Trump: "Collusion is not a crime." TRANSCRIPT: 07/31/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: July 31, 2018 Guest:

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Nicole. Will we look for you tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. also?

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, "DATELINE: WHITE HOUSE: My how times have changed. I used to be the resident Republican. Now I get to sit here only tonight. But it`s fun to get to do this and --

O`DONNELL: OK. So, it will be a surprise for me for tomorrow night. OK, we`ll see.

Thank you, Nicole.

Well, we have a detailed report tonight on what may be the most compelling evidence that President Trump may have obstructed justice. From the start of Rudy Giuliani`s public defense of Donald Trump, obstruction of justice has always been the part of the Mueller investigation that Rudy Giuliani obviously fears the most, which might be why Rudy Giuliani and the president prefer to talk about collusion rather than obstruction.

This is the week when the Trump defense motto seems to have shifted from there was no collusion to "collusion is not a crime". We will spare you the video of the president saying for more than a year now there was no collusion. I think we`ve all heard that quite enough.

But the new repetition of collusion is not a crime begun by Rudy Giuliani and now seconded by the president this morning in a tweet is a defense shift that seems to case the president and Rudy Giuliani might be preparing for the revelation from special prosecutor Robert Mueller that there were links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of president Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani has been making much of the fact that the word collusion does not have any criminal legal meaning except in antitrust law. But the words I just used, links and coordination, don`t have any legal meaning in and of themselves, but they are exactly the words used to describe what special prosecutor Robert Mueller is specifically authorized to investigate.

When Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller, he authorized the special prosecutor to conduct an investigation of, quote, any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. And then Rod Rosenstein added something else, a general wide open authorization for the special prosecutor to investigate, quote, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. That allows Robert Mueller to investigate anything that the FBI and his prosecutors discover while they are investigating any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Anything at all.

That`s how Robert Mueller began investigating Michael Cohen`s involvement in paying off Stormy Daniels and other women for their silence about sex with Donald Trump. And even though the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate any links and/or coordination with the Russian government, if Robert Mueller finds that, the word that will be used in any indictments about that won`t be links and/or coordination. The crime will be called conspiracy.

And so, the Trump-Giuliani new line of defense that collusion is not a crime has no legal meaning. And we already know that Robert Mueller has found links and coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. The meeting at Trump Tower with Russians during the campaign shows there are links between the Russian government and the campaign. We already know that when the Russian government offered to coordinate with Donald Trump Jr. to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Jr. said "I love it."

Now, we have no idea what other links and coordination Robert Mueller has found between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. And we don`t know whether any of those links and coordination constitute criminal conduct by anyone named Trump. We`ve watched Donald Trump on the campaign stage publicly try to link with the Russian government and coordinate with the Russian government on Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Robert Mueller will have to decide whether that constitutes a criminal conspiracy to illegally coordinate with the Russian government to the benefit of the Trump campaign or whether it`s a component of that in some way. The most dangerous part of Robert Mueller`s authority for the president and everyone near the president is the second part of Robert Mueller`s authority, which is to investigate, quote, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation, which brings us to obstruction of justice. Those words do not appear in the authorization of the Robert Mueller investigation.

But that second component of the authority, which is anything that arises in the investigation, includes anything, including obstruction of justice. The part of the Mueller investigation that Rudy Giuliani publicly fears the most is obviously the obstruction of justice part. We have new reporting on that today from Murray Waas in "The New York Review of Books".

Murray Waas says that he has been allowed to read a confidential White House memo which is in the special prosecutor`s possession which, quote, explicitly states that when Trump pressured Comey, he had just been told by two of his top aides, his then chief of staff Reince Priebus and his White House counsel Don McGahn, that Michael Flynn was under criminal investigation.

Last year, the Trump defense team delivered a letter to Robert Mueller outlining their defenses of the president on obstruction of justice. The key element of their defense was that President Trump did not know that his national security adviser Michael Flynn was being investigated by the FBI when the president talked to FBI Director James Comey about, quote, letting Flynn go.

James Comey quotes the president as having told him, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

The Trump defense team has said that it is impossible for that conversation to constitute obstruction of justice because the president did not know that the FBI was then investigating Michael Flynn. But Murray Waas is reporting that the White House memo that he read is a timeline prepared by White House counsel Don McGahn showing every step that occurred in the White House and exactly who knew what and when in what became the story of the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Murray Waas reports the February 15th memo combined with accounts given to the special counsel by Priebus and McGahn constitute the most compelling evidence we yet know of that Donald Trump may have obstructed justice.

The most compelling evidence that the president may have obstructed justice appears to come from his own most senior and loyal aides. The greatest threat to his presidency is not from his enemies, real or perceived, but from his allies within the White House.

Leading off our discussion now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus." Also with us, Danny Cevallos, MSNBC legal contributor. And Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor. She`s a professor of law at the University of Michigan and an MSNBC legal contributor.

And, John Heilemann, here is the Watergate echo. It turns out the people who can do the most damage to the president work in the White House. That was absolutely true in Watergate. It was not the Democrats whose office got broken into who took down President Nixon.

JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It`s always the case, right? And it`s the case because they are the closest. They are the ones who are writing things down.

They`re the ones that even in this chaotic White House, this White House that breaks so many norms and does so many things that are outside of bounce of what we`ve ever seen from White House before, there are a bunch of people like Don McGahn and there are others like Reince Priebus who thought, hey, we`re supposed to be doing this the way other people did it. We don`t really know what that is.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

HEILEMANN: But things like timelines and things like paying attention to some basic rules of procedure and some -- the way in which you`re supposed to do stuff in the White House governed their thinking enough that it could be the thing that ends up undoing the president on this front.

O`DONNELL: And, Barbara McQuade, it seems to have guided their drinking at the beginning of the presidency, because this Michael Flynn story is at the beginning of the presidency and it might actually be the period in the Trump presidency where people like Don McGahn were operating most closely by the book, possibly because they didn`t realize how wild the whole place was going to become.

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think this could be a very significant factual development. You know, it has an echo of -- remember when there was that tweeted that President Trump put out that said I had to fire Mike Flynn because he lied to the FBI and then his lawyer, I think it was John Dowd, came back very quickly and said, no, no, I put out that tweet and I got it wrong.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

MCQUADE: So, it does ring true that this is a fact they have known for a long time is a troubling fact because when you try to have to establish obstruction of justice, you have to show that the person acted with a corrupt intent. And if President Trump knew and learned even just before he asked Jim Comey to stand down on the Flynn investigation I think there could be some powerful evidence of the corrupt intent that`s necessary.

O`DONNELL: And according to Murray Waas` reporting, this is -- this is very clear. This is kind of beyond doubt. It says people familiar with the matter have told me that both Priebus and McGahn have confirmed in separate interviews with the special counsel that they had told Trump that Flynn was under investigation by the FBI before he met with Comey.

And, Danny, dismantles in the key element in the Trump lawyer`s letter to the special counsel about why Donald Trump could have committed obstruction of justice in the Flynn matter.

DANNY CEVALLOS, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but the Trump team`s theory from the beginning didn`t make a lot of sense. I mean, their position is Trump knew there was no longer an investigation, and then he walks into a meeting and says, hey, by the way, I hope you can see fit to let go, parentheses, an investigation that`s not going on. That doesn`t make any sense. But that`s the Trump team`s position. In a way, this bombshell is something that lakes a lot more sense than the Trump team`s original theory, which is Trump believes there`s no investigation, Trump goes into meeting with Comey and asks Comey to let go of an investigation that as far as Trump is aware does not exist.

O`DONNELL: And so, John, this reporting if true, is yet another really clear lock on the issue of is Donald Trump ever going to sit down for an interview with the special prosecutor. You and I are have been saying all along he`s never going do it. But this is the kind of thing that shows you why it`s been impossible, because the Trump team has known for over a year that Priebus and McGahn say and have told the special prosecutor that they told Donald Trump that the FBI investigation was ongoing.

And so, how does Donald Trump handle that? In any kind of interchange with the special prosecutor?

HEILEMANN: Yes, because just like the word collusion and the word conspiracy are not in Robert Mueller`s remit and obstruction of justice is not in it, neither is the word perjury.

O`DONNELL: Perjury`s a big problem for Donald Trump not only because he`s a liar but because he`s already told so many lies that so many people on the inside know are lies, the lawyers that we`re with here tonight are lawyers and I`m going to not play a lawyer on TV like I sometimes try to and just say a couple things about a couple of the humans that we`re talking about here.

Guys like Reince Priebus and Don McGahn, if this timeline exists, if Murray Waas` reporting is right and they were brought in to talk about Mueller, they testified to it, because neither one of those guys is going to perjure themselves for Donald Trump.

Another guy we`ve got to always remember, there are a lot of problems with him as a political actor, but Steve Bannon who very quickly identified to Michael Wolff and other people and the obstruction of justice thing was going to be the thing that would hang Trump because of the fact that firing Comey is the worst political decision you`ve ever made because he knew, not necessarily directly, not necessarily because he was involved in putting together these timelines but because he was everywhere in that White House and he knew what the truth of these stories were. It`s why he always grasped the obstruction of justice thing was such a difficult problem for Trump and why some of the things that we`re now hearing that Michael Cohen has been saying are also things that Steve Bannon even if he wasn`t in the room, he knew about enough from being around.

You want to know where Trump`s problems are, go back and read all the stuff Steve Bannon has said in the past. This obstruction thing is one of the key ones.

O`DONNELL: Barbara McQuade, what is Donald Trump`s best defense at this point at this stage of the evidence as we know it?

MCQUADE: Well, I think he would have to -- you know, I don`t know that he`s going to be able to refute Jim Comey`s testimony about what it was he said. But if he can show that it was for some other purpose other than to cover up his own misconduct or the misconduct of people in his campaign, that might be the best. If he can show there was not a corrupt motive.

Yes, he knew that Michael Flynn was under investigation but he believed it was a waste of taxpayer funds, that he believed that it would be fruitless to try to go after this kind of a case. If he can show that there was some other motive other than corrupt intent, that might be the best. But, you know, at some point I think there`s going to be a reckoning with Robert Mueller. Either he sits down for an interview or Robert Mueller has the ability to use a grand jury subpoena to get the information out of him.

So, at some point, I think he`s going to face that reckoning.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Richard Blumenthal said today about the obstruction of justice case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There is credible evidence that the president of the United States has committed obstruction of justice and possibly a conspiracy to undermine our elections. That`s simply the facts and the law, and Giuliani is trying to confuse and distract, playing word games and semantics. But at the end of the day, the special counsel is going to proceed methodically and meticulously in making the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And "Vanity Fair" is reporting tonight that Don McGahn, this is a line from the report, Don McGahn hates Rudy win intensity of a thousand burning suns. And, Danny, that`s related to the word games that Rudy Giuliani has been playing on television, and it`s -- just to real legal practitioners that sounds like a reasonable reaction to what we`ve seen Rudy Giuliani doing.

If you`re on the Trump side of the case and you`re watching Rudy Giuliani on TV, there can`t being in you like about it.

CEVALLOS: He`s violating a lot of the basic rules of defense attorney 101. Don`t ever criticize prosecutors. You can criticize the case, hey, we`re going to -- we`re going to move to suppress this evidence, it was a bad warrant.

But never tell the prosecutors on the news that they need to wrap things up, that their investigation is corrupt. That isn`t going to go a long way. And prosecutors will stay an extra five hours in the office just to stick it to your client if you do that.

And the other thing that Rudy is falling victim to is taking everything his client is telling him in his initial meetings and going out into the world with it as gospel. Every attorney has been burned by a client when they don`t double-check whatever the client or the client`s family tells them about the way things are.

And that`s because clients, they can`t help it. They have self-interest. They don`t want to commit suicide. They want to tell their attorney the best set of facts they can think of.

And Rudy has already gone out to the world with facts that are not really developed or that are eventually refuted. And that`s the kind of thing that can burn you. Rudy Giuliani may be ahead of all of us in this game, but so far, if you look at some of the basic rules of defense attorney 101, he`s -- it`s been a bit of a stumble.

HEILEMANN: He`s really sloppy, right? Lawyers don`t like sloppy.

CEVALLOS: You can`t be sloppy when you`re representing those facts, especially because he`s probably being told those by team Trump. And if you don`t verify those on your own, they will come back to bite you. Not just at trial but in the news.

O`DONNELL: Barbara, the shift from there was no collusion to hey, collusion`s not a crime. What`s your reading of that?

MCQUADE: Well, it seems leek a very deliberate effort, doesn`t it? I mean, this isn`t just one person saying it. We`ve got everybody echoing and singing off the same sheet of music. It seems like they sat down and had a meeting this weekend and said, oh, my gosh, we need to change our strategy. And it suggests to me there is evidence of collusion that`s going to come out and they need to figure out a way around that and say, OK, there is collusion but so what, because collusion isn`t a crime.

So I don`t know if it is concerns about what we`re learning about the meeting at Trump Tower with Russians, if there was in fact perhaps some kind of pre-meeting that puts President Trump knowing about the meeting, maybe that`s what they`re concerned is going to be labeled as collusion. And so, to instead pivot and say even if there was it`s not a crime. It does seem like a very deliberate strategy, and it does seem that they`re worried that there is evidence of collusion that is going to come out into the public.

O`DONNELL: Before the break we`re going to go to in a second, John, I just want to squeeze in a political angle here. And that same "Vanity Fair" report that says Don McGahn hates Rudy with the intensity of a thousand burning suns, gets poetic there sometimes.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

O`DONNELL: There is this about John Kelly in the same "Vanity Fair" report. Yesterday afternoon, Trump marked his first year as chief with a tweet congratulations to General John Kelly. Today, we celebrate his first full year as chief of staff, Trump wrote. Afterward, according to two sources familiar with the matter, Trump turned to aides and said, now can I get rid of him?

HEILEMANN: Yes. Apparently, the answer, though, was no because now it looks like we`re going to have John Kelly all the way through to the end of the election.

O`DONNELL: But in the Trump --

HEILEMANN: Doesn`t mean that Trump doesn`t still want to get rid of him.

O`DONNELL: Trump administration you`re my chief of staff for the rest of the term means you`re my chief of staff tomorrow.

HEILEMANN: Sure.

O`DONNELL: Or at least tomorrow morning.

HEILEMANN: It`s either -- six of one, half dozen of the other. It`s clear that Trump both doesn`t like Kelly but also thinks he`s now completely neutered him, I mean, does whatever wants. That is, Trump does whatever he wants. And so, the offer of asking him to stay until the election, A, means nothing because he can be fired tomorrow but also even if he stays until the election, to what effect, it`s not as, though, Kelly is exercising any kind of vaunted discipline and control that we ever thought that Kelly was going to exercise over Trump.

O`DONNELL: All right. We have to get to our first break here. Barbara McQuade, Danny Cevallos, John Heilemann -- thank you for starting us off tonight.

Coming up, in an extraordinary moment in the Senate hearing today, not a single member of the Trump administration said a single word in defense of the president`s zero tolerance policy on the southern border, the policy that has still left over 600 children in federal custody separated from their parents. When George Takei was 5 years old, he was seized by the federal government and held in federal custody. He will join us later in the hour with his feelings about what children in federal custody are now experiencing.

And it was day one in the Manafort trial today -- $21,000 watches, $15,000 jackets, and $60 million in hidden income from Ukraine, all in one day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Two weeks ago when President Trump stood beside Vladimir Putin and said he couldn`t see any reason why it would be Russia who attacked our democracy in 2016, Russia was still attacking our democracy right at the moment that President Trump was speaking, as we have now more confirmation from Facebook today. With 98 days until the election, Facebook announced today that it has uncovered a new campaign to provoke emotional, political antagonism in the United States.

The vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, believes he recognizes the pattern that Facebook has uncovered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Many of them modeling some of the techniques that were used by the Russians in the past. I can say with pretty high confidence that I think this is Russian-related.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Facebook said today that it, quote, removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated, inauthentic behavior. The fake pages and accounts attracted more than 290,000 followers, posted more than 9,500 times and ran about 150 ads in 2017 and 2018.

"The New York Times" reported that, quote, coordinated activity was also detected around abolish ICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, according to two people briefed on the findings.

Two days after the president stood with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump specifically said no to the question, is Russia still targeting the U.S.?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.

REPORTER: You don`t believe that to be the case?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Today, the Trump homeland security -- the Trump secretary of homeland security disagreed and said this about the Russian attacks on the 2016 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Let me be clear: our intelligence community has it right. It was the Russians. We know that. They know that. It was directed from the highest levels. And we cannot and will not allow that to happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Ned Price, former senior director and spokesperson for the National Security Council in the Obama administration and a former CIA analyst. He`s an MSNBC national security contributor.

And back with us John Heilemann.

And, Ned price, on days like this that we go back to Donald Trump standing beside Vladimir Putin and just imagining Vladimir Putin`s joy when Donald Trump basically said I believe Vladimir Putin.

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, right. And the Russians have given us their answer ever since. Their answer as to whether they continue to attack our democracy. Remember, Maria Butina was wrapped up within hours of that press conference.

We have Facebook today coming out with this announcement about 32 pages followed by some 290,000 Facebook users. We have the Microsoft executive last week revealing that three midterm candidates had been targeted by the Russians. We have every single principal within the Trump administration saying usually unequivocally though not quite unequivocally that the Russians are continuing to attack our democracy.

The lone man standing is Donald Trump. And actually, I should amend that because there are two men standing who have an opposing view, both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. They`re the only ones now on this island, Lawrence, this island that`s becoming increasingly isolated as these data points of Russia`s assault continue to mount.

O`DONNELL: Let`s just look at it one more time. Donald Trump standing beside Vladimir Putin and comparing the information he gets from his intelligence services to what Vladimir Putin just told him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, the right shot there would have been the Putin reaction shot.

HEILEMANN: Oh, yes.

O`DONNELL: When Donald Trump is saying --

HEILEMANN: The smirk.

O`DONNELL: I don`t see any reason why it would be.

HEILEMANN: The smirk. Yes.

I mean, look, to Ned`s point, we`ve got to just focus on a couple things. What happened in 2016, what Russia did. Forget about collusion, coordination, conspiracy. Just what did Russia do, right?

They launched this information war across social media that was a propaganda, psychological warfare, and they hacked a bunch of systems. We now as we head to these mid-terms, we now know they`re hacking systems again, they`re hacking Claire McCaskill`s system, they`re trying to get in. And we think we don`t know exactly that this is Russia on the Facebook platform, although it looks like Russia. Almost certainly, probably is, right?

So, there`s going to be more of that. It`s going to happen on Twitter. It`s going to happen on Instagram. It`s going to happen on a bunch of social platforms.

Any serious country with a serious president who was not in some way compromised would have within the first month of the administration said we need a Manhattan Project to harden up our election and infrastructure. On the social media side, we need to get serious with Silicon Valley. On the intellectual side, we need to make sure state by state these voting systems can`t get hacked, we have to go around to the Capitol Hill, to congressional candidates who were incumbents and challengers and make sure they`re running through rigorous kinds of programs to protect their platforms, their software, their hardware from being infiltrated.

We`ve seen none of that in the last 18 months. It is one of greatest -- I mean, Donald Trump`s done a lot of bad stuff, but in terms of a basic ab negation of the office of the presidency under the circumstances of what happened in 2016, this is about the biggest one and we`re still sitting here less than six months away from the midterms and we don`t have anything like that kind of a conversation happening between government and private industry. We need it real bad and we need it fast.

O`DONNELL: And, Ned, it certainly fits with what we know about Donald Trump`s personality and character that he would want the continued help of anyone who wants to help with his election and with his campaigns and with Republican campaigns, including the Russians.

PRICE: Well, that`s exactly right. And I think when we look at the lack of action on the part of this administration, there are only a few plausible explanations. And to my mind that is the most plausible.

Look, it was 18 months into this administration, it was last Friday when the Trump administration had its first NSC meeting, its first meeting on election security chaired by Donald Trump. And the irony of this, Lawrence, is that meeting took place two years to the day, precisely two years to the day that Donald Trump in July of 2016 called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton`s so-called missing e-mails. And what we learned from the Mueller indictment just a couple weeks ago to the day that Russia actually started to try to hack into Hillary Clinton`s personal e-mail.

So, I think we have to marry those two facts to understand why we have a president who would not want to prioritize election security, because election security or lack thereof, the deficiencies of the system in 2016, worked to his tremendous advantage. And even beyond working to his advantage, he actually leveraged those insecurities, the deficiencies in our system, to help him, to your point.

So, of course, he wouldn`t want to patch these up. He knows the advantages that rest in this for him.

O`DONNELL: Ned Price and John Heilemann, thank you both for joining our discussion tonight. Appreciate it.

Coming up, what happened in court on day one of the United States of America versus Paul Manafort?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Coming up, what happened in court on day one of the United States of America versus Paul Manafort.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Today was the day that special prosecutor Robert Mueller finally started turning over his cards in the Paul Manafort case. This morning in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia a jury of six men and six women was quickly impaneled in the case of the United States of America versus Paul Manafort. And the trial began with opening statements by the prosecution and the defense.

In a massive tax fraud case involving over $16 million in income Paul Manafort made from his work in Ukraine the evidence can and will at some points become a dense swamp of complex international banking records, bookkeeping ledgers and accounting procedures.

And so in cases like this prosecutors like to grab the jury`s attention with items like the $21,000 watch that Paul Manafort bought with the cash he was pulling in from Ukraine and the Mercedes convertible and the $15,000 ostrich jacket.

When the defense turned over their cards today, they insisted that Paul Manafort was innocently taken advantage of by his aide, Rick Gates, who they accused of masterminding the embezzlement of much of the money Manafort earned in Ukraine. Rick Gates has already pleaded to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. The Manafort defense team said today that Rick Gates is a proven liar and that the only crimes that were committed were committed by Rick Gates.

And so, this case will largely come down to who do you believe, Rick Gates or Paul Manafort? We know Rick Gates is going to testify for the prosecution in this case. But we don`t know yet if Paul Manafort will testify in his own defense. If he does, he will have to do much better than this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what when he said, that`s -- that`s -- that`s obviously what the proposition is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News. He was inside the courtroom today.

Ken, we just saw there on that video what we know of Paul Manafort publicly is if we had to place our bets he would be a terrible witness under these circumstances in this courtroom. So one of the biggest choices the defense team has to make is can we put Paul Manafort on the stand in his own defense. Do we know what they are thinking about that?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: We don`t, Lawrence. But I think you are absolutely right. And I would be stunned if Paul Manafort took the stand in this case. Particularly because of the mountain of evidence, paper, document evidence that the government has against him.

You said it could come down to sort of a contest of who do you believe, Paul Manafort or Rick Gates. But the government does not see it that way. He made a point of saying today this case doesn`t rest on any one witness. This is a case where we have two dozen witnesses, many of whom don`t know one another, some of whom worked for Manafort, some didn`t, and we have, you know, more than 100 documents that we are going to show you and some of those were introduced into evidence today.

And the prosecution really painted an astonishing portrait of greed and deceit, Lawrence. You went through some of it. But there are really two parts to this fraud that they are alleging. Manafort was working for this Ukrainian politician backed by Russia. He was paid a fortune. Some $60 million over many years. But it wasn`t enough according to the prosecution. He had to get paid in a way that allowed him to evade U.S. taxes. So they paid him through offshore accounts. And they disguised it as loans instead of income. And he filled out according to the government false tax returns. That`s part one.

But then in 2014 his client, Viktor Yanukovych, was sent packing by the Ukrainian people and he was sent into exile in Russia. And this spigot of cash turned off. So the prosecution says then Paul Manafort turned to defrauding banks because what he had at that point was he had a lot of valuable real estate in New York and in the Hamptons and elsewhere. But he needed cash to find his lavish lifestyle, that ostrich jacket you mentioned and that $21,000 watch.

And so prosecutors say that he committed a series of bank frauds. He overstated his income. He ordered fake profit and loss statements from his business. And this conduct, Lawrence, they say continued up to the time he was the chairman of the Trump campaign.

And so what I think is an important thing that will come out of this trial, although it won`t be mentioned in this fashion, is that Paul Manafort became Donald Trump`s campaign chairman at a time when he was broke, scrambling for cash, in debt to at least one Russian oligarch and working for free.

And so, to a lot of people that makes him a very ripe target for recruitment by Russian intelligence if he wasn`t already in the thrall of Russian intelligence.

O`DONNELL: I just want to give the audience -- and you have heard a lot of this, Ken, in the courtroom today, but a sample from the rush transcript of what the prosecution had to say and how they are stressing that this won`t just come down to what Rick Gates says.

They say now, to be clear, Paul Manafort was an active participant in the tax and fraud schemes. Was he too busy to pay attention to the details? The evidence will show quite the opposite. Paul Manafort constantly issued orders, and he received reports back. Nor was he duped. Many of the witnesses will testify that they dealt directly with Paul Manafort. And where Manafort did use an intermediary you will see and you will hear how he directed their activities after all the evidence will show that Paul Manafort was the primary beneficiary of these frauds. He got the bank loans. He got the money. He got to use the untaxed income as the old adage goes, just follow the money.

And so Ken, the prosecutors seem to believe that`s the case they`re going to be able to present, just follow the money. And Rick Gates might or might not be someone you have to believe for a conviction.

DILANIAN: Yes. And I was wondering why the prosecutor was stressing that point in his opening statement. And then I heard the defense opening and I understood. Because the defense case seems to boil down to Paul Manafort was too busy to be paying attention to these details like filing a correct tax return and failing to, you know, not defraud his profit and loss statements. And essentially Rick Gates, they are saying, his right-hand man, who is also sort of a well-known political consultant, was back home minding the store while Paul Manafort was doing his great work in Ukraine and it`s his fault that this bad stuff happened.

The problem with that defense, I mean, you know, they are going to take their shot and we will see what happens, but there are so many documents that show Manafort ordering things to be done that appear to be illegal, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: NBC`s Ken Dilanian. Thank you, Ken, for giving us that feel of having one of those very precious seats in the courtroom today. We appreciate it.

DILANIAN: You bet. Thanks a lot, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, how does it feel to be seized by the federal government and held in federal custody when you are five years old? George Takei knows. It happened to him.

George Takei will be our next guest.

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O`DONNELL: Donald Trump proved tonight that he has no idea how to buy groceries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that only American citizens should vote in American elections. Which is why the time has come for voter I.D. like everything else. Voter I.D. You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need I.D. You go out and you want to buy anything you need I.D. and you need your picture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The man who bases his immigration policy on his ignorance about how to buy groceries has 600 children if his custody tonight. Six hundred children who remain tonight separated from their families after Donald Trump ordered his zero tolerance policy on the southern border, a policy which he has since abandoned. And judging by the President`s public comments he has completely forgotten what he did and is doing to those children on the southern border. And that over 600 of them are still in Donald Trump`s custody.

Donald Trump spoke for 62 minutes tonight in Florida, and he did not say one word about those 600 children who are still separated from their families. And he had plenty of time to do it. It wasn`t exactly a dense policy speech about his latest attempt to give a huge new tax break to the rich. On a night in the middle of the summer, his mind actually wandered off to Christmas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And remember, I said it`s awfully early to be thinking this, but I always think it, remember the attack on Merry Christmas? They are not attacking it anymore. Everyone is happy to say Merry Christmas. Right? Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. That was under siege. You would have these big department stores --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: But I always think it. Donald Trump is always thinking about Christmas. He`s always thinking about saying merry Christmas. And he has never thinking about the spirit of Christmas. Just the department stores. He has never thinking about that infant baby, a wanderer with his mother and father, who found a place to rest in that manger in Bethlehem. Donald Trump`s never thinking about him when he thinks about Christmas. And he never thinks about the children and the families whose lives he has harmed so deeply. He has never given a thought to what those babies and toddlers and children are feeling tonight.

George Takei was seized by the federal government and put in federal custody when he was five years old. George will join us next and tell the President of the United States how that feels.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It`s not an exaggeration to say that the policies of President Trump and attorney general Jeff Sessions may essentially orphan hundreds of immigrant children.

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O`DONNELL: Here is an extraordinary moment in a Senate hearing today when not a single Trump administration official was willing to defend Donald Trump`s policy on the southern border that has ripped families apart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Who here thinks that zero tolerance has been a success? You can just raise your hand if you think it`s been a success. Who thinks that family separation policy has been a success? Raise your hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is George Takei, an actor and a civil rights activist. He and his family were held in Japanese American internment camp during World War II.

George, please tell us what it felt like take us back to that time when you were five years old and suddenly you were leaving your home. Did you know that as you were leaving your home, you were being seized by the federal government and sent into federal custody?

GEORGE TAKEI, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was too young to really understand what was going on. I remember that morning when my parents got me up very early together with my brother a year younger and our baby sister, still an infant. They dressed us hurriedly, and my brother and I were told to wait in the living room while my parents did some last-minute packing back in the bedroom.

And so the two of us were just gazing out the front window when suddenly we saw two soldiers marching up our driveway. They carried rifles with shiny bayonets on them. They stomped up the porch and began pounding on the door with their fists. It was a terrifying sound. My father came rushing out, and he answered the door. And literally at gunpoint, we were ordered out of our home.

My father gave my brother and me small packages to carry, and we stepped out and stood on the driveway, waiting for my mother to come out. And when she came out, she had our baby sister in one arm, a huge duffel bag in the other, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. I will never be able to forget that scary, horrible morning.

O`DONNELL: When you woke up in the first camp that you were in, I believe you were in two, first in Arkansas and then in California. How long -- did you have any sense of how long this was going to become your life?

TAKEI: Well, we were first taken to the horse tables of Santa Anita racetrack. And from a two bedroom home to a smelly -- it was still pungent with the smell of horseman new manure in a small narrow horse stall, all five of us squeezed in there with cots covering the whole space that was there.

And my parents said that we were going to be here for a while, and this is where the horses used to sleep. And to 5-year-old me, I thought it was fun to sleep where the horses sleep. But for my parents, it was a degrading, humiliating painful experience. And I had many conversations with my father after when I was a teenager, and he told me that his -- that was one of the most painful experiences of the whole internment.

O`DONNELL: If you could have a minute with Donald Trump, what would you tell him about what you believe is happening to these children who have been now orphaned at the southern border?

TAKEI: He has reached a new historic low with this notion of tearing children away from their parents and then putting them -- incarcerating them in cages, and then scattering them all over. I mean, it`s such pathetic incompetence. Now that they are required to reunite the families, and with their parents, they can`t find the children. They can`t match up the children with the parents. Some parents have been deported already to Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador. And it`s the most incompetent administration and a new low in cruelty and inhumanity. It is really -- it makes Americans ashamed.

O`DONNELL: What do you make of the fact that since the policy was reversed and Donald Trump said a few words about basically ending that policy that he hasn`t said a word about these children since? And he can go to Florida tonight, talk for 62 minutes. He has got over 600 children still in his custody. They are in Donald Trump`s custody, and they are lost from their parents. And he does not say one word about them.

TAKEI: He doesn`t care. He`s got a new outrage two or three times a day, and he`s gone from one to the other. And so he is preoccupied with that. And they are out of his mind already.

Jeff Sessions tried to justify that by reading the bible when he announced the zero tolerance policy. This is really an upside down administration, just filled with cruelty and inhumanity. It makes Americans ashamed.

O`DONNELL: George Takei, thank you very much for joining us tonight and sharing your extraordinary family`s experience with us tonight. Really appreciate it.

We will be right back.

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END

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