Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: June 5, 2018 Guest: Ben Rhodes
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And, you know, I couldn`t watch ever minute of your show tonight because I do have to do some homework for this hour. So I`m not sure. How much time -- how much of your hour was spent on winners of the Super Bowl and the president and the National Anthem, which I believe the president thinks is the biggest story of the day?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": You know, where does the time go?
O`DONNELL: So what, so what, zero, nothing? Like no?
MADDOW: I don`t always cover things that are the things that the president is doing. Ever. I never cover the president.
O`DONNELL: Oh, that`s a choice. That`s a choice we can make. We can actually make that choice.
MADDOW: I believe in -- you know, the presidency is a very important thing, and the president by virtue of the fact that he is the inhabiter of the presidency is important. But you also -- you know, you earn your place in the news by being newsworthy. And when you do stuff that is designed to attract attention that is not actually newsworthy, you end up getting a chit against you in terms of whether or not people do what you want them to do.
O`DONNELL: And once again we agree, and once again you`ve put it better than I could.
MADDOW: Well, we`ll see. Thank you, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, last night, special prosecutor Robert Mueller once again made Donald Trump`s life a bit more difficult and possibly even miserable.
And so, today, the president once again tried to change the subject to what has become his favorite subject, football and genuflection, two things there is no evidence that Donald Trump is currently incapable of doing, play football or genuflect, two things that have absolutely nothing to do with the American presidency. If Donald Trump could have his way, we would spend the entire hour discussing football and kneeling and the Star Spangled Banner. But this is not one of news cables where Donald Trump gets to have his way.
And so, we are going to turn to the latest details of the special prosecutor`s investigation while at the same time trying to keep an eye on the big picture of Trump world. Sometimes we lose that focus on the big picture, the big picture that is always, always about the money.
June 15th. June 15th could be the last time Paul Manafort wakes up in his own bed at home. June 15th is a Friday. It`s a week from this Friday, and that is the day that Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson has scheduled to have a hearing to decide whether to revoke Paul Manafort`s bail and put him in jail while he waits to go to trial on charges of money laundering and other federal crimes.
The crimes Paul Manafort is currently charged with all involve things Paul Manafort did before he got involved with the Trump presidential campaign. And so, if the prosecutors are right, Paul Manafort was a criminal before he joined the Trump campaign.
Now, why would a criminal want to join a presidential campaign?
When you pull back and you look at the big picture of Paul Manafort`s life and work, it`s very easy to see that everything, everything Paul Manafort did, everything was about the money, which brings us to tonight`s big picture reminder about Trump world and everyone in it. It`s the money, stupid. And that of course is a paraphrase of James Carville`s famous Clinton campaign rule of 1992. It`s the economy, stupid.
That`s what James Carville wanted everyone on the Clinton campaign to remember, no matter how bogged down they might get in different day to day details of the campaign and day to day controversies. The one thing they always needed to remember is it`s the economy, stupid. And as we dig deeply every night into every twist and turn of the special prosecutor`s investigation, the one thing you should hold on to because you cannot hold on to all of these details, no one can do it, the one thing you should hold on to is, it`s the money, stupid.
That`s why Paul Manafort volunteered to work on the Trump campaign for no money, for no paycheck from the campaign. Paul Manafort was doing that for the money, the big money that he hoped to get from his international money laundering partners because of his association with the Trump presidential campaign. And relief from some of the debt that he had with some of those people.
And the reason Donald Trump wanted Paul Manafort to take over his campaign was the money, the money that Donald Trump didn`t have to pay Paul Manafort because Paul Manafort was going to do it for free. And the money that Paul Manafort might be able to help Donald Trump line up for financing of his various projects around the world, financing that Paul Manafort might be able to help arrange through a Russian oligarch or two.
That decision by Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, to put Paul Manafort in charge of the Trump campaign, that decision made by both of them for money might turn out to be the worst decision either of them has ever made in their lives because it could put Paul Manafort in jail on June 15th. And every hour in jail is going to increase the pressure on a man like Paul Manafort to tell the special prosecutor everything he knows about Donald Trump, including everything Paul Manafort might know about how Donald Trump has obtained financing after American banks stopped doing business with him, and whether Donald Trump might be guilty of the kinds of tax evasion that Paul Manafort is charged with.
The prosecutors care about Paul Manafort because they believe he`s guilty of federal crimes. We care about Paul Manafort because he might be guilty of federal crimes, and even more importantly, he might reveal important information about the president of the United States. Paul Manafort doesn`t want anyone revealing important information about him, and that`s what prosecutors told Judge Amy Berman Jackson in their motion, which says that, quote, Manafort has violated federal law by attempting to tamper with potential witnesses while on pretrial release.
Paul Manafort is charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by creating a team of lobbyists called the Hapsburg Group which included a group of former senior European politicians who acted as lobbyists for Ukraine. Prosecutors quoted Manafort`s stated goal of the program, quote, to educate western media, expand the media awareness of what is really happening and establish mechanisms to maintain a constant flow of information into Europe and the United States, including Washington.
Paul Manafort did this without registering himself or anyone else involved as foreign agents in the United States. Prosecutors did not reveal the identities of the other people involved in the Hapsburg Group, but told the judge that earlier this year, while Manafort was under indictment, quote, Manafort and person a, who is a longtime associate of Manafort`s repeatedly contacted persons D1 and D2 in an effort to secure materially false testimony concerning the activities of the Hapsburg Group.
Prosecutors detailed Manafort`s attempt to influence these witnesses. Manafort called person D1 on person D1`s cellular phone. Person D1 sought to avoid Manafort, to person D1 ended the call.
Manafort also sent person D1 a text message on encrypted application stating: This is Paul. Manafort used the same encrypted application to send person D1 a news article describing the superseding allegations concerning the Hapsburg Group which included the statement that two European politicians were secretly paid around two million euros by Manafort in order to take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States.
One minute after sending the news article Manafort wrote: He should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe.
Person D1 has told the government that he understood Manafort`s outreach to be an effort to suborn perjury because person D1 knew that the Hapsburg Group worked in the United States, not just Europe.
Leading off our discussion now: Natasha Bertrand, staff writer at "The Atlantic", and Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown University and a former federal prosecutor. Also with us, Matt Miller, former spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Holder. All are MSNBC contributors.
And, Matt Miller, I want to start with you on your reading of the possibility that we may now have a new crime. This is not just about possibly revoking the bail of Paul Manafort because of this, but very likely it seems charging him with this new crime of trying to suborn perjury.
MATT MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think it`s quite possible you will see another superseding indictment. I think it will be the fourth time that Paul Manafort has been indicted by the special counsel. Of course, he`s been indicted in two separate districts.
But in advance of that, it`s clear they wanted to get this information in front of the judge as quickly as they could because they want to put Paul Manafort behind bars. I think they want to do that for two reasons. One, you know, this is the type of conduct that would offend any prosecutor, where you have somebody who is already under indictment, who sought awaiting trial and is actively contacting potential witnesses in that trial and trying to get them to lie when they come before -- when they come before court when that trial takes place. It`s the kind of thing that prosecutors -- that really drives prosecutors crazy, and they want to stop immediately.
The other thing I think you see is the latest step in this continuing trend of Robert Mueller piling every bit of pressure he can on Paul Manafort. I mention that he has already been indicted three times. You know, look, he is wearing two ankle bracelets already. He has not been able to fully make bail. He is under supervised release at home.
He is facing 20 to 30 years in jail if he is convicted, and it`s likely he will be convicted. He is under an enormous amount of pressure, and Mueller has tried ever step of the way to tighten the grip on him, make him eventually cave and come in and tell him everything he knows.
O`DONNELL: Paul Butler, as a former prosecutor, I`m sure you`ve seen people under indictment try to affect possible witnesses in their case. But what do you make what appears to be the case here is that that these witnesses were either immediately in contact with the government about this or had already been in contact with the government. So, it seems as if these unnamed witnesses knew exactly who to tell as soon as this happened.
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. So, the very day that Manafort is indicted, he starts reaching out to potential witnesses by text and calls, y`all, let`s get our story together. They`re saying that we should have registered because we are a lobby in the United States, but you know we were really lobbying in Europe. So, we didn`t have to register, right? Right.
They hung up on him. They said I`m not going to have this conversation, and some of them actually called the prosecutor. One, because they don`t want that kind of exposure, and B, this is so blatant. It`s so obviously wrong. It really ticks judges off because it goes to the integrity of the judicial process.
So, I think Mueller wants to get this in front of Judge Jackson because it`s going to make her think very seriously about having Manafort sit in jail until the trial. That gives Mueller more bargaining power.
The other thing, Lawrence, is this is evidence of consciousness of guilt for the actual trial, because you don`t try to suborn perjury, you don`t tried to shade witness testimony unless you think they`re going to incriminate you at the trial.
O`DONNELL: What do you think is going to happen on June 15th? Will she revoke the bail?
BUTLER: You know, the judge has a lot of discretion. But again, this is something that when it goes to how the court operates, judges take very seriously. So, I expect that the judge is going to is already seriously consider again having him sit in jail until his trial.
The ankle bracelets didn`t work. The gag order didn`t work. So this is the next most severe penalty. You`ve got to sit in jail.
O`DONNELL: And is it conceivable to you that Paul Manafort has criminal defense attorneys who did not say to him under no circumstances should you try to reach anyone. The surveillance is complete and the possibility that the special prosecutor already has access to those people who you might try to reach is very high. Don`t do anything like this.
It is possible they didn`t warn him?
BUTLER: It`s virtually impossible. It`s something any criminal defense attorney would do. This is a 70-year-old man looking at 20-year felonies.
Mueller seems to think he`s got as the goods on the president. So they know that Mueller is interested in trying to get him to cop a deal, to cooperate. He hasn`t done that. You know, the lawyers know what time it is.
So, yes. They told him, don`t do it. Sometimes clients just don`t listen.
O`DONNELL: Natasha, what strikes me about the way this story unfolds is apparently in the reading of it, just how quickly these people Paul Manafort called and tried to contact immediately told what they knew to the special prosecutor.
NATASHA BERTRAND, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it`s really interesting, because this doesn`t seem like the most damaging part of the allegations against Paul Manafort at this point. I mean, this was a lobbying group that he set up. It was in violation, of course, of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
But the fact that he seems so concerned about the idea that there were news articles floating around saying that this group did in fact lobby in the U.S. instead of in Europe raises questions about whether he thought there was something more serious at play there. And this, of course, is not out of character for Paul Manafort either. I mean, he is just generally a reckless person. He has operate kind of at the margins of the law for decades, and he was operating without informing the Justice Department that he was acting as a foreign agent over the last decade in Ukraine.
So, this is something where Paul Manafort and his allies actually say, you know, interestingly that they don`t believe that these allegations are true, that Paul Manafort would have done something like this. But anyone who has observed Paul Manafort`s behavior over the last few decades can tell that this is exactly something that he would have done immediately because he feels like he is above the law, and he has felt that way for a very long time.
O`DONNELL: Matt, Natasha makes a really important point. The failure to register as a foreign agent when lobbying or appearing to lobby for a foreign country is something that is literally the least of the charges that Manafort is facing, and it`s something that happens all the time in Washington, and people try to correct retroactively, and they get sort of slapped on the wrist at most for this. And it seems like a really big overreaction to that charge.
MILLER: Yes, it is, but it`s probably the one place where he thought he could have some impact with the witnesses. If you look at the money launder charges, those are paper cases. Those are transactions that the special counsel has evidence of. There`s not much he can do to contradict that.
You know, one of the things that makes what he did just so stupid is he had to know that in the months leading up to his indictment, Mueller had gone around and interviewed every one of the people at every one of the firms he had hired. He was trying to make their case. And you to think one of the things Mueller was implying to the people, these firms that he hired, the PR firms and the lobbying firms is, you know, if you don`t talk to me, you might get charged with your own pair of violation.
So, Manafort should have known that all these people had been talking to Mueller before he was indicted, they`re going to be nervous. Imagine being this person. Manafort has been indicted the day before. His business partner Rick Gates has just agreed to plead guilty. You get a call from Paul Manafort trying to suborn perjury. You immediately are going to do nothing but pick up the phone and have your lawyer call the special counsel to make sure if he was listening to that phone conversation by any chance, you get in and get right with him right away so there is no chance that you get charged.
BERTRAND: I think there`s also --
O`DONNELL: Go ahead.
BERTRAND: I was going to say, there is also an overlooked part of this, which is that Paul Manafort was actually still communicating with his longtime politic Russian Ukrainian friend Konstantin Kilimnik, who, of course, in two separate previous court filings by Mueller, he was identified as someone with ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. So, not only was Paul Manafort trying to tamper with witnesses and influence their testimony, he was using this, you know, long-time associate of his who he should be trying to distance himself from in order to do that.
O`DONNELL: And while Jeff Sessions was busy today justifying the ripping children out of the arms of their parents at the southern border, President Trump tweeted this. The Russian witch-hunt hoax continues all because Jeff Sessions didn`t tell me he was going to recuse himself. I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined, and Sessions knew better than most that there was no collusion.
And, Paul Butler, here is a president who is being investigated for obstruction of justice, and he is saying if I knew that Jeff Sessions was not going to protect me from that investigation, he would not be my attorney general.
BUTLER: The only way this is not smoking gun evidence of the president`s criminal intent or corrupt intent to impede the investigation is if you take the extremely expansive view that his legal team floated that nothing the president can do would be obstruction. Otherwise, it`s very incriminating evidence.
Again, every time the president tweets, most time he tweets, he provides the most compelling evidence of his own criminal intent.
O`DONNELL: Yes, Matt, to that point, we`re talking about lawyers representing clients. Surely, the president`s lawyers -- not Rudy Giuliani, because he is just the take TV lawyer, but real lawyers working for the president must have told him, don`t say things like this because these things -- this kind of tweet supports to some degree the concept of obstruction of justice.
MILLER: Sure. If you look at the memo that his lawyers wrote to the special counsel in January that we got a look at over the weekend, they went to great lengths to say that the president never tried to shut down this investigation. They didn`t want it shut down, that that`s not what he meant when he was talking to Lester Holt, that that`s not what he meant when he told Jim Comey to back off the Mike Flynn investigation, that he wanted this investigation to proceed all the time, and he knew when he fired Jim Comey that it wouldn`t go away.
You know, two days we see that memo, the president makes very clear in a tweet that, no, no, no, forget what my lawyer said, I very much wanted this investigation to go away, and that`s why I wanted the attorney general to either not recuse himself in the first place, or as we know he did on three or four occasions afterward, went back to Jeff Session and asked him to kind of unrecuse or withdraw his recusal.
It`s a really damning moment from the president, and it`s not the first time he has done this on Twitter. He has stumbled into these arguments before about obstruction of justice that kind of give away his motive and show, you know, that whatever his lawyers try to say, his intent is clear as day.
O`DONNELL: Natasha, the president tweeted in that tweet, so many lives ruined by this investigation. Now, the lives ruined by investigations are criminals. That`s whose lives get ruined by these investigations.
Does he mean Paul Manafort? Who does he mean?
BERTRAND: I really don`t know. It might be -- it might be people like George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. It might be folks like Hope Hicks, the former communications director who ultimately the pressure of the Russia investigation along with the chaos of the White House ultimately just got to her.
But, of course, these are people who in terms of George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, these are people like you said who committed crimes. The fact that the president is now trying to reframe this as some kind of effort by Mueller to go after them for no reason is just completely disingenuous and false.
O`DONNELL: And lives ruined is what the president is doing on the southern border, ordering babies ripped from their mothers and fathers` arms.
Natasha Bertrand, Paul Butler, Matt Miller, thank you all for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
Coming up, today, Donald Trump`s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was as I said, very busily defending their new policy on the southern border, which the United Nations has called a violation of human rights.
And what does Barack Obama think of Vladimir Putin? The inside answer to that is next.
O`DONNELL: We got a reminder from David Corn today to remember to focus on the big picture, and that is a reminder that we need over and over again. David Corn wrote an important piece in "Mother Jones" today arguing for a simple reset of our focus on what the Russia investigation is actually about. And I will paraphrase David`s elegant summary to simply this: Russia launched an information warfare against the United States during our presidential election with the intention of hurting the Democratic candidate and helping the Republican candidate.
The Republican candidate`s campaign then tried to collude secretly with Russia in a meeting at Trump Tower while the candidate himself was publicly trying to collude with Russia by publicly begging Russia to steal and publish the Democratic candidates` e-mails. The Republican presidential candidate and his campaign aligned themselves with the country that invaded the United States, invaded the election of the American president.
As David Corn put it, the Trump team, quote, assisted a foreign adversary as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock solid. They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.
And that is what we should never lose sight of when we examine the details of the scandal, the dozens of scandals that exist within and under that scandal, the scandal of the Trump campaign`s deliberate alignment with Russia in attacking the United States.
With that in mind, it is not surprising that in a new interview with Austrian television, Vladimir Putin brags about his close relationship with Donald Trump and about how often the two men speak on the phone, including something we`ve never heard before, quote: Indeed, Donald Trump and I have firstly, met more than once at various international venues, and secondly, we regularly talk over the phone. Our foreign affairs departments and special services are working fairly well together in areas of mutual interest, above all in the fight against international terrorism. This work is ongoing.
We`ve learned something new about President Barack Obama`s view of Vladimir Putin from Ben Rhodes` extraordinary new book. It says that President Obama neither liked nor loathed Putin, nor did he subscribe to the view that Putin was all that tough. If he was that sure of himself, Obama said, he wouldn`t have his picture taken riding around with his shirt off.
Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser and speech writer for President Obama and now an MSNBC political contributor.
His new book is "The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House."
And, Ben, you have rave reviews for this book. It is not the typical inside the White House memoir. You are not trying to show how right you were about everything while everyone else was wrong. But take us into president Obama`s view of Vladimir Putin. It seems like such a clear and simple form of analysis looking at Putin`s public grandiosity and Obama, who didn`t have that, wondering what`s that about?
BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes. Well, part of it that is missed, Lawrence, is that the first time Putin was president, he was flush with oil revenues, and he could stay in power by spreading money around. The second time, he didn`t have that. Russia was kind of on its back foot.
And so, what did he do? He reached for this brand of politics rooted in kind of tribalism, racism, nativism, make Russia great again really, look back to the Soviet Union, and, you know, has to be photographed riding around with his shirt off.
And Obama didn`t have a lot of patience with that kind of posturing. Frankly, he thought in the long view all Putin was doing was hurting Russia. But obviously he has caused a lot of damage in the short-term.
O`DONNELL: What do you make of this report in the Austrian TV interview where Vladimir Putin is saying that he and Donald Trump talk on the phone a lot.
O`DONNELL: Now, it is -- we have to now say I guess traditional from that previous pre-Trump world. Whenever those kinds of conversations occurred, they were generally made public by the previous presidents, correct?
RHODES: That`s exactly what I thought as soon as I saw. Look, I describe in the book lots of 90 minute phone conversations with Obama and Putin. We would always read this out. As soon as I saw that, I wonder, they must be talking and not reading those calls out publicly because there has only been a handful.
And so, it does beg the question how much is Donald Trump talking to Vladimir Putin, what are they talking about? And by the way, why not read it out, you know? What are they trying to hide?
O`DONNELL: Let`s go to the other side of that. Why read it out? Why shouldn`t the president of the United States have private phone calls with foreign leaders that never get publicly reported?
RHODES: Well, put hit the way. There`s the public interest in knowing if the president of the United States is talking to Russia or another major foreign power. We generally read out all conversations unless they were about something secret and sensitive.
In the book, I describe I had lots of meetings with the Cubans that were secret. We didn`t want to read those out because we didn`t want people to me we had a diplomatic track going with Cuba. So, the only times we would shoes to not read something out and be confidential is if there was a reason to keep that secret. And again, it makes you think what is the reason that they might have to think to keep conversations secret?
O`DONNELL: The -- there is no telling what else they keep secret since they don`t publicly release who even visits the White House, which, again is a break with the previous --
RHODES: They changed that.
O`DONNELL: What do you see at stake in information like that? As we don`t know the way we used to know who has been visiting the White House.
RHODES: Well, it gives you a picture of who has influence in that White House, you know. Are they meeting with lobbyists? Are they meeting with the type of people who have financial interests in what they are doing? Because the Democrats don`t have control of Congress, too. There is not oversight of these issues. What is the foreign corruption that is taking place? How often are certain foreign interests, you know? Are there people with foreign financial interests that might intersect with the Trump family`s financial interest meeting visiting the White House? All of those things could give you picture of has influence in the Trump White House, but we don`t have that.
O`DONNELL: You were with President Obama for the full eight years, the full ride. What`s getting a lot of attention in your book is President Obama`s reaction to the election night, to the election of Donald Trump. And there is a lot of interpretation of what your book has to say and the quotes of President Obama reflecting, wondering how this happened, wondering what he might have misread about the American voter, about the American public.
Do you want to set anything straight? Are you hearing people misinterpret what you have reported the President to have said?
RHODES: Well, just one thing. I mean, I think what it paints is a picture of him going through the same process that a lot of us did. He called me on election night, and said well, that happened. And you know, over the course of the next several days, you know, Comey letter, how much did Russia influence the outcome of the election? But you know, also did we get something fundamentally wrong here? You know, did people want a different brand of politics from Obama or progressive kind of politics that did they want to just fall back into the kind of grievances, politics and grievance that Trump had. And he did say, you know, was I ten or 20 years too early?
O`DONNELL: What did he mean by that? That is the big quote that`s getting all the attention.
RHODES: Yes. Well, frankly, what he meant was there is a demographic tipping point that`s going to happen in this country where more like you are going to have more people who are friend that look like Barack Obama or there is an Asian Barack Obama or Latino Barack Obama. And what was misinterpreted is somehow arrogant. In fact he was second guessing, you know, some of the things he had done and he was wrestling with it like everybody else.
In the end, though, I do believe that frankly 10 or 20 years from now America is going to look more like Barack Obama`s America and his brand of politics than Donald Trump. You know, this effort to turn back the clock is kind of the last gasp of a certain kind of politics just like Putin represents that in Russia.
The fact that those two forces converged in our election, Putin and Trump, is I think part of the same story, two sides of the same coin. People who don`t have a vision for the future, so all they can do is stoke up grievance and look to the past.
O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes. The book is "The World As It Is." It`s the world you had to learn that it is.
O`DONNELL: You started off with a view of the world that is very different are than the one you ended with, Ben Rhodes. Thank you very much for joining us.
RHODES: Thanks a lot.
O`DONNELL: I really appreciate it.
And when we come back, why the United Nations today says that the Trump administration is violating human rights. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: The United States of America at the order of the President of the United States and the attorney general is putting children in cages tonight. That is the country we now live in.
Today, attorney general Jeff Sessions was busy defending the Trump administration`s policy that has now been condemned by the United Nations. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights said this today about the United States` new practice of separating parents and children at the southern border, including some who have broken no law, who have just presented themselves at the border seeking asylum. The U.N. said it amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.
Past Presidential administrations have to varying degrees tried to be international champions of human rights, pressing regimes around the world to improve their records on human rights. But the Trump administration, more than any other in history, simply ignores the subject of human rights.
Human rights is not even on the agenda with the world`s greatest human rights violator, North Korea, the President of the United States actually intends to have the first ever Presidential summit meeting with North Korea`s dictator without ever mentioning human rights.
And now the United Nations, to America`s great shame, has turned its human rights focus to our southern border, and this is what the attorney general of the United States had to say about it today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. What is happening is we are having more people coming, bringing children with them, entering between the ports of entry, between the ports of entry illegally, and they are not -- you cannot give them immunity. That`s an offense. We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted, and you can`t be given immunity to people who bring children with them, recklessly and improperly and illegally. They should never do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: There is not a new surge of parents and children coming to the southern border. There is no new surge, as the attorney general is trying to suggest that there is. What is new is this Trump policy. The President of the United States spent his day today tweeting angrily about his attorney general, not because his attorney general`s lack of sympathy for children at our southern border, but because of the attorney general`s lack of sympathy pour the President, the lack of sympathy that allowed Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation of the President instead of not recusing himself and preventing any investigation of the President.
The President saw some children today. He saw them on the south lawn of the White House where he was trying to get the country to think about football and the national anthem. And even though he himself does not know the words of the national anthem, that is how the President spent his day.
The President, who has ordered American government workers to rip children from their mothers` and fathers` arms. The President who is literally, according to senator Jeff Merkley`s report, putting those children in cages. The President who is now according to the United Nations a human rights violator.
We will have more on the President who has decided to put kids in cages next with Maria Teresa Kumar.
O`DONNELL: On the day when the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said that the United States is violating the human rights of children on the southern border, the attorney general said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: It`s certainly not our goal to separate children, but I do think it is clear -- it`s legitimate to warn people who come to the country unlawfully, bringing children with them that they can`t expect that they will always be kept together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor.
And Maria Teresa, the first point I want to make here, and please feel free to make any point you want, this is a new policy. This is not forced on the Trump administration by law. There is no law that has to be changed, new change to this policy. This is a choice of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s exactly right. And this was actually an idea that chief of staff secretary Kelly when he was homeland security secretary first floated to do so. The ACLU immediately went into play saying that that was going to be unlawful. And what the U.N. did today was basically marking what the United States is doing as violating the rights of children.
On May 7th, Jeff Sessions stood before the American people and decided that he was going to separate parents from children because he felt that it was a way to detour people from coming to the border. And what my fellow Americans need to understand are the children and the families that are coming right now on the border.
They are not normal immigrants. They are actually refugees. Most of them are fleeing violence, and they`re fleeing extreme poverty, and they are traversing three to four countries to get to the border. And by law, we are supposed to be able to process them when they are seeking asylum.
Under this new policy, that is not happening. Instead, what they are saying, the department of homeland security is processing them as criminals and separating the parents from families under that auspices. But it`s actually contrary to President. It is contrary to the law.
O`DONNELL: And Maria Teresa, when the President has tweeted about this, he has of course blamed Democrats who have absolutely nothing to do with it. But what you see in that is the President implicitly agreeing that this is a bad policy. That`s why he`s trying to blame it on the law and blame it on Democrats.
KUMAR: Well, it`s completely obfuscating his responsibility. Again, this came directly from his White House. The new policy to separate children from parents at the border is not law. It`s not legislation. It was not passed by Congress. It was coming equivalent of an executive order coming out of the White House out of his directive. That Jeff Sessions is implementing and Secretary Nielsen is executing against.
O`DONNELL: And the idea that the White House could -- has no power to stop this tomorrow.
KUMAR: Nonsense, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Go ahead.
KUMAR: That`s absolutely -- that`s nonsense. He literally woke up on May 6th and decided on May 7th that he was going to implement this policy. He phoned up Jeff Sessions and basically said Jeff, you have to implement this. So this is completely out of the discretion of the White House. This has nothing to do with Congress. And if anything, this should be signaling to members of Congress on the Republican and Democratic side that they have to pass some sort of comprehensive immigration reform.
Because what is coming out of the White House because of a lack of unified voice on immigration is a de facto immigration policy that is basically not only separating children from parents and putting them into cages, as children as young as two, the ACLU has notified and basically alerted authorities that they have witnessed children as young as 53 week, Lawrence, actually facing court and a judge without a parent.
Can you imagine that this is happening in modern day America? And the fact that there is not more outrage. Where is the Republican leadership on this?
By allowing the Trump administration to create not only these type of policies but also converting documented immigration -- excuse me, documented immigrants such as temporary protected status people and rescinding DACA, the Trump administration who is right now on a journey to create close to a million people that are currently documented, undocumented overnight by 2020.
So by de facto, he is creating a whole new class of undocumented people. He is also creating a whole class of trauma among children. The United Nations had it absolutely right. This is a violation of children`s rights. This is not who we are. We are the ones, if anything, on the global war -- on the global stage oftentimes telling people what we expect on how you treat minorities, how you treat the most vulnerable among us. This is not leadership.
O`DONNELL: And Jeff Merkley is the one in the United States Senate who really has shown leadership on this by going down there to the border to try to find out exactly what`s going on. We are going to have to leave there it. Mara Teresa Kumar, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.
KUMAR: Thank you, Lawrence, for covering this.
O`DONNELL: And as you know, as you can tell on the screen, it is election night in America tonight. That means Steve Kornacki joins us next to tell us what to watch.
O`DONNELL: We are just minutes away from polls closing in California tonight on election night in America where primary voters are going to the polls in California, New Jersey, Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota. And that means we are joined now by Steve Kornacki with the latest on the races.
Steve, what should we be watching?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC REPORTER: Yes. Well, look, California in ten minutes, that`s the biggie. But before we get to that, let`s tell you what has already happened tonight and what`s happening right now because New Jersey, this is a state we are going to talk about an awful lot this fall.
Let me put this in perspective. We know Democrats need to pick up 23 House seats to get the majority in the house where there are four what they think are very ripe potential targets for them in New Jersey. These are Republican held seats they think they can flip.
What has happened tonight? Well, this is Frank Lobiondo, Republican, his district, southern New Jersey. He is not running for election. It`s an open seat. The question tonight for Democrats was would they get through their candidate in a primary. Their candidate who is probably the most popular politician in this region of New Jersey. We can tell you Democrats got what they are looking for in this district tonight. In this district, the third, that matchup was already set unopposed. Both candidates in the primary. Same here in the seventh district and in the 11th district, Democrats also got their preferred candidate through.
Here`s the interesting stat I want to tell you, this district. Because we are going to talk about this one a lot this fall. Lawrence, nationally. The turnout tonight. Competitive primaries in both parties. Right now the democratic turnout is running 3,000 higher than the Republican turnout in this district.
By comparison, in 2016, same district, it was Republicans who led by 9,000. In 2014, the Republicans led in turnout by 14,000. So a major shift there in turnout for Democrats in a top target district.
Quickly, another thing to keep an eye on. We talk so much about Senate elections. We have not talked about New Jersey, Bob Menendez. He had a hung jury in a federal bribery trial. He was reprimanded by the Senate. A Democratic primary opponent, no name recognition, no endorsements, no money. A lot of discontent on the democratic side. Menendez will be the democratic candidate. Would this translate into problems for Democrats in a state they should not have to worry about? That is something to keep an eye on going forward.
Also there is this. In Alabama you think of a very pro-Trump state. How about this for a story line. Republican congresswoman Martha Roby. She refused to endorse Trump in 2016. She refused to vote for him in the election. Well, she got primary challenges from pro-Trump challengers.
One of them, Bobby Bright, is a former Democratic congressman. He switched parties, aligned himself with Trump. Looks like she is going to be short of that 50 percent for a runoff. Looks like you got a runoff coming here. Pro-Trump former Democrat against Republican who refused to support Trump. That could be coming in Alabama.
And as we say, Iowa, we have got results coming in. I know we are running short on time here, but we are counting down a few minutes. In California, there are seven Republican held districts in California that Hillary Clinton carried. We are going to find out. The question of the hour starting at 11:00 is that open primary, that wild system. Do Democrats get a candidate on the ballot in the fall in all of those? Not a given. We are going to start to find out at 11:00, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And the governor`s race in California, you are going to see a lot about that.
And, Steve Kornacki, you will be back at 1:00 a.m. with all of those California results, all of that updated.
KORNACKI: We will be here as long as we need to be.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Steve. That is tonight`s LAST WORD.
Actually, no. The Last Word is next. We are going to have a little commercial, then the LAST WORD.
O`DONNELL: And here is Stephen Colbert with Rudy Giuliani`s latest defense of the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: He told the huff po. I don`t know how you can indict the President while he is in office no matter what it is, even if he shot James Comey. So there it is. The President can commit any crime he wants. He is a one-man purge, which will make a great new campaign slogan. Trump 2020. I could kill you in your sleep. But -- it`s true. He could. I could do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Stephen Colbert gets tonight`s LAST WORD. END
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