Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: August 30, 2018 Guest: Stuart Stevens, Eric Swalwell, David Frum
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
Let me try a theory --
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: OK.
O`DONNELL: -- about the president`s lawyers and when this is going to end.
That all of their communication, whether it`s on television or privately to the president, but all of it is really for the audience of one, whenever they`re speaking. So when they are saying these things on television, when John Dowd was giving the information it is going to be over at a certain time, when Ty Cobb was saying -- urging the president to let`s comply with these requests for documents because it will be over faster, that they all knew that these things do not ever end in the kinds of timetables they were talking about. But they knew if I ever told the president a realistic estimate of how long it might go, that he might just fire everybody in sight and get himself impeached on a much faster schedule.
MADDOW: I mean, but like Chicken Little, right?
MADDOW: How many times can you do it before he starts to know that you`re doing it? It may placate him momentarily. You can`t persuade him to do things he might not otherwise do because you`re telling him it`s about to be over. For a while, he kept proclaiming that it was about to be over, remember?
But like when you tell him it is going to be Thanksgiving and then December and then January and then May and then September, I mean, presumably, he remembers these things. Eventually, he`s going to stop being susceptible to this kind of suggestion, won`t he?
O`DONNELL: It is like a parenting exercise in a cross country drive. You have left New York City, headed for San Francisco and you are somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania and the three-year-old is saying, are we there yet? And you are just constantly saying, we`re almost there.
MADDOW: Almost there. Hold on a little bit. Don`t hit your brother. Yes.
MADDOW: Yes. Even a 3-year-old eventually figures it out, maybe sometime around Iowa, but yes.
O`DONNELL: Three-year-olds figure it out. We`re not sure about -- about the client the president`s lawyers have.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, the president is once again talking about impeachment with an interview with "Bloomberg" released tonight. The president says I don`t think they can impeach somebody that`s doing a great job, proving once again that the president has never read one word of the Constitution, especially a part that is most relevant to his future, the impeachment clause.
The president told "Bloomberg", so you get elected as a Republican or Democrat and the opposite party gets put into the House, that would mean, oh, let`s impeach him. Can`t do it, Trump said. If you look at the definition of impeachment, that`s a high bar and that`s would take a long time to fight that if you are doing a good job. And I`m doing a great job.
To judge by legislative accomplishments, the performance of the economy, and significant reductions in the deficit, which Donald Trump has never achieved, Bill Clinton was actually doing a much better job than Donald Trump when he was impeached. After last night`s breaking news at this hour that the Trump White House is full of talk of impeachment these days, we got a look today at one of the president`s most important lines of defense to a possible obstruction of justice charge because of his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
We learned from "The Washington Post" exactly 24 hours ago, quote, Trump recently consulted his attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment proceedings. Rudy Giuliani actually told "The Washington Post", we`ve talked a lot about impeachment at different times, and one of the things Rudy Giuliani and the president have actually talked about is this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: One of the things they`re concerned about did the president obstruct justice when he fired Comey? He made it clear to Lester Holt he did it knowing the investigation would continue, so he couldn`t have obstructed it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Couldn`t have obstructed it. Made it clear to Lester Holt that he knew the investigation would continue. Rudy Giuliani said that a month ago. A month ago.
And today, the president tweeted this lie about NBC News. When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly.
The president is lying about that. Lester Holt, as everyone knows, did not fudge the tape of his interview with President Trump. NBC News has had the extended video of the Lester Holt interview online since it was originally broadcast last May. You can go to it right now at NBCNews.com/nightlynews/videoprestrumpextendedexclusiveinterviewwithlesterh olt. You can Google it. It`s right there. It`s been there every day. Still it is.
The interview remains the most important interview anyone has ever done with President Trump, and it would obviously become exhibit A in any obstruction of justice against the president for firing James Comey because the president said to Lester Holt that he was going to fire James Comey no matter what recommendation he got from his attorney general and from his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about what to do with James Comey. The recommendation the president got, which was written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was that he should fire James Comey because of the public comments James Comey made about the FBI`s investigation of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
When Lester Holt asked the president about firing James Comey, he never mentioned the investigation of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. But he did mention what he called this Russia thing. The president told Lester Holt when he decided to fire James Comey, quote, I said to myself. I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
That was what the president of the United States said was in his head when he decided to fire James Comey. Now he has discussed impeachment through Giuliani and others in the White House, the president knows that one of his most dangerous criminal and impeachment exposures is a charge of obstruction of justice for firing James Comey and attempting to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and special prosecutor Robert Mueller in an effort to obstruct the Mueller investigation. And so, the president knows that he needs a defense against what he said to Lester Holt in that interview.
And so, his defense today is Lester Holt did something with the videotape, quote, fudging my tape. That is a lie that could only work with Trump voters and probably it will not work with most o them, but it will not work with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. It will not work in impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee if the Democrats win the House, and it will not work in an impeachment trial in the United States Senate where the Lester Holt interview about the firing of James Comey will be played in its entirety for the United States Senate if they sit as jurors in a Trump impeachment trial.
The president knows that fudging my tape lie won`t work in the real world and so when it comes to his actual legal defense, today`s tweet is probably best read as a Trumpian variation on what Rudy Giuliani said a month ago about the Lester Holt interview. The part about the president knew the investigation would continue after he fired Comey so that couldn`t be obstruction of justice. Now, let`s listen once again to a portion of the unedited video in which Donald Trump describes to Lester Holt what he was thinking after he got the written recommendation from Rod Rosenstein to fire FBI Director James Comey.
It is even more extraordinary to listen to now because the president begins his explanation with praise of Rod Rosenstein saying he`s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. This is the part of the video that you will be hearing repeatedly if there is an impeachment hearing in the house judiciary committee and an impeachment trial in the United States Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation which they --
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So there was --
TRUMP: He made a recommendation. He`s highly respected. Very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him.
He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.
And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election, that they should have won, and the reason they should have won it is the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win, very hard, because you start off at such a disadvantage.
So everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
HOLT: But are you angry -- angry with Mr. Comey because of his Russia investigation?
TRUMP: I just want somebody that`s competent. I am a big fan of the FBI. I love the FBI. I love the people of the FBI.
HOLT: Were you a fan of him -- him taking up that investigation?
TRUMP: I think that -- about the Hillary Clinton investigation?
HOLT: No, about the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: No, I don`t care.
HOLT: And possible links between --
TRUMP: Look, look. -- let me tell you -- as far as I`m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now, I said, I probably maybe will confuse people. Maybe I`ll expand that, you know, I`ll lengthen the time because it should be over with. It should be -- in my opinion, it should have been over with a long time ago, because all it is - - just it is an excuse.
But I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people. He`s the wrong man for that position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now for legal analysis of what you just heard is former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance, who`s now an MSNBC legal analyst. Also joining us, David Frum, senor editor at "The Atlantic" and author of "Trumpocracy", and John Harwood, editor at large for CNBC.
And, Joyce Vance, to the legal theory that we seem to be hearing from Rudy Giuliani and possibly it`s what we`re going to eventually hear from the president, that moment could not be obstruction of justice and he couldn`t be describing an obstruction of justice to Lester Holt when he was thinking about the Russia investigation because later as he goes on, he says that he knew the investigation would continue and he just thought James Comey was the wrong man for the job.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It seems like a fabricated defense. I suppose it is what you do when you know the real facts and you know that the president has given an interview where he`s given a very persuasive reason that he chose to fire Jim Comey. And you realize months down the road, oops, that was the wrong thing to say. If we say that, we got criminal liability.
So they try to look around at what else was said during that interview and see if they can craft a new version of what was said. And the problem for them is that at the end when the president says, I know the investigation will go on -- he talks about the fact that it had gone on for much too long, that it should have been over, and it`s clear that the import of his full statement is he would like to see that investigation come to an end and he, in fact, takes steps to end it.
O`DONNELL: John Harwood, the president had a strange Twitter morning, even for him, an outpouring of tweets about the status of the investigation and what`s happening with White House personnel. A lot of tweets about Don McGahn being fired, which the president was making clear was his decision.
But he wanted to take Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner out of that story. He tweeted: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the so- called pushing out of Don McGahn. The fake news media has purposely so wrong, they love to portray chaos in the White House when they know that chaos doesn`t exist. Just a smooth running machine with changing parts.
It is impossible to read that with a straight face, John Harwood, but the president seems very concerned with the perception of how this White House is working, especially with the exit of Don McGahn?
JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: Well, as you know, Lawrence, it`s routine for the president to protest stories that turn out to have been true. The president gives every indication at this moment of feeling incredible pressure from the Mueller investigation, from the Southern district of New York investigation, from other legal activity going on in New York, the Manhattan district attorney and the New York attorney general. And he is alone in the White House venting, trying to divert attention, trying to cloud the credibility of people who were coming after him.
But the dominant impression you have is somebody who knows that the hounds are approaching his room and he doesn`t quite know what to do about it. And it -- a lot of these tweets didn`t really make sense. They didn`t reflect a real connection with reality or rationality. There wasn`t a logic to a lot of the things he was saying and I think, you know, the country is watching this play out in real-time. It is not pretty.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, the president is trying a new impeachment defense, and that is you cannot impeach a president if he`s doing a good job.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: I -- what is so striking about that defense is that the president is grappling with a political reality. And I think to echo what John said, what the president is recognizing is not only is he facing tougher law enforcement challenges, but it`s now almost the first of September, the election campaign is coming to an end. I think he`s looking at polling that shows bad results for the Republicans.
You know, it is striking when you watch that Lester Holt tape. We`re used to comparing the Donald Trump of today to that of 20 years ago in marking the apparent cognitive deterioration. But even compared to a year and a half ago, he seems impaired. He was calmer and more fluent even when talking to Lester Holt than he is today.
There is some tremendous accumulating pressure on him. It is not just legal. I think it is political. He is preparing for the argument he expects after November when clearly he expects to face at least a Democrat House, maybe a Democratic House and Senate.
O`DONNELL: Joyce Vance, the president is venturing into legal scholarship tonight in his interview with Bloomberg.
He says: I view it as an illegal investigation. I`m not saying anything. I`m just telling you this. You read the great scholars, the great legal -- there should have never been a special counsel.
Your reaction to that?
VANCE: He`s just wrong when he says that. The reason that we use special counsels in our federal criminal justice system or previously independent counsels is when we have a criminal investigation that the Justice Department needs to conduct but the people who would be in charge of the investigation have a conflict of interest and they need to recuse. So, we make provision for this sort of situation where when it`s something that so pervades the entire Justice Department, you can have someone who is independent, someone who is not employed by government who becomes the counsel who takes that investigation over.
It is worth noting, Lawrence, I know you remarked a lot on this when it happened, universally there are people in the Republican Party, from Newt Gingrich on who lauded the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to run this investigation. There wasn`t even a whiff of claims that it was an illegal process at that point in time from anyone other than the self- interest of the president of the United States who never wanted to see this investigation happen.
O`DONNELL: And, John Harwood, the president, again, tweeted something that is inconceivable from any other presidency. The White House counsel has not left. His successor has not been named.
And yet, this morning, the president said, I am very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House counsel. I liked Don, but he was not responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions, so much fake reporting and fake news.
Two big things to go into there. He`s very excited about someone he has not named and we have ever reason to believe he has not found that there actually at this point there is no one to take that job is as likely as not. But then this pushing the idea that he did not stop me from firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions, the president is not disputing that he thought about it or tried to and maybe he wants to claim that he stopped himself.
HARWOOD: That`s what`s so disturbing about these notes, Lawrence. It is - - he is playing out some sort of dialogue within his own head. It didn`t make any sense to sit there and say I`m excited about someone that I haven`t selected yet.
He had other tweets today where he was saying, oh, yes, and I can`t emphasize enough how fake the news is. And he talked about fake books and all -- these are all transparent attempts by the president to deny the reality that`s closing in on him. And so, you know, when he talks about the great legal minds say that we shouldn`t have had a special counsel or it`s illegal, that`s not connected with consulting any legal minds. That is a primal impulse on his part of self-protection now that he sees that the special counsel has put him in danger.
He`s not hard to read. When he talks about, oh, Jeff Sessions, what kind of a man is he? He shouldn`t have recused himself. He is frightened because he didn`t have an attorney general who would turn off the switch on this investigation. And that`s what he is complaining against and it`s reality and it`s getting closer to him.
O`DONNELL: There is a lot of speculation he had a specific target in mind on a tweet this morning attacking as he calls it the enemy of the people, the so-called fake news. He specified this time, this includes fake books which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources and are pure fiction, enemy of the people.
So, David Frum, he`s talking about you there, who`ve written "Trumpocracy".
FRUM: I know. I cannot get him to use my name in a tweet. It just makes such a difference.
O`DONNELL: I miss it myself. He used to attack me all the time. He hasn`t done it in a long time and I miss it.
But there is a lot of speculation he`s worried about the Bob Woodwork book that`s scheduled for publication on September 11th that is an inside the Trump White House book and he seems to be possibly ramping up for some kind of defense of that.
FRUM: Right. That seems so right. I like John Harwood`s description of this is like a dialogue with himself. It is like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, constantly reassuring himself and stroking the precious and reminding himself that everything is going to be OK.
But I think the new tone that is different, he is thinking about this not just as a legal problem now, but as a political problem. That may be the reason it is difficult to recruit a new White House counsel. The new White House counsel is going to have to testify probably in front of very hostile committees of at least one house of Congress and that is going to be an awkward, inconvenient and maybe career-damaging event that if you are trying to recruit somebody who has things to lose, which is what reputation to lose, clients to lose, which is the kind of person who become counsel in the past, that person may be very reticent.
O`DONNELL: David Frum --
HARWOOD: Has he figured out whether Joyce Vance is available?
O`DONNELL: Well, Joyce is --
VANCE: I`m going to bow out for that one.
O`DONNELL: OK. But we`re going to need you here, Joyce.
David Frum, John Harwood, Joyce Vance, thanks for starting off our discussion tonight.
And when we come back, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen were reportedly trying to buy everything in the Pecker safe.
And Lindsey Graham has a new defense of Donald Trump that is so ridiculous that he actually had to specify that it is not a joke.
O`DONNELL: New reporting from "The New York Times" reveals that Donald Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen devised a plan to buy every salacious story that the "National Enquirer" had on Donald Trump dating back to the 1980s.
The move by Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen indicated just how concerned they were about all the information amassed by the company, American Media, and its chairman, David Pecker, a loyal Trump ally of two decades, who has cooperated with investigators. Donald Trump never did end up buying that trove of dirt, which according to "The Times" includes, quote, stories about Mr. Trump`s marital woes and lawsuits related, story notes and lists of sensitive sources. Some tips about alleged affairs and -- get this -- allegations of unscrupulous golfing.
This developments give us new insight into these secretly recorded conversation between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in September 2016 released one month ago.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I`m going to do that right away. I`ve actually come up and spoken --
TRUMP: Give it to me and --
COHEN: And I`ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?
COHEN: -- funding.
TRUMP: One fifty?
COHEN: Yes. And it`s all the stuff --
TRUMP: I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he`s going to be --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I`m all over that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We now know that this goal goes far beyond hush payments to playboy Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Donald Trump and Michael Cohen hint at their plan to buy the tabloid`s entire vault from David Pecker with the support and guidance of Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. Allen Weisselberg and David Pecker have been granted immunity in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors in their case against Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and confessed in court that he committed those crimes with Donald Trump, with the intention of affecting the outcome of the presidential election.
Joining us now, Stuart Stevens, Republican political consultant who served as chief strategist for Mitt Romney`s 2012 presidential campaign, and Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.
And, Ruth, apparently they didn`t pull off the deal to buy the entire safe load of material. So, I think we can expect to be learning more of what was in that safe.
RUTH MARCUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The magnificent vault. I think this is one of those many Trumpian moments where we need to take a step back and just reflect on the amazingness of this moment where think what other presidential candidate or actual president could have a vault full of "National Enquirer" decades of information about him.
This seems like a little bit more of a potential political problem for the president than a legal one since we already have knowledge of Cohen`s allegations that this was a crime that he confessed to and that he did it on behalf of and at the instruction of the president for the purpose of influencing the election. But, gosh golly, to have a notion that there were not simply two kind of random related problematic events but a whole safe load of them, that`s just pretty remarkable.
O`DONNELL: Stuart Stevens, it is striking that the president himself is talking about impeachment more and more. He`s now talking about it in every interview he does. He`s the president -- he became the first president in history last week in an interview with Fox News to say if I ever got impeached. No other president was ever led into that particular phrasing in an interview before.
Here he is tonight with Bloomberg talking about impeachment, saying you can`t impeach a president if the president is doing a good job. And all of this impeachment talk from the president has erupted after he learned that Michael Cohen was pleading guilty, after Michael Cohen implicated the president in federal court himself and after the president learned that David Pecker is under an immunity agreement with prosecutors and all of the contents of that safe are presumably available to prosecutors.
STUART STEVENS, FORMER SR. STRATEGIST, ROMENY FOR PRESIDENT 2012: Yes, it`s pretty amazing. As Ruth says, we sort of have to stop and look at how we got here and just the extraordinariness of it which gets lost in a moment to moment. This defense that you can`t impeach someone who is popular I think would work better if he was popular.
The majority of American people don`t approve of Donald Trump`s job performance, don`t approve of him. I mean, he`s somewhere around 40 percent. So it just doesn`t really hold up. I think he`s sort of floundering around here, trying to come up with pretty much any reason that he shouldn`t be in the position that he is in.
But it shouldn`t surprise anybody, including Republicans because this is pretty much the same Donald Trump that has existed for a long time, and they had a good insight into the primary and the general election of what he was going to be like. And this is a bargain that was struck.
O`DONNELL: And, Ruth, it`s the same Donald Trump who Lindsey Graham during the primaries, Ted Cruz during the primaries, others said, is unfit to be president and he`s unfit to be president because of suspicions about the kinds of things about him that now have been proven and have been -- and some confessed to Donald Trump saying last week that, oh, yes, I knew about the payments to the women. But I knew about it, as he put it, later, whatever that supposed to mean.
And so, as Stuart says, this person was kind of an open book, even though the "National Enquirer" did what it could to keep that book closed for so long.
MARCUS: Yes, it was a sealed safe but an open book. Everything that we`re seeing about Donald Trump now is consistent with what he demonstrated to us during the campaign and what we were able to learn about him during the campaign.
I think that the more astonishing transformation is that one that you allude to, which is the old Lindsey Graham truth-telling, Trump-criticizing Lindsey Graham, and new, Trump-loving, Trump-excusing, Trump-enabling Lindsey Graham. What we have been talking a lot about, Senator John McCain this week, what a disappointment the new Lindsey Graham would be to Senator McCain.
O`DONNELL: And Stuart, what do you make of what we`ve seen Lindsey Graham do just in the last couple of months, especially the last couple of weeks. I mean here was somebody who said, "Absolutely holy hell to pay if you even think about firing Jeff Sessions." Now, Lindsey Graham enabling the firing of Jeff Sessions saying, "Of course, the president deserves an attorney general who he can have confidence in."
STEVENS: Well, look, as someone who has admired Senator Graham, it just makes my heart hurt and my head hurt. I just don`t understand it. They all served with Senator Sessions. They all seemed to like Senator Sessions. They were all for Senator Sessions.
And it seems to be the sin that Senator Sessions has committed here is actually doing his job that he was appointed to do and caring more about that job than about serving a political patron, which, you know, I would have thought that the Senator Graham that I admired and so many people admired for so long would applaud that. It is just one of these confounding things that you wonder when you look back on it a couple of years from now, is this going to be a moment that he feels good about and reflects the best of him.
O`DONNELL: It`s just astonishing to see. I mean Donald Trump is not a better president now than he was when Lindsey Graham was defending the attorney general. If anything, there is much more reason to be supporting the attorney general and Lindsey Graham has done a complete reversal. We`re going to have to leave it there.
Ruth Marcus and Stuart Stevens, thank you both very much for joining us tonight.
And when we come back, are you having trouble, anyone having trouble keeping track of all of the scandals of Donald Trump, the Trump administration, the Trump cabinet, the Trump family? Well, of all people, the House Republicans have helpfully compiled an almost complete list of all the Trump scandals that they think should be investigated or, I should say, will be investigated if Democrats win control of the House. And Congressman Eric Swalwell will join us on that next.
O`DONNELL: If you are having trouble keeping track of the very long list of Trump scandals and Trump administration scandals, here is something that really helps. According to "Axios", Republicans on Capitol Hill are circulating a spreadsheet among themselves listing all of the Trump scandals they have refused to investigate as they prepare for what Democrats might investigate if Democrats take back the House in November.
Here is a Republicans list of potential Trump investigations according to "Axios", Trump`s tax returns, Trump family businesses, Trump`s dealings with Russia, the payment to Stormy Daniels, James Comey`s firing, Trumps` firing of U.S. attorneys, Trump`s proposed transgender banning for the military, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin`s business dealing, White House staff personal e-mail use, cabinet secretary travel, office expenses and other misused perks, discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago, Jared Kushner`s ethics law compliance., dismissal of members of the EPA Board of Scientific Councilors, the travel ban family separation policy, hurricane response in Puerto Rico, election security and hacking attempts and White House security clearances.
Republicans may hope that the list will scare the Trump base to the polls to protect Donald Trump from any of those investigations. But as Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell tweeted today, "House GOP went so far to make a list of objectionable conduct by Donald Trump."
So if they know, why won`t they investigate this stuff? Joining us now Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California and member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And Congressman Swalwell, that was one of your angrier tweets about this, but it is kind of extraordinary to watch the Republicans basically draw up the preliminary outlines of an overall indictment of the ethics of the Trump administration, the Trump family. And then say the danger to the country is that this will be investigated if Democrats are elected.
ERIC SWALWELL, CALIFORNIA. Good evening, Lawrence. You almost went into Brian William`s hour there going through that list. But, you know, what was so concerning for me was that they know. And it`s as if a lawyer asked their client, you know, tell me everything that you did and they compiled this long list of their client`s exposure. Except, that`s the problem, the Republicans view Donald Trump as their client, as someone who they are supposed to protect. And they have put this list out there to their donors, to their base as a reason that they must keep the majority, not to investigate all of this alarming conduct but to protect the president from it.
And so thank you for the list, I say. And I can assure the American people if Democrats are given the responsibility of leading, we will look into all of this alarming conduct because we do believe that corruption is keeping us back from addressing issues of protecting health care, making sure paychecks grow and protecting our environment. So thank you to the Republicans, but we`ll do the right thing with the list.
O`DONNELL: And you may add a thing or two to that list including Congressman Wilbur Ross`s strange business dealings, to put it moderately, since he has been in office. I want to get your reaction to something the president said tonight about impeachment. He`s talking about impeachment more than ever because he`s obviously worried about a Democratic House beginning impeachment proceedings against him. And he said to Bloomberg, "You cannot impeach a president who is doing a good job." What is your reaction to that?
SWALWELL: He shouldn`t worry. We`re not going to impeach a president who`s doing a good job. The problem, though, is he is not a president who is doing a good job. But what we can assure him is that we will give him the fairest investigation that he`s never given anyone, that there will not be a rush to judgment, that we will conduct thorough investigations.
And if he has crossed red lines, he`s not above the law, and we will make sure an impenetrable bipartisan case is made to the American people. But yes, he doesn`t have to worry about someone doing a good job losing their job.
O`DONNELL: And the president now is talking about impeachment more than anyone else in Washington, more than any other elected official in Washington. He`s done it in his Fox News interview. He did it again in his Bloomberg interview today, talked about impeachment repeatedly. He offered the theory on impeachment that not only that you cannot impeach a president who is doing a good job, but that there is a very high bar to get over and that all legal scholars agree that it is impossible to reach that and anything like that in what we`ve seen of the evidence against Donald Trump.
What is your reaction to the president`s notion that there is nothing out there yet that would even begin to suggest the possibility of impeachment?
SWALWELL: There is certainly a lot out there, Lawrence, to investigate and probe. And, again, we will do that. But the reason he`s talking about impeachment is because he doesn`t want to talk about what every day Americans want to talk about and we`ll go to the polls on, their health care costs are going to go up as open enrollment starts this fall, that wages are in decline and that only the wealthiest have benefitted from his tax cuts.
As well as that right now, Lawrence, what we`re seeing in this country is that hardworking people continue to work hard and it is not adding up too much. Over 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account. He doesn`t want us to talk about any of that or he doesn`t want us to talk about the fact that he just denied millions of Federal workers a pay increase that they rightfully deserve for working so hard. So we`re going to talk about those issues but we`re also going to be able to walk and chew gum and investigate his alarming conduct.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SWALWELL: Yes, my pleasure.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Senator Lindsey Graham has a new defense of Donald Trump, that he knows is so ridiculous that when he said it today, he actually had to specify that it is not a joke. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: Lindsey Graham seems to think that he is the sharpest lawyer in the United States Senate, possibly because he is the only lawyer in the United States Senate who has appeared before the Senate as a lawyer, as a House of Representatives Prosecutor in the Senate`s impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.
Congressman Lindsey Graham lost that case, but he used it as the launching pad for his first campaign for United States Senate which he won, which was probably the whole point of the Senate trial for Lindsey Graham who now refuses to apply the same moral and ethical standards to Donald Trump that he applied to Bill Clinton.
Senator Graham is now doing a very lawyerly job of trying to undermine Robert Mueller`s investigation of the president while pretending to defend it. Here is what he said on "CBS NEWS" this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here is what I will tell the president. There is no scenario where you can end this investigation, the Mueller investigation, through some political intrigue and survive. That`s the end of you. The only person in America that can clear Donald Trump is Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIABLE MALE: You said you have faith in Mueller?
GRAHAM: I do.
UNIDENTIFIABLE MALE: So if Mueller finds something else that is not collusion --
GRAHAM: Then he`ll act on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now, all of that sounds good, but Lindsey Graham has now reversed his position on protecting Attorney General Jeff Sessions and is supporting Donald Trump`s desire to get rid of Jeff Sessions after the midterm election. Getting rid of Jeff Sessions means that Robert Mueller would have a new boss.
A new boss loyal to Donald Trump. A new boss either as acting attorney general or an attorney general confirmed by the Republican Senate who would be able to limit Robert Mueller`s investigation without ever closing it down and who would also be able to take Robert Mueller`s final written report of his investigation and lock it in the attorney general`s safe, never to be seen by anyone.
Lindsey Graham knows that you can`t really support the Mueller investigation if you are in favor of giving Robert Mueller a new boss in the Justice Department who will protect Donald Trump.
After this break, Joyce Vance will analyze Lindsey Graham`s new legal defense of Donald Trump against the charge of collusion. And when Lindsey Graham offered this defense today, he actually had to specify that he does not mean it as a joke.
O`DONNELL: Here is Senator Lindsey Graham`s new legal defense of Donald Trump and the Trump campaign against the charge of collusion with Russians during the presidential election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: I say this as a joke but it`s kind of a half of a joke. To collude, you`ve got to sit down, come up with a plan and stick with it. Trump`s not good at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joyce Vance and David Frum are back with us.
And Joyce Vance, what do you make of Lindsey Graham`s half of a joke, as he calls it?
JOYCE VANCE, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA: It`s actually not a very good joke or maybe the joke ends up being on someone in the Trump family. Because when Senator Graham is talking about collusion, we know that the federal charge would really be conspiracy. And the essence of a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a criminal act.
So it`s really pretty simple. It could be as simple as the Russians offering to provide election assistance and somebody on the Trump side saying, "If it`s what you say, I love it."
O`DONNELL: David Frum, the Graham defense is since Donald Trump is bad at everything, he is so bad at trying to commit a crime that he can`t commit a crime.
DAVID FRUM, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Now, they`ve been trotting this up for a while, too disorganized and chaotic to collude. But what I keep looking at is the timeline of events on the fateful day of October 7th, the day of the Access Hollywood tape release and then within 45 minutes the day of the second big WikiLeaks stamp.
And what I was struck by as I went through it minute by minute was how within hours of that dump, the Trump people had chosen their talking points. As chaotic as they were, they had seized on which e-mails to weaponize, which to use to tell American Catholics, for example, that falsely that there were insults to them in the dump. They moved very swiftly and effectively. They`re not terrible at everything.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And Joyce, part of David`s point there is this was a massive amount of material and they were very, very quick about picking up the best parts of it for them to use suggesting some kind of coordination there.
VANCE: It certainly suggests it. And, of course, we don`t know how the work was accomplished. And so it`s possible that in this sort of a conspiracy situation, you can have one party that`s very organized and another party that`s just along for the ride. Because the crime here is this conspiracy, this agreement to do something illegal.
We know that when folks get together and agree to do a crime that sets up serious dangers, that`s why we have that crime in the first place. It`s no different than drug dealers who agree to sell drugs. Here, the agreement is to defraud the American people.
FRUM: And whether it`s a crime or not, the whole question of criminal conspiracy is less important than the question of whether the United States is beholden to a foreign power in a way that he shouldn`t be. And as we now discover, whether he may be beholden to an American tabloid the way he shouldn`t be.
O`DONNELL: And Joyce, to Lindsey Graham`s point here, he`s saying he`s a strong defender of Robert Mueller. He always tries to appear that way but he no longer defends the position of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. So he`s advocating a new boss for Robert Mueller knowing that that new boss can, without our knowledge, limit Robert Mueller`s investigation in very severe ways.
VANCE: It`s potentially a dangerous position for Mueller because as you accurately point out, someone new could come in and could limit, without firing Mueller, could limit the scope of the investigation. One hopes that Senator Graham perhaps realizes that it will be virtually impossible to confirm a new attorney general, and it`s unlikely for this scenario to play out. But this president has been so unpredictable except in his focus on ending this investigation that I would not want to try to survive on that slender hope.
O`DONNELL: Joyce Vance, David Frum, thank you both for joining us tonight. Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s LAST WORD.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST: In a private meeting to get support during the mid- terms, President Trump reached out to Evangelical pastors. Yes, in exchange, Trump promised to only sleep with Christian porn stars. That`s the deal. Make sure everybody`s happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Conan O`Brien gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the president calls Robert Mueller`s probe illegal and won`t say in a Bloomberg interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions will last beyond the midterm elections.
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