Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: July 18, 2018 Guest: Frank Figliuzzi; Adam Schiff
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And during your hour, actually in the last few minutes, David Sanger and Matthew Rosenberg in "The New York Times" have published the breaking news of the night. And it turns out Donald Trump knew and he knew weeks before the inauguration.
Listen to this opening for this article. Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyber attacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and e-mails from Russian military officers and information gleamed from a top secret source close to Mr. Putin who has described to the CIA how the Kremlin decided to exercise its campaign of hacking and disinformation. And just one more line here: Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on January 6th, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": This is two weeks before the inauguration? He was shown direct, raw evidence not only that the hack happened but that Putin ordered it?
O'DONNELL: E-mails and texts from Russian military officers. Perhaps some of those same Russian military officers who got indicted last week by Robert Mueller.
MADDOW: If that reporting is true, then every single time the president since then has cast doubt on whether or not Russia did it or whether or not Vladimir Putin should be believed when he -- when he denies responsibility for the attack, every single time, that's the president not just being unconvinced of something that other people believe or casting doubt or muddying the waters, that's the president activity covering up something that he knows to be true.
O'DONNELL: That is the president lying. And that is an awful long videotape if we were to compile what you just described starting from January of 2017 right up to today, right up to today, which is the word no said a couple of times in response to this particular issue. It would be a very, very long piece of lying video of Donald Trump.
MADDOW: And, I mean, lying is -- lying is a moral failing and lying is a bad thing for a politician, anybody in public life. Lying is a bad thing for a toddler. But if you're actively participating in the cover up of a crime that you know was committed, there is a legal question as to whether or not you are helping, essentially, in a conspiracy after the fact, right?
O'DONNELL: Yes, absolutely.
MADDOW: I mean, aiding and abetting are -- well, they spring to mind.
O'DONNELL: Stuff like this found its way into a bill of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Richard Nixon was not -- they didn't have it in the impeachment papers against Nixon because lying is bad but because by lying about the specific things he was lying about, he was trying to cover up existence of a crime that he knew had happened.
MADDOW: And that was in the minds of the people that voted for those articles of impeachment, that was a criminal matter, not just a bad character trait.
O'DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence. Good luck, my friend.
O'DONNELL: Well, as you just heard, president Trump knew. He has always known. And that has been kind of obvious from the start. President Trump's obvious public fear of Vladimir Putin is as peculiar and consistent as Donald Trump's hair and both of those consistent peculiarities were on display tonight in the president's latest television interview, this one with CBS News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: If you believe U.S. intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Why not? Why not get into whether or not he's lying. You know he's lying. But if you say you believe your director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, then you believe Vladimir Putin is lying for you.
The problem for Donald Trump is and always has been that he is constantly juggling his own lies and his most important lie, the one his future might depend on, is the lie that the special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation is a witch hunt. But Robert Mueller's investigated mandate is Russian interference in our presidential election and the investigation cannot be a witch hunt if Russia did interfere in our presidential election as we now know Donald Trump was told on January 6th, 2017.
And, so, even though everyone in a position of authority on that subject in the Obama administration, now the Trump administration agrees that Russia did interfere in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump can never fully consistently admit that even though obviously he knows that to be true. The Obama FBI director and the Trump FBI director know that the Russian government interfered in our election, the Obama secretary of state and the Trump secretaries of state know it.
The Obama secretary of defense and the Trump secretary of defense, all of the top Obama intelligence officials and all of the top Trump intelligence officials know that Vladimir Putin personally ordered the interference and ordered the attack on our election. And we know that Donald Trump has known it since January 6th, 2017, according to tonight's report in "The New York Times."
And Robert Mueller last week gave us the names of 12 Russian military officers who conducted the attack on our election. Donald Trump knows all of that is true, but he can never say it for more than a moment because he always has to be able to come back to the witch hunt. Donald Trump's widely condemned fawning performance beside Vladimir Putin on Monday where he equated the value of information provided to him by Dan Coats as director of national intelligence and the value of information provided to him by Vladimir Putin.
He said their integrity was equal. He said, quote, I have confidence in both parties. That performance actually ended with the words total witch hunt.
After Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist George Will's review of that performance calls Trump a sad, embarrassing wreck of a man and after the president was condemned most forcefully by Senator John McCain and other Republicans who remember what honor and decency looks like. And sounds like the president was convinced by his advisers that he had to fix the problem yesterday by claiming that he meant to say would not in the sentence in which he said I don't see any reason why it would be Russia who attacked our election.
And, so, the president was forced to read a written statement yesterday saying that he, of course, supports the findings of his own intelligence officials and advisors but within a minute of saying that, he had to juggle again and say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that, and I have said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. It's a lot of people out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.
And there you see the juggle right there. I accept our intelligence community's conclusion. Could be other people. And, so, the president will sometimes say the words I accept our intelligence community's conclusion, but he never actually publically accepts them. He always throws another ball in the air, the other people ball. And he has to throw that ball in the air in order to keep the witch hunt ball in the air.
And, so, the juggling went on today when the president was asked, is Russia still targeting the United States? Dan Coats has said that not only is Russia still targeting the United States, but the situation is as alarming as the pre-9/11 signals that the United States was picking up of a possible attack on the United States. That's how hard Russia is still working at targeting and attacking the United States.
And the president knows that. And the president believes that. He knows it's true. But if the president says that publicly, then Robert Mueller's investigation is not a witch hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thanks very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go. Make your way out. Let's go. We're finished here. Press, let's go.
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Cecilia Vega of ABC News tweeted her full exchange with the president there. She said getting a lot of questions about my exchange with President Trump today. Yes, he was looking directly at me when he spoke. Yes, I believe he heard me clearly. He answered two of my questions.
Here is the full exchange. Vega: is Russia still targeting the U.S.? Mr. President Trump: Thank you very much, no.
Vega: No? You don't believe that be the case? Trump: No. Vega: But can you just clarify you don't believe that to be the case? And Trump replies to another reporter's question.
And so, a couple hours later in the White House press briefing, the White House press secretary offered this explanation for what you just saw and heard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I got a chance to speak with the president after those comments and the president said thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions. The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past and as we have stated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: NBC's Hallie Jackson tweeted this after the press secretary's response. Here's the thing about what press secretary said about POTUS, no response, in the countless times I have been wherever trying to shout questions, I have never heard the president say no in order to get us to stop. He says, thank you, or simply ignores us.
And that is, of course, what we have all seen with our own eyes on those situations. The press secretary's answer seemed to achieve zero credibility in the press briefing room today and was sharply challenged by Hallie Jackson, which we will show you more of later. But the president has a very consistent record, including a recent record of saying exactly what he said today, which is that we're not under cyber attack from the Russians.
Here is what the president in a CBS News interview said this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLOR: Your DNI Dan Coats said that America's digital infrastructure is at a critical point right now.
GLOR: Similar to what it was like in some ways before 9/11, that we're susceptible to a large-scale attack. Do you agree with that?
TRUMP: Well, I don't know if I agree with that. I have to look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I don't know if I agree with that.
Joining us now, Matt Miller, former spokesman for attorney general Eric Holder, Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at "Washington Post", and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer for "The Washington Post". They are all MSNBC contributors.
And, Gene, I want to start with you on -- the game is up. And the game is up in these first three paragraphs from "The New York Times" tonight saying that on January 6th, 2017, the president was shown texts and e-mails from Russian military officers gleaned from a top secret source close to Vladimir Putin, showing the Vladimir Putin had personally ordered the attack on our election process in order to sway the election --
EUGENE ROBINSON, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.
O'DONNELL: -- for the winner of the electoral college, Donald Trump. Donald Trump has known this far beyond a reasonable doubt since weeks before he was inaugurated.
ROBINSON: Right. And, so, let's be clear. What we are seeing and what we have been seeing is collusion in real-time.
ROBINSON: The word collusion is what springs to mind. This was a criminal act and an aggressive act by Russia. The president knew about it. The president has colluded in covering it up at the very least. And I hope Robert Mueller also lets us know whether in fact there was collusion before the fact.
But after the fact, there definitely has been. It's been going on for a year and a half now and will continue, by the way.
ROBINSON: Because, as you said, he has to keep that witch hunt line alive in order to try to discredit the investigation. Therefore, he can never simply back down.
O'DONNELL: Well, Matt Miller, the juggling act just became much more difficult at approximately 9:45 p.m. tonight when this article came out because Donald Trump now and the White House press secretary in the future are going to have to contend with this report that the president was shown e-mails and texts that proved that Vladimir Putin personally ordered this and ordered it to sway the election. Donald Trump saying, I don't know, could be other people, is manifestly a publicly proven lie now.
MATT MILLER, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR A.G. ERIC HOLDER: Yes. And they will come out and lie about that lie and say that, of course many times you have seen him do this in the past. He did it over the past several days.
In a number of occasions, he has come out and publicly said that the Russians interfered in the election. They always leave off, you know, every time, in short succession after making those statements, he then casts doubt on them with, you know, other statements about maybe it was someone else. Maybe it was the 400-pound guy. There were a lot of people, you know, some of the statements he made over the last couple of days.
And, you know, one of the things that has been key to their strategy, one of the things he figured out about the Republican Party early on is just kind of, you know, the intellectual dishonesty in that party and just the kind of rank corruption. He doesn't have to convince the people -- the leaders in the Republican Party that he's telling the truth. They know he's lying about this.
He just has to come out after that disgraceful performance in Helsinki on Monday, he had to come out over the last couple of days and kind of begrudgingly clean it up and move further today in that interview with CBS just to give the Republicans on the Hill a fig leaf to hang on to so they could say he said the right thing and they could move on and pretend like there is nothing wrong here.
But there is obviously something wrong. I think you nailed it in your intro. He can never admit that what actually happened because that means that the guy who is out indicting Russians for the act, the special prosecutor who has indicted 25 Russians for the act already, is not conducting a witch hunt. And once Donald Trump admits that, he gives legitimacy to the investigation and he doesn't know where it's going to go next. Or even worse, maybe he does know, and that's why he's so worried.
O'DONNELL: Credit where credit is due. What I was saying in the opening remarks, that was a concept stolen from Matt Miller, a conversation earlier today.
So, Ruth Marcus, in this report tonight in "The New York Times", we are seeing for grounding for John Brennan, former CIA director's public outrage this week in particular and in the past, about what this president has said. Former CIA Director Brennan has said that what the president did on Monday was near treasonous. Let's consider this passage of "The New York Times" report tonight when we think about what John Brennan has been saying today.
The January 6th, 2017 meeting held at Trump Tower was a prime example. The president was briefed that day by John O. Brennan, the CIA director, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of the United States Cyber Command. The FBI Director James Comey was also there and after the formal briefing he privately told Mr. Trump about the Steele dossier.
And so, now we know exactly what day this was. We know the setting. We know John Brennan was there. He was there when the president was shown the texts and the e-mails and explained the source close to Vladimir Putin and how they know all of this and how they know that Vladimir Putin personally ordered it. John Brennan was there when this information was delivered to this president.
And so, he has had to endure all of these public comments the president has made since then that contradict everything that he was told that day.
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure. And, you know, we knew on some level when the intelligence chiefs came out and told us unanimously and unequivocally that Russia interfered in the election, that Russia interfered in the election with the intention of helping Donald Trump, that they had a basis for saying that. And we could have also assumed that their basis for saying that was something that they appropriately shared with the president elect.
But seeing in black and white in this "New York Times" story, the nature of that information, the detailed nature of that information, adding to it the kind of granular information that we got in the indictment there, it really does cause you to engage in a kind of thought experiment. What would a normal, responsible, emotionally stable, intellectually honest president- elect and now president do if he discovered that this kind of interference had been done to aid his election?
He would express horror. He would express outrage. He would insist on getting to the bottom of this.
Donald Trump, for whatever reason, has been unwilling, incapable of doing that except for these very kind of micro-bursts of coerced honesty. And then he just reverts to type, which is no collusion, witch hunt and maybe, you know, some 400-pound guy on a bed somewhere.
O'DONNELL: Gene, I want to go back to the point Rachel raised when I was talking to her about this new report tonight, and that is the lying to the American people. That was one of the counts that was preceding in the impeachment process for Richard Nixon before Richard Nixon resigned and short-circuited the whole thing.
And this is both lying to the American people for going on two years now, approaching two years, but also it is lying during a criminal investigation about this very subject that the president is lying about. And he is trying to communicate that lie to everyone around him in his campaign, in his administration and everyone who might be talking to the investigators about this.
ROBINSON: Yes. I mean, look, if just lying per se were an impeachable crime, Donald Trump would have been gone after the first week, right? But this is in furtherance of what one could argue is an ongoing criminal conspiracy, right? Because it is to obscure facts that he knows, that Putin actually did meddle with the election and indeed is continuing to do so and you could argue, I think, that that is an ongoing criminal conspiracy in which the president on that level, at least, is participating.
Now, I don't know if you could prove that in a federal court, but, of course, in the House of Representatives, in terms of drawing up articles of impeachment, that's a different story. It's high crimes and misdemeanors, and that's up to the interpretation of the House.
O'DONNELL: Matt Miller, quickly before you go, what do you think Robert Mueller's reaction was when he discovered the details which he has known surely for many, many months now of this January 6th, 2017 briefing of President-elect Trump?
MILLER: I think, first, he would be disturbed by the leak. A source very close to Vladimir Putin, that will put Vladimir Putin on the hunt to find out who that person is that has been turning over information to the United States government. So I think that will be the first thing.
But then, I think, second, he won't be very surprised. Look, he knows that Donald Trump is a liar. He's seen Donald Trump come out and lie repeatedly about this investigation, repeatedly about facts that he knows. I think more than anything, he's going to be convinced this is the reason why Trump will never, ever sit down with him. He's going to have to move on to the investigation and close it without talking to him or send him a grand jury subpoena.
O'DONNELL: Yes, there is no answer under oath or to federal investigators of why have you been saying every day that it could have been someone else after January 6th, 2017, after you were told exactly what this was? He's got no honest answer to that.
Everyone, thank you very much for getting our first panel started on our first round of this. We have to squeeze in a break here.
Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, will join us. He will react to the breaking news tonight that Donald Trump has known since January 6th exactly who ordered the Russian attack on our election.
O'DONNELL: We are back with more of our breaking news coverage of this "New York Times" report tonight saying that headlined: from the start, Trump has muddied a clear message, that Putin interfered. "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that President Trump has known since he was President-elect Trump, on January 6th, 2017, that Vladimir Putin personally ordered the Russian attack on our election and ordered it to sway the outcome of the election in favor of Donald Trump. The evidence according to "The New York Times" report tonight the evidence included texts from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top secret source close to Mr. Putin who had described to the CIA how the Kremlin planned to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
This was all presented to President-elect Trump in Trump Tower on January 6th, 2017. The director of the CIA, John Brennan, was there. James Comey, director of the FBI, was there. Director of the NSA was there. It was a full intelligence community briefing of the newly elected president and the president has known beyond a reasonable doubt, having been shown absolute proof of this since January 6th, 2017, that the Russians at the specific direction of Vladimir Putin did indeed attack and attempt to corrupt the American presidential election.
Joining our discussion now is Frank Figliuzzi. He is a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence and a national security expert for MSNBC and NBC News. Matt Miller and Gene Robinson are still with us.
And, Frank, I want to get your expert view of what we have here, what this "New York Times" breaking report today adds to our understanding of the president's use and misuse of information. The way the president has denied and lied constantly to the public saying it could have been the Russians. It could have been someone else. He even said that today.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Lawrence, this significantly changes the equation. And now, it's a new lens through which we have to look at all of the conduct and behavior of the president. So, every time he came out publically and blamed the FBI for not doing anything, President Obama for knowing about this and not doing anything, the utter disdain that he holds the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI in, it's because they knew his secret. They told him the secret. And he was covering it up.
Let me just -- bear with me. I'm going to read a very brief definition of accomplice after the fact, Lawrence. If someone who assists, someone being the president in this case, who assists another -- another being Putin or the Russian Federation -- who has committed a felony, numerous felonies in the assistance provided by Russia to the campaign. After the person has committed the felony, with knowledge that the person committed the felony and with the intent to help the person avoid arrest or punishment, an accessory after the fact may be held liable or obstruction of justice.
That's how come this is significant reporting tonight.
O'DONNELL: "The New York Times" also carries this passage inside the article. It says, in July 2017, just after meeting Mr. Putin for the first time, Mr. Trump told a "New York Times" reporter that the Russian president had made a persuasive case that Moscow's cyber skills were so good that the government's hackers would never have been caught. Therefore, Mr. Trump recounted from his conversation with Mr. Putin, Russia must not have been responsible.
And, Matt Miller, there is the president of the United States telling "The New York Times" that he was convinced by Vladimir Putin that Vladimir Putin's cyber team is better than the United States of America's cyber team and, therefore, Vladimir Putin must be telling him the truth.
MILLER: Yes, taking Vladimir Putin's side over his own intelligence agency. And I think that's the point that I take away most from this new report.
As you go back to Monday's performance, it was such a disgrace just based on what we knew at the time. Seeing the president stand up and cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies, attack the FBI, take Vladimir Putin's side, take his word again.
That was bad enough just based on what we knew then. Now that we find out he knew a year and a half earlier that Putin personally knew about this and personally ordered the hacking and yet he stood right next to him and made excuses for him and helped him cover it up and attacked the investigators who are trying to hold those hackers accountable was an absolute moral failing by the president of the United States.
O'DONNELL: And, Gene Robinson, what we seem to have here is an intelligencecommunity that has had enough.
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.
O'DONNELL: There are -- there is just a large number of people out there at this point who would be in a position to be able to supply "The New York Times" with this kind of information tonight. Apparently, they have seen this President go too far and seeing him up there on that stage with Vladimir Putin must have been the last straw for this reporting because this sourcing to "The New York Times" has become very explicit, saying that the President-elect was shown evidence that included texts and emails from Russian military officers. Information gleaned from a top secret source close to Vladimir Putin. Those presumably includes some of the officers who were indicted last week.
ROBINSON: And presumably they certainly might. There is also in the article a description of a source very close to Vladimir Putin, such a sensitive source that any reference to the source was kept out of even President Obama's presidential daily brief because of its relatively, because of its wide -- wider circulation. And apparently only the President and a few others were told of the existence of this source, who obviously they think is really good.
You know, there is all this sort of blabber on the right wing about the deep state. These are public servants who have dedicated years, decades to public service, to government service, who take their jobs seriously and who were shocked and stunned at that performance on Monday. After all that has come before, that was -- that was some sort of punctuation mark for a lot of people. And I can just tell you just from personal acquaintances who work in the intelligence field, it was -- it was a blow like none that has come before and they had to ask themselves about the loyalty of the President of the United States. And that's a stark question for people to face.
ROBINSON: And it implies that they then have to think of their own responsibility and the oaths they have taken and their service to the nation.
O'DONNELL: And how to express that service, how to best express it.
Frank, we are now seeing in this report tonight a frame for the agony that John Brennan must have been going through for more than the last year and especially the agony he must have been endured when he saw Donald Trump standing beside Vladimir Putin on Monday. This explains much of the language and the outrage that we have heard from the former CIA director John Brennan who personally, personally briefed this President-elect on exactly what Vladimir Putin did in this election.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: So many of us have been talking for months now on this network about the tip of the iceberg and what's beneath the surface. And we have made references to the top secret intercepts and human sources that must be available to Bob Mueller.
And now unfortunately, due to this leak, this is playing out as we suspected. Many of us who have had to provide sensitive briefings to President-elects or candidates for President know that this is routinely given to those people to equip them to help protect the nation.
So if you are sitting there as John Brennan, you are sitting there as fired FBI director Jim Comey and you know the truth and you are watching the President lie daily about what he knows and who is to blame and then asking to sit alone with the man who he knows helped him or tried to help him in the meeting in Helsinki, you understand how outraged some of these professionals are.
O'DONNELL: Well, this is going to put all the more pressure on this new movement that just bubbled up in the last 24 hours to get the notes of the interpreter who was in that room with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
We are going to have more on that when we come back.
O'DONNELL: It was another challenging day in the White House press briefing room because, of course, their President had, again, lied today by saying that, no, the Russians were not currently trying to attack or continuing to attack the electoral system in the United States or any other kind of cyber-attack on the United States.
And, so, when White House press secretary -- the White House press secretary tried to escape a very sharp line of questioning from Hallie Jackson by calling on Jordan Fabian, the most perfect moment of the White House press core team work unfolded and Jordan Fabian no doubt to the cheers of millions at home who have been waiting for this kind of moment showed us how it's done.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why should this President have any credibility to Americans in what he says if in fact 24 hours or in this case three hours later the White House comes out and says just kidding.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: First of all, that's not what I said. I was interpreting what the President's intention was and stating the administration's policy. It is not exactly what you just explained. We never said just kidding. And I think that you --
JACKSON: You understand.
SANDERS: You can take the fact that the President has creditability because he saw he had misspoken and he wanted to clarify that yesterday which he did. So when he sees that he is misspoken, he comes out and he says --.
JACKSON: Just to follow up on my second question.
SANDERS: You've asked two. I'm going to move on to Jordan. Jordan, go ahead.
JORDAN FABIAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: Sorry. Hallie, go ahead, if you want.
SANDERS: Actually, I'm going to take a question from Jordan.
JACKSON: I just want to know when because I don't remember a time when a President has publically called out Vladimir Putin.
SANDERS: I think that by stating the fact that the President said that Russia interfered with our election, that's a pretty bold call out of another world leader. Jordan, go ahead.
O'DONNELL: And then Jordan Fabian did ask his question about possible future sanctions against Russian interference in our elections. Rosie Gray, White House correspondent for "the Atlantic" tweeted, this was a nice moment of press core solidarity to which Hallie Jackson has tweeted, classy move by Jordan Fabian and a big thanks to him from our team at NBC News . Follow up questions are a part of our jobs and it is helpful to be able to ask them."
And I just can't tell you how shocked and delighted I was by the Jordan Fabian moment in today's press briefing.
And, so, joining us now is Jordan Fabian, White House correspondent for the Hill.
And Jordan, you got a standing ovation from me watching it alone at home, but I'm sure you got it from around the country because we have watched. We who watch these things watch the core yell over each other and the precious moment of being able to ask that question is so important that no one seems to care what has just been asked or no one seems to care that Sara Sanders is using the next question to evade the last question.
How did you decide that this was the moment? This was the moment where you weren't going to play the game, you were going to hand it back to Hallie Jackson and let her have your opportunity?
FABIAN: Well, thanks, Lawrence.
And, you know, look, a lot of us in the White House press core have been talking for a long time about press core unity and sticking together and making sure, you know, all of us can do our jobs and get the questions that we're asking answered. And I thought that was an opportunity to sort of step aside and let Hallie get her question answered because, you know, Sara Sanders was dodging a little bit and I thought that she deserved the chance, you know, to have her question answered.
So, look, we all have our questions but the briefings have been few and far between, so it is tougher to get questions in now. But, look, I think if we are talking about unity, it is important that we practice what we preach and really hand the mike over if someone is not getting their question answered.
O'DONNELL: There was another extraordinary moment that followed your question where April Ryan was trying to fight her way in and normally there is all this kind of yelling over each other. But there was a moment where it's like the seas parted. Everyone stopped talking so that April Ryan could actually get through and of course Sarah Sanders refused to answer her question, but I have never seen that happen before where people just got out of the way. Just everyone got out of the way and let April Ryan try to have her moment. So is this a kind of recent decision that's happening among the group?
FABIAN: You know, Lawrence, I don't think it's really, you know, a conscious decision where, you know, we all get together in a big group and decide, you know, this is the time that we are going to do it. But I think a lot of reporters have seen how the briefings are going and it seen times when, you know, people have, you know, like you said, people shouting over each other, people not getting their questioned answered.
And, you know, I think a lot of us have taken just internally, ourselves personally, the attitude that, you know, we're all in this together and that we all have a job to do. I know the briefings can seem like a televised circus times but in reality, it is a group of 49 reporters who are just trying to do their job. So in order for that to happen, I think a lot of us have taken the attitude that, look, you know, we all have our jobs to do and everyone needs the opportunity to do it.
FABIAN: Jordan, it is very clear for people watching at home that Sara Sanders has been exploiting the process and trying to use reporters against each other to evade the pressures of what goes on in that room. And the way you handled it today is the way so many of us have been waiting to see it handled for so long. And I hope that you are treated tomorrow and in the future as the leader that you were in that room today and people follow your example.
Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Jordan. Really appreciate.
FABIAN: All right. Thanks, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: Thank you.
We have much more ahead, especially on this breaking news night where the "New York Times" is reporting that President Trump has known since two weeks before his inauguration that Vladimir Putin personally ordered the attack on our election, the cyber-attack by the Russian military. And that President Trump was shown texts and emails in an intelligence briefing in Trump tower when he was President-elect, a fact that President Trump has denied every day of his presidency.
We will be right back.
O'DONNELL: There was an extraordinary moment in today's White House press briefing. One of the true low points of the Trump administration and one that would again provoke people like John Brennan who consider just how treasonous the people in this White House in addition to the President can actually be. Let's listen to this question from Maggie Haberman and the answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question they claim were involved in ill-brothers quote-unquote "crimes in their terms," including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned?
SANDERS: The President is going to meet with his team and we will let you know when we have an announcement on that.
HABERMAN: Is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?
SANDERS: There was some conversation about it but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States and the President will work with his team and we will let you know if there is an announcement on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Former secretary of state John Kerry tweeted, the administration needs to make it an equivocally clear that in a million years this wouldn't be under consideration, period, full stop, not something that should require a half-second of consultation. Dangerous.
Back with us for our discussion, Gene Robinson, Matt Miller and Frank Figliuzzi. He is the former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.
And, Gene, this was a moment like, again, like no other, like nothing we have ever seen. Will the President consider handing over a former ambassador to Russia for investigation, questioning and, what, arrest and conviction and imprisonment?
ROBINSON: There are not words. I mean, this is -- this could never -- that response that Sara Sanders gave that didn't have an answer, of course there is an answer. Of course this is completely out of the question. Yet, this was apparently discussed in that private meeting.
And, so, what else was discussed in that private meeting? And (INAUDIBLE) "the Washington Post," we have a piece about the Russians saying there were important agreements reached in this (INAUDIBLE). That our government, that our officials know nothing about -- to say nothing about you and I, we have no idea what they decided, you know. Apparently, according to the Russians, they might be trolling us. Who knows? They reached important agreements, those two leaders in secret. And so, it's just extraordinary.
O'DONNELL: And Matt Miller, we know that Trump personnel are the least experienced people in the history of the government. Sara Sanders would not be a press secretary or an assistant press secretary or in deputy assistant, assistant, assistant, assistant in any other White House. So there is always the rank ignorance explanation for everything that they say. And because she doesn't know what she's actually talking about most of the time, she thinks that that might be an acceptable answer to this.
But then, there is the much more extremely dangerous possibility here. And that is that Donald Trump as gene says did actually discuss this with Vladimir Putin and did come to an agreement of well, of course, if you want to talk to McFaul, we will deliver him to you.
MATT MILLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Yes. And I think it is very clear, she didn't feel she had the runway from her boss to some out and what the state department said today which is this is an absurd idea. That one the United States would never agree to because she has no idea what her boss did agree to in the meeting and would be worried if the President saw her say that, he might be mad at her for coming to the defense of someone like Michael McFaul, who is a former Obama administration appointee and a critic of his who goes on television and criticizes the President.
It gets back to the question that Eugene was raining about, you know, we don't know what happened in this meeting. And you know, what our normal President would say, a President who is sticking up for America, when Vladimir Putin raised something like that would say look, that is absurd. It is insulting. We are not -- absolutely not going to make one of our former ambassadors available for questioning. And I reject the false equivalence of you comparing the hacking that you order now that Mr. Trump knew that Putin ordered himself that you ordered with one of your conspiracy theories about something that happened. It's an absolute false equivalence and I reject it. But you saw that he was intrigued by the idea. He brought it up twice in his press conference after the meeting. And I just, some part of me that wonders, that when Putin brought it up, I would love to know whether the President didn't say something like he was a former Obama administration appointee. He is someone who criticizes me. I'm not all that disturbed by the idea.
O'DONNELL: Frank, the answer that we just head Sara Sanders give is, and this is something Donald Trump and Sara Sanders doesn't understand is fundamentally un-American.
FIGLIUZZI: So let me address this ignorance as a defense issue first. I stopped buying into that ignorance defense a long time ago with this administration because look what you lead off with tonight, Lawrence. This story tonight that the President knew two weeks before the inauguration that an adversary was trying to assist him responsible for hacking removes that possibility of the ignorance defense. So when he was coughing up, he is talking to even considering coughing up American citizens, coughing up a U.S. ambassador, the conclusion you have to draw is that he is aiding and a-bedding the enemy. That's what we are dealing with tonight.
O'DONNELL: We are joined now by congressman Adam Schiff. He is the ranking member of the intelligence committee. He has just left the House floor for his casting votes to join us for this.
Congressman Schiff, we have this breaking news report tonight from "the Washington Post" indicating that President Trump has known since January 6th, 2017, "the New York Times" reports tonight that the President was briefed in the real specifics how Vladimir Putin specifically ordered the invasion, the attack on our election and that Donald Trump has known this for a couple of weeks before he was inaugurated.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Lawrence, I'm permitted to comment specifically on what the President was briefed and when he was given the briefing. But I can say this, as a member of the gang of eight, I was certainly kept abreast of what the Russians were doing in real-time during the election. I continued to get briefings after the election during the period in which Donald Trump was in the President elect. And it is not just the gang of eight members, the candidate, the major Presidential candidates are going to get a briefing on certain intelligence.
When they become the President elect, they are going to be given much more specific intelligence and certainly when they become President, those briefings are going to continue.
There is no way to claim that the President was unaware from the very beginning of what the Russians were doing and even specific evidence of what the Russians were doing. We indulge ourselves in this fiction somehow that maybe this is a problem of Donald Trump not knowing but clearly, he has been briefed time and time and time again. I would argue beginning as the Republican nominee until the present day, he just can't accept it and therein lies the problem.
O'DONNELL: And congressman, it seems that the problem for the President in his strategy is that he wants to call the investigation that you have engaged in a witch-hunt. He especially wants to call the special prosecutor's investigation a witch-hunt but it can't be a witch-hunt if the Russians actually did attack our election processes.
SCHIFF: Well, that's exactly right. You know, it's hard to escape the conclusion there is some pathology at work here because of course, he would have said yes the Russians did it. I acknowledge the Russians did it but nonetheless, I don't believe it was determinative in the impact on the election, even if it were, I deplore, et cetera.
He could have said all of that. All of that actually would have been in his self-interest. But he is incapable of doing that. And the problem for our country is that means the President of the United States will not, cannot, isn't capable of accepting that the Russians interfered, that the Russians are likely to interfere again, that he has a responsibility to the country to do something to protect ourselves in the next election and this just isn't happening.
O'DONNELL: And Congressman, this seems that tonight's news seems to put all the more pressure on an idea that has been advanced by some Democratic senators and some Democratic members of the House that the interpreter who was present in the room with President Trump and President Putin should reveal her notes of that meeting and tell Congress in testimony everything that she can about what was said in that room?
SCHIFF: And I fully support that. And I never thought I would support a stuff like that, frankly. There are policy reasons why a president should be able to have private conversations with foreign leaders. But not under this circumstance where the President demands that there would no -- effectively no witnesses where the President makes reference to commitments that were under taken in that private meeting where in the public seating, he under cuts our national interests and our intelligence agencies. And we can only imagine what was said in private under these circumstances where the President of the United States is (INAUDIBLE) working against our own interest as a country, then yes, we have to fierce the vail of secrecy in the meeting and we should haul in that interpreter to find out exactly what happened.
O'DONNELL: And isn't it customary for interpreter's notes in meetings like that to be and delivered in a mem-con (ph) a memorandum of conversation to the secretary of state and then also a copied to the archives? I mean, these notes in the past have found their way in that route, and not consider in things that need to be kept secret forever.
SCHIFF: Well, I think that's exactly right. And these records really need to preserved. And more than that, they need to be shared with Congress so that we can determine what further steps we need to take to protect the country, yes from Russian intervention, but also from a President that is incapable of accepting what the Russians did and might do again.
So I think that is truly called for under this circumstance. I can tell you this, Lawrence. The Russians would have no compunction about recording this and using anything he said against the President of the United States. I have to imagine that if our intelligence agencies ask the President whether they could similarly record what took place, the President would have said no. And I can't imagine the intelligence committee going forward with recording to those conversations without the President's approval. So here again, the President has given the Russians a unilateral advantage over our country.
O'DONNELL: And the other intelligence experts have been saying today that they firmly believe that Vladimir Putin has a recording of what went on in the room. What does that mean for the President?
SCHIFF: Well, I think what that means is I would fully expect that our intelligence community would have briefed the President going into the private meeting that you have to fully expect the Russians are record everything you say.
Now, it's one thing to advice the President of this. It is another thing to expect him to actually act on that information. But the consequence is if the President should do or say something that is either at odds with what he said privately to Putin or just at odds with Russian interests to the degree Putin decides he'll let the President have it. Then Putin is in the possession of recordings of exactly what was said and can release them. So it's more for conformant for the Russians.
O'DONNELL: Congressman Adam Schiff gets tonight's LAST WORD. Thank you very much for joining us, congressman. Really appreciate it.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: And also thanks to Eugene Robinson, Frank Figliuzzi, Matt Millers and all of our guests tonight.
"The 11th with Brian Williams starts now.
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