Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: May 29, 2018 Guest: Harry Litman, Jamil Smith
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: This is THE LAST WORD.
And we have breaking news tonight about special prosecutor Robert Mueller`s investigation of possible obstruction of justice committed by President Donald Trump. A new report tonight says that Robert Mueller`s investigating how the president reacted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"The New York Times" is reporting that Attorney General Sessions flew to Florida in March of 2017 to discuss the president`s attempts to ban Muslims from entering the United States. "The New York Times" reports Mr. Sessions had flown to Florida because Mr. Trump was refusing to take his calls about a pressing decision on his travel ban.
When they met, Mr. Trump was ready to talk, but not about the travel ban. His grievance was with Mr. Sessions. The president objected to his decision two days earlier to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.
Mr. Sessions refused. The confrontation, which has not been previously reported, is being investigated by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as are the president`s private and public attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign. "The New York Times" says that the special prosecutor`s interest in Jeff Sessions` encounters with the president, quote, suggest that the obstruction investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be, encompassing not only the president`s interactions with and firing of former FBI Director James B. Comey, but also with his relationship of Mr. Sessions. Investigators have pressed the current former White House officials about Mr. Trump`s treatment of Mr. Sessions and whether they believe the president was trying to impede the Russia investigation by pressuring him.
The attorney general was also interviewed at length by Mr. Mueller`s investigators in January. And of the four dozen or so questions, Mr. Session wants to ask Mr. Trump, eight relate to Mr. Session. Among them: what efforts do you make to try to get him to reverse his recusal.
The special prosecutor`s interest in the president`s dealings with Jeff Sessions is yet another reason why the president`s TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he is more worried about the obstruction of justice investigation than possible collusion. On Sunday, when discussing the possibility of the president agreeing to an interview with Robert Mueller, Rudy Giuliani said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: If everything can be worked out, then they would probably limit it to collusion and obstruction. The collusion part, we`re pretty comfortable with because there has been none.
The obstruction part, I`m not as comfortable with. I`m not. The president is fine with it. He is innocent.
I`m not comfortable because it`s a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast true, not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In that same interview, Rudy Giuliani made it clear that he expects the special prosecutor`s investigation will lead to impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Eventually, the decision here is going to be impeach/not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury, as it should be, is the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Impeach or not impeach.
Joining us, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s a co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus". Also with us, Harry Litman, former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton, and Jason Johnson, politics editor at theroot.com and an MSNBC contributor.
John Heilemann, so, Jeff Sessions is now a significant part of the obstruction of justice investigation?
JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And I think, you know, in retrospect, as "The Times" story notes, it`s sort of crazy that we didn`t focus on this earlier. I mean, I -- people have obviously focused on the relationship between Trump and Sessions and it`s been contentious and Sessions has hung in there.
You and I were exchanging a private conversation the other day about whether in some long narrative, we will eventually look back and say, Jeff Sessions was the hero of all of this, having recused himself when he should have and resisted all of Trump`s pressure. We only knew about the public pressure now because of the good folks at "The New York Times" and their great reporting.
We now know about the private pressure. I`m not a lawyer. Harry Litman will be able to speak more eloquently of what constitutes obstruction of justice than I can, but I know the corrupt intent has something to do it. And I know that when you`re going around, we have certain things we have focused on a lot, Jim Comey, et cetera.
But when you`re going to your attorney general who has done absolutely the right thing by recusing himself, when you publicly say I need loyalty. I wish this guy was -- this was a horrible decision. If he told me he was going to do it, I wouldn`t have made him attorney general, who`s done the absolutely right thing by recusing himself, when you publicly say I need loyalty, I wish this guy was -- it`s a horrible decision, if he had told me I wasn`t going to do it, I wouldn`t have made him attorney general.
And then you`re privately going to him and saying, I need you to reverse your decision. That`s a problem.
O`DONNELL: And, Jason Johnson, "The New York Times" reports tonight also includes the president asking Jeff Sessions to resign or trying to.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Right.
O`DONNELL: Doing it through Reince Priebus and Jeff Sessions` chief of staff tells Reince Priebus if there is going to be a request for resignation, it has to come directly from the president. And then Reince Priebus does nothing, and the president apparently forgets about it.
JOHNSON: Well, yes. This is one of the things that`s always been a big irony about this president. In Trump particularly, Lawrence, for somebody who got famous by telling people you`re fired, we consistently hear that he is a bit cowardly when it comes to direct conflicts with people. He tries to do it through someone else. He gets Kelly to do it. He tries to do it through Reince.
He won`t necessarily go directly face-to-face and say it to my face and tells somebody what he wants unless he feels particularly empowered. And here`s the thing about this. I`ve always agreed, you know, strangely with Rudy Giuliani that, you know, impeachment that may or may not happen. But the obstruction of justice case against this president is extreme.
And when your flunky flaky lawyer Rudy Giuliani is saying I`m actually worried about obstruction of justice, that is a real sign why Trump has become so unhinged about this, because even the people around him can`t keep lying enough to say, look, all the times you`ve been leaning on these people, that does look like obstruction. I don`t think we can keep you from that.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, what is your little reading of "The New York Times" report tonight that there is so much focus on Jeff Sessions in the obstruction of justice investigation?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It makes sense to me, and for the reasons John said. Look, we -- it`s been 100 percent clear from day one that, of course, Trump wanted to squelch the Russia investigation. His only defense has been that he`s lacked the so-called corrupt intent, that he wasn`t doing it for personal reasons. Now, when you think about other conduct like the firing of Comey, there are different reasons you could try to proffer.
But think about this with Sessions. And by the way, Sessions recuses because the department tells him he has to. So, it`s very straight forward and legally mandated. But what other reason could you say on behalf of Trump for why he thereafter is berating him and insisting he reverse the decision?
It`s obviously wanting personal loyalty, obviously wanting personal protection. It`s that kind of protection above for his own sake that leads directly to an inference of corrupt intent, and doesn`t allow for the sorts of other inferences he could at least argue about for different conduct.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, we`ve noticed that Jeff Sessions has real friends among Republicans in the Senate. They certainly behaved that way during his confirmation. They got him through the challenges to his confirmation testimony, which some people thought included perjury.
O`DONNELL: And here is another piece of "The New York Times" reporting tonight, which I think it contains a new fact that maybe we believed but did not quite yet know.
O`DONNELL: It said Mr. Trump complains to friends about how much he would like to get rid of Mr. Sessions but has demurred under pressure from Senate Republicans who have indicated they would not confirm a new attorney general.
Now, John, I have not heard any Senate Republican say that out loud publicly, but apparently they have said that to the president. They wouldn`t confirm a new one.
HEILEMANN: Lawrence, I got to say, sometimes you and I are in sync. When I read the story, it was one of the things that jumped out at me. I thought that`s a separate news story.
O`DONNELL: Yes, it is.
HEILEMANN: That`s a front-page story in the "New York Times." Senate Republicans told Trump, if he gets rid of Session, but they won`t confirm anybody else. Again, all of us had assumed that something like that was going on, but it`s not been reported this way.
And, you know, Jeff Sessions has a lot of Republican friends, and weirdly, because of the stance he has taken and because of the way he has upheld the institutional integrity of the Justice Department on this issue, he has a lot of friends in the Democratic Party right now, too. Trump realizes there is almost no one in the Senate who would vote for anyone else.
And so, Jeff Sessions` job as much as Trump obviously hates him and obviously wants to get rid of him, has announced it to the world, Jeff Sessions is maybe the safest man in Washington, D.C. right now.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and let`s remember what Donald Trump -- we have the tape of it. "The New York Times" did an interview with Trump about Sessions and about the recusal. And this one is on tape. Let`s listen to what the president said last year.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now, Jason, for the -- for Robert Mueller, it has to sound really interesting that you would have picked a different attorney general if your attorney general nominee had told you he was going to act according to the rules of the Justice Department.
JOHNSON: Right, right, exactly. It`s sort of like, saying, like, well, if you would have told me that you won`t bury dead bodies, I wouldn`t have picked you as a lawyer, would I? I mean, that`s essentially what the president is saying right now.
And the issue, of course, is that -- look, he has been saying things like this all along. And I have to mention, you know, yes, I thought that element of "The New York Times" story was interesting as well because we`ve seen at least publicly that Republicans have bent over backwards in the Senate to say, oh, we`re kind of letting the president do whatever he wants. You had Mitch McConnell coming out and saying, well, there is no indicate they`re the president wants to get rid of Mueller. So, we`re not going to do anything about it.
But if there is this push behind the scenes for Republicans saying, look, at least don`t touch Jeff Session. He is at least someone that we respect, there may be that one small stopgap in the integrity of our justice system and our executive branch that we`ve all been hoping for so that this investigation can continue.
But, again, you know, the president`s behavior is everything short of directly leaning on people in the White House and dangling them out the window and saying do what I say or I`ll fire you. And that part is obvious to anybody.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Senate Republican, Marco Rubio, talking about the president`s latest notion that his campaign was infiltrated, which, of course, it was not. That is a lie the president is telling.
Let`s listen to Marco Rubio`s reaction to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I have seen no evidence that those people were part of an investigation on the campaign. If that exists, I would want to know about it. We should all know about it, and that would be wrong, and we should do something about it.
But up to now, what I have seen is evidence that they were investigating individuals with a history of links to Russia that were concerning. And that was appropriate if that`s all that happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, that`s Marco Rubio`s view of what`s appropriate. But the notion that a campaign cannot be investigated the way any other enterprise or any other group of people can be investigated is -- has no legal grounding that I`m aware of.
LITMAN: Because it has no legal grounding. And, in fact, what they`re really trying to say is just a fiction. I don`t think anyone in the Trump camp is trying to argue -- what they`re trying to argue with is the facts. They`re trying to suggest it wasn`t a routine counterintelligence investigation.
It was a sort of -- by the invocation of Watergate or J. Edgar Hoover, it was some kind of embedding of a political operative. That`s just false, and it`s just a rhetorical flourish that they know is designed to inflame people but doesn`t -- doesn`t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.
Moreover, just as I -- I just want to make another point. Just as Sessions had to do what he did, you know, the FBI, of course, had to do what it did. You hear from Papadopoulos through Australia that he`s talking about Russia interference. You hear about Carter Page.
It would have been derelict of them to leave it fallow and not try to investigate. And there is no attempt to try to respond to that by the Trump camp.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, you see Marco Rubio finding his voice, at least on that particular point. And then when you play that against the backdrop of "The New York Times" reporting tonight that Senate Republicans or the right Senate Republicans have communicated to the president that if he gets rid of Jeff Sessions, they will not vote to confirm a new -- a replacement to Jeff Sessions no matter who that is.
We have -- we have reason to believe that there is a kind of communication going from Senate Republicans to this president that we most of the time know nothing about.
HEILEMANN: Correct. Especially given the tenuousness of the relationship between Trump and McConnell that`s been kind of off-again and on-again, and mostly off again throughout most of the term. I think it`s important obviously, it`s the case that still remains -- Rod Rosenstein still remains vulnerable. He is not getting this -- we have no sense that Senate Republicans or anybody else on the Senate, on the Republican side is conveying to Trump the sense of a sanctity of Rod Rosenstein`s job.
So, Trump still has a root to get to Bob Mueller if he wants to. But it`s important that Sessions is safe. I think it`s important -- I want to focus on one thing very quickly. Just -- the high human drama of this which is always the thing that draws me to a story, Jeff Sessions, the first U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump.
HEILEMANN: He was mocked. He was scorned. His colleagues in the Senate thought he was an idiot. He signed up with Trump early. He was with him all throughout. He got this job, and then he followed the rules.
And then Trump has abused him mercilessly, humiliated him, threatened him, tried to get him to quit, just pummeled him publicly and now we know privately for 15 months. Is Jeff Sessions going to go to bat for Donald Trump with Bob Mueller or is Jeff Sessions going to stick the knife, the shiv right in Donald Trump`s back? Or should we say tell the truth?
I think Jeff Sessions is going to tell the truth.
O`DONNELL: Jason, that`s such a good point. Jeff Sessions is obviously a key witness in an investigation. And the president has publicly done more than anything -- everything you could possibly imagine to taunt Jeff Sessions.
JOHNSON: Yes. He`s insulted him. He`s made fun of him. He has attacked him on Twitter.
But this is -- this is what I said, Lawrence, a couple of weeks ago when I talked about grumble bragging from members of this administration. Oh, it`s so terrible to work for Donald Trump. But they don`t leave, do they? And they don`t leave because at their core, they actually agree with a lot of the things that Donald Trump is doing, even if they don`t like him the person.
Jeff Sessions is in favor of the travel ban. Jeff Sessions is just as much as a hawk on immigration. Jeff Session believes that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. He is not going to leave this administration.
And to be perfectly honest with you, while he may recuse himself, one, because the law required it, and two, because he didn`t want to get himself in trouble, I don`t think he would ever turn. I don`t think he would ever flip on Donald Trump because he likes the power, and he likes the position he is in.
This is the opportunity for him to live out the white nationalist fantasies he has been talking about under the guise of conservative policy for the last 35 years of his career. And I don`t think there is anything that would make him turn on Donald Trump unless he thought it was him or Trump. And I don`t think he is facing that decision yet.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, as you know in under oath testimony and grand jury testimony, and FBI interviews, there is a huge difference between I don`t recall, I don`t know, and answers the difference between I don`t know and I think so. That takes an investigator from nowhere, the "I don`t know". When you switch that to an "I think so" as a witness can, because that`s within the range of their possible choice, that`s in the space. It`s in those spaces in those interviews where witnesses can try to protect someone or just not try to protect them at all.
LITMAN: You know, it`s true, although, in fact, the most frequent perjurious statement anyone makes is "I don`t recall". It`s so frequent that people who do know are coached by lawyers to say that and think it`s safe, and indeed, it`s almost an impossible perjury case to bring. But yes, there is going to be a lot of nuance to the -- either endorsement of or undercutting of Trump.
I would say, by the way, this is also true at the level of the Senate Republicans. Giuliani suggested it`s a kind of plebiscite that you go to the people on. In fact, this is really their highest duty under the Constitution to really make that sort of judgment.
Trump has been banking on their not doing it for political reasons. But if the cards turn on him, it may well be the Senate Republicans at least in certain numbers are actually able to make a constitutional judgment, not simply a popularity question.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman and John Heilemann, thanks for joining us during this breaking news segment.
Jason Johnson, please stay with us because when we come back, we`re going to be discussing Roseanne`s final episode, which turned out to be a Twitter episode this morning which got her fired this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings! They were unbelievable, over 18 million people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was right after Roseanne`s first show. This morning, Roseanne Barr, the star of the ABC hit show "Roseanne", tweeted a vicious, racist statement about a highly accomplished black woman, and this afternoon, another highly accomplished black woman announced that Roseanne was fired.
While Valerie Jarrett was working her way up in the corporate world in Chicago and then in politics with her friend Barack Obama in whose White House she served for eight years, Channing Dungey was working her way up in executive jobs in show business. She joined ABC in 2004 as a vice president overseeing development of drama series. Channing dungy became the president of ABC entertainment two and a half years ago.
And as her ABC official bio proudly states, Dungey has shepherded in a wide variety of programming, including the most watched show on television, "Roseanne".
Knowing TV networks as I do, especially in the entertainment division, I expected ABC to try to tough it out today and survive the crisis Roseanne created because the show`s ratings are so good. When Roseanne tweeted this apology, I immediately said that this was a network-forced apology using language that Roseanne herself would never use.
Here it is: I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me. My joke was in bad taste.
That tweet sounded to me like the network was desperately trying to save its top-rated show, but I don`t know Channing Dungey. Never worked with her. It turns out she wasn`t trying to save "Roseanne."
This afternoon, Channing Dungey who was not tweet released this statement: Roseanne`s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.
At his rally tonight, this time, Donald Trump did not say one word about Roseanne.
Joining our discussion now, Jamil Smith, the senior writer for "Rolling Stone", joining us from Los Angeles. And Jason Johnson is back with us.
And, Jamil, this story moved faster than many in show business expected it to. I think many were waiting to watch ABC try to get through a day or two and maybe even a week or two with this. But it turned very quickly on Roseanne.
JAMIL SMITH, SENIOR WRITER, ROLLING STONE: Yes. I mean, we`ve been exposed to the NFL`s corporate cowardice recently. And certainly, we -- you know, I think a lot of us expected that ABC would either stay silent or simply discipline her, maybe suspend her, what-have-you. But it is a relief to see that there are in fact social consequences for these kinds of statements.
They hired her knowing that she was a conspiracy theorist on Twitter. They hired her knowing about her anti-Semitic and racist statements and Islamophobic statements. And they -- you know, they rode it out this long. And I think when you get to the old school racist term "ape," I think that may be a bridge too far for anyone.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Valerie Jarrett said about this on MSNBC tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I`m fine. I`m worried about all the people out there who don`t have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, Valerie Jarrett handled it very graciously tonight on MSNBC.
JOHNSON: Yes, yes. She is a better woman than I am, because, look, it was disgusting. It was unreasonable. And I think we live in a wonderful country where there are gracious, kind people who can be attacked on a regular basis and can say fine things in response.
But I think what Roseanne did and the entire scenario in which she was hired is problematic. And that`s what we need to speak about.
Yes, it`s great that Channing Dungey fired her now. You hired her, just like Jamil said, knowing this is the kind of behavior she had, who knows how she was possibly behaving on set. And we have to talk about in a larger structural way. We talk about notions of racism and institutional racism and privilege.
Think about this -- all Roseanne had to do to keep her job is not compare a black woman to an ape. Think about that. And she couldn`t do that. She couldn`t even do that.
That`s the kind of structural racism that we`re talking about, that people lack such a reasonable level of self-control that they can`t go back to 500-year-old stereotypes about race. I hope this isn`t just a lesson for Roseanne Barr. I hope this is a lesson for ABC.
I hope this is a lesson for every single other entertainment network out there that this behavior is inappropriate. It will cost you money. It will cost your reputation and it will make it impossible for you to continue to produce.
And I hope that`s what people get out of this, not just some sort of free speech argument.
O`DONNELL: Jamil, Donald Trump, after the first episode aired this year and got a huge rating, Donald Trump told his rally audience, as we just saw, that it was about us, that the show was about us. He didn`t have any words about the show tonight.
SMITH: That is a really interesting statement coming from him. And I think it actually qualifies as a lie, because the median income for Trump voters, no matter what income bracket you look at, was higher than the median income for Clinton voters.
You`re looking at, you know, folks making $50,000 to $100,000, the median income was $72,000 for Trump voters, $61,000 for Clinton voters. So, if you want took about us, we`re already talked about Clinton voters, and it`s funny they hired Roseanne to essentially, you know, stereotype his people and make fun of them.
O`DONNELL: And, Jason, when you look at a lot of Roseanne`s tweets prior to today with the conspiracy theories really strange information -- she seems to be using a lot of the same news sources that Donald Trump uses.
JOHNSON: Right. You know, saying that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator, comparing Susan Rice to an ape as well. You know, she sort of trafficked in the same kind of nonsense that the president regularly traffics in, the conspiracy theories.
JOHNSON: And again, I think it was a mistake on behalf of the people who hired her and brought this back thinking that -- well, this must represent where America is moving. This must represent what a lot of Americans feel.
And that`s not true. The vast majority of Americans aren`t conspiracy nuts. And I think for the last couple of years, people have become very comfortable about what is said on "Duck Dynasty" and what`s said by certain politics. Oh, it`s just -- it`s politics, this, that, or the other.
But America is changing. And this is not what the American consumer wants to see. And I think that the quick response of firing Roseanne so quickly is not just financial, but it`s also realization on the behalf of this network that like, hey, you know, this is a blue wave coming. America doesn`t want this. They don`t want this kind of behavior. They`re not all conspiracy nuts, and we shouldn`t be promoting that on TV or coddling people who have those beliefs.
O`DONNELL: And, Jamil, ABC knew that the questions about this were never going to go away.
SMITH: Right. And, I mean, to Jason`s point, they not only knew but also, they understood that it was potentially profitable for them. And so they exploited this caricature.
And I think also something else that Jason said, I think that -- yes, most Americans are not conspiracy nuts. But we hired one as president. And what affect does that have on the viewing audience? What effect frankly does it have on her cast mates there?
There is a black child who is cast as her granddaughter in the show. A black woman, Wanda Sykes, was a writer on the show. Does she think they`re apes too?
I actually would like to ask Roseanne that question. But she blocked me on Twitter.
O`DONNELL: And, Jason, it seems that ABC learned a lesson that NBC did not learn when it had Donald Trump under contract for that show because Donald Trump was attacking the president`s birth certificate and lying about president Obama`s birth for years while he was appearing as an entertainer on NBC. ABC showed zero tolerance for what Roseanne had to say today, and NBC showed total tolerance for everything that Donald Trump said for years about the president`s birth.
JOHNSON: Yes. It`s always been strange. There seems to be this sort of nuclear force field bubble around Donald Trump`s behavior that is allowed to be offensive and sexist and vulgar, but the same behavior in other actors and actresses ends up costing people their jobs, whether you`re talking about Roseanne or Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Tambor. You know, that kind of abusive behavior and that kind of abusive, racist language ends up costing people jobs.
I hope, since we only seem to have one Donald Trump at this particular point, I hope that, again, this ends up being a lesson that this sort of behavior doesn`t continue. And I also think this. This is something I think is really important to remember in the context of him or Cosby or anything else like that.
Roseanne`s selfishness has cost dozens of people their jobs. The key grip, the camera people, the food delivery folks, all of these people have lost their jobs at a hit show that was helping them feed their families because she couldn`t control their bigotry. Yes, maybe the black daughter on her show will get adopted by blackish. I would watch that episode. It would be funny, right. But most of the rest of those people are not going to have work. And I hope America realizes that bigotry is not just about making somebody feel bad. It costs money. It costs jobs. Sometimes it costs lives. We can`t accepted it anymore.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Jason Johnson and Jamil Smith, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, we are going to have more on the Roseanne story and what it would have meant to ABC to keep the Roseanne show on the air. What it would have meant to every other actor working in every other ABC show and what they would have had to say about it.
We will be right back.
O`DONNELL: Everyone fell for Roseanne`s big premiere rating, even the President of the United States. People always do. And of course, the ratings collapsed after that, as they almost always do. They almost always go down after the big highly promoted premiere.
Roseanne`s ratings were no longer worth today`s burden for Disney and ABC. They didn`t have to be brave to cancel "Roseanne." They just had to be good business executives, because what Roseanne said today was going to infect their entire business.
Every ABC actor appearing in front of the television critics association and every public gathering where ABC actors have to appear, which is many more than you realize, it`s not just the Emmy red carpet, every one of them, every one of them was going to be asked about Roseanne`s comments every single time they appeared.
What was Viola Davis going to say? Was ABC going to put Viola Davis through that? What was Chandra Rhymes going to say? She still delivers programming to ABC. Was ABC going to put Chanda Rhymes through that?
Today. Soraya McDonald wrote ABC spent months building anticipation for Roseanne`s return, and it worked. The show`s reboot debuted to an audience of 27.3 million viewers, absolutely god-smacking numbers in our age of streaming, DVR and video on demand. The network quickly greenlit the now cancelled second season but it`s all too predictable ugly collapse should leave the executives of America`s network seriously asking themselves was it worth it? Soraya McDonald and NPFR`s television critic Eric Deggans joins us next.
O`DONNELL: Valerie Jarrett knew before the rest of us did that Roseanne was going to be fired for what Roseanne tweeted today about Valerie Jarrett.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER OBAMA ADVISOR: Bob Iger, who is the CEO of Disney, called me before the announcement. He apologized. He said that he had zero tolerance for that sort of racist, bigoted climate, and he wanted me to know before he made it public that he was cancelling his show. And so I appreciate (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: ABC is of course a division of Disney. Joining our discussion now, Soraya Nadia McDonald, the culture critic for the undefeated at ESPN and Eric Deggans, a media analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He is also NPR`s TV critic.
And Soraya, you have spent some time writing and thinking about this today and tweeting about it.
SORAYA NADIA MCDONALD, CULTURE CRITIC, ESPN: I have.
O`DONNELL: Let me ask you. What did you think was going to happen? Let`s go all the way back to 11:00 a.m. And it seems like weeks ago. And did you see this coming that ABC would just pull the plug on this hit that they had?
MCDONALD: You know, I`m not entirely sure because usually what happens in these sorts of situations is that you see a round of very serious apologies, and that was the first thing we saw from Roseanne quite quickly was basically apologizing for make a bad joke is the way she put it. And you know, so you are sort of sitting there wondering, well, what are they going to do? Because this was so successful and because it had ginned up so much conversation for them. And that`s really difficult now when you have so much television programing to find something that stands out. And, you know, ABC did.
O`DONNELL: And Eric, you have been to so many television critics association gatherings in Los Angeles where, as you know, you get to speak to the casts of and the writers and the producers of all of the shows on all of the networks. And that`s the part of this that I think people don`t quite understand, is that Roseanne personally was visiting a burden just not on her cast mate, Laurie Metcalf, how would she respond to this? John Goodman, how would he respond to this? But every single member of every cast of every ABC show was going to be asked about this for a very long time.
ERIC DEGGANS, NPR TV CRITIC: Oh, yes. I mean, just asked some of the folks at NBC entertainment how long they had to answer questions about Donald Trump before he got elected President. I mean, it was a year and a half of reporters saying is he going to be in "the Apprentice"? Are you going to cancel "the Apprentice"? What`s going to happen? And multiply that by all the people who are at the network.
I do think that for ABC, we had a couple of things in play here. We had the fact that ABC`s owned by Disney. And Disney has a very definite family-friendly, inclusive brand that Bob Iger has defended quite often. And there was a sense that this kind of statement violated that. And certainly they may have felt some pressure to deal with that.
There was also a sense that boycotts were in the air. People were talking about targeting the advertisers that might spend money on Roseanne`s shows, on ABC`s shows. And certainly they had to be thinking about that when they made this decision. And, you know, I`ll `fess up. I was completely surprised when ABC decided to cancel the show because even though the ratings fell from its debut, it finished the season as one of the highest rated shows of the TV season, depending on what metric you look at, it was either the highest rated or the second highest rated show right behind "the big bang theory."
So even though ratings had dropped, this was a show that was right at top of the ratings, and that they were centering their fall strategy on. So to have them cancel it as quickly as they did and for the reasons that they did I think it really did surprise me. I`m quite cynical about television, and I didn`t expect them to make that move.
O`DONNELL: And Soraya, it seems like it might make a big difference when you have a black woman in the room during these kinds of discussions, as we had today with the President of ABC entertainment.
MCDONALD: Right. I mean, these sorts of remarks would have been inappropriate no matter who was President of the network. But when you make racist comments like that, when you`re comparing Valerie Jarrett to an ape, you know, in a sense you`re not just talking about Valerie Jarrett. You are talking about black people as a whole. You are talking about black women as a whole. And that means if you are Roseanne, you are also insulting your boss. You are insulting your fellow coworkers who are also employed by ABC, perhaps Disney at large. And that presents a real problem.
O`DONNELL: Eric, I can`t wait if there is going to be inside reporting on how this all played out today. But Channing Dungey is in the center of this as the President of NBC -- ABC entertainment, the first black woman in that position. And she is obviously in the middle of this discussion today about what do we do with Roseanne. She herself knew that if Roseanne, if that show was kept on the network, she is going to have to go out there and actually answer reporters` questions, reporters like you, about why is this show still on this network.
DEGGANS: She already was answering questions like that because Roseanne has a history of saying inflammatory and bigoted things on social media. So people were already going to her and saying, you know, you`re the first African-American who has had this job. And, you know, can you condone this? Can you stand behind this? Can the network of "Blackish" and "fresh off the boat" and "Scandal" and "How to get away with murder" shows that have been so ground breaking in how they depict people of color and families of color can she stand behind them? She was already facing those questions. And she made the decision to hire Roseanne in the first place, which people also asked about.
So I do think that she was in a situation where she kind of had to make a move. And, you know, it seems as if, you know, Roseanne crossed a line that both Channing Dungey, ABC, and Disney could not let stand.
O`DONNELL: And Soraya, what we might find out at some point in the future was, who called? Who called Channing Dungey? Who called Bob Iger? By that I mean among the prominent people working at ABC in the entertainment division, as actor, as writers, as show creator, show runners, who called and said I can`t continue at ABC if Roseanne continues at ABC.
MCDONALD: Well, we know that Wanda Sykes, who is a writer on the show.
O`DONNELL: Yes, that was huge.
MCDONALD: Walked away. I mean, she tweeted publicly. This wasn`t something that, you know, this was necessarily discussion sort of behind closed doors. She took a very public stand and saying I`m giving up this paycheck because this is just intolerable.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And so, Wanda Sykes --
DEGGANS: There was another actress as well, the actress who plays the oldest daughter of Darlene who also said she was calling her agent to say she was going to quit the show when word came that the show had been canceled. So ABC might have also had to deal with several people connected to the show quitting the cast and quitting behind the scenes, which is something else they probably didn`t want to have to deal with.
O`DONNELL: Soraya McDonald and Eric Deggans, thank you both for joining me tonight. I really appreciate it.
MCDONALD: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Congressman Ted Lieu, who just might be the House of Representatives` most successful and prolific tweeter as well as an important Democratic legislator will join us with his reaction to what the President is saying about the investigation of the President of the United States.
O`DONNELL: Here is one of the lies that Donald Trump told at his rally in Tennessee tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? Can you imagine people infiltrating our campaign? You take a look at what`s going on. Never in the history of our country has something taken place like took place during this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion, Democratic congressman Ted Lieu of California. He serves on the judiciary and foreign affairs committees and as a former active duty office of the U.S. Air Force.
Congressman Lieu, your reaction to what the President said tonight about people infiltrating his campaign. That, of course, is a complete invention on his part. But what do you think his objective is with that?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it is Tuesday, which means the President of the United States is lying again. But the President`s mission is very clear. He is trying to attack law enforcement. I`m a former prosecutor. And I know that when the defense team doesn`t have a good case, they put the police on trial. That`s what he`s trying to do.
And we know he doesn`t have a good case because three of his campaign officials have already pled guilty. He`s been caught up in a web of lies, and he is really fearing what the special counsel investigation is going to review and reports that they are going to release sometime this year.
O`DONNELL: And Rudy Giuliani, as we showed earlier in the program, said that he expects this case to go to impeachment, and that`s why they are attacking the investigation, because they believe impeachment is controlled not by you, but is controlled by your voters. That members of the House of Representatives will listen to their voters, and therefore Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump are trying to get Republican members of the House to listen to their voters, who Trump team hopes are saying exactly what the Trump team tells them to say.
LIEU: Thank you, Lawrence, for that question. I took an oath to the constitution as all my colleagues did. I expect that everyone in the House of Representatives will act according to the constitution.
But let`s just take a step back and think about the remarkable statement that Rudy Giuliani made, that he thinks this could go to an impeachment. Why would he think that? Because he looked at the evidence, and he concluded, whoa, some bad things happened, particularly in what we know already in terms of obstruction of justice. Not only with James Comey, but also with Jeff Sessions, potentially with other members that Donald Trump tried to obstruct justice with. So I can see why the defense team for Donald Trump is trying to do this strategy. But I also believe that the American people and the members of Congress are smarter than that.
O`DONNELL: As a former veteran -- a current veteran, former military officer, I wanted to get your reaction to the President`s Memorial Day tweet. He said happy Memorial Day with a very happy exclamation point. And then he presumed to speak for people who died in combat. He said, those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades. Lowest unemployment numbers.
Now, congressman, Donald Trump does not know anyone who was killed in action in any military action ever, but he decided he could speak for them yesterday.
LIEU: Yes. The purpose of a Memorial Day is to remember those brave men and women who fought for our nation and died in service to America. His tweet was not in line with the spirit of Memorial Day. I wish he would have talked about, for example, the centennial of World War I. That would have been an appropriate topic to talk about.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you very much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.
O`DONNELL: The President of Mexico tweeted a very special message from everyone in Mexico to the President of the United States tonight after the President of the United States lied about Mexico at his rally tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mexico said they are not going to pay for the wall. What does that mean? I don`t want to cause a problem. I don`t want to cause. But in the end, in the end, Mexico`s going to pay for the wall. I`m just telling you. I`m just telling you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And the breaking news from Mexico after that is, President of the Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto tweeting, President Trump, no, Mexico will never pay for a wall. Not now. Not ever. Sincerely, Mexico. All of us.
That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.