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Rosenstein agrees to probe Trump. TRANSCRIPT: 05/21/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Harry Litman, David Frum, Brian Klaas

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: May 21, 2018 Guest: Harry Litman, David Frum, Brian Klaas

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. You`ll be great tomorrow night. Don`t even think about it.

So, I watched your opening tonight with -- and I -- you know, I had actually forgotten some of those horrifying moments in what is now the recent history of the justice department, the last year and a half of the Justice Department. But the thing we`re dealing with this tonight, the way Rod Rosenstein responded yesterday to the president`s tweet and today in the meeting.

The longer I`ve stared at it I find myself coming down on the side of, what other choice did he have?


O`DONNELL: That kind e live to fight another day view of it.

MADDOW: It`s interesting talking to Congressman Jim Himes from the Intelligence Committee tonight, talking to Ben Wittes, from the Lawfare blog tonight is a very acute observer and a well-informed observer on these things, both of them actually sort of came to the same conclusion, which is this is horrible appeasement. This is slippery slope stuff. They are giving away -- they`re breaking precedents that are priceless and can you blame `em?


MADDOW: You know, given the circumstances that they`re in, maybe there is a greater good that they are trying to sacrifice for. The question is whether or not the sacrifices buy them anything toward that greater good and we just don`t know it yet.

O`DONNELL: I always found -- I had to learn this, actually, working in the Senate. When the other side is demanding something of you, you always look at it, as long as you can trying to find, is there anything in there I can give them, is there anything? And Rosenstein is now in politics, in a way that a deputy attorney general hasn`t been for a very, very long time.

This takes us back to a previous era of politics when the Justice Department was politicized but in the modern era it hasn`t been. So he`s in politics now. When he looks at a Trump moment, he has to look at it like a politician and figure out is there a way I can deal with this that looks like I`m dealing -- that Trump will believe I`m dealing with it at least.

MADDOW: But there`s also a reptilian brain level at which this operates, which is when you show weakness you invite bullying, when you give in, you invite the next shove to be harder. And for the Justice Department to be breaking precedent over and over again, you`ve seen the way the Trump administration, the president himself, have reacted by asking for more and more outrageous, more outlandish, more damaging information and just forcing the Justice Department to give it and give it to the point they`re giving information that would be absolutely unimaginable for the Justice Department to cough up even a couple months ago.

The fact they are apparently at this meeting giving congressional investigators information about a confidential FBI source in an ongoing investigation and this is something that the Justice Department sees as crown Jewels that it has to protect, the fact they have to hand that over in some way, shape or form tomorrow or when ever they host the meeting, that gets you to places where you never could have seen yourself behaving quite recently.

O`DONNELL: And you know Rod Rosenstein has to be wondering that every day and every night, what is he going -- what is Trump going to demand of me next and is that the moment where I have no choice but to resign? What is that next thing he`s going to ask for?

MADDOW: Yes, where is my unbreakable -- where am I unbreakable? Why would I know that I am doing more damage by saying yes than by saying no? I mean, all of these lines that you would have drawn in advance of this situation, we have already passed.

O`DONNELL: Yes. Long past.

MADDOW: Now that we`re in them, each new calculation brings us into uncharted territory.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, at the end of his first year of president, December 2017, Donald Trump decided to once again give an exclusive interview to the newspaper which he calls the failing "New York Times." And each time he gives an interview to that newspaper that he calls the failing "New York Times," he`s really proving that his real view of it is the important "New York Times."

And in that interview, the president of the United States said, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. Now that statement was a public threat to the integrity of the mission of everyone working in the Justice Department, including the FBI, which is a part of the Justice Department.

Since the J. Edgar Hoover era of the FBI, when presidents routinely tried to use the FBI for their own political purposes, the FBI and the Justice Department have worked very hard to establish operational independence from the president. After President Richard Nixon was caught trying to use the FBI for political purposes and forced to resign the presidency, all subsequent presidents were careful to never appear to be trying to influence the work of the FBI or the Justice Department.

When special prosecutors were appointed to investigate presidents or their administrations, it was traditional for the presidents attorney general to choose a special prosecutor from the opposing party of the president so that the investigation would be considered uncompromisable by the special prosecutor`s political affinity, if not loyalty to the president. Then, Donald Trump changed all that. Donald Trump got a special prosecutor, who is a Republican, a special prosecutor who is a member of Donald Trump`s own party.

But that didn`t stop Donald Trump from attacking the special prosecutor for leading a witch hunt, as he called it. Everyone working in the Justice Department has known for a long time now that the integrity of their mission is under attack by the president of the United States -- an attack that has been joined by many Republican members of the House of Representatives. And so, you have a choice to make, if you`re working in the Trump Justice Department.

You can completely sell out all of your integrity to Donald Trump, which no one in the Justice Department seems to have done, not publicly anyway. You can resign. You can resign from the Trump Justice Department over the principle that the Justice Department must be operationally independent from political pressure from the president.

But no one in the Justice Department resigned when the president said last year, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. Another president saying something like that could have easily provoked the resignation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, and the assistant attorneys general.

A third option for people working in the Trump Justice Department is to adapt -- adapt to the president`s assault on the integrity of the Justice Department, and figure out a way to continue doing your jobs, while the president continues his attack on the integrity of the Justice Department.

And that seems to be what most people in the Justice Department have done. They have adapted. They have adapted to Trump so that they can continue to fulfill the oath they all took to, quote, defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Some people using the old model of what Justice Department officials should do if the president tries to interfere in their investigations predicted yesterday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would simply have to resign on principle after Donald Trump tweeted this: I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes. And if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama administration!

But Rod Rosenstein was ready for this. He could see this one coming. And because this is not the old world order in which Justice Department independence is prized by everyone in Washington, Rod Rosenstein did not resign in protest over a Donald Trump tweet. Instead, within hours of that tweet yesterday afternoon, Rod Rosenstein issued a statement saying, if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.

Now, understand Rod Rosenstein is in a position to already know whether anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign. He already knows that that did not happen. Rod Rosenstein certainly already knows what has been publicly reported, that someone in England had a couple of conversations with a couple of people who were affiliated with the Trump campaign and that source, in England, told the FBI about those conversations. That is not infiltrated or surveilled, as Donald Trump put it.

So, Rod Rosenstein already knows that no one is going to find that the FBI infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes, as the Trump tweet put it. Rod Rosenstein knows that there was an investigation of Russian interference in the presidential campaign and possible Russian influence and assistance to the Trump campaign, and that that investigation was not conducted for political purposes but for national security purposes.

And so, it is no big deal that Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department, in response to the president`s tweet, quote, asked the inspector general to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

So, yesterday afternoon, the president demands via tweet that the Justice Department investigate itself and the Justice Department said, OK, we will. And in the statement announcing the investigation, very conclusively, without a shadow of a doubt, the statement said that Russian agents interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

In that same statement, the Justice Department says that it was a counterintelligence investigation. The president`s tweet yesterday came a day before a long-scheduled meeting at the White House with the president, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

So, media speculation was filled with the question of would Rosenstein basically passing of the Trump tweet to the inspector general be good enough for the president? Will the president demand something grander than an inspector general investigation? Will he demand a new special prosecutor when he met with Rod Rosenstein at 3:00 p.m. today?

And once again, Rod Rosenstein appears to be one of the expert adapters to the presidency of Donald Trump because the president did accept Rod Rosenstein`s handing off of the president`s demand to the inspector general.

And so, Rod Rosenstein did not resign today. That`s the big news. Rod Rosenstein did not resign today. Rod Rosenstein did not do what most members of previous Justice Departments would have done if a president publically threatened the integrity of their mission.

Rod Rosenstein did not give the president what the president has wanted so badly for so long, Rod Rosenstein`s resignation. Instead, Rod Rosenstein gave the president an investigation by the inspector general, the lowest level investigation that the Justice Department conducts, and it is an investigation to which Rod Rosenstein already knows all the answers. Rod Rosenstein knows that the inspector general is not going to find that the FBI, DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes.

The president did not get Rod Rosenstein`s resignation today. So, the president will not be appointing a new deputy attorney general tomorrow who would be empowered to immediately close down Robert Mueller`s investigation. And instead of a new deputy attorney general closing down the Mueller investigation tomorrow, Rod Rosenstein will go back to work tomorrow at his desk in the Justice Department overseeing and supporting Robert Mueller`s investigation of the president of the United States.

Joining our discussion now, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and MSNBC contributor, Harry Litman, former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton, and David Frum, senior editor for "The Atlantic" and author of "Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic".

And, Jill Wine-Banks, I want to go to you with your prosecutorial experience and your reaction to how Rod Rosenstein handled this latest public crisis?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think Rod Rosenstein played this exactly right. It`s not an ideal world because in an ideal world the president would not be demanding this, and if he did demand it, the answer would be, I know the answer and the answer is that you have no evidence to support this, and we only start investigations when there is probable cause, and there is no probable cause here, there is nothing to be investigated. That would be the ideal answer in an ideal world.

But in this case, we have to play chess with the president who doesn`t know how to play chess and the fact that Rod Rosenstein is still the deputy attorney general is a good thing. And so, I think he handled it appropriately. I`m outraged that the president is asking for this.

I`m also disturbed because I believe that the president and his base will not believe the answer when it comes out, saying there is nothing here. There is no evidence to support it and the investigation was totally appropriate, it started based on someone from a foreign country reporting to the FBI that there was something going on between Russia and your campaign. And that evidence was true and correct and deserved to be investigated.

So, it`s a very tricky question because after this investigation, it`s still not going to be believed, even though it should have been believed right now today, Rod Rosenstein could have said, I know I`ve investigated this and I know that there`s nothing there.

O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, to Jill`s point. Rod Rosenstein, better than anyone since -- unlike the attorney general who`s recused himself, Rod Rosenstein has overseen everything, he knows everything, is in on a position to know everything about the way all of these investigative processes have started, what they know, what they`ve discovered. So, he`s sitting there tonight (AUDIO GAP) it seems, knowing the answer to what the president wants answered.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, but, of course, that`s the strength, as Jill says, that can form his actions. I would use a baseball analogy instead of chess, he threw a bean ball at the head and rod Rosenstein was able to foul it off. The I.G. referral is the right place for something like this. The wrong place is a criminal investigation. It was outrageous and gruesome for Trump to request it.

But when anybody, citizen or president of the United States, says an FBI agent has acted inappropriately, that`s the I.G.`s province. So, it isn`t outrageous. I think it`s correct, that he was adroit and able. This was a temporizing that I think makes sense.

I would really distinguish it with the other action that they agreed to show the confidential information tomorrow to Nunez and company. That`s an abomination.

O`DONNELL: There`s some question about what they will see. John Kelly at the White House saying that they`re going to review the information. I don`t think we`ll know what they`ll be shown and what will be revealed to them in that kind of meeting.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: May I with trepidation disagree with the entire learned panel, with you, with Rachel, and Ben Wittes, and that means I`m probably wrong, but I`m going to disagree with you.

O`DONNELL: Please do.

FRUM: Look, I understand where people say that Rod Rosenstein did the right thing, because they are thinking very much in the way lawyers think. A lawyer doing his job properly is confronted with a grossly improper, maybe illegal, maybe not illegal, demand from the president, and he`s fended it off and he`s lived to fight another day.

And it would be completely inappropriate for the lawyer to think politically and to think, I am going to be fired one day and my job here is to find the maximumly damaging time for that to happen and to pick that moment at the right moment and to do as much as I can to draw public attention to it. Today may well have been that day.

And I think there`s a strong case that the country would today -- I understand all the reasons why the country is well-off and well-served by Mr. Rosenstein, but here is another scenario, which comes to the president, I won`t do it, sir, and I won`t quit. You can fire me. But I want you to know, and at that point, the FBI director says, if you fire him, I resign. And by the way, Mr. Rosenstein has three other resignations in his pocket.

And you create -- you respond -- Rachel said a very good thing, you respond to the lizard brain. You treat this like a confrontation to a dangerous predator. And you show it what you have. And maybe it eats you anyway and we`re in a constitutional crisis territory. But this slow moving disillusion of normal expectations is also maybe crisis is the wrong word, but it is a corrosion and a corruption. We are all worse off than we were.

And at some point, someone is going to have to fight and maybe today was that day.

O`DONNELL: Jill, David really writes a very compelling scene there, and I suppose the question for rod Rosenstein is simply, is this that day? That moment that David puts in the scene where Rod Rosenstein is looking for if it`s going to be his exit, is this the maximum impact/exit that he could have?

I for one would suspect there are other days coming to Rod Rosenstein where he`ll be faced with this decision.

WINE-BANKS: I think I agree with you. David definitely made a very compelling case. And it is something that has concerned me almost since the election, because I think we saw, in Hitler`s day and I know people don`t like that analogy, but he didn`t change everything all at once, he ate away at the fabric of society, a little at a time. First, it was one thing, then another extension and another extension.

And so, David`s point is very well-taken that that`s what we`re seeing is one step at a time. But we faced this during Watergate, when the Saturday Night Massacre happened. It wasn`t clear whether we the staff had been fired or only Archie Cox had been fired. We debated if we should resign in protest over Archie`s being fired.

And Archie met with us and said absolutely not. You know this case. If you leave, it will delay things. It will hurt the final outcome. You need to stay as long as you possibly can to get the maximum evidence that you can. And so, we did not resign in protest. And we were reinstated.

It turned out we had been fired, the office had been abolished. But because of the public reaction of absolute horror of what had happened, President Nixon was forced to reappoint a new special prosecutor and Mr. Bork, who had taken over as attorney general was forced to reappoint us as an office. So, it may be they`re very close to having enough evidence that they can use to show the American public what is really happening and if they can stay for even a little longer it`s a good thing. We don`t know that.

Right now, we just have to trust that Rosenstein made the right decision and that at some point, people will stand up and say, enough is sufficient, and we have to defend democracy.

O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, I was confident in my view of this until I heard David Frum lay out that scene which is so morally powerful and compelling. I just actually rewatched "Judgment at Nuremberg" this weekend, the movie, in which the defendants after being found guilty were complaining about how can you blame the 6 million on us, we didn`t have our -- they were judges in that case, you`ll remember, we just sentenced individual people, and as the great Spencer Tracy line that Abby Mann, the screenwriter gave him at the end of the movie where he says, the first time you sentenced someone who you knew was not guilty, that`s when you became responsible for all of them.

LITMAN: Look, that`s a sympathetic line. But I think -- I think what David is portraying, and he does do it compellingly, is essentially a political analysis, when can I do the most damage?

I wouldn`t say that`s the analysis. The analysis is, when have I been asked to do something that just violates the DNA of the Justice Department? And at that point, Rosenstein should stand up and, in fact, there`s the tangible prospect of going to court and winning. But I just don`t think it`s this I.G. referral. It would be, however, the -- playing ball with Nunes in showing a confidential informant.

O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, Jill Wine-Banks, thanks for your expertise in this panel. David Frum, please stick around with us.

And when we come back, it turns out that Donald Trump Jr. did have another meeting in Trump tower with people from foreign countries trying to help the campaign. And that meeting has actually now proven that one witness testifying to the house has probably committed perjury.


O`DONNELL: This weekend, "The New York Times" revealed another meeting at Trump Tower in which representatives of foreign governments apparently offered to help the Trump presidential campaign. "The Times" reports that Blackwater founder Erik Prince arranged the meeting on August 3rd, 2016 with Donald Trump Jr., George Nader, who is an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes, and Joel Zamel, who is an Israeli social media specialist.

According to "The Times", quote, Nader told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist Joel Zamel extolled his company`s ability to give an edge to a political campaign. By that time, his firm had already drawn up a multi-million dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump. "The Times" says Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.

"The Times" adds, quote, after Mr. Trump was elected. Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million.

Donald Trump Jr.`s attorney released this statement on the meeting. Prior to 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader, and another individual, who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.

Erik Prince`s role in arranging the meeting contradicts his under oath testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in a way that sure looks like perjury. According to the transcript of that under oath testimony, Erik Prince had this exchange with Congressman Tom Rooney.

Mr. Rooney: OK, aside from writing these papers donating, supporting in a - -

Mr. Prince: Yard sign in my yard.

Mr. Rooney: Yes, so there was no other formal communications or contact with the pain?

Mr. Prince: correct.

Joining us now, Brian Klaas, a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics and the co-author of the new book "How to Rig an Election" to be published tomorrow. And David Frum is back with us.

And, Brian, your reading of this new report of the meeting in Trump Tower.

BRIAN KLAAS, FELLOW, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, it`s a pattern of disqualifying behavior and unconvincing denials from the Trump camp. It speaks to their willingness to at least attempt to collude with foreign actors in the election. And I also think it talks to the state -- to the fact that they are actually willing to use business interests with groups like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to potentially influence foreign policy.

Remember last June, that Trump attacked Qatar on Twitter, for example, which is a rival of both the Saudis and the Emirates. And, you know, now, we have to wonder, is it because of this behavior? Is it because of these meetings?

And so, I think what`s clear is that there`s this pattern of willing to collude, whether or not they succeeded, they certainly tried. That`s something disqualifying, even if it is not illegal.

O`DONNELL: David Frum, there`s so much to talk about here, but the one point that jumps out at me is just the casual ease of which Erik Prince perjures himself in testifying about his interactions with the campaign, saying nothing other than the lawn sign and contributing (INAUDIBLE). And here he is, right in that meeting, Donald Trump Jr. confirming today through his lawyer that Erik Prince was in that meeting.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, here -- that is astonishing. And here are a couple of other things that leap out of me from the start. The first is notice the disparaging way that UAE and Saudi talk about Jared Kushner. Notice how Jared Kushner is doing business shortly thereafter with Qatar. It looks like what is going on is a bidding war in which Qatar is placing its chips on Jared Kushner. And Saudi Arabia and UAE are trying to buy their way to Donald Trump Jr.

And it`s not that the campaign is for sale, it`s that it`s for auction with different, different countries putting -- buying different properties on the Trump monopoly board. I think Jared Kushner probably comes at a higher price than Don Junior.

The other thing that is striking is a name you didn`t mention. That is Eliot Broady (ph) who is a business partner of George Nader. And many people remember him because he is the man, although he usually hires very sophisticated lawyers, hired Michael Cohen to deliver funds to a woman with whom Elliott Broady (ph) said he had an affair and had a baby, who was aborted by the woman. And the very next day, after the first payments were issued, Elliott Broady got a White House meeting with President Trump in December 2017.

There are a lot that suggest of pieces here in this puzzle. I think this is a meeting that is going to reward a lot of rich study in the days ahead.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Congressman Adam Schiff said an about it.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If these facts are accurate, it demonstrates yet again just how, not only willing but eager the President`s son and Trump campaign were to solicit to receive foreign help. Receiving, soliciting, using foreign assistance is a crime. You are not allowed get the help of a foreign government, friendly or unfriendly.


O`DONNELL: And Brian, it`s not all clear what Donald Trump Jr. knew about the legalities of this.

BRIAN KLAAS, AUTHOR, HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION: Yes. But that`s not an excuse for a major Presidential campaign. And I think one of the things that presumed out from the story, if you think about the drip, drip, drip of these stories of foreign influence in the election, if they all dropped at one time, we would have been shocked. We would have realized this campaign had engaged in disqualifying behavior that meant they should be nowhere near America`s national security, nowhere near America`s secrets, nowhere near the integrity of our elections.

And yet because it`s sort of every few months a new story comes out, the Trump tower meeting of July, the Trump tower meeting of August, these things are building a pattern that should really shock us. And I think unfortunately, we are becoming numb to this pattern of disqualifying behavior and every single time they deny it. And then there`s more reporting and it becomes clear that they are lying and then eventually they acknowledge it and again, the goal posts move.

And so, I think we need to be aware that this is not acceptable for anyone who is trying to become the President of the United States to behave like this or their family members to behave like this in a run up to the election.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Eric Swalwell said that what worries him about this is it seems that the word got out to more than one country about the vulnerability of the Trump campaign. Let`s listen to that.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What is so unusual are the number of foreign nationals who are reaching out to the Trump campaign. I think part of what was going on here is that the candidate himself was inviting Russia to attack. And other countries started to see this guy, he is open to doing business with anyone. He is transactional, gullible. Maybe we can get our interests before him. And so he is almost inviting them to come and make these different approaches.


O`DONNELL: David Frum, your reaction to that.

FRUM: Well, Rudy Giuliani said what about the rest of the world. Well, the rest of the world I think has stories too. The stories about Japan making special favors to Ivanka Trump during the transition. And China, of course, was sought out in the transition as an investor in Jared Kushner`s doomed building on Fifth Avenue.

O`DONNELL: David Frum, thank you for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

FRUM: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the collapse of Paul Ryan, first he decides to run for reelection to his House seat because he has strong Democratic challenger. And now Republicans are talking about kicking him out of the speakership this summer.



SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The last thing you want is diplomacy to be ended or to have a meeting with President Trump and you continue to play him because they have done that for 30 years. Trump is not Obama. He is not going to tolerate that. He wants a win-win. If they don`t show up that`s the end of diplomacy. If they do show up and try to play Trump that means military conflict is the only thing left. And if we have a conflict with North Korea they will lose it not us.


O`DONNELL: So we are back to military threats. The "New York Times" reports President Trump increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea`s leader could turn into an embarrassment has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with the historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting.

On Thursday and Friday, Mr. Trump peppered aides with questions of the wisdom of proceeding. And on Saturday night he called President Moon of South Korea to ask why the North`s public statements seem to contradict the private assurances that Mr. Moon had conveyed after he met Kim Jong-un.

South Korean President Moon will meet with President Trump tomorrow to prepare for the summit with Kim Jong-un.

Joining our discussion now Rick Stengel, former undersecretary of state in the Obama administration and MSNBC political analyst. And Brian Klaas is back with us.

And Rick Stengel, your reaction to the latest developments of it.

RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STAT IN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, Barack Obama used to say that any negotiation with the other country, we can`t want it more than they do. President Trump wants it more than Kim does. President Moon is desperate for it. So that is the problem now. They have leverage over us.

The other thing is, I want to make the case for good old fashioned, painstaking, boring diplomacy. And what that means is you have to negotiate before you deliver the President. You have to say what do you mean exactly by denuclearization?

I would wager what we mean and what North Korea means are wildly apart. But nobody did that because Trump delivered the deliverable himself before any negotiation.


KLAAS: Yes. I think is a continuation of a smoke and mirror presidency. There is this flurry of activity. And people start to say, is the Nobel Peace prize something that Trump deserves. And all falls apart. But his supporters believe he has won in North Korea already. They are going to continue to believe that.

And I think what is really risky here as we go rushing in to this gambit, high-stakes summit and it doesn`t work because Trump doesn`t do his homework. He doesn`t listen to experts. And he doesn`t get the job done which is very likely because Kim is not likely to denuclearization without giving up anything that we would not be willing to live with, right.

And so the real risk here is once that diplomatic road ends, what else is there? And that I think is where we are rushing towards a very serious escalation of the conflict due to Trump`s ignorance of diplomacy and his ignorance of the region.

STENGEL: And where would you go -- what other administration, what other president would you swing between two extremes like Donald Trump, peace and Nobel Prize or nuclear Armageddon. He has no in between. I mean, he doesn`t have (INAUDIBLE) because, as Brian says, he is ignorant. He doesn`t know how to negotiate. He is in a position now where it`s either a wonderful thing or really disastrous thing. And that is not a good position to be in.

O`DONNELL: It seems like Lindsey Graham has decided the good cop President needs a bad cop and Lindsey Graham is going to be the bad cop and start threatening war again with North Korea.

KLAAS: Yes. But that`s extremely dangerous. I mean, we are talking about a conflict if it`s nuclear it`s going to be potentially millions of people. If it`s conventional war, Seoul could be decimated. So we have high stakes with a President who makes foreign policy on twitter without running things by his aides, without listening to experts, without thinking the next strategic step forward. And now they put out a coin that has Trump`s face next to Kim Jong-un, as the White House has released it.

And so now committed to it. I mean, they are putting the stamp of approval of the White House on the most murderous dictator, potentially aside from Assad, in the world. And so, you know, you really legitimizing this force going in to negotiations. They are giving up massive amounts of leverage and we are convening towards a very dangerous breakdown in diplomacy, with very little actual optimism around the prospect of them giving up their weapons.

O`DONNELL: We are going to have to leave it there for tonight.

Rick Stengel, Brian Klaas. Thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, Paul Ryan`s reign as speaker of the House is supposed to end in January of next year but somehow Republicans want to get rid of him right now.


O`DONNELL: "Politico" quotes a senior Republican source blaming House speaker Paul Ryan for the collapse of the Republican farm bill last week. Obviously the House freedom caucus is to blame but this is the problem when you have a lame duck speaker who announces he is leaving eight months in advance. He can make calls to members to urge them to vote for something but who will care?

Yes. Why announce eight months in advance? Well, because some other candidate is going to have to run in your place so you have to announce and you should announce actually much sooner than that.

So what other models do we have of a speaker of the House deciding not to run for reelection to his seat and still maintaining speaker of the House. Well, there`s Tip O`Neil who announced in March of 1984 that 1984 would be his last reelection campaign. So he actually ran for his congressional seat in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a self-proclaimed lame duck for what would be his final two years in Congress. And Tip O`Neill exercised his full authority as speaker of the House every day of those final two years in Congress with everyone in Washington knowing that Tip O`Neill was a lame duck. And when he did not run for reelection his district in 1986, the Democrats easily held onto his seat and picked up five more seats in the election of 1986.

Paul Ryan`s career in Congress is on its way to ending in a whimper, unless it ends in outright humiliation by a group of Republicans who are reportedly plotting to throw Paul Ryan out of the speakership this summer. Not even let him serve out the rest of his term in the speakership.

By the time Paul Ryan publically announced he was not going to run for reelection for his seat in Wisconsin he was already facing a strong Democratic challenge for that seat led by Randy Bryce and now Paul Ryan may be facing a challenge to his remaining days as speaker. He might just get kicked out by his own Republicans.

"The Washington Post" columnist, E.J. Dionne will joins us next to consider the collapse of the Ryan leadership.



REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I have said all along my plan is to stay here and run through the tape. I have talked to a lot of members, a lot of members who think it`s in all of our best interest for this leadership`s team to stay in place and run through the tape.


O`DONNELL: Run through the tape. Paul Ryan`s dream of running through that finish line tape, at the finish line of his speakership, might be destroyed by some Republicans who want to throw him out of the speakership as soon as possible.

We are joined now by E.J. Dionne, an opinion writer for "the Washington Post" and MSNBC political analyst and co-author of the new book "one nation after Trump."

And E.J., we have seen speakers leave Congress, go into retirement, do it quite gracefully, hold on to every bit of their power right up until the last day because the speaker is always the speaker. But apparently the speaker is not always the speaker if the speaker is Paul Ryan.

E.J. DIONNE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. I mean he may run through the tape, but they may move the tape up about five miles in that race. I mean the House Republicans have gotten so close to Trump that they are really channeling the White House`s approach to governing, which is all back- stabbing all the time. And their caucus is a mess.

The freedom caucus is always in rebellion on the right wing, but now moderates are also in rebellion. It was that twin reaction that brought down the farm bill. Republicans fear that they are going to lose this fall`s election. That they are going to lose their majority. And this puts no one in a good mood and makes everyone a bit paranoid.

Then you have got House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who has a lean and hungry look even when he denies that he wants to knock out Paul Ryan. You have all kinds of people leaking that really they should replace Ryan with McCarthy. President Trump is much closer to McCarthy than he is to Ryan. But McCarthy`s problem is that he doesn`t seem to have 218 votes right now. So even Republicans who want to knock out Ryan may not yet have the capacity to do so, which will only let this roiling mess continue.

O`DONNELL: And Mick Mulvaney, the President`s budget director, who was just prior to the Trump election a member of Congress, house chairman -- he told a "Weekly Standard" conference last week that they have been thinking about this and discussing it. He said he discussed it with Kevin McCarthy. He said, I have talked with Kevin about this privately but not as much publicly. Wouldn`t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That`s a really, really good vote for us if we can figure out how to do it.

And so, E.J., he is there coming up with the theory that what this will play as for them is that the Democrats all getting together on that vote comes for a new speaker to vote for Nancy Pelosi while the Republicans are all voting for Kevin McCarthy, and everyone will notice that the Democrats voted for Nancy Pelosi, as if that would be the news of the date in that story.

DIONNE: Yes. This misses on a number of levels. First of all, the main story would be that the Republicans can`t even keep their speaker there through the election. But secondly, I actually looked at Charlie Cook`s numbers. And if you look at the five most vulnerable seats, four of them are open seats. So there wouldn`t be anybody there to vote for Nancy Pelosi. That wouldn`t be a problem for them. And at most there would be a handful, maybe a half dozen members, most of whom have already cast votes for Pelosi. So I don`t think this works as politics. And I think the spectacle of Republicans knocking out their leader would inevitably be the big story.

But the fact that Mulvaney is leaking stuff like that suggests how much pressure there is against Ryan and maybe how much the Trump White House would still like him out of there.

O`DONNELL: E.J. Dionne, thanks for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

DIONNE: Great to be with you. Thanks.

Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the start of Robert Mueller`s investigation, which is the first anniversary Trump actually remembered. Just ask his wife, Melanie.

O`DONNELL: Staten Island`s Colin Jost gets tonight`s LAST WORD.



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