there publicly and apologize to senator McCain and his family in public is a horrible unwinding of his authority, of his moral authority, of the kind of authority you should have as White House chief of staff. And that Donald Trump has done that to him is a horrible thing and that John Kelly has accepted it is an equally horrible thing. And it`s a disgrace to see.
O`DONNELL: And John Kelly will continue to go to work tomorrow and work side by side with Kelly Sadler.
Ron Klain, thank you for joining our discussion tonight.
Coming up, some members of team Trump are getting very worried about team Pence.
O`DONNELL: What happens when the leader of a party would rather play golf than lead a party, and doesn`t know how to lead a party anyway?
Enter Mike Pence, the "New York Times" reports Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party extensively helped by Mr. Trump tending to his own allies and interests even when the President`s instincts lean in another direction. Even as he lays his perfect remarks with praise for the President, Mr. has influential chief of staff Nick Ayers are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump`s fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base.
Mike Pence knows that he is going to be running for President in 2024, either to follow the Trump presidency or to unseat the Democrat who will have defeated Donald Trump. And Mike Pence knows that unlike Donald Trump he cannot win on personality alone.
According to the Times, while Mr. Trump remains an over powering personality in Republican politics, he is mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party. His team of advisers is ribbon with personal divisions and the White House has not yet crafted a strategy for the midterms. So Mr. Trump`s supremely disappointing to running mate has stepped into the void.
The Times also reports that today the Pence team tried to counter any suspicions of disunity by letting it be known via FOX News that Donald Trump`s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski is joining the effort as an adviser to the Pence political action committee.
Joining us now Jonathan Allen, a national political reporter for NBC news digital and then John Heinemann is still with us.
Jonathan Allen you have been reporting on what`s going on in the Pence camp and the worries that the Trump camp has. What`s the situation tonight?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, as you noted in the intro, Lawrence, Mike Pence has basically emerged as a political force on his own. He has a web of groups, including this super Pac that Corey Lewandowski has signed on to, then he has used his vehicle. You know, one`s a political action community, the other is a nonprofit, a charity. That he is using to go around the Republicans to help Republicans stands and maybe also to help himself.
A lot of the folks in Trump world were not pleased with that. One Republican source familiar with move told me that the President asked Corey Lewandowski to go kind of keep an eye on -- to keep an eye on Pence world. And another source I talked to about this, you know, basically said Trump and Pence are generally aligned, they get along personally, but this is Trump making sure it`s clear to everyone who`s still boss.
O`DONNELL: And John, "Politico" is reporting tonight on another possible point of friction, and that is Senator John McCain has reportedly decided he doesn`t want Donald Trump at his funeral but he does want the vice President. So what does the vice President do? Does the vice president attend? If he does attend, does that irritate President Trump?
HEILEMANN: Hard to imagine it won`t irritate President Trump. But I kind of think in the end that Trump will probably will be happy to outsource that particular activity, that particular duty, to Pence because I think Trump probably would not want to go to the funeral. So there, you know how Trump is. Trump will be -- Trump is focused on slates. And that -- I`m sure it has annoyed him to have heard that he`s not welcome at the funeral. It`s also the case of Trump being as narcissistic as he is, he would rather be playing golf that day anyway, whenever that day happens to be who he preferred in playing golf. And so, he will console himself with the notion that, well, I didn`t really want to go to that thing anyhow.
O`DONNELL: Right. Jonathan Allen, this story also coincides or all these stories about leaks and the President calling his own staff traitors for leaking and certainly part of the concerns about leaking is what`s going on with the Pence operation and what might they be leaking?
ALLEN: Well, I mean, the irony of Donald Trump calling people cowards and traitors for leaking is pretty strong. I mean, this guy has been talking to the press for the last 30 or so years. Sometimes under his own name, sometimes as John Baron or what have you.
Look. Everybody in this White House, it appears, for all the reporting and -- I mean, everyone in Trump world leaks. And somewhat like it, the Pence operation has been a little more tightly held. And there are bunch of Pence people, you know, sort of marble throughout the White House. I mean, it is not just (INAUDIBLE), you got Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director. His experience on Capitol Hill was as Mike Pence`s staff director when he was the chairman of the Republican study committee and the Republican conference in the house.
So these Pence guys know how to play the game in Washington pretty well in a way I think a lot of the other Trump folks may not be as adept at. So as a result I think generally speaking their leaks are a little bit more strategic.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And John Heilemann, one of the White House leakers in chief, Kellyanne Conway, was on FOX News earlier tonight and actually saying that she actually expects there to be some firings -- personnel changes as they put it, as a result of the leaking investigations that they`re trying to run now.
HEILEMANN: I would bet a reasonable amount of money that is an empty threat. It`s one of those things where you are asked -- people know you`re conducting leak investigations, what will be the consequences of these leak investigations, Ms. Conway? Nothing. Now, you can`t really say that. So of course, you have to say there are going to be changes. We are going to do something at the end of the investigation or else (INAUDIBLE).
I will say about Mike Pence this. If you think about the various things he`s doing and the aggressiveness in which he suddenly doing it, it does reflect I think his understanding that he is playing a very weak hand on some level. He is someone who is not the natural inheritor to Donald Trump`s base. He is not the national inheritor or anybody`s base at this point. And he is looking at a situation where either Donald Trump is going really -- he is going to survive this first term. He is going to run for reelection or not, and either win or not.
But then he is looking at running in 2024. That`s a long way down the road and the party is going to be radically different at the end of either one of those outcomes or Trump is not going to finish out the first time, in which case Pence will not be the inheritor, will not waltz (ph) to the Republican. I mean, he will be challenged by 25 Republicans. Many of them much better candidates, much more beloved with much bigger bases in the national Republican Party than himself. So he has to do everything he`s doing right now to try to put himself in a reasonable position to thrive let alone rise.
O`DONNELL: And on that, the most dramatic scenario of all that we have considered tonight. We have to take a break.
Jon Allen and John Heilemann, thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it.
Coming up, President Trump did keep a campaign promise today.
O`DONNELL: Today, Jared Kushner was allowed to speak publically 5,900 miles away from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: By moving our embassy to Jerusalem, we have shown the world once again that the United States can be trusted. We stand with our friends and our allies, and above all else we have shown that the United States of America will do what`s right, and so we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And Jared Kushner was speaking, here`s what was happening 50 miles away, violence erupted as thousands of Palestinians protested at the border fence separating Israel from Gaza. Israeli soldiers and snipers used tear gas and gun fire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory. At least 58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 wounded.
At the White House, the deputy press secretary placed all the responsibility for the violence in Gaza on Hamas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We believe that Hamas is responsible for what`s going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there is no responsibility beyond that to the Israeli authorities? Kill at will?
SHAH: What I`m saying is that we believe that Hamas, as an organization, is engaged in action that`s leading to these deaths.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The United Nations Security Council will hold a meeting on Gaza tomorrow. And Nicholas Kritof will join us next on the development of Israel and Gaza today and what might happen at the United Nations tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KUSHNER: As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The New York Times."
And Nick, you have been to Israel and Gaza many times. Your reaction to today`s events?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think first of all it`s just kind of horrifying to watch a celebration at this new U.S. embassy at a time when 1,300 people are being shot 40 miles away in Gaza. And I guess also it just strikes me that this is so unnecessary that -- and, you know, for 70 years the U.S. has aspired, not always succeeded, not always effectively, but we have at least aspired to be a good faith intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians.
And by moving the embassy in this way. And by today having the White House say -- not even call for restraint on Israel a part, just signals that we are no longer intermediaries. We are completely on the side of Israel on this.
And I guess I think also, you know, we are very much focused on the -- on Gazans responding to the move of the American embassy. But let`s also acknowledge that they are responding to a misery that has been created by a dozen years of an economic blockade that has systematically robbed people of economic opportunities, undermine the middle class, robbed people of hope, and obviously there are very genuine security issues that Israel has to deal with and any country has to protect its border. But one would also like to see a little bit of restraint, a little bit of greater attempt to avoid unnecessary casualties.
And, you know, instead what we`ve seen is journalists with press marketed on them being shot. My colleague, Declan Walsh, was at the border and saw a woman nearby, a 26-year-old woman who had a mental disability shot in the stomach, and I just find it kind of heartbreaking that at the moment this is going on, we are celebrating the opening of the embassy and not even calling for restraint.
O`DONNELL: John Brennan said today, deaths in Gaza, result of utter disregard of Trump and Netanyahu for Palestinian rights and homeland. By moving embassy to Jerusalem, Trump play politics, destroyed U.S. peace maker role, new generation of Israelis, Palestinians, need to isolate extremists to find path to peace. That last hopeful sentence seems like a distant dream.
KRISTOF: Remember the Trump administration talking about how it was going to bring peace. And instead what it has brought is a despair and hopelessness and undermined the leadership in these areas. And, look, you know, when the White House criticizes Hamas, absolutely. Hamas has been repressive. It has been an awful administrator of Gaza. There`s tremendous resentment against it. But we aren`t responsible for Hamas. We are arming Israel. We`re providing Israel with aid. And when our ally then goes and shoots 1,300 people in one day, I mean this is like a war what was going on today. And then we don`t even call for restraint. I -- and when we`re celebrating, it just seems to tonally just repulsive and repugnant to me.
O`DONNELL: Nicholas Kristof, who has real experience in the region, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s LAST WORD is from last night`s episode of John Heilemann`s show, the circus, on Showtime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I stop predicting what happens in a world where Donald Trump`s a factor. And the only similar sensation that we have ever felt to this were the final two years of the Nixon presidency, which ended the way it ended. There`s never been anything else that feels like that. But Nixon was a rational man compared to Trump, and therefore to a certain extent, predictable. This is completely unpredictable, and everyone who issues predictions in this thing is faking it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The circus gets tonight`s LAST WORD.
One of the writers of a new "Washington Post" story that reveals what it is like inside Robert Mueller`s grand jury room will join Brian in the 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS, which starts now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight inside the Russia investigation as Robert Mueller enters year two as special counsel, Ashley Parker of the "Washington Post" standing by with details --.
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