Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: May 31, 2018 Guest: Laurence Tribe
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I listened to those Michael Cohen tapes, too, as you did, and it did remind me, as it did to you, of the Watergate tapes, the Nixon tapes, the various tapes that brought down that presidency. And tape just changes everything when you actually hear the words, you hear the voice, it`s so different from having read the same words from Michael Cohen that we read months ago.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes, we had those -- basically the transcribed words of those threats from Michael Cohen to that reporter for a while now. I`ve read them on TV from the transcript a number of times. It just doesn`t capture it until you really hear the way he delivered those threats.
And then you realize, that`s the kind of work he does. It just doesn`t -- there`s no way to convey it until you hear it from the proverbial horse`s mouth.
O`DONNELL: Rachel, I hate to say it you can`t do what Michael Cohen does. OK? When you read Michael Cohen, it just isn`t the same.
I`ve tried it too. I can`t do Michael Cohen. And that`s why these tapes are an amazing window. And we`re going to hear more. I mean, there are more tapes out there. They will emerge. We are going to hear more of these things.
MADDOW: Yes. And I will say, Lawrence, between you or I trying to do the best Michael Cohen. You technically can act and so --
O`DONNELL: I`m just a tiny bit closer to Michael Cohen -- my Michael Cohen is a tiny bit closer than yours. But as my audience will hear during my hour as they heard during your hour, there is no other Michael Cohen out there.
MADDOW: No substitute for the real thing.
O`DONNELL: You`ve got to get the best Hollywood guys to do Michael Cohen.
MADDOW: Yes, yes, Hollywood or somewhere.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, today, the president of the United States began his day by getting in a fight with the president of the United States. And the president publicly toyed with the one absolute power of the presidency, the pardon power, in order to pardon Dinesh D`Souza, a gadfly Republican racist and convicted criminal.
We will have more on the president`s feverish approach to pardons with Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, but first the president`s fight with the president. Donald Trump called Donald Trump corrupt today. It was President Trump`s latest demonstration that he can get his most devoted followers to believe anything he says even when it`s the opposite of something Donald Trump has previously said. And Donald Trump seems to count on his followers` inability to remember what he has said in the past, especially if the past is a full year ago.
And so, this morning Donald Trump tweeted: Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it`s not true!
And here is the corrupt mainstream media`s biggest pusher of that narrative.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The firing of James Comey got President Trump a special prosecutor, a special prosecutor who is investigating the president for obstruction of justice for, among other things, firing James Comey. The firing of James Comey went so badly for President Trump that the president has apparently decided that he cannot fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who just yesterday on Twitter, the president said once again he wishes he had never appointed as his attorney general.
The "Associated Press" is reporting tonight that the president threatens to fire Jeff Sessions last summer but was talked out of it by Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, who were then his top White House advisors. And Senate Republicans have reportedly told the president they will not confirm another attorney general if he fires Jeff Sessions. And so, the president switched tactics from trying to fire Jeff Sessions to trying to get Jeff Sessions to reverse himself on his recusal from supervising the investigation of the president.
Earlier this week, "The New York Times" broke the news that two days after Jeff Sessions recused himself, President Trump, quote, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request. Mr. Sessions refused. The confrontation, which is not previously been reported is being investigated by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller, III, as are the president`s public and private attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign.
And tonight, "Axios" is reporting, quote, President Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reclaim control of the Russia investigation on at least four separate occasions, three times in person and once over the phone, according to sources familiar with the conversations. Jonathan Swan`s "Axios" report says, quote, the sustained pressure made several officials uncomfortable because they viewed it as improper and worried it could be politically and legally problematic.
"Axios" says that Trump`s conversations with Sessions about reversing his recusal occurred throughout last year and that Trump told Sessions he`d be a hero to conservatives if he did the right thing and took back control over the Russia investigation. According to two sources with knowledge of their conversations, Trump also told Sessions he`d be a hero if he investigated Hillary Clinton.
And today, we got the first taste of the Cohen tapes as Rachel and I were just discussing. The Michael Cohen tapes, as was acknowledged in an evidentiary proceedings in federal court in Manhattan yesterday, Donald Trump`s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen, made audio recordings of some of his conversations.
And today, National Public Radio correspondent Tim Mak released on NPR his audio recording of a threatening phone call he received from Michael Cohen about a story that Tim Mak was writing during the presidential campaign for "The Daily Beast" about Donald Trump`s first wife and mother of his first three children who testified under oath in her divorce proceedings that Donald Trump raped her.
Tim Mak published all of the Michael Cohen threats to him in quotation marks in his original story in "The Daily Beast", but he never released the audio recording of those threats until now. And you might remember some of the things you`re about to hear Michael Cohen say on this recording, but this is the first time we get to hear Michael Cohen in action on the phone doing the job that he was paid to do for Donald Trump.
And as you listen to this recording, just imagine, just imagine what we are going to be hearing later this year when some of Michael Cohen`s audio recordings will surely become public. This voice, and this tone, that you are about to hear is probably going to become very familiar to us.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL LAWYER: I know what you`re planning on doing. And if there`s any inference whatsoever, whether it`s in the headline or any aspect of your article that indicates a rape, and I don`t care about some small (EXPLETIVE DELETED) line that you`re going to throw away somewhere, mark my words for it, I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don`t have.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Michael Cohen has children. And he decided to drag his children into a discussion of Donald Trump raping his first wife.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
COHEN: I swear as god on my children, I will find you, I will serve you personally, and I will be nothing but happy when I turn around and I get a judgment for defamation against you and the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) paper you work for. Do you understand what I`m saying?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: He wasn`t finished. Here is a sample of the next couple of minutes of the call.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
COHEN: I`m warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I`m going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting. Do you understand me? There is nothing reasonable about using Donald Trump`s name with the word rape. Do you understand that? Do you understand what a disgusting word that is?
You put Mr. Trump`s name in on to it, rest assured, you will suffer the consequence. So you do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at the age of 20, you do that. And I`m going to be happy to serve it right up to you.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion now, Matt Miller, former spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Holder, an MSNBC contributor, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and coauthor of the new best selling book, "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin`s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump". David is also an MSNBC political analyst. And Maya Wiley is with us, and she`s a former counsel to the mayor of New York City.
And, Maya, I want to start with you on the Michael Cohen tapes. And let`s just remember, also within this tape, we didn`t play this part, he insists that it is legally impossible to rape your wife and the reporter Tim Mak, who he was talking to corrected him on that. And there`s this long moment of silence where Michael Cohen is apparently having a law school moment where he`s discovering for the first time no, you can legally rape your wife, treat your wife in such a way that constitutes rape.
But this Michael Cohen, this is the Michael Cohen, who is -- we`re going to learn a lot more about in this proceeding in the southern district of New York.
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NYC: Yes, this is the Michael Cohen that Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, calls a thug and calls his tactics thuggish. This is the first confirmation we have seen from actual tapes that yes, he, in fact, is extremely thuggish. He`s threatening.
He`s not just having a legal argument, to your point, Lawrence, he`s not just saying, look, here`s the possibility of a defamation case against you because here you do not have facts that support -- that`s not what he -- he`s not having a lawyerly conversation. He is literally threatening. He is extremely aggressive and abusive.
And remember that we have also been told. We don`t yet have it confirmed but we`ve also been told by Michael Avenatti that he knows that Donald Trump is on at least one of those conversations about what we don`t know. It will be very interesting to see what the exchange and the kind of communication is like if that ever comes to light.
O`DONNELL: And, David Corn, to Tim Mak`s credit, he is completely calm throughout this. None of the threats that Michael Cohen issues works in any way, and the "Daily Beast" then goes ahead but not only does the article but they include in the article all of what Michael Cohen had to say, including repeatedly using the phrase rape with Donald Trump because in his statements, he`s constantly saying, you can`t use the word rape with Donald Trump. And so, in the article, the word "rape" with Donald Trump appears most frequently from the mouth of Michael Cohen because he`s so horrifically bad at what he does.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, that`s the point. The headline here is what Michael Cohen did. And the news business we have the deck, which is sort of the secondary headline and that deck should be, Michael Cohen is a really bad fixer. He kind of had one job and he totally screwed it up.
You know, I think he thinks that he`s better at this than he is. That if he adopts the persona of what he thinks a fixer should be and do, that`s good enough. But you know what? He`s no Roy Cohn, who was a mentor for Donald Trump years earlier, who was a fixer, who was a thug, who represented the mob. But, you know, he was able to keep things quiet and do things.
I think Michael Cohen believes that bluster is 90 percent of the game. And it really isn`t. You got to know the law. You got to know how to deal with people individually.
He totally blew it with Tim Mak. He`s blown the Stormy Daniels case. I mean, he`s the opposite of a fixer, and whatever that might.
O`DONNELL: Yes, he`s obviously a weak, small minded man of no real power whatsoever, who`s watched way too much "Soprano`s" episodes but cannot write like David Chase.
CORN: Yes, that`s true.
O`DONNELL: Matt Miller, I want to move to the Jeff Sessions issue, this notion of the president switching from discussions in his first year as president about trying to fire Jeff Sessions to then moving on to, OK, let`s get him to reverse his recusal and the president spending the better part of a year trying to do that.
CORN: Yes. Well, what you see in the conversations with Jeff Sessions are the epitome of the Donald Trump`s approach to federal law enforcement. That is he expects federal law enforcement to exist, to go after his political opponents. You see him asking Sessions to prosecute Hillary Clinton, and to back off investigations into himself.
It`s an incredibly damning piece of evidence because Sessions must have told him at some point, and must have told him to staff that the recusal was not a discretionary act on Sessions` part, this wasn`t some close call where he recused himself for the avoidance of conflict, or just because, you know, someone might question him after the fact.
It`s literally written in the Department of Justice regulations that if you worked on a campaign, you cannot subsequently serve in investigative capacity into that campaign, which exactly is the position Sessions found himself in. So, when Donald Trump is coming and asking him to withdraw his recusal. He`s basically asking him to violate DOJ regulations, and for what purpose?
There can be no other purpose for him to want Sessions to be recused but to shut down the investigation. Otherwise, you shouldn`t care who`s conducting the investigation because you`re not worried about where it`s going to go.
O`DONNELL: And, Maya, so, now the firing of James Comey which the president tried to rewrite has having nothing to do with Russia, but the firing of James Comey and the harassment, or whatever you want to call it, ongoing of Jeff Sessions has become part of the obstruction investigation of the president.
WILEY: Absolutely. Part of what the justice investigation has to investigate in this case is whether Donald Trump has what`s called corrupt intent, right? Whether he intended to actually interfere in order to protect himself, that would be corrupt intent. He has actually been fairly explicit as these reports are coming out in trying to protect himself.
That if one of the sources reportedly saying that he said this would -- you would be a hero to the Republican Party if you reversed this recusal. I mean, he`s clearly indicating that what he`s looking for is about as subtle as a volcano in Hawaii, right? What he`s really looking for is protect me. Protect the Republican Party in this investigation.
In fact, deflect it back to Hillary Clinton e-mails, which has already been an investigation that`s said and done. I think that`s really, really clear. In fact, even before some of these statements there was a pretty strong case, at least in the court of public opinion, that there was some pretty intentional efforts by the president to make this go his way.
O`DONNELL: David Corn, I know you`ve studied the work, if we can call it that, of Dinesh D`Souza. And the president began his day by announcing that he intends to pardon him and called him on the phone last night, and has spent a few minutes on the phone with him, telling him that he was going to pardon him. It does look like the president is trying to get this country very accustomed to, I don`t know, maybe a pardon a day.
CORN: Well, what it seems he`s trying to get the country accustomed to is the political use of pardons. You know, his major pardons have been Scooter Libby, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and now Dinesh D`Souza. These are all martyrs of the right, heroes to the right who have made the case they`ve been politically persecuted in their prosecutions by the federal government.
So as Trump and his minions, you know, accuse the deep state of trying to politicize the Russia investigation, basically undermine federal law enforcement, he`s now pardoning people that he`s defining as victims of law enforcement to further delegitimize the notion of federal prosecution.
So, he may be sending a message to Michael Cohen and Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, and everybody else, I`ll take care of you, but at the same time, he`s also discrediting this institution of his own government.
O`DONNELL: And, Matt Miller, he`s bypassing the pardon office in the Justice Department completely.
MILLER: Yes, which is supposed to weigh pardons and weigh pardon applications and make recommendations to the president. Look, this is a complete perversions of the pardon process by President Trump.
Pardons are supposed to exist to correct injustices or to show mercy to people who maybe committed, made a mistake and committed a crime but have shown remorse, you know, want to get their life back together. That`s not the true for the president`s pardon issues.
It`s kind of the same. You want to say about the way he views federal law enforcement. He views the pardon power the same way as he views every other aspect of law enforcement. That is a way to punish his critics, in this case the prosecutors who brought these cases, people like Preet Bharara, who brought the case against Dinesh D`Souza, Pat Fitzgerald, and who brought the case against Scooter Libby, who is a close friend and a lawyer for James Comey, and to reward allies and, you know, people who are supportive of him.
You know, it`s very hard to justice any of these pardons on their own. And then when you lay over the top of that, the message he`s sending, and it`s a very clear message he`s sending to people involved in the Russia investigation, and that is: I am ready and willing to use this power to my benefit.
If you look at "The Washington Post" tonight, they have a quote from Roger Stone, one of subjects, maybe a target of this investigation, who makes loud and clear -- makes it clear to "The Post" that he got that message loud and clear that the president is willing to use his pardon power in these cases and potentially in the Russia investigation.
O`DONNELL: And, Maya, he talked about the possibility today of pardoning Martha Stewart, where it seems like he`s trying to in a certain extent, turn this into a reality show, the pardon power.
WILEY: Well, I think it`s a couple of things. I think you`re right. I think it`s also that Martha Stewart was prosecuted by James Comey in the Southern District of New York where Michael Cohen is now under investigation. So, I think there`s a clear wink, wink, nod, nod there, as well as a bit of a punishment to Comey who, as you remember, when he came out with his book actually talked about making the principle decision to prosecute a wealthy person, if he was going to prosecute a black pastor for a low level crime, he couldn`t pass over prosecuting Martha Stewart for a white collar crime.
And remember, Barack Obama actually has one of the highest numbers of clemency decisions of any president other than Gerald Ford who did Vietnam War draft evaders. But because it was the principle of people who were low level offenders, who spent long, long time in jail, who were not able to take care of their families, almost 2,000 people in total that he pardoned, but very much around a societal issue.
Donald Trump said he was going to clean up the swamp. And here, he is -- Dinesh D`Souza, campaign finance reform, pled guilty, allocated to it, said he was remorseful. And then suddenly now as a result of the pardon is saying, oh, I have restored faith in the American system. I don`t.
O`DONNELL: Maya Wiley gets the last word on this segment.
David Corn and Maya Miley, thank you for joining us.
Matt Miller, please stick around for one more.
And when we come back, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe says Donald Trump`s promise of a pardon today is an elephant whistle to Michael Cohen and all who know damning things about Trump. Professor Tribe joins us next.
And later, how the Trump administration`s border policies went from abhorrent to evil.
O`DONNELL: President Trump talked about pardons today in a way that no other president ever has. Sometimes in the past, presidents have been asked about some highly publicized cases in which a person was applying for a pardon but never have we heard a president simply talk about people he`s thinking about maybe pardoning without getting a question about it from anyone, and without getting a request from that person for a pardon.
When the president volunteered today on Air Force One that he is thinking about commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the president lied. He said that Blagojevich did nothing wrong when he got caught on tape trying to sell the appointment to Senator Barack Obama`s Senate seat after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. That is a classic case of bribery.
But today, the president said that all politicians do that. There was nothing do it and that Blagojevich saying he wanted to sell the Senate seat was just, quote, a stupid thing to say.
He also said he was thinking about pardoning Martha Stewart who was convicted of lying to the FBI. And he announced that he already decided to pardon Dinesh D`Souza for violating campaign finance laws.
It seems the president is sitting around the Oval Office trying to find people to pardon people who were convicted of the kinds of offenses that Donald Trump`s campaign friends and campaign staff and others near Donald Trump just might be charged with.
Joining our discussion now, Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School professor and co-author of a new book, "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment".
Professor Tribe, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
I want to get your reaction to what the president revealed today about his use of the pardon power.
LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: Well, I think he made absolutely clear that he`s using it to protect the rich and famous and the people who do the very kinds of things that he seems to think aren`t so bad and that the people around him have done -- obstruct justice, lie to the federal authorities, manipulate the election system, cheat, basically undermine the American government. I mean, the big first pardon that he gave to Arpaio, the first time he was sort of dangling the get-out-of-jail- free card to people like Manafort and, you know, Michael Flynn and all these other guys, it was pardoning someone for defying a judicial order that he stop mistreating and discriminating against immigrants of color.
I mean, first of all, using the pardon to basically undermine the ability of courts to enforce the law when you came to be a law and order candidate, turns the world upside down. So he`s sending, as I think Maya and Matt and David Corn all indicated, he`s sending all the wrong signals. He`s sending signals to the people who have damning evidence about him, that if they just stay strong he`ll have their back, or he might.
He`s sending signals to the country and to his base, that people like conspiracy theorists like Dinesh D`Souza are doing the right thing. They are really on the right side of the law.
I mean, D`Souza is a great example. He`s somebody who was fairly prosecuted, he pled guilty, he realized -- he basically admitted in open court that he had deliberately manipulated the election system to evade the limits on how much you can contribute. He had done that and all he was given was five years of probation with one measly day a week of public service.
That was a light sentence and now, suddenly, we`re supposed to sympathize with him. The pardon power was never meant to rip the system of law apart. It`s totally ghastly.
O`DONNELL: "The Washington Post" is carrying a report tonight quoting Roger Stone as saying, basically what you`ve just said, about the pardon of Dinesh D`Souza. This is what Roger Stone says tonight in "The Washington Post" about the pardon of Dinesh D`Souza.
He says, it has to be a signal to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III, indict people for crimes that don`t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers. So there`s roger stone translating the pardon for us.
TRIBE: Well, he got the signal, although I wouldn`t say there`s any exception for Russian collusion. I mean, this is a very strong signal to everybody who`s being investigated by the Southern District of New York or by Robert Mueller that if they just don`t hurt the president, he will protect them. It`s a terrible message to send.
And even though the pardon power itself is very broad, when pardons are used as part of a conspiracy or a scheme to obstruct justice and take down the legal system, they can form a pattern of impeachable offenses. That is what we`re seeing.
O`DONNELL: Now, your former colleague, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says that anything that`s a presidential power, whenever exercised by the president, by definition, you can`t possibly impeach the president for that.
You two have a sharp disagreement over this, for example, in the pardon power.
O`DONNELL: Professor Dershowitz would hold that any use of the pardon power is justifiable and cannot be an impeachable offense.
TRIBE: I don`t know what planet my former colleague is on, but he`s got it absolutely upside down and inside out. The whole point of the impeachment power, which has to be used with great care, the whole point of it is to prevent the gross and dangerous abuse of the very powers the president has. If, for example, Donald Trump is guilty, even now of tax evasion, which does not involve abusing a presidential power, he can`t be impeached for that.
But if he uses the powers that he has, like the power to fire the FBI director, for corrupt purposes, that`s the whole point of the pardon power. It`s just completely crazy to say that when you abuse your powers, then you can`t be removed from office. I mean, that`s what`s true of a king, a queen, an emperor, but not of the head of the American government. That`s not what America is all about. Nobody here is above the law.
O`DONNELL: Harvard law school professor Lawrence Tribe, author of "to end a presidency" thank you for joining us once again. Really appreciate it.
TRIBE: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, one of the big Trump team lies of the week is that the FBI should have told Donald Trump that Russians were trying to influence the Presidential campaign. Rudy Giuliani is telling that lie, Donald Trump is telling the lie, Rush Limbaugh is now telling the lie for Donald Trump and Donald Trump is retweeting Rush Limbaugh. And, in fact, the FBI did tell candidate Donald Trump that the Russians were trying to influence the campaign.
O`DONNELL: This week the Trump team is pushing the big lie that the FBI never told candidate Donald Trump that they were investigating Russians trying to influence the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Of course, if it wasn`t spying, they should have come to the Trump campaign. They could have come to me. My goodness, I was the FBI man of the year that year. They cold could have to me and they could have told me, and I could have briefed the President. Or they could have briefed the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: They did brief the President.
Today, Donald Trump continued pushing the false attacks with this tweet quoting radio host Rush Limbaugh saying if the FBI was so concerned and if they weren`t targeting Trump they should have told Trump if they were really concerned about the Russians infiltrating a campaign hoax then why not try to stop it? Why not tell Trump? Because they were pushing this scam. Of course, they did tell Trump. The FBI did tell candidate Trump.
According to the NBC News, the FBI warned Trump in 2016 Russians would try to infiltrate his campaign.
Joining us now Julia Ainsley of NBC News and back with us is Matt Miller.
And Julia, you worked on that NBC news story that revealed that the FBI told Donald Trump that Russians would try to infiltrate his campaign.
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That`s right, Lawrence. I mean, covering this is kind of like drinking out of a fire hose for sometimes. But we actually kind of had a reemergence of this story. A lot of people have been picking it up on social media and talking about it because it is direct evidence to the contrary of what you just showed that Giuliani is saying, with the President has said, what Rush Limbaugh is saying that the FBI should have gone and told the President.
Well, we know that in the summer of 2016 right after he had become the Republican nominee, he was briefed and warned by counterintelligence officials at the FBI. They told him that he should be on the lookout for anyone from Russia trying to infiltrate his campaign, as well as other countries.
And they made this specifically to him. This was supposed to be a broad threat assessment, but they wanted to also carve out this piece and say there are people potentially in your campaign who could be compromised. And there are ways that the Russians could be trying to infiltrate your campaign and to boost you to win.
This was also right before Paul Manafort stepped down. And it was thought that he might have had connections to Russia by supporting pro-Russian interest in the Ukraine.
So all of this played out around a time where it should definitely been high on the radar of the President. And again, it wasn`t just someone low level in his campaign. They briefed the President himself according to that December reporting we have. And so all of this now, either it slipped the mind of the President when he is coming out and making these statements now or he just wants to forget it because it doesn`t fit into the narrative that he has now that he was just scammed by the intelligence community and they just wanted to spy on him this whole time.
O`DONNELL: Well, I for one do not believe that it slips his mind or that he forgets it. This is what we call lying.
But Julia, I just want to narrow down one thing. You didn`t get an exact date, did you in your reporting, on when the FBI briefed Donald Trump -- candidate Trump?
AINSLEY: No. It would have been around late July, early August. Because we believe it was sometime after he received that nomination, which was July 2016 and right before Paul Manafort left which was August 2016. So that`s, you know, a pretty narrow time frame, talking to people who might have been a part of this. Sometimes it`s hard for just to go back and give us an exact date but we know that he was briefed and warned, again, the candidate, now President himself.
O`DONNELL: And so right around that time, we have a video of Donald Trump speaking to his rally audience about Russia. Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
She goes, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, think of it, wants to be friend Putin and other things she said. I`m saying to myself, what`s wrong with that?
If he says great things about me, I`m going to say great things about him. I have already said, he is really very much of a leader. Certainly in that system he has been a leader far more than our President has been a leader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Matt Miller, it is unclear what, if any, effect the briefing had on candidate Trump.
MILLER: Yes, that`s rights.
You know, one thing about Julia`s reporting, it shows a remarkable act of good faith by the FBI to come in and brief the Presidential candidate at that time about this potential infiltration given what they knew. Remember in July, they had started the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign. And they had seen those public remarks he made, in addition to the public remarks he made at his own convention where he said he might not back NATO allies in the event of a Russian invasion which has been Russia`s number one foreign policy goal for decades upon decades.
So the FBI would have been looking at this. And you know, it might have had suspicions about Donald Trump already given that they are investigating his campaign. But still went on to warn him anyway, to give him a chance, if there was anything suspicious that he saw, you know, to come tell the FBI or push it out of his campaign.
And I think what`s important also is, you know, yes, he got that private briefing and he should have been responsive to that but fast forward later in the campaign, he was at the private briefing he got, but in October the intelligence community came out publically and said that the Russian intelligence service were trying to influence this election, that they had hacked into -- it was reported that they hacked into John Podesta`s emails. And what does Donald Trump response to that? He publically talked about WikiLeaks. He publicly talked about the fruits of Russian espionage dozens upon dozens of times on the campaign trail.
O`DONNELL: Matt Miller and Julia Ainsley, thank you both for joining our discussion tonight. Really appreciate it. Thank you.
Up next, what`s happening on the southern border with the Trump administration ripping children out of their parents` arms is evil. That is the word that "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof, himself, the son of a refuge refugee, used in his column today to describe what the Trump administration is doing. Evil.
Nick Kristof is our next guest.
O`DONNELL: From abhorrent to evil, that`s what Donald Trump has done. Moved from abhorrent to evil on immigration policy according to our next guest, "New York Times" Pulitzer-Prize columnist Nicholas Kristof who wrote today that the Trump administration`s policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border quote "has veered from merely abhorrent to truly evil."
California senior senator Diane Feinstein said that she will introduce legislation to prevent immigrant children from being separated from their parents at the southern border. Senator Feinstein said it`s hard to conceive of a policy more horrific than intentionally separating children from their parents as a form of punishment. These terrible policies call into question whether we are in violation of our own laws and our obligations under international law.
And what about moral law? The moral law that so many in the Trump administration claim to live by, including the President of the United States. The teachings of Jesus Christ.
No one in the Trump administration has come forward with a moral justification for what they are willfully doing to children at the southern border. None of the self-proclaimed Christians in the Trump White House have cited anything Jesus Christ ever said that could justify what they are choosing to do to children every day.
Of course, no one in government ever needs to cite a religious justification for doing anything, but it would be nice. If they are going to publically violate the teachings of their own religion to just shut up about religion and not try to repeatedly claim that their lives and governing decisions are guided by religion.
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TRUMP: Every life is sacred and that every child is a precious gift from God. So true. As the Lord says in Jeremiah, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.
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O`DONNELL: But after you were born, Donald Trump set you apart from your mother at the southern border. Nicholas Kristof, who is himself the son of a refugee has heard the stories of some of the parents who have had their children ripped out of their arms at the southern border. And he will join us next and explain why he says the Trump immigration policy is now truly evil.
O`DONNELL: Attorney general Jeff Sessions is one of the Trump administration`s biggest cheerleaders for their new policy that "New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof has called evil in his column today, the policy of separating children from their parents.
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JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It`s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you as required by law.
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O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The New York Times."
Nick, try as I might, listening to Jeff Sessions say that and watching him say it, I could not detect the slightest discomfort on his part, moral or any kind of discomfort about separating children from their parents.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, boy, I must say reporting this, I was just shaken to the core. And it is so disingenuous to hear attorney general Sessions say these things because it`s not simply people who cross the border illegally who are subjected to this, not that it should happen to anybody. But I talked to -- or I wrote about Honduran woman, for example, Mary Anne, who completely followed procedures. She went to the southern side of the border of Mexico, presented herself to U.S. officials, and requested asylum, was taken by U.S. officials across the border. And then her 18-month-old child was taken away from her.
Another woman, a Mexican woman, (INAUDIBLE), who is in the same ACLU lawsuit, presented her officially, doing everything just right, broke no law, and her 4-year-old son and 6-year-old blind daughter were taken away from her.
And they have done nothing wrong. They followed procedures perfectly. And so to be talking about how they are law-breakers and this is what you get when you break the law is just utterly wrong and offensive. And I must say John Kelly talks -- General Kelly, the White House chief of staff, talks about how, well, this is an effective deterrent. You know, at a policy level, perhaps he is right. If you brutalize children and that may well indeed deter parents from bringing their kids. But, you know, my God, I mean we could gouge out their eyes. We could put out east German-style --
O`DONNELL: Killing them would be a deterrent too. I mean, one of the things you have to decide in government is when you are formulating penalties for conduct, you have to decide what is the appropriate and what is the productive penalty in relation to what the thing you`re talking about is?
KRISTOF: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: Finding a deterrent is easy. It`s a question of from killing back to lesser deterrents, where do you find the right one?
KRISTOF: That`s right. I mean essentially it`s a policy question. It`s a moral question. And we have to protect not only our border, but we have to protect our values. And I`m afraid that right here the Trump administration is deterring to protect our borders in a way that completely betrays our soul.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what John Kelly had to say. I have to read what he had to say on NPR. This is a quote that has become pretty famous. He said, the children will be taken care of. They will be put into foster care or whatever. That is the statement of a man who has no idea what happens to those children.
KRISTOF: And, I mean, this is the family values party? And one of the things we know about early childhood is that trauma lasts a lifetime, that it affects brain development, and that parents are best for a child. And then to rip these children off, initially, they are typically put in an institution. And then after a while, they are farmed out to some kind of foster parent somewhere. In one case, it seemed that two siblings had been sent to different foster parents. The parents have no idea, for a while at least, where their kids are. They are terrified. I mean, you know, this is just unconscionable.
Nicholas Kristof, really brilliant reporting today in your column coupled with solid moral judgment, which we are not getting from the Trump administration. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
KRISTOF: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s LAST WORD, and that word is "equal."
Last night the Illinois House of Representatives voted 72-45 to ratify the equal rights amendment. The Illinois Senate voted to ratify the ERA in April. And so Illinois is now the 37th state to ratify the ERA which was introduced and passed by Congress in 1972. Two-thirds of the states are required by the constitution to ratify a new amendment. And so, only one more state is needed to pass the equal rights amendment, which would enshrine equal rights for women in the constitution.
The ERA has been introduced in the legislatures of five states this year -- Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Arizona, and Virginia. ERA activists believe their best chance to win another state is in Arizona or Virginia. Arizona`s legislature is now 40 percent women, making it the most female legislature in the United States.
And today Democratic congressman Don Beyer of Virginia tweeted Virginia could and should put the equal rights amendment over the top.
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