Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: July 30, 2018 Guest:
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ari. Thank you very much.
There are exactly two people publicly defending Donald Trump on the possibility that he might have committed obstruction of justice, just two. Those two public defenders of Donald Trump are Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. That's it.
That is the public defense team for the president, Giuliani and Trump, and both of them are completely incoherent when it comes to publicly defending Donald Trump, and that makes perfect sense. What they say doesn't make perfect sense, but the fact that both Giuliani and Trump are incoherent in their attempts to publicly defend Donald Trump does make a certain sense and it means that there is no evidence-based defense of the president that is available to Donald Trump or Rudy Giuliani because if there was an evidence-based defense available, at least one of them would use it.
The country and the world are long used to the fact that Donald Trump is generally incoherent most of the time about most things. An incoherent person though with a wildly disorganized mind and no attention span could conceivably have a very good legal defense that could be presented by a good or average or even below average defense lawyer. But that's not what we have here.
We have Donald Trump, an incoherent client who has been a public liar his entire life being defended by the newly incoherent Rudy Giuliani and that is a very, very big deal and what it tells us tonight is that the president of the United States as of now has no good legal defense against any of the accusations the special prosecutor Robert Mueller might bring against this president. It doesn't mean that the president is guilty of anything but it is just stunning. Think about it -- stunning that the president of the United States and Rudy Giuliani as of tonight have no good public defense of the present.
It's one of those things that's a very big deal but we can't yet be sure of what it means.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Nobody can be sure of anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: He's absolutely right about that. Nobody can be sure of anything. None of us can be sure of what to believe as of now.
But how strange is it that that was Rudy Giuliani's answer to this question, the meeting with the Russians, how can you be sure if the president didn't know beforehand? Giuliani's answer to that was nobody could be sure of anything.
With defense lawyers like that, who needs prosecutors? So, why hasn't Donald Trump replaced his incoherent weak TV defense lawyer who's doing a terrible job of defending Donald Trump?
Well, there are a few real possibilities and rational possibilities for that. One is the Donald Trump doesn't know what good lawyering looks like in sounds like. After all, Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's lawyer for years, the same Michael Cohen who Rudy Giuliani now describes this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: The guy is unethical. He's a scumbag. He's a horrible person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Will Donald Trump's next lawyer be describing Rudy Giuliani that way someday?
Another reason Rudy Giuliani has not been fired is that it is actually impossible to do a better job of defending Donald Trump. That might just be it. It's impossible to do any better than Giuliani has done. Rudy Giuliani goes into TV interviews with no real ammunition and just follows the Donald Trump-Kellyanne Conway model of speaking as fast as he can. It doesn't matter what the words are because there's nothing honest to say that could be helpful.
And that's the way it is in the criminal investigation when you're guilty. There's nothing you can say that is both honest and helpful to your defense. So, one possible explanation for the public verbal incontinence of Rudy Giuliani is that he's representing a guilty client. That is not an unreasonable inference in reaction to the public rantings of Rudy Giuliani.
Yesterday, President Trump rose in defense of President Trump with a tweet that as usual has absolutely nothing to do with evidence: Is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump including the fact that we had a very nasty and contentious business relationship? I turned him down to head the FBI one day before appointment as special counsel, and Comey is his close friend.
This morning, Rudy Giuliani was asked about the president's accusation that Robert Mueller has a conflict of interest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can the president make this claim and not support it?
GIULIANI: It doesn't have to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the conflict?
GIULIANI: I can't tell you. I'm not sure I know exactly what the conflict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Can't tell you, that's it. That's the best Giuliani could do with his client's own line of defense about Robert Mueller's supposed conflict of interest.
Now, I'm sparing you a bunch of high-speed, incoherent words that Rudy Giuliani added to that answer that had nothing to do with the question. And here's another example of Rudy Giuliani's ignorance of his own defense case. Alisyn Camerota asked about phone calls Donald Trump Jr. made to a blocked number around the time of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Don Jr. made, as you know that day, before the meeting and I think after, calls to a blocked number, was that the president?
GIULIANI: I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I don't know. That is a very important question about the president's knowledge about the Trump campaign's attempt to conspire with Russian government officials and Rudy Giuliani's answer is, I don't know.
Robert Mueller probably knows, and Rudy Giuliani knows that Robert Mueller probably knows whose blocked phone number Donald Trump Jr. was calling and that's why Rudy Giuliani said I don't know. Instead of a good, strong, clear denial that Donald Trump Jr. was calling his father to tell him about the Russian meeting before and after the Russian meeting.
Giuliani is right, for all of us out here wondering what happened in Trump tower and in the Trump campaign in the Trump White House nobody can be sure of anything. But Rudy Giuliani is certainly acting as if he believes that Robert Mueller is sure of something, something that is very bad for the president of the United States.
Joining our discussion now, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst, Harry Litman, former federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton, and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress.
And, Jill, this issue of Giuliani's public performance, the newly utterly incoherent Rudy Giuliani seems to me to make a certain sense if Giuliani actually does have nothing better to say, if the evidence that he is aware of in this case gives him nothing else to say, it makes a certain sense that he just talks as fast as he can, as if he went to that Kellyanne Conway school of talking fast to try to get through these interviews because he has nothing better.
JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think the better answer would be for him to be silent. He ought to be zipping his lip because if this is the best he can do, he is hurting his client. What he is saying really makes no sense. I read the transcript of that full interview and it's almost impossible to understand what point he was even trying to make.
And I think as a prosecutor or as a defense lawyer, you quickly learn that sometimes the facts are just completely against you and you're better off saying nothing. And in this case, that's what it is, but he's also hasn't got the law on his side, when he's yelling that there's no crime, that also isn't true and this argument about whether the word is collusion or conspiracy or aiding and abetting is simply a question of terminology.
Somehow, the American public picked up the word collusion. There is no crime of collusion in the statutes, but there is a crime of conspiring together of agreeing together, of working together, of aiding and abetting. And if you take criminal conduct, the hacking, and you use that material, you are part of that. And it doesn't matter if you are the gunman in a murder, when you go in to rob a bank and someone gets killed, if someone else pulled the trigger, you're still guilty of murder because you were part of the conspiracy.
And I would say that we have plenty of evidence of conspiracy here.
O'DONNELL: Neera, what Jill says about staying silent is absolutely true for most possible criminal suspects in their -- in their attorney-client relationship. But a politician as you know is in a different situation and politicians feel compelled to defend themselves publicly at every stage of these kinds of processes and we have seen Democrats in the past also find fault with prosecutors who are investigating them. We haven't seen anything quite as noisy as this.
But if Giuliani has nothing better to say and if there is a political calculation by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani that someone has to be out there defending the president on TV, it's hard to think of a better way for Giuliani to do this if he's going to go on TV, just talk fast, don't make any sense, don't worry, Donald Trump's voters voted for someone who doesn't make any sense.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think that what's happening here is really that they don't have a case -- they don't have a legal case, right? This whole debate about collusion -- I mean, first, we should just point out, Donald Trump said there was no collusion for a very long time. Now, Giuliani is like oh there was collusion, it's just not illegal.
But what they're really doing is just playing semantic games to give an argument to their base at this moment because what I think is really happening is that they don't have an argument for the prosecutor. They probably know the prosecutor has a pretty strong case of aiding and abetting a crime, conspiracy of a crime. They're not really disputing that. Giuliani's playing a semantic game about collusion itself, which no one has said the word collusion means a crime.
Obviously, criminal conspiracy is a crime, that he's playing these word games and I think what he really is trying to do and what Donald Trump has been doing this entire year is he believes he will skate free of this if Republicans are unable to act on any report of indictable offences, and he's disciplining his troops and disciplining the Republican Party to attack Mueller, to oppose to say everything's political to make up this new argument that there's conflicts of interest but they won't tell us what the conflicts of interests are, to basically malign the Mueller probe.
So, Republicans will not act on a report, and that is why these elections coming up in days were so vitally important because Donald Trump is placing a bet that the Republican Party, he could -- he could be found colluding or criminal conspiracy abetting, or even shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue and the Republican Party will do nothing about it, and that is why we need checks and balances, and Democrats to take a House of Congress for some accountability for this president.
O'DONNELL: Let's take a look at some of the risks involved in the Giuliani TV strategy of talking so fast. Today, he revealed and it seemed to be by mistake that he believes Rick Gates, who has been embedded by the special prosecutor and is cooperating with special prosecutor, was actually in a meeting strategizing how to handle the Russian meeting. Let's listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Lanny Davis has stated that there was a meeting two days before the meeting took place with Donald Jr., Jared, Manafort and two others, Gates and one more person. Cohen also now says, but he says too much, that two days before, he was participate in a meeting with it roughly the same group of people but not the president, definitely not the president, in which they were talking about the strategy of the meeting with the Russians.
The people in that meeting deny it, the people we've been able to interview. The people we have not been able to interview have never said that about that meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Harry Litman, your reaction to that?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, it's a complete slip of the tongue by him. The only sort of use -- you're right, it's all been incoherent, except to the extent it gives some possible preview of what they see as coming. Two big slip-ups in the interview, that's the first, and revealing not just Gates is there but the very existence of that other meeting, and then the whole trying to move the goalposts on collusion, you know, years of no collusion, no collusion, no collusion -- oh wait what's collusion?
Was -- it is -- it was incoherent and frenetic and you were looking for someone to sort of cart them away and give them a sedative, and I don't -- I don't agree that it's the best he can do. Even if they don't have much in substance, you can try to contrast with the manic crass, oh and speaking of crass, how about that comment, Mueller stand up and be a man?
I mean, it's just -- it echoes Trump and the thing to do here and someone else could do it even without substance is speak with some dignity, some calm, make certain legal points. Even if you're chastising Mueller, there's a way to do it that people might actually listen, this frenetic unhinged performance makes you think that nobody has any idea what they're doing over there. And the real lawyer in charge, Emmet Flood, must be tearing his hair out listening to both Trump and Giuliani completely losing it on national TV.
By the way at least, Trump's tweets are all going to be admissible. Everything he says are what will would come into court. Just misstep after misstep.
O'DONNELL: And, Neera, it seems that Rudy Giuliani's calculation if there is one is that what worked for Donald Trump in the campaign to eke out a win in the Electoral College can work here.
TANDEN: I mean, I would have to say for everyone in TV, what part of the Donald Trump presidency has been dignified so far?
TANDEN: I mean, who associate with Donald Trump is thinking the first job is to be dignified in their response on TV or anywhere else? But I think I -- I think truly that Rudy Giuliani is just doing a kind of carnival barker experience here experiment and trying to just throw sand in the air, muddy the waters, make people believe there's some response. Donald Trump has been incredibly successful in getting a minority of the country to agree with him and some pretty wild claims, and I think that is their strategy going forward to just get their base to believe this whole thing is tainted.
The one thing I would say though is that these -- this strategy post- Helsinki I think will be much less successful because people saw themselves, the broad public saw themselves Donald Trump basically kowtowing to Putin and this whole, you know, this whole issue of Russia was made really clear to the American people and public poll since Helsinki has shown stronger support, even amongst Republicans for the Mueller probe, and for finding out what happens.
And that's why I think the White House is almost in this panic and Giuliani's performance is so panicked particularly on the eve of the Manafort trial.
O'DONNELL: And, Jill, as to the question of conflict of interest for Mueller, Rod Rosenstein said in testifying to Congress that there is a process in the Justice Department for bringing conflicts of interest to them. They're open to it. You want to bring them a conflict of interest, they will examine it.
And he said there are no conflicts of interests with Robert Mueller and the notion that the president offered him or considered him for FBI director is unclear. We have never heard mother's side of that conversation, it could be that Mueller went in there to explain to the president that he could not do it and possibly make some suggestions to him about who he should choose. We don't know what was in that conversation.
WINE-BANKS: Exactly, and all of this really is nonsense because there was a lot of discussion about potential conflict of interest having to do with Mueller's golf club membership at a Trump club, and some dispute about the fees. And that was resolved a long time ago. It was reviewed by the Department of Justice. There is no conflict of interest.
The president is simply repeating over and over again because it seems to have some effectiveness he just keeps saying in the same way he says no collusion and then hopes that his base will believe that, even though it isn't and he argues as he has done that the facts are not there, that the law isn't there.
And, you know, the truth is if the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts are against you, argue the law. If both are against you, you better plead guilty.
And I think we're getting to the point where we can see guilt very clearly, and I think he is now worried because I think he finally has seen all of the evidence that came from Cohen's office. And I think if there's any leaks coming it's coming from them to get out ahead of this. They want to protect and sort of get the first word. It's a very basic tenet of trial advocacy that if there's something bad, get it out yourself on direct examination, don't wait until cross.
O'DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks, Harry Litman, Neera Tanden, thank you for starting us off tonight. I really appreciate it.
When we come back, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort surrendered to Robert Mueller on one side of his legal issues today. That's next.
And Donald Trump is threatening a government shutdown over the Trump wall, a government shutdown that Republicans fear. Ezra Klein will join us on that.
O'DONNELL: Today on the eve of jury selection and what is scheduled to be Paul Manafort's first of two criminal trials on charges brought by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, Paul Manafort surrendered to Robert Mueller on a frivolous lawsuit that Manafort brought challenging the special prosecutor's authority. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in April. Paul Manafort filed a hopeless appeal to that decision and today, Paul Manafort finally dropped the appeal and dropped that case entirely.
Today in a filing in the -- in the criminal case that will be heard in federal court in Virginia, prosecutors say they can prove the former Trump campaign chairman is guilty of tax and bank fraud. They say they can prove that he earned more than $60 million working as a consultant on behalf of a Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and hid the money in offshore bank accounts.
"The New York Times" reports that prosecutors claim the beginning in 2006, Mr. Manafort hid millions of dollars in income that he received from the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian oligarchs to promote a pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych. When Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia after a popular uprising in 2014, prosecutors say the spigot of funds from Ukraine dried up. They charged that Mr. Manafort then resorted to bank fraud to maintain his lifestyle.
Today, Rudy Giuliani said that the Manafort prosecution poses absolutely no threat to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: He has no information incriminating of the president. I know that for a fact. They can squeeze him, Paul Manafort does not know anything and -- nor could it be possible he did. He was with him for four months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Julia Ainsley, national security and justice reporter for NBC News, and Harry Litman is back with us.
And, Julia, what could Paul Manafort possibly know in just four months with Donald Trump?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Quite a lot, Lawrence. I mean, he was the campaign adviser. It's not like he was some low-level position. Even George Papadopoulos who is a campaign volunteer knew quite a bit about the operation of the campaign and how they worked in their social media strategy.
So, in this case, what Paul Manafort knows is interesting only if they can actually squeeze enough out of him. Giuliani is right in so far that this exact case that we will start hearing starting tomorrow does not have a lot to do with Russia or the Trump campaign. It has to do with Paul Manafort's work for a pro-Russian interest in Ukraine and then his efforts to try to cover up where that money was coming from later on.
Only will this tell -- this will only tell us about what the president did or what Paul Manafort knows about the president if they can present enough information that Paul Manafort at this point way down the road would decide that he wants to start cooperating in order to lessen his sentence.
O'DONNELL: Let's listen to what Donald Trump said during the campaign about Paul Manafort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin and his regime?
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, there are not. That's absurd and, you know, there's no basis to it.
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Paul Manafort has done a fantastic and all of Paul's people, Paul brought on staff and we really do. We have a great staff of talented people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Donald Trump also said that Paul Manafort to the best of his knowledge had nothing to do with Russia and he said I have nothing to do with Russia, and then Donald Trump said about Paul Manafort, I think he presented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine or people that whoever.
And, Harry Litman, it turns out that Paul Manafort who Donald Trump is known for a very long time in ways that we do not yet know had obviously a criminal relationship going on in the Ukraine.
LITMAN: Yes, that's right. So, for your first point is salient, Lawrence. They were -- they were sort of privateers together in the woolly days of the 2005 to 2016 out there.
But we should distinguish between what Manafort knows and what the case is about. The case doesn't concern the Russia connection to the campaign, except in one particular which I'll get to in a minute. But Manafort surely knows quite a bit. He's at the center of the efforts to change the platform, to make it more pro-Ukraine. He is in the Russia meeting. He's in the lead into the Russian meeting we find out today. So, he's in the thick of it. It's just that's not part of the case.
The case does however have a have a detail which is after he goes belly-up, yes, and Yanukovych is deposed, he needs money and he promises -- this is going to be part of Mueller's proof -- a banker in Chicago that he'll get him a job in the campaign if he'll make a -- if the banker will give him a phony loan. So, there is a sense in which man affords conduct at trial gets into the thick of the campaign. But surely, he knows quite a about Russia and the campaign for another day.
O'DONNELL: And, Julia, when the trial zeroes in on exactly how Manafort's needs interacted with the campaign, as Harry says, we don't know what the special prosecutor has there. There could be some real surprises in that testimony.
AINSLEY: That's right, Lawrence. I mean one thing we've just been doing in the past few weeks to get ready for this is to look at the pieces of evidence that have been presented to the judge who has to approve what can be exhibited at trial. Right now, it looks like it is just detail upon detail of this very expansive money-laundering scheme that Paul Manafort used. Everything from landscaping to what kind of properties he brought bought in New York and Florida and also a lot about his character and some of the characters that he worked with in Ukraine.
And as we know tomorrow, there's good -- it's going to be moved up about an hour earlier. Jury selection will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, but at 9:00 a.m. Eastern and this is new, the judge will be hearing from counsel and particularly to hear from the defense who wants to limit the information that they can use on his relationships with Ukraine. Really, they might be scared that with that much information, a jury could be convinced that anyone who would work with those characters isn't someone to be trusted.
And, of course at the end of all of this, as Harry pointed out, it's not necessarily that this case has a lot to do with Russia. But in the broader context of the Mueller probe, if he is convicted, that is another feather in Robert Mueller's cap to show that this is not a witch-hunt, that there are very substantial crimes that have been committed here.
O'DONNELL: Julia Ainsley and Harry Litman, thank you both for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.
Up next, Ezra Klein will join us on what Donald Trump thinks he knows about the wall that Republicans don't know, and why Republicans agree with Democrats that a Trump government shutdown over the wall during the re- election campaign will help Democrats.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Here is what might be Donald Trump's strategy for winning the election that is 99 days away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shut down. It's time we had proper border security. We are the laughing stock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.
We need border security. Border security includes the wall. I would be certainly willing to consider a shut down if we don't get proper border security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: With the latest polling showing that 58 percent disapprove of the President's immigration policies, Democrats believe a Trump government shut down over the wall, which would occur about a month before the election would be good for the Democrats. Republicans think the Democrats are right about that.
Last week Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell thought they worked out a deal to avoid a government shut down and delay funding for a wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: As far as the wall is concerned, we have gotten some walls funding already underway. And the President is willing to be patient to make sure that we get what we need so that we could get that done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the funding of the border wall going to wait until after the midterm elections.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Probably.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not worried about a government shut down?
MCCONNELL: No, that's not going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: That was last week. Now that the President has threatened a shut down at the height of the election campaign, Republicans are very worried.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Don't think it would be a good idea, and I don't think it will be necessary.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Democrats aren't -- no one wins. I think the American people expect us to do our job and should.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it bad politics for the Republican party to shut the government down. We would get blamed. So I prefer a deal that would be a win-win rather than shutting the government down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: But Donald Trump has never been in step with the Republican establishment on his campaign for the wall, especially when he first announced his campaign for the wall when he was a candidate.
In a new piece today as (INAUDIBLE) writes, in a field of Republicans who were trying to change the party to appeal to a rising Hispanic electorate, Trump was alone in speaking to Republican voters who didn't want the party to remake itself, who want to be told that a wall could be built and things could go back to the way they were.
Joining our discussion now is Ezra Klein, the editor at-large of FOX and host of podcast "the Ezra Klein" show. His new piece in Vox is entitled "white threat in a browning America."
Ezra, what does Donald Trump think he knows about the wall that those Republicans we just heard from do not know about the wall.
EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR AT-LARGE, VOX: Two things. One is that Donald Trump believes that the core thing that wins an election is you get your base out. Donald Trump is not a persuasive politician. It is not how persuade people who do not agree with him to agree with him. What he tries to do is tell people that he agrees with them. He tries to get people who feel ignored by the political system, who are angry particularly at the Republican party to turn out to vote.
So one way which Donald Trump has talked about this before, and is very important pretty wildly is he thinks a shut down might actually help him because he had have his base, his people activated, upset. They would be watching FOX News. He would be coming out to vote. Maybe.
The other thing and this just goes to Donald Trump. This is a way in which Donald Trump's views are very authentic. I mean, he is not kidding around. He really, really believes that we need a wall at the border. He really believes that borders completely in secure. He really believes that America is being overrun by people from countries that I will not use his term on the air. And so, the other place where he disagrees with Republican Party is just the politics of it, but he is actually on the importance of the policy of it.
O'DONNELL: And in your piece, Ezra, you talk about the linkage here of what caused what. There has been this common theory since the immergence of the Trump vote, big enough vote to win the electoral college that economic anxiety activated the racial resentment that was manifest in the Trump campaign.
In your piece you find plenty of evidence that racial resentment activated the economic anxiety, that the racial resentment came first and the people who harbored racial resentment then had a higher level of economic anxiety.
KLEIN: I'm so glad you asked me about this, yes.
So a lot of this data, there had been a ton of studies on this now, but a lot what I'm using here come from a book called identity crisis, which is a best look of election data from 2016. It comes out in about two months. And what they found, there has been this very convenient theory of the election. And the way it goes is this.
Donald Trump, you are not seeing in his a racist America. You are not seeing a white identity backlash. You are just seeing a bad economy. A bad economy that makes people scared, it makes him offensive, it makes him pull back and it makes him ready to blame others. And so, all you need to add to that catalytic mixture is some kind of combustible agent like Donald Trump and you get what we got in 2016.
And the reason that's a reasonably convenient view is that it means we can fix it. We can fix the underlying thing in a way we can agree on. We just need to make the economy better. And everybody wants to make the economy better, right.
Well, the problem is that just doesn't appear to be true. Racial resentment not economic anxiety led where people - led how people voted in 2016, at least the ones that were changing their votes. One of the ways we know that is before 2012, before 2016 back when you were looking in 2007, if you looked at how resentful people were racially, it had no reflection on how they thought about the economy.
By the end of the Barack Obama's presidency, how you thought about the economy extremely related to what you thought about African-Americans. So you had this thing happening where if you were more racially resentful, you believed the employment rate was worse than it was. If you were more racial resentful, you believed the economy is going in the wrong direction.
And by the way, Donald Trump was one of these people. He was out there saying that the real unemployment rate was 42 percent. After Donald Trump won the election, the economic optimism of the most racially resentful flipped. They are now the most economically optimistic people in the country.
This is not what you would expect if what was going on was an actual economic conditions problem. It is what you would expect if people were filtering their feelings about the economy through their feelings about whether or not their group is rising or falling.
O'DONNELL: And it seems possible even by the evidence in your piece that the Russians who were attacking our election process were actually more aware of this. You say there is a reason why when the Russians wanted to sow division in the American election, they focused their social media trolling on America's racial divisions.
KLEIN: Yes. This has been reported widely. "USA Today" did a great analysis of this. If you look at the Russians are doing on Facebook, if you look at the Russian troll farms and bots, they were doing black lives matter trolling. They were trying to get into America's racial divisions.
And this is the thing. America pretends an innocence about its own racial, not just past but its own racial present. We don't like to be told these are divisions. We don't like to be told that there are problems here in our country. We want to believe we have all become color blind. We believe we have been to a post racial moment that it is all just a completely easy going conversation about economic anxiety and politics as policymakers would have it.
But we have these very, very deep cuts. We have a lot of trouble talking about them. But those who want to influence our elections don't. And by the way, that's not just the Russian political consultants know how to do these things. We have seen for years, ads that are very good in doing dog whistles in coded appeals.
This is a very deep-wounded in the country. And people are trying to move our politics know how to activate it.
O'DONNELL: Ezra Klein, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
KLEIN: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: And coming up, why does Donald Trump try to help Vladimir Putin every chance he seems to get? That's coming up.
O'DONNELL: The biggest problem for Vladimir Putin and the Russian government is sanctions. Sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration and NATO allies after Russia annexed Crimea. Any weakening of the sanctions alliance against Russia is good news for Vladimir Putin which is why Donald Trump's attacks on NATO and the European Union have been so warmly received and encouraged by Vladimir Putin.
The meeting in Trump tower during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump Jr. scheduled with Russians and that was attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort possibly with Donald Trump's approval beforehand was about getting sanctions lifted.
But NATO is not lifting its sanctions on Russia. Then so Putin hopes to tear apart the relationship between NATO and the United States and is trying every way he can to do that.
Our next guest is former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who Donald Trump was considering surrendering to Russian authorities when he was meeting with Vladimir Putin and possibly even discussed that. Today the President said he would meet with anyone, and that now includes anyone in Iran.
Ambassador McFaul will join us next to discuss what all this means to the Trump-Putin relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you prepared also -- are you willing to meet with President Rouhani and under what conditions? And have there been any preliminary discussions about something like that?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will meet with anybody. I believe in meetings.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any preconditions for that meeting?
TRUMP: No preconditions. No. If they want to meet, I'll meet. Any time they want. Any time they want. It is good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet I'll meet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russian and NBC News and MSNBC nationals security analyst.
Ambassador McFaul, first of all, your reaction to the President's willingness to meet with anybody including anybody in Iran.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIAN: Incredible. What can I say? It doesn't sound like the Trump administration's policy towards Iran. I recall a lot of preconditions that the secretary set out in a big speech he gave about Iran. But that is the way the President likes to roll. He says whatever is on his mind and then they work it out later.
O'DONNELL: As to the issues with Vladimir Putin and the NATO attacks that the President consistently goes out of his way to do, there was a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee set last week in which the secretary of state was asked repeatedly, should we pay attention to what the President says or should we pay attention to administration policy? And Mike Pompeo kept pointing out, look, you know, the sanctions are still in place. We have had in somewhat to these sanctions you should watch what we do. And in effect he was saying do not listen to the words of the President of the United States, they have no meaning.
MCFAUL: Yes, pretty incredible hearing. I don't remember a time in American history going back to the time I have worked on it or the time I have written about it because, Lawrence, I used to write about earlier periods where you had such a disconnect between the President on the one hand and the administration on the other. That is why the secretary kept having to say policy and not the statements.
But he is wrong to say that the President's words don't matter. The President did tremendous damage to unity and the alliance when he was in Europe and our credibility to defend our NATO allies is connected to what the President says.
And number two, he did damage to our Russia policy by all the lavishing praise he gave Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. And that sends a signal to Vladimir Putin that this guy, if I can work this guy behind the scenes, I will be able to undermine the policies that secretary Pompeo was talking about and in a couple of paces it looks like he may have succeeded.
O'DONNELL: There is "The Washington Post" report tonight saying that U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country's first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States according to officials familiar with the intelligence.
And ambassador McFaul, if the North Korean negotiation -- I don't know what you call this thing, the approach -- let's call it this approach to North Korea fails and fails as spectacularly as that article might indicate that it could, what does that mean to Trump policy going forward?
MCFAUL: Well, all of these things are connected, actually. You just heard the President say I will meet with everybody. I love meetings. Meetings are good. That is not the way diplomacy works. Meetings are used to achieve ends. They are a means to concrete American national security objectives. And previous Presidents, Democrats and Republicans, have always used them that way.
What this President does is he has these meetings and then we don't know what the objectives have been achieved. I would say that was true in the North Korean summit, the Singapore summit. It was definitely true in Helsinki when he met with Vladimir Putin. And I think his has got to work on that. I think his team needs to work on that, to stop just saying meetings are good and we are glad wee have them. But to use those meetings to achieve objectives and sometimes use other means including coercion and including not meeting to achieve American national security objectives. The President thinks diplomacy is all about his personal relationships with these autocrats. It's not. It is about advancing America's national interests.
O'DONNELL: Is it possible that the President's line of I will meet with anyone and literally going in meeting with Kim Jong-un and now I will meet with anybody in Iran, is something that he believes will allow him, help him actually have future meetings with Vladimir Putin because he is the guy who will meet with anyone?
MCFAUL: Maybe. It's a great point. You know, he most certainly seems eager to meet with Vladimir Putin and this new offer to go to Moscow means that there will be no demonstrations, think about that, against Trump or Putin. And I won't be there either by the way, Lawrence, because I'm not allowed to travel to Russia. So it will keep me out of the equation, but he most certainly seems intent on that.
But I just ask the simple question. Are we better as a country? Are our national security interests, our economic interests better or worse after the Helsinki summit? I don't know of a single individual who thinks we are now better off as a result of that meeting. And therefore I think that causes question. We should question the judgment of the President. Why are we so eager to have these meetings? What objective is being achieved? I frankly can't see one.
O'DONNELL: Former ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for joining us.
MCFAUL: Yes. Thanks for having me.
O'DONNELL: Tonight's LAST WORD is next.
O'DONNELL: Time for tonight's LAST WORD.
Tomorrow is justice Anthony Kennedy's last day on the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday said she is not going anywhere. At an event in New York City, the 85-year-old justice said she doesn't plan on retiring after the 2020 Presidential election.
The "New York Times" reports on the subject of her own eventual retirement came up Justice Ginsburg slighted the example of justice John Paul Stevens. He stepped down when he was 90, she said. So I think I have at least five more years.
Next week will be justice Ginsburg's 25th anniversary on the Supreme Court.
That is tonight's LAST WORD.
The 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS start now.
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