Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: July 20, 2018 Guest: Michael Avenatti, Evans McMullin, Harry Litman
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Manafort`s actual trial in Virginia will start the following day on Wednesday. So hydrate this weekend, right? Eat your fiber. Rest up. Take good care. I will be spending part of my weekend in my own very special happy place with my friend Joy Reid. I will be with Joy Reid on her show tomorrow A.M. Joy. I hope that I will see you there.
That is it for us tonight. See you again on Monday. Now it is time -- well, I`ll see you again tomorrow. Then I`ll see you on Monday. Now it is time for "THE LAST WORD."
Katy Tur is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Katy.
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, that`s the stuff that we know about. Let`s not forget that there is always breaking news and something pops up that we have no idea about. So rest, hydrate, sleep, drink a lot, whatever you got to do to get through the weekend to prepare yourself for next week.
MADDOW: Because the craziness never ends.
TUR: It does not.
TUR: Have fun with Joy tomorrow.
MADDOW: Thank you, Katy.
TUR: Rachel, thanks so much.
TUR: I`m Katy Tur, in for Lawrence tonight.
And in this hour we are taking a special look of what may have been Donald Trump`s worst week as President.
The week started with the high stakes summit with Vladimir Putin and questions about whether the Russian president was making a secret recording of the meeting. And the week ending with breaking news of a secret recordings of a much different variety. News of the President`s fixer Michael Cohen secretly recorded at least one conversation with his boss. Tonight we will examine what the Trump tape, perhaps tapes, could mean for the Robert Mueller probe and if the one tape revealed actually might lead to specific criminal charges.
Also, this dramatic week has brought incredibly serious questions about Putin`s hold over President Trump. A Republican Congress and former CIA agent drawing the conclusion President Putin is, in fact, manipulating the President of the United States. A Republican congressman, I should say.
And after this week, what about Donald Trump`s hold on the Republican Party in general? Has this week`s uproar over the Putin summit finally triggered what one Trump supporter called the rising tide of Trump regret.
So much to talk about it tonight with our guests. Michael Avenatti, Joyce Vance, Harry Litman, Malcolm Nance, Jason Johnson, Yamiche Alcindor and Evan McMullen.
And we start tonight with the Trump tape or maybe it is Trump tapes. When FBI agents raided the home office and hotel room of Donald Trump`s fixer Michael Cohen in April, a worried Trump adviser told "the Washington Post" quote "we heard he had proclivity to make tapes. Now we are wondering, who did he tape?"
Well, today we got the answer when "The New York Times" posted this headline. Michael Cohen secretly taped Trump discussing payment to playboy model.
Quote "President Trump`s long-time lawyer Michael D. Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the Presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. The FBI seized the tapes during a raid on Mr. Cohen`s office."
The existence of that recording would seem to contradict Donald Trump`s denial that he had any knowledge of the payment to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 election that kept her from talking about her alleged yearlong affair with Donald Trump between 2006 and 2007.
A source familiar with the President`s legal strategy confirmed that the President did not know Michael Cohen was recording him on that tape.
And CNN reports, one source told them, when informed about the recording, Trump said I can`t believe Michael would do this to me.
Despite all of this, Donald Trump`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claimed that the recording is a good thing for Trump. He said that this quote "powerful exculpatory evidence." Giuliani says the recoding is less than two minutes long and proves the President did not know about the payment to Karen McDougal before his conversation with Michael Cohen.
Michael Cohen`s lawyer disagrees tweeting, when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape.
Amid is back and forth, Rachel Maddow has just broken a major piece of news about the Trump tape. We know that Michael Cohen`s lawyers have argued in court that some of the items seized from him should not be handed over to prosecutors because of attorney-client privilege.
Well tonight, the "Vanity Fair" reporter Emily Jane Fox told Rachel this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMILY JANE FOX, REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: One person familiar with the situation told me this evening that this was deemed privileged by the special master, but that the President`s attorneys waived the privilege. I just spoke with Rudy Giuliani who is the President`s attorney who said he wasn`t sure if the special master had deemed privileged or not, but effectively they waived privilege today by speaking about what was on the tape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: It is all very confusing. And all of this raises potentially bigger worries for the President. What if there are more tapes? What if Robert Mueller gets those tapes? And what would the recordings mean for Donald Trump if Michael decides to cooperate with federal prosecutors?
A person familiar with the President`s legal strategy told NBC News the President`s legal team is not aware of any other quote "substantive tapes," but Michael Cohen`s friends Sam Nunberg told me this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Michael Cohen recording calls, is this the only one?
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: With Donald Trump?
NUNBERG: I doubt it.
NUNBERG: I think Michael recorded a lot of calls. That is always something if you talked to Michael there are people that would even say in Trump org, don`t go into Michael`s office. He might be recording everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Joining us now is Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels.
Michael, you tweeted this today. There is a reason why I use the term that I did and demanded the release of the Trump tapes as opposed to the Trump tapes. If Michael Cohen is a patriot then all of the tapes should be released to the American people. Now too much is at stake.
Michael, what other tapes are there? What else do you know about?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` ATTORNEY: Well, there is multiple tapes. And, you know, nearly two months ago I coined the phrase Trump tapes on the steps of that courthouse, and I demanded their release. That was nearly two months ago. This is not the only recording between Michael Cohen and the President. I can assure you of that. There are multiple recordings. And the problem for the President is that Michael Cohen will go down as one of the great hoarders of evidence in modern times.
I mean, this is a guy that did not throw documents away. He kept text messages, emails, old cell phones, made it a point to record conversations unbeknownst to the other parties on the phone, all of which does not bode well for the President.
TUR: How do you know there are more tapes?
AVENATTI: Well, I know it the same way I have known everything over the last -- relating -- that I have commented on other the last six months. I mean, my record is beyond --
TUR: Well, how is that you have known everything? What -- where are you getting this information from?
AVENATTI: Well, I`m active in the case. I mean, this is what I do for a living.
TUR: You are not active in this case, though.
AVENATTI: Well, I am representing my client in a whole host of cases. And people share information with me. I have been (INAUDIBLE) of information. I`m the one that has broken a lot of information, in fact, most of the information in connection with these cases because I`m one of the few people that is willing to go On the Record and speak publically about it.
So you know, look. If I`m wrong about that, if there is more than -- if there is only one tape, then let the other people involved in the case come forward and contradict me. You are not going to hear it. You are going to hear crickets.
TUR: So break something on this show tonight. What else do you have?
AVENATTI: Well, I am not in a position to break something here tonight. You know, two months ago I disclosed the fact that these tapes existed and I demanded their release and now "The New York Times" publishes this article today relating to the single recording.
TUR: Well, the "Washington Post" had it very early on that Michael Cohen had a tendency to record people. So that was out there. I mean, you have posted pictures of a DVD. We have never found out what is on that DVD or CD, whatever that was. Do you want to tell us what that is?
AVENATTI: Hold on a minute, OK. I`m the one that disclose a lot of information in connection with this case consistently. And if people look at this, I have an exceptional track record relating the information that I have disclosed in connection with this case. I have disclosed banking transactions. I have been the repository of information that has been forthcoming in connection with this case, period.
TUR: How does -- who does this help, this tape? Does this help Michael Cohen? Could it help the President by distracting from the Helsinki meeting? Who benefits from the release of this tape?
AVENATTI: Well, there is no question that it cuts against the President. You know, evidently, he didn`t even know he was being recorded in connection with this particular conversation. I think all of this cuts against him. I don`t know ultimately whether it will assist Michael Cohen or not. I know that Rudy Giuliani`s comments about it being exculpatory, I mean, that is just complete nonsense. It is never a good thing when a recording is released that you didn`t even know was being made.
TUR: Emily Jane Fox is reporting that this was privileged, but that the President`s team waived the privilege. Does that make sense to you?
AVENATTI: Well, I don`t know what she means by that. It does not appear that the privilege was waived prior to its release. I don`t know ultimately whether it would have been found to be privileged, frankly, because I don`t know that the communication was in the course of providing legal advice as opposed to some other advice. So I`m not exactly sure what she means by a waiver of the privilege unless what she is speaking about, Katy, is the subsequent communications by Rudy Giuliani relating to the content, in which case there could have been a waiver. But at that point it occurs to me that the disclosure of the tape had already occurred.
TUR: If it is in the public record now, does that mean the prosecutors will be able to use it? Is it still privileged if we all know about it?
AVENATTI: No. Generally you can`t put the horse back in the barn or the Jeannie back in the bottle, whatever metaphor you want to use. The privilege would (INAUDIBLE) or negated at that point and it would be fair game.
TUR: Are you sure you don`t want to tell us anything else?
AVENATTI: No. Not tonight.
TUR: Michael Avenatti, thank you.
TUR: Let`s bring in Jason Johnson, politics editor at therrot.com. Also joining us is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama and a professor at the University of Alabama law school. Both are MSNBC contributors.
Joyce, I do want to start with you. Can you help us understand this idea that it could have been privileged and then waived and where that means this evidence stands now for prosecutors?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: So the context for this evidence coming to light was the search of Michael Cohen, which produced a lot of documentary evidence. And he was the first one to raise this idea that some of it was privileged because he was a lawyer. And that Trump as the client would have attorney-client privilege to assert, too.
So both Trump and Cohen`s lawyers went through the documents and designated certain items as privilege. And you will recall then that was subject to review by a retired magistrate judge who the district judge brought in.
And the reason all of that background matters, Katy, is because somehow we have shifted from this process where Trump and Cohen were asserting that these documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege to this point where we are told tonight, they decided we will just go ahead and waive it and put it out there even though the judge found in our favor.
That doesn`t really make sense to me. I feel like there must be something more here we don`t know about yet.
TUR: There may be a campaign finance issue with this, Joyce. But at the very least, this does catch the President and his team in another lie. Here was the original denial from the Trump campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, at the when "the Wall Street Journal" first reported the payment to Karen McDougal. We have no knowledge of any of this. She said that Ms. McDougal`s claim of an affair with Mr. Trump was totally untrue. This reporting from the Times has this two months before the election which means that Donald Trump knew about it. They have it on tape. How many legal problems does this pose for the President for -- to be caught in another boldfaced lie?
VANCE: You know, legal problems will depend on whether or not there is all of the elements of this crime of campaign finance met. There is a lot of specific intent you would have to be able to prove as a prosecutor. It will depend in large part on transactions and some very specific details.
As for telling another lie about women, I almost think that this sort of a problem is already baked into the President`s poll numbers and the reaction that his base has to him and they will shrug it off as just another woman and just another lie.
TUR: Politically speaking, Jason, is this a better topic for the President than the Helsinki meeting?
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: No. Because honestly, Katy, it is all problematic for the President. Not with his base as the other guests mentions. Like he is base thinks that he walks on gold and that he is magical and nothing he ever does is wrong and that, you know, Obama is hiding in a closet recording all this information.
But the rest of the country gets tired of it. The issue that Trump has always had is that whether it`s Russia, whether it is an affair, whether it is not draining the swamp, whether it is saying something offensive or racist or jailing children, you know, at the border of the United States, eventually it just makes Americans think what is this guy actually doing? Is he really lowering my taxes? Is he really doing anything about jobs? And that hurts the President with independence. And that`s where it is going to end up being an issue alter on this fall because if independent voters think that the Republican party and Trump aren`t getting anything done because they are caught up in scandals, they are going to vote democratic and they will be part of the blue wave.
TUR: What about Michael Cohen, Jason? Michael Cohen now, it seems like he is more willing to talk to prosecutors than he was a few months ago and he was talking about taking a bullet for Donald Trump. Now he is telling Reverend Al Sharpton that his family comes first and being a patriot comes first.
JOHNSON: Yes, yes. Not going to jail comes first for Michael Cohen. Like it is amazing to me to watch so many of the members of Trump`s team realize what an un-loyal and fort worthless guy he is to try to take a bullet for him. I mean, everybody starts with the shaggy defensive, it wasn`t me. And now people are turning around and saying, oh, yes, he is dirty. He is dirty just like I said.
Michael Cohen recognizes that Donald Trump will not help him. Donald Trump will not back him and he has to release whatever information it is that he can to get himself out of trouble.
And this is also important to remember with what Giuliani said. The Trump administration, whether it is on politics or lawsuits, has consistently lied about information. Every time there is a report from the U.S. Senate committee in intelligence, Trump says, this proves there is no collusion. Giuliani says every bit of information, oh, this proves Trump didn`t do anything wrong. There are habitual liars. So more likely to not, if they are opening their mouths, this is something dangerous they are trying to spin.
TUR: Jason and Joyce, thank you very much.
And coming up, what does this new tape of Donald Trump mean for the many investigations into the President`s actions?
And later, a Republican member of Congress from Texas now says President Trump is being manipulated by Vladimir Putin, and he is asking what America should do about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I do feel that we have both made some mistakes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: That right there started Donald Trump`s troublesome week. But it ends on a very different scandal.
More now on our top story tonight. Two months up from the election, Michael Cohen recorded a conversation he had with Donald Trump in which the two men discussed a payment to former playboy model Karen McDougal who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007.
The justice department is investigating Michael Cohen`s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Trump in the 2016 election. As "The New York Times" reports, prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them. Legal experts have told the Washington Post that Michael Cohen`s recordings could be a gold mine for federal investigators.
Joining us now is Harry Litman, former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton. And back with us Joyce Vance.
Harry, a gold mine. Could they potentially be that?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, it could potentially be that. First in general, tapes are always the strongest kind of evidence. To actually hear the President being contradicted from his public statements on tape really matter.
But, look, here the crime is the cover-up. And in order to effectuate it, they needed other people to -- other people`s help. And you can just ask yourself who was fooled? Who was defrauded here. So there is the federal election commission. There is the possibility of campaign finance problems.
But also Karen McDougal, certainly, was hood winked here my Cohen, probably by her lawyer, probably with the knowledge or possibly with the knowledge of the President. It`s possible there were banks that were used here and that Cohen was not completely truthful to them.
These could give rise to wire fraud and bank frauds charges and if there is an agreement here, there could be the possibility of conspiracy, including with the "National Enquirer" and David Pecker, who did this very remarkable thing of just smothering a story and telling Karen McDougal she was going to have a writing contract really intending that the story never see the light of day. That`s fraud and it is possibility criminal and it is possibly conspiratorial.
TUR: So there is competing explanations right now about what is said on the tape. Some people, Rudy Giuliani are saying that Donald Trump discussed cutting a check to pay for this, which would mean there is a paper trail. There are folks around Michael Cohen it is reported that are saying, no, that was actually Michael Cohen saying that and maybe they would buy it back from American media and David Pecker.
Here is what Giuliani told "The New York Times." Mr. Giuliani initially indicated the men discussed a payment from Trump to Ms. McDougal separate from the Enquirer`s payment to buy her story. Later he said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen had actually discussed buying the rights to Ms. McDougal`s story from the Enquirer, a move that would have effectively reimbursed the newspaper for its payments to her.
Are there problems with that, Joyce? If so, what are they?
VANCE: You know, these tapes will speak for themselves. Once prosecutors looked at them, prosecutors will know what they say and what they mean. And that`s really all that matters here. We are seeing Rudy Giuliani coming out again in public like he has with many other developments in this case, trying to put a public spin on this, hoping perhaps to persuade the public so that if impeachment proceedings begin, they won`t go very far.
Prosecutors don`t really care about any of that. They will just care about the hard enough. And these tapes which have already been made say whatever they say. And at some point the government will evaluate whether that is part of the evidence that they might use to prove a federal crime. Perhaps they will ask Mr. Cohen to cooperate with the government and provide evidence. Perhaps not. But this is already a decided issue. And what`s so odd here is Giuliani going out trying to make the evidence be something that it really isn`t.
TUR: Yes. Well, talk about that, Harry. Why is Giuliani trying to claim that it is exculpatory evidence?
LITMAN: Yes. So here is my surmise. First of all, I totally agree with Joyce. There is something we don`t quite fully understand about the context here. It makes no sense that they wanted this out. That they waved that released it on a Friday afternoon to somehow help him. There is more to come to the story there.
But my surmise is when we actually get the transcript, there will be this minor detail in passing where Trump says something about a check. By the way, we are supposed to think that`s a good thing instead of using cash. Like that`s the big show of virtue. Exactly.
But my best guess is that that is a sort of stray detail that Giuliani is reaching for now when we hear the transcript it will be tangential to the real blockbuster, which is Trump`s knowledge and the attempt to hush her up and that Giuliani is trying to spin out this point about using a check. If he used a check, by the way, it is the same essential consultant`s kind of scheme as potentially comes up in Stormy Daniels. But we are told that they consider doing this but actually in the end no check, no cash, no payment was made.
TUR: These payments to women, although, this is an SDNY case, these payments to women, Joyce, have come up in Mueller`s questioning. Sam Nunberg told Ari Melber that they came up in questioning when Mueller`s team was interviewing him in front of a grand jury, Joyce.
VANCE: Yes. Well, here`s one of the reasons that they could come up. This could all be part of a campaign finance sort of scenario and perhaps that could bleed over into Mueller`s investigation.
But this all happened with Karen after the Access Hollywood tape was released, probably at the most fragile point in Trump`s campaign. There clearly would have been concern that another story like this coming from someone as incredible as Ms. McDougal could have been even more damaging if not fatal to the campaign.
So this sort of evidentiary picture around these occurrences that tends to let credibility to the idea that these payments were being contemplated to influence the election, that`s a very strong line of developing information. And there will be a question that will come parallel to it. Who is providing the money? Who was funding it? How is it being done? How many women were there? And one could see how that would easily merge with some of the inquiry that Mr. Mueller has undertaken.
TUR: Joyce Vance. Joyce, thank you very much.
Harry Litman, thank you as well.
And coming up, the President`s very bad week began with the President fawning over Vladimir Putin. And now a Republican member of Congress thinks that it is now time to act to protect the country.
TUR: This right here may be the worst thing that happened during what may be Trump`s worst week ever. The dam is breaking. That is what a Republican Senator Bob Corker predicted the day after Trump capitulated to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: It feels like the dam is breaking and I was really glad to see people on both sides of the aisle condemning what happened yesterday strongly. I am glad to see people speaking out forcefully. Some have been doing it all along. But, look, yesterday was uncalled for, unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: If the dam Corker refers to is the solid line of defense from the Republican Party Trump has been able to rely on so far. We are seeing more evidence of that dam breaking.
Now from Congressman Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas and a member of the House intelligence committee. He has written an op-ed for "The New York Times" titled "Trump is being manipulated by Putin. What should he do?" He says quote "over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the CIA, I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them."
Specifically, Hurd writes, the president`s failure to defend the United States intelligence communities unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans.
By playing into Vladimir Putin`s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.
Those are some pretty strong words from a member of the Republican -- of the president`s own party, and a former CIA officer. And joining us now to talk about this is Malcolm Nance, MSNBC counterterrorism and intelligence analyst and author of "The Plot To Destroy Democracy: How Putin and his Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West." That is a lot from Congressman Hurd, Malcolm. When you hear him say that, do you think he`s going too far?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: No and I know Will Hurd and I have spoken with him before. You know, he is a very proud Republican from Texas, but he is also a proud CIA officer, former CIA officer. And he`s been pretty much tracking along with the president for many things. So, it was quite surprising to see that op ed, you know.
But you have to understand something. Intelligence professionals and those who were formerly in the community, they work for a higher purpose. They work for the constitution of the United States. And when they see something is wrong, they say that something is wrong.
And Will Hurd has finally seen enough. And that was the president of the United States in Helsinki technically embarrassing himself and making the United States almost a junior partner to an ex-KGB officer. And for a CIA officer who has seen how Russians do their activities, that had to be very painful.
TUR: It is not just Will Hurd or Bob Corker who said the dam is breaking. It is Donald Trump`s own intelligence community. Listen to what Dan Coats, his DNI said to Andrea Mitchell about that first Trump-Putin meeting on Monday, just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: You`re right. I don`t know what happened in that meeting. I think as time goes by and the president has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more. But that is the president`s prerogative. If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way. But that`s not my role. That`s not my job. So it is what it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: And Malcolm, as you know, that`s just one part of that interview. Later in the interview, she broke the news to him, to the DNI, that Donald Trump invited Putin to Washington. Are you seeing a difference in the way that people like Dan Coats are willing to speak so publicly about how their blunt assessment of what the president is doing?
NANCE: Well, no. In fact, we have seen Dan Coats and others speak out. But what we consider speaking out is them just speaking the truth, which is the mandate of their job. I mean, we have seen director Wray of the FBI state things exactly as they are, that the Russians are active in these operations and they won`t take back any of their assessments.
Dan Coats, Mike Pompeo when he was director of the CIA was the same. But what we`re seeing now is within a different context. We are now seeing it with the president of the United States literally almost -- let me retract that -- almost groveling figuratively at the feet of Vladimir Putin.
And now these professionals and some politicians on the right are finally saying, hey, wait a minute. All that stuff they have been saying for the last two years that`s suspicious is starting to look suspicious to us. But if you look at Trump`s base, they don`t believe a word of it. Many of them, if you go to some of the more extreme places like Breitbart and other places, they think whatever the president says is great.
TUR: And how dangerous is that?
NANCE: It is extremely dangerous because we have to live in a grounded reality. And the men and women of the intelligence community and law enforcement in the United States, their job as part of the civil service is to give us that reality. And if we have a third of the population who flat- out no longer believe the news media, no longer believe anyone except one man then we are in an extremely dangerous situation.
And I wrote about this extensively in my book that this is a manipulation that the Russians were well aware of, that they planned, they strategized and they have managed to hack the mindset of one-third of the American public. And to a certain extent, it`s a war victory without firing a shot.
TUR: It is not just Dan Coats. It is Rod Rosenstein. It is FBI director Christopher Wray who said he believed the intelligence. And if you have a president who -- when he tried to walk it back, tried to walk back this faith that he didn`t have in the intelligence community, he not only tried to change one word, but then he said I have total faith in my intelligence community that Russia meddled. Oh, it could be other people also. So who knows? Malcolm Nance. Maclcolm, thank you so much.
NANCE: Who knows?
TUR: And coming up, the week started out terribly for the president and it is ending on a down note in the polls. That`s next.
TUR: Donald Trump`s worst week ever began when he publicly sided with Russia over his own intelligence community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it is Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Well, the president tried to walk back these comments the next day. The damage had already been done. As much as Trump insists that he has never colluded with the Russian government, the events of this week have led some Republicans to question the president`s approach to foreign policy, his corruption and aversion to telling the truth.
Senator John McCain offered harsh criticism of Trump`s Helsinki performance, calling it one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in history. And the Senate passed a unanimous motion rebuking Trump for even considering turning former Russian ambassador Michael McFall and others over to Putin for questioning.
This week has taken a toll on Trump supporters as well with just under 100 days until the midterm elections. In a piece for Salon, Jared Yates Sexton spoke to a serving member and a state Republican Party organization who said, I have had it. There is some blank -- I won`t say the word, but you can guess what it is. I will not eat. I am done apologizing for Donald J. Trump. Done.
Sexton went on to write, this sudden skepticism and those I`ve talked to has its roots in the indefensibility of Trump`s performance, which was either a gross display of international domination or something more sinister.
President Trump`s approval rating has suffered after the events of this week. According to a new Rasmusin poll, only 44 percent of likely voters approve of President Trump`s job performance, compared to 55 percent that disapprove. And in more bad news for Republicans, Democrats are the slight advantage going into the midterm elections.
A new poll of the general congressional ballot shows 45 percent of voters backed the Democratic candidate, 37 backed the Republican. Four million new voters will be eligible to vote in the midterms this November and Democrats have a powerful ally in getting these young voters registered, Michelle Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: If we really want our voices to be heard, we need to vote in every election, not just for president but for every office, school board, state house, senate, all of them. So we`re asking for your help. Help us start a conversation across America about being active participants in our most basic American responsibility, voting. Talk to your friends and family and neighbors. Tell them your hopes and dreams for your family, your community and our country. When we all vote, we determine our future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: When we come back, our panel will react to President Trump`s worst week ever.
(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. There are a lot of people out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: There is a lot of people out there indeed. Joining us now is Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour and a MSNBC contributor and Evan McMullin, an independent presidential candidate in 2016. He was also a former CIA operative and co-founder of Standup Republic. Jason Johnson is back with us as well.
A lot of people out there, guys, but not a lot of people that the intelligence community has determined to have attacked our elections. They just came up with one, and that was Russia. What I find so interesting, Yamiche, is that Bob Corker said the dam is breaking. And while I think that might be going a little too far from what we have seen so far, we are seeing some Republicans we don`t normally see coming out and distancing themselves or criticizing the president.
Take Peter King, for instance. Peter King has been very fawning about the president of late, most especially, but listen to what he said to Fox News after that Putin-Trump summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: First of all, to take the word of a former KGB agent and a liar like Putin over Dan Coats, a dedicated patriot who is director of National Intelligence appointed by the president himself, to me and to do that on a world stage is to me indefensible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: It is not just Peter King or Jeff Flake or the Democrats that say this. It is also Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio today in MSNBC. Listen to this Yamiche.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), OHIO: I think what`s important, though, in this is that we really wanted our president at this time because of the nerve agent attack that`s happened in London, the invasion of Ukraine, the meddling in U.S. elections, the indictment that had just happened by the Department of Justice, to stand to President Putin and to make very strong statements.
When the American president does it, it certainly weakens over all even our allies abilities to stand up for Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Yamiche, why this? Why now?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think President Trump`s inability to strongly say that Russia meddled in the election, followed in the orders -- and following the orders of President Putin has really put Republicans in a position where they are motivated to push back on the president in a way that nothing else has.
I know we`re talking about this being the worst week that the president had, but let`s remember there was the family separation week where he was separating hundreds of children, small children from their families and then had to change the policy because it was so terrible. Then you had Charlottesville where he was saying that Nazis who killed a young woman were on the same moral playing field as protesters who were there to protest racism.
So there is this idea that Republicans have watched this president do all sorts of things. But this time it seems as though because he is siding with someone who literally ordered the elections to be hacked and for political opponents of the president to be hacked, that this was kind of the breaking -- the thing that Republicans could not take mainly because there is the optics.
I was in the press conference where Vladimir Putin was literally smiling and smirking most of the time because he felt so great about all the things that President Trump was saying.
TUR: Evan, what do you think?
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Look, I think that this is going to cause an incremental shift or weakening of Trump`s support base. But if we`re looking for a great shift or a great weakening of that base, I just don`t think we`re going to see it. I mean, I sort of look at this situation as much like the "Access Hollywood" tape where it`s so egregious and so terrible that members of Congress, for example, have to come out and say something.
But within a couple of weeks they have backed off and when I talk to members of Congress, Republicans who are now speaking out abut this, they say look, I`m doing it because it needs to be done. There is an opportunity to do it, but I`m also thinking about re-election and I`m not going to be able to keep doing it. And that`s the reality.
His support base, just one thing, his support base, the Republican Party is still 71, depending on which poll you believe, 71 to 79 percent supportive of the way he`s handling Russia, which is incredible. Now, that`s lower than his overall approval rating within the party, so that`s probably going to create some downward drag, but it remains to be seen how much.
TUR: I think we forget just how bad the "Access Hollywood" tape week was.
MCMULLIN: It was bad.
TUR: Fifty current Republican and former Republican lawmakers came out and said that they couldn`t support him, that they weren`t going to vote for him or they were just not going to vote at all. Jason, but do we make too much out of just the Donald Trump supporters? After all, Donald Trump won with some very narrow margins in some Tea counties because of independents and because of some soft Democrats who wanted to take a chance on something new.
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the soft Democrats are gone and the independents aren`t really feeling Donald Trump. I think Katy the most important thing to understand about this president and this is what really have a lot of Republicans concerned (inaudible) got 46/47 of them dropping out, deciding they don`t want to run again, is Donald Trump has no coat tails.
His personal popularity is impeccable. Republicans still like him. They think he`s great. They thing he`s interesting. They think he`s accomplishing things. But that does not trickle down to Republicans. The party as a whole has not demonstrated that there is invulnerable to scandal. So whenever Donald Trump blows his nose, everybody else gets a cold and has to run around the Kleenex.
So, if this is his worst week, it`s only his worst week until his next worst week. And the more worst weeks he has, it`s just going to be just a political groundhog day for Republicans and they`re going to be in trouble because he`s not going to come out soon.
TUR: Will it or is it like he got a stain on his shirt and instead of taking off the shirt and getting a new clean shirt because there`s a very obvious stain, he`s just stained his entire shirt with more mustard and ketchup and hot sauce and whatever to the point where you just look at that shirt and you say, wow, that shirt is supposed to be a mess. It`s supposed to look like that. Yamiche? That worked to his advantage during the election.
ALCINDOR: I think the fact that he`s throwing issue after issue on the wall and some of them are sticking but they`re not all sticking, shows you that he has this kind of -- this really method to overwhelm the news cycle, to overwhelm Democrats, to overwhelm political appointments and Republicans so that there is so many things that they need to comment on and respond to, but nothing is really sticking to him.
I think that that`s probably -- he calls himself the Stable Genius. If there is anything politically genius about this president, is that he does so much that people forget how terrible things work.
TUR: Max Boot, foreign policy advisor to John McCain and Mitt Romney wrote a Washington Post op-ed titled, "How I miss Barack Obama" which is crazy for Max Boot to write something like this or it would have been crazy if you were talking about this two years ago. He referenced Obama`s Mandela speech that came out earlier in the week.
He says, it can be depressing to think it about our current predicament under a president whose loyalty to America is suspect, but whose racism and xenophobia are undoubted. However, Obama`s speech gave me a glimmer of optimism and not only because he has cited Mandela`s example of persistence and of hope. He reminds me that just 18 months ago, can you believe it was so recently. We had a president with whom I could disagree without ever doubting his fitness to lead. We can have one again.
MCMULLIN: Right. Well, Max Boot as usual is right on target with this, I mean, you just think back to the presidents we`ve had in the past and of course their policy, just disagreements from one side to the other. No one is perfect and neither is the president or otherwise. But we had presidents where we haven`t had to wonder whether they are actually to the country.
MCMULLIN: That`s what we`re dealing here. And I think what we saw this week and I think what was made clear to most people who are following this is that we do have a presidents now who does not fit within that framework. This is a president who in my view and in the view of many now I think accurately is not a loyal -- is not performing his duties in a loyal way, if I can be diplomatic and say it that way.
But that is the situation we`re in and I pray to God that we get back to a situation in which no matter what party controls the White House we trust their leadership.
TUR: This week`s performance made it perfectly reasonable to once again ask legitimately does Russia have compromise (ph) on Donald Trump? Yamiche Alcindor, Jason Johnson and Evan McMullin, guys, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
MCMULLIN: Thank you.
TUR: And tonight`s "Last Word" is next.
TUR: Time for tonight`s "Last Word" on this crazy week which goes to the late night comedians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SETH MEYERS, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: So just to recap, Trump blamed the U.S. for Russian aggression, attacked the FBI and the Special Counsel`s investigation, took Putin`s side on election meddling, attacked Democrats and Hillary Clinton with Putin standing next to him and said Putin was strong and powerful. Can you imagine what their private meeting was like?
TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There are a lot of people out there.
STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: No. No. You shanked even that. You either accept it was Russia or say it could be other people. You can`t do both. I Donald, take you Melania to be my lawfully wedded wife, although I could take other people too. There are a lot of people out there.
JIMMY FALLON, LATE NIGHT SHOW HOST: Trump said that he wants to have his second meeting with him. Trump said there were just some things they didn`t get around to screwing up in the first place. So he just wants to go, look at me, much worse.
COLBERT: Everybody around Trump has spent this entire week trying to put distance between Trump and Putin so this whole sorted thing could be behind us and the administration could go back to the people`s business of caging toddlers.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
TUR: That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.
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