Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: September 4, 2018 Guest: David Frum, Harry Litman
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And you and Steve talking about my old neighborhoods tonight in the congressional race. Fine with me. You can keep going.
You know, I ran into Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts a few weeks ago and she told me unofficially, off the record, that they had polling inside their campaign that was more positive than the public polling which showed her significantly behind. And, you know, candidates always tell you that.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes.
O`DONNELL: They always say our private polls look better. But she was very convincing about it. And that district in all the iterations that Steve was describing from when it was JFK`s district to Tip O`Neill`s district, up to Capuano`s district, those borders have changed a lot on that district and the way it weaves its way now around Boston, through Boston.
But this is -- this is the new face of Boston. It is an amazing and kind of wonderful thing to see for someone like me who grew up in a strictly segregated city where this was impossible.
MADDOW: To see Michael Capuano tonight give that concession when I think only about 11 percent or 12 percent of the vote was in. At the time he started conceding, we didn`t even have a call of the election from the associated press or anybody else. But clearly when she told you that her polling was better than you might expect from the public information, he must have been looking at some of that same stuff because they knew right out of the gate that they were toast, and it looks like she`s going to written by a lot.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and looking at neighborhoods that he was supposed to do much better and they saw him getting crushed in neighborhoods that he was supposed to win. And so, it was a pretty obvious way to read it at that point.
But, Rachel, trying to squeeze this in in a news day that includes everything that it has included, including your great interview with John Kerry, this has been quite an hour that you`ve just been through, and now I`m going to try to squeeze an awful lot of stuff into the next hour.
MADDOW: All right. I`ll duck out. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, Bob Woodward has done it again. He has written another book that goes deep inside another presidency. And as usual, portions of the book appeared in the "Washington Post" first. They appeared today, a week before the book will actually be published.
Bob Woodward has spent his career at the "Washington Post" and has written books about the inside workings of every presidency beginning with the Nixon White House.
Bob Woodward quotes White House chief of staff John Kelly calling the president an idiot. He quotes Defense Secretary James Mattis comparing Donald Trump`s comprehension level to, quote, a fifth or sixth grader. He quotes James Mattis telling the president that he`s trying to, quote, prevent World War III. He quotes Donald Trump calling his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, quote, mentally retarded.
And he quotes the president`s former criminal defense lawyer John Dowd telling the president that if the president testifies under oath in the Mueller investigation, the president will end up in, quote, an orange jumpsuit. The lawyer told the president, quote, you are not a good witness. And so, tonight, the Trump White House has made the mistake of going to war with Bob Woodward, a war they cannot win, because they don`t know how Bob Woodward does it. And that means they don`t know what they`re up against.
The White House press secretary issued a written statement saying, quote, this book is nothing more than fabricated stories. John Kelly issued a written statement denying he called the president an idiot. Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a written statement saying, the contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward`s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.
That appears to be a reference to the description of Trump as a fifth- grader. But James Mattis does not seem to dispute any of the other many quotes attributed to him in the book including his statement to the president about he the defense secretary trying to prevent World War III. The Trump White House has no idea what they`re dealing with when it comes to a Bob Woodward book, and they obviously had no idea what they were dealing with when Bob Woodward was pulling all of that information out of the Trump White House for his book.
Bob Woodward described some of his method directly to the president when Donald Trump called him to talk about the book after the book was already being printed and it was too late for Bob Woodward to interview Donald Trump for a book. Because Bob Woodward is the consummate professional, he immediately began recording the phone call with the president and he told the president he was recording the call.
The president pretended that he was disappointed that he didn`t get to do an interview with Bob Woodward for the book. Bob Woodward explained that he asked more than half a dozen people in the White House for that interview. People who said they passed the request on to the president and people outside the White House, including Senator Lindsey Graham. Bob Woodward released today a recording of that entire phone call with the president.
Here`s some of it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: Senator Graham said he had talked to you about talking to me. Now, is that not true?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Graham actually mentioned it quickly on one meeting. That is true. That is true.
No, but that is true. Mentioned it quickly. Not like, you know -- and I would certainly have thought that maybe you would have called the office.
But that`s OK. I`ll speak to Kellyanne. I am a little surprised that she wouldn`t have told me, that she just walked in -- I`m talking to Bob Woodward. He said he told you about speaking to me. But you never told me. Why didn`t you tell me?
I would have been very happy to speak to him. All right. So what are you going to do? So I have another bad book coming out.
WOODWARD: It goes on. And you know, I -- what you can count on is that I`ve been very careful. Evelyn, are you on?
EVELYN DUFFY: Yes.
WOODWARD: Evelyn Duffy, who`s my assistant --
TRUMP: Hello, Evelyn.
WOODWARD: She transcribed all the tapes because with permission I taped people for hundreds of hours.
WOODWARD: And I think there`s nothing in this book that doesn`t come from a firsthand source. Is that correct, Evelyn?
TRUMP: But are you naming names or do you just say sources?
WOODWARD: Yes, well, it names real incidents, so --
TRUMP: No, do you name sources? I mean, are you naming the people or just say, you know, people have said?
WOODWARD: I say at 2:00 on this day the following happened and everyone who`s there including yourself is quoted. And I`m sorry I didn`t get to ask you about --
TRUMP: I mean, you do know I`m doing a great job for the country.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Oh, yes. I`m sure he knows that.
He`s got tapes. That`s what the Trump White House really did not understand until today, if they understand it even now. And Bob Woodward played one of those tapes publicly today. That phone call with the president to try to show the White House what he has.
And then he told the president in that phone call, I taped people for hundreds of hours. And so now tonight Donald Trump knows that Bob Woodward taped members of the Trump team for hundreds of hours. No one works harder at trying to find out what has happened inside the room in Washington than Bob Woodward. And no one has more sources than Bob Woodward.
When Bob Woodward was working on a book about the Clinton White House called "The Agenda," he came to me because so much of the Clinton White House agenda had to pass through the Senate Finance Committee where I was the chief of staff. And I will never forget, Bob Woodward`s first question to me, with no small talk, no beating around the bush, he wanted to know about what happened in a meeting with President Clinton and congressional leaders in the cabinet room at the White House.
And so, his very first question to me was, everyone in the cabinet room meeting says that you were taking notes, can I have your notes? In those days there were plenty of reporters who were trying to get me to tell them what happened in the meetings in the White House, in the Senate majority leader`s office, in the speaker`s office. But no one ever asked if he or she could have my notes. Bob Woodward always goes for the best possible sources and notes are always better than human memory.
Many years later, when I was no longer working in government, I visited Bob Woodward`s home a few times, where much of the space is devoted to his office, where his assistants are constantly transcribing audio recordings. He gave me a tour of the workshop, a place where you can see decades and decades of archived audio recordings, recordings that are the building blocks of the investigative journalism that has so often become the defining version of a presidency, the Woodward version -- what Bob Woodward calls the best obtainable version of the truth. And so, tonight, Bob Woodward has tapes and the White House has press releases.
The most damning quotes in the excerpts of Bob Woodward`s book that were already released today are from the president`s former criminal defense lawyer John Dowd. Bob Woodward describes a rehearsal session with the president where John Dowd pretended to be Robert Mueller asking the president questions. "The Washington Post" reports that in that rehearsal session, Donald Trump`s answers were, quote, stumbles, contradictions, and lies until the president eventually lost his cool. This thing`s a goddamn hoax, Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, I don`t really want to testify.
The book then describes a meeting John Dowd with had Robert Mueller and Mueller`s deputy James Quarles in which Dowd explained why he didn`t want the president to testify. I`m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot and you public that transcript because everything leaks in Washington and the guys overseas are going to say, I told you he was an idiot, I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?
After that meeting with Robert Mueller, John Dowd gave the president the following advice. Quote, don`t testify. It`s either that or an orange jumpsuit.
The president then said, I`ll be a real good witness. You are not a good witness, Dowd replied. Mr. President, I`m afraid I just can`t help you.
And the next morning, John Dowd quit and he left an opening on Trump`s defense team that has since been filled by Rudy Giuliani.
Leading off our discussion now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s also co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus."
Tim O`Brien`s with us. He`s the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He`s the author of "TrumpNation," a book about Donald Trump, and MSNBC contributor.
And David Frum, a senior editor for "The Atlantic", is the author of "Trumpocracy."
John Heilemann, you`ve done this kind of work that Bob Woodward has done. You`ve done it on the campaign trail, most famously and most widely read, "Game Change" and other books. Your assessment of how this battle is going so far as we come to the end of day one of the Trump White House versus Bob Woodward.
JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-HOST AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE CIRCUS": Well, about how you would have expected it to go, which is to say very well for Bob Woodward and very poorly for the White House. The White House has had -- has been lucky in some sense in its enemies, although everything that we`ve read so far from the Woodward book, at least the excerpts and the reporting on it is very consistent with what we saw in Michael Wolff`s book.
It is the reality that whatever you think of "Fire and Fury", Michael Wolff is a more easily attacked messenger than Bob Woodward. As just -- again, without even being mean to Michael Wolff although there are issues with Michael Wolff, Bob Woodward is the gold standard, right? And I think there is --
O`DONNELL: And Bob Woodward has been in this crossfire before, many, many times.
HEILEMANN: Before, many times before. And look, he`s got -- again, you said I`m familiar with it. I am.
There`s a really very high premium. If you`re going to do a book on deep background where you`re going to say, I`m going to quote verbatim from meetings, from notes, from people`s recollections, the pressure it puts on the reporter is that you are never going to be able to do what Donald Trump is trying to play the game with Bob Woodward about. Who told you that? Woodward has said with these people he will never say I got this directly from Jim Mattis, I got this directly from John Kelly.
The likelihood is he`s spoken to all of them, every single one of them but Donald Trump, on multiple occasions. But he will never come out -- the reality is in many of these situations, he`s going to have that same quote knowing how Bob works, he`s going to have it from the speaker, from the person who heard it, from the people the person who -- the people that or other people in the room, other people they told about it, and memorialized perhaps in e-mails and notes of the conversation.
So, he`s never going to say who the source is. But because of the fact that Woodward`s been doing this for so long and because so many of his books have withstood the kind of criticism that come in all administrations of deep background books, because his books have held up so well to scrutiny for so long he`s in a position of extraordinary power and although there are White House officials coming out saying I didn`t use this word, I didn`t use that word, what they`re not doing is quibbling with the gist of the reporting and in many cases some of the people who are quibbling with the specific words are proven liars in the past.
And so, again, Bob Woodward not a proven liar. Quite the opposite.
O`DONNELL: Here`s the president`s latest lob in the battle tonight. He`s tweeted: The Woodward book has already been refuted and discredited by Secretary of Defense James Mattis and general Chief of Staff John Kelly. Their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public, likewise other stories and quotes. Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?
Tim O`Brien, the various White Houses have accused at different times Bob Woodward of being of the opposite party whenever these books come out.
TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": Right, it`s interesting that Trump even now cannot help himself but give free publicity that`s going to boost sales to this very critical book just like he did to Omarosa and just like he did to Michael Wolff, because he personalizes all of these and in the midst of it, he can`t think strategically.
And anybody who`s covered Trump knows that the full picture of what Woodward is presenting is not only consistent with all the reporting that`s been out there for the last 2-1/2 years since Trump began running, it`s consistent with who Donald Trump has been since he was about 7 years old. He ran the Trump Organization this way. It was a bunch of people biting each other in the back, not loyal to him ultimately, and he ran roughshod over all of them.
He ran his political campaign when he ran for the presidency exactly the same way. You were in the midst of that, John. You know what that was about.
And the picture that`s created here is amply solidified and backed up by lots of other reporting. With the additional factor that now you have Bob Woodward and the Woodward method, which is he triangulates with sources, he backs things up with documents. He has tapes.
It`s a different order of magnitude from any kind of reporter that Trump has ever dealt with before, in the same way that the Mueller investigation is of a different order of magnitude on the legal side.
O`DONNELL: But let me just say on this for a second, because you were a different kind of reporter than Trump had ever dealt with before when he dealt with you, and he ended up in court with you because he was stunned that you were the one who he could not con on the question of how rich he was. So and you won the lawsuit against him --
O`BRIEN: And I had tapes.
O`DONNELL: And you had tapes.
O`DONNELL: Of the depositions and so forth.
But talk about Trump, when he`s up against something he doesn`t understand because you experienced that with your own book about Trump and his business.
O`BRIEN: Well, the tricky thing here is that he is constantly up against things he doesn`t understand because he`s impatient, he`s ignorant, and he has no real sense that he`s vulnerable to anything. He`s been protected his whole life, first by wealth, then by celebrity, and now by the presidency. And he`s never really suffered the consequences of his phenomenally bad decision-making until he actually stares it in the face.
You know, it clicked with him a couple months ago that Don Jr. might suddenly be vulnerable in the Mueller investigation. In our case, I don`t think he ever thought "The New York times" or my publisher would retain attorneys to back me up. He then never thought they would get him for two days, for two eight-hour depositions in which we put his own tax returns, his own bank records and business records in front of him. And he was found on dozens of occasions to have lied. And that went into the record.
And he essentially created a Rosetta stone for understanding the kind of pathology and the world that Trump exists in. So, one of the reasons he gets into these situations is because of who he is. One of the reasons he survives them is because of who he is. And in that tape, that conversation with him and Woodward, he`s very blase about the fact that he`s trying to lie his way out of never knowing that Bob Woodward tried to interview him.
O`BRIEN: But there`s no real fear in it. It`s just he`s playing ping- pong.
Yes. And, David Frum, that`s one of the great things about the tape that Bob Woodward released today, is that there`s a tape of Donald Trump and everything about it is false. I mean, it`s just quite obvious. And people should go online and listen to the whole thing.
Where he`s telling a recurring lie throughout the whole thing, which is that no one told him about this interview request and then Bob Woodward presses him just on one, on Lindsey Graham. He goes oh, well, OK, Lindsey Graham told -- and it`s kind of a look into the way Trump operates with every lie he can get away with he will try.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: It is a really important tape to listen to because what you also hear is as he is nailed on the lie by Woodward, very elegantly and politely, the president becomes -- at the beginning he`s relatively suave by his standards. He becomes angrier and then ultimately incredibly self-pitying.
Meanwhile, he summons in Kellyanne Conway, who`s caught in a lie too, and again nailed elegantly and politely. And she has a very different method. First, she tries to brazen it out, then she throws other people under the bus. Then she finally desperately changes the subject.
The thing I find myself thinking about a lot as I review these first stories from the book, and, of course, we`ll all want to read the finished product, I understand as I think about it the James Mattises and the General Kellys. They`re staying to serve the country. And I understand why they have to -- they feel they need to protect their position.
To me -- and Donald Trump is what he is and Bob Woodward is, of course, the elegant and eminent figure that he is. I`m puzzled by the Gary Cohns, the H.R. McMasters, the Rex Tillersons, the people who obviously talked to Woodward, who obviously have unburdened themselves of their sense of the extreme not only unfitness but danger to the country by this president.
I wonder, are you going to do anything more than talk to a reporter months after the fact? Why didn`t you resign together? Why didn`t you on the day you left -- Gary Cohn, you are telling me that the president cannot remember that if you take a piece of paper off his desk that it was there, two hours later, he then forgets the paper was ever there and he intended, I mean, a catastrophically bad policy but it was his policy and he can`t remember it? Why didn`t you share that with a committee of Congress at a time when it was relevant? Why now and why anonymously?
I understand it`s hazardous. But, you know, a lot of Americans have had over the centuries take a lot of risks to defend the country. It`s not so much to risk getting an angry negative tweet from this president compared to what other people have done in order to defend your country.
O`DONNELL: And, David, one other phenomenon we`re seeing just in these excerpts, and you`re right, we`re going to have to see the whole book to analyze this. But it does seem like that the people who are swimming away from this Titanic that is the Trump White House or rowing away in their lifeboats, however you want to put it, are very eager to tell Bob Woodward extremely negative stuff about the president, which means it seems like they`re very eager to try to claim a space in the sane world as fast as they can.
Reince Priebus and as you say Gary Cohn and others who appear to be sources for this book.
FRUM: Yes. Well, and I think many of them are obviously capable people and some of them probably morally fine people. I have a lot of respect for people like Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson too.
But own it. Stand up. Don`t be anonymous. And don`t wait. Don`t give it to Bob Woodward. I mean, we`re glad to have it in any way it comes. But why not at the time?
You know, one of the questions presented by this book is should you serve this president? And for people who are doing it for the right reasons and are in national security roles, I commend them and thank them for serving the president.
But if you are going to leave or if you`re forced out, make your resignation count. Do it in a group. Do it on the same day. And then immediately spell out in detail why you`re doing it.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, Tim O`Brien, John Heilemann, thank you for starting us off tonight.
When we come back, the most revealing moment in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing today came when Brett Kavanaugh refused to shake the hand of a man whose daughter was killed in the mass murder at her high school in Parkland, Florida. That man, Fred Guttenberg, will join us and tell us what he wanted to say to the nominee.
Also tonight, we have more revelations from Bob Woodward`s book and the "New York Times" is reporting that special prosecutor Robert Mueller has made the president a new offer. But it`s an offer that the president`s lawyers might want him to refuse.
O`DONNELL: Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that special prosecutor Robert Mueller will accept written answers from the president on questions related to whether his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election but not about obstruction of justice. It`s still unclear whether Mueller will continue to try to interview the president about obstruction of justice or subpoena the president to answer questions about that.
According to Bob Woodward`s new book "Fear", the biggest problem for Donald Trump and his lawyers has always been Donald Trump. Donald Trump gets the last line of the book, and it is in the description by the president`s former defense lawyer, John Dowd.
Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but couldn`t bring himself to say to the president. You`re a F-ing liar.
Joining our discussion now, Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton, and Maya Wiley who served as counsel to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She`s an MSNBC legal analyst.
And, Maya, this -- in the Woodward book, we`re seeing that John Dowd is calling the president a liar and the "New York Times" reporting that Robert Mueller has partially given up on the idea of ever getting an interview with Donald Trump and is interested in possibly getting written answers at least on the collusion questions.
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO NYC MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Yes, I think it`s pretty clear that Donald Trump can`t tell the truth on a regular basis. We know that. That`s clearly something he has demonstrated in public. So, it`s not so surprising that someone like a John Dowd, who I think has denied, it may have said something like that.
I think at the end of the day, the issue here is Donald Trump can be forced to testify. I think the Supreme Court would uphold that unless Brett Kavanaugh is a Supreme Court justice potentially sitting on that bench. But the question for Mueller is how to wrap this up. He probably wants to do that because of the election, and this is an opportunity to do that.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, the written questions is a very unusual step in a criminal investigation. I`m not familiar with a case where that`s happened before. But it is exactly what happens in civil litigation. I think a lot of people out there are thinking, well, it will be a lot easier for the president to answer written questions under oath.
Not necessarily, as people discover in civil lawsuits, when they`re given written questions called interrogatories and they have to answer those under oath. It can be as difficult and challenging even trying to do the written version.
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It can be difficult and challenging. For a guy like Trump, it`s not as difficult and challenging. It can be sculpted by the lawyers and carefully put together.
But, you know, the number one rule with Mueller is he knows 50 times what we know and we`re not aware of. So, I think if he`s saying this and making this kind of concession it`s not because as "The Times" sort of quotes or suggests that team Trump feels that he`s been worn down but rather that he feels, as Maya says, he may not need the evidence. I think he`s playing with a strong hand, not a weak hand.
O`DONNELL: And, Maya, the idea of separating out the Russia collusion investigation from the obstruction of justice investigation, you can see how that can make a certain sense for the prosecutor. They are two different things. There can be intersections with them.
But the president`s behavior, when he`s firing James Comey and when he`s explaining that to Lester Holt, that all kind of stands alone within the walls of the White House.
WILEY: I think that`s right. You have a clear public record when it comes to Trump on obstruction of justice. It makes a lot of sense that Mueller would say that`s not the one I have to ask you a lot about.
What he really wants to know is not what Donald Trump knows but what Donald Trump is going to say in response to specific documents and questions. That`s really the primary -- any prosecutor wants to be prepared, right? They want to know everything that they -- he knows. He knows what he needs to know. What he doesn`t know is what`s Donald Trump going to say if I ask him this?
O`DONNELL: Harry, what do you think the Trump lawyers` advice will be? Do you think they`ll advise the president not to even answer the written questions?
LITMAN: Look, I think this is one more sort of -- we only have their characterization of the letter. We don`t really know the full flavor of it. It would be to his advantage to answer written questions. Not on obstruction, of course, where Mueller`s going to want to know what was his state of mind.
If that`s really the offer, I think they take it. My sense is we`re going to learn a little more about this in the next 24, 48 hours.
O`DONNELL: Maya Wiley and Harry Litman, thank you for joining us tonight.
And coming up, a big upset win in Massachusetts. Tonight, a come-from- behind victory by Ayanna Pressley. Massachusetts will now have its first African-American member of the House of Representatives.
And we have more from Bob Woodward`s book. Some of the extraordinary material about how the president`s staff and cabinet are working around the president, hiding information from him and how the defense secretary says he is trying to prevent World War III.
O`DONNELL: We have a big upset tonight in the State of Massachusetts where Ayanna Pressley, the first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council has unseated incumbent Democratic Representative Michael Capuano in the primary for Massachusetts`s 7th Congressional District. That means it`s time for Steve Kornacki.
Steve, you know, I mentioned this to Rachel. I ran into Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts a couple weeks ago on a weekend and she told me that they had inside polling inside their campaign that looked a lot better than the public polling. The public polling showed her behind by a significant margin. And you know, campaigns generally tell you that they have better information inside and I wasn`t sure what to believe about it. But she was pretty persuasive, she described everything that was happening in the district very persuasively and so I am not terribly surprised tonight.
STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC: Yes. I mean, look, I think Mike Capuano certainly surprised. And the reason, a lot of this has to do, it`s the state of the Democratic Party right now. What Democrats are looking for in this district and nationally. But it`s also this, this district, it`s a big portion of the City of Boston. The other big piece of this is the City of Summerville, Massachusetts.
Michael Capuano was the Mayor of Summerville before he went to Congress. He got elected to Congress 20 years ago. The reason he won that Democratic primary in 1998, he won the City of Summerville that year by 45 points over his nearest competitor. How much has Summerville right outside Boston used to be about, you know, half young professional, half working class. That was always sort of the mix. It`s been changing through the years.
Tonight, Summerville is 50-50 between Ayanna Pressley and Mike Capuano. Why did he concede so early? He saw those numbers out of Summerville and he said it`s not going to get any better for me in Boston, the other parts of this district. And you see Pressley just running away with it. And just in terms of the history, what this means, we talked about this last hour but the lineage of this seat, Kennedy, Tip O`Neill, another Kennedy, Capuano and now the first African-American female that will ever represent Massachusetts in Congress.
O`DONNELL: And Steve, even on her -- the night she won here in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actually mentioned Ayanna Pressley as one of the other candidates around the country who she was rooting for, she was supporting. They are very much very similar kinds of candidates taking over similar kinds of districts that had changed demographically, while a long-time serving member of the House enjoyed a rather easy incumbency.
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean two women of color who had defeated their long- serving white males in districts that have become majority non-white. But I also have to say quickly, when you look at this, when you look at how Pressley`s doing there in Summerville, I`ve got to say, I think there`s a lot. This is not just people of color voting for Ayanna Pressley. I think there are a lot of white voters in this district too who looked at her and said, "You know what, maybe it`s time, let`s go with her."
O`DONNELL: Absolutely. And I know a lot of those white voters. She`s a very popular politician in Boston. Steve Kornacki, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
Coming up next, what could have been I think the most important moment today in Brett Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearing. It was the moment he refused to shake the hand of a man whose daughter was killed in the mass murder at her high school in Parkland, Florida. That man, Fred Guttenberg, will join us.
O`DONNELL: We`re doing this in order to prevent World War III. That`s what Defense Secretary James Mattis said to President Trump according to Bob Woodward`s new book "Fear." Secretary Mattis reportedly said that to the president when the president showed no understanding at all about why the United States has a military presence in South Korea. Mattis and others explained to the president that the U.S. military equipment in South Korea could alert us to a missile launched by North Korea within seven seconds of the launch rather than the 15 minutes it would take for the military`s other tracking systems to pick up a North Korean missile launch.
Bob Woodward quotes the president as wanting to assassinate Syrian Dictator Bashar Al Assad in a phone call to Secretary Mattis. "Let`s f-ing kill him. Let`s go in. Let`s kill the f-ing lot of them," Trump said, according to Woodward. Mattis told the president that he would get right on it but after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide, "We`re not going to do any of that. We`re going to be much more measured."
Back with us, Tim O`Brien and John Heilemann. And John, that picture of the Secretary of Defense getting basically assassinate, kill any way you want to Assad and maybe that means go to war, kill all of them. What does that mean? Does that mean an invasion? Who knows what it means because the secretary just basically ignored it according to Woodward.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, NBC: Well, I think that there are two separate questions there. One question is what did Trump mean by it? And the answer is I`m sure Trump has no idea what he meant by it and that it was the typical Trump gibberish coming out of his mouth. And so the defense secretary did what we have all been hoping and praying that people in these positions have been doing.
Woodward apparently describes it in someplace here in the book because it`s been quoted "The Washington Post" and other places as an administrative coup d`‚tat. That puts a kind of negative spin on it. Others of us would say guardrails for humanity, guardrails of the safety of the planet is that some of these people like Jim Mattis are in this job precisely to do this very thing, which is to stop the president from doing things that are rash, ill-considered, obviously dangerous, right?
You see it throughout in this reporting, that that seems to be the case. They all -- the stuff that`s most unnerving in this book beyond the thing we were discussing earlier in the show, the complicity, and cowardice of the people around Trump, the enabling behavior. Beyond that, the most disturbing stuff in the book is on foreign policy because all of these people look at him and say, "You`re a dimwit, you`re a child and you`re dangerous and we have to save you from yourself."
O`DONNELL: And then there are the personal grudges, Tim, that the president doesn`t want facts to get in the way of his personal grudges. Bob Woodward`s book reports that there`s a scene where the president is describing John McCain`s experience as a POW in Vietnam and says the opposite, the exact opposite of what everybody knows. He says that John McCain was released early by the North Vietnamese because McCain`s father was such a high-ranking U.S. Navy Admiral.
And then the book quotes James Mattis as immediately correcting Trump and saying, "No, Mr. President, I think you`ve got it reversed." And the defense secretary then explained that McCain, who died on August 25th, had, in fact, turned down early release and was brutally tortured during his five years at the Hanoi, Hilton to which Trump says, "Oh, OK."
And so Tim, it seems that Trump had been getting away with that lie around any other circle in the White House until Jim Mattis is sitting there and has to correct him because truly that isn`t the first time Trump tried that.
TIM O`BRIEN, NOVELIST: And remember, this is the Donald Trump who successfully got five draft deferments so he didn`t have to serve in Vietnam War. In the Vietnam War, Donald Trump, who refused to fly the flag at half-mast over the White House after McCain passed away. He`s the guy who holds on to these grudges for a very long time.
You know, David Frum touched on this earlier and John touched on it, is why does anyone serve in this White House? And I think the short answer, for the most part, is because they`re craven. People are either getting their resumes stamped or they`re trying to get ahead in the world. Mattis is the one person you can point to I think, though, very clearly as seeing himself as a buffer between Trump and the abyss.
And you see it in this North Korea anecdote because the most dangerous thing about Donald Trump is as he`s learning on the job and he`s learning how to be president on the job, what he`s going to naturally gravitate towards are the areas in which he can act unilaterally. Everything that requires him to reach out to Capitol Hill or rely on a team, things like overturning Obamacare or passing any kind of sophisticated legislation, he`s going to fumble.
The things where he can just write an order or issue a command is inevitably going to attract him. And that`s where it gets very scary on issues like assassinating Assad or bombing North Korea and why having people of conscience and courage and a spine like Mattis in that White House does really matter. But he`s an exception to the rule in that White House.
HEILEMANN: Just go back, just quickly go back to the McCain thing. Because it`s not just that he holds on to grudges, it`s that he holds on to crazy conspiracy theories. And you know that where he got this was on Twitter or from the "Weekly World News" or wherever else he gets his information. He`s been believing for a long time precisely the opposite of the truth.
And I`m sure after Mattis corrected him in that meeting, Trump went on to repeat that story. That "Oh, OK" was not "Oh. Oh, my God, I`ve been wrong this whole time? Oh, God. How do I fix this misapprehension?" What it was was "Oh, whatever." And then he went back to believing, to this day, I`m sure believes which is that McCain was a traitor, that he got out early --
O`DONNELL: That he was not a war hero.
HEILEMANN: That he was not a war hero, that he was a Manchurian Candidate. All the crazy stuff that lives in the right-wing fever swamps of social media where Trump gets most of his information about things like this are still, I`m sure, firmly implanted in that frontal lobe of his, whatever that --
O`DONNELL: And Tim, nowhere is Donald Trump have stronger support than in Alabama, but Alabamans don`t seem to realize what Donald Trump thinks of them. The Woodward book has Donald Trump referring to Jeff Sessions this way, "This guy is mentally retarded. He`s this dumb Southerner. He couldn`t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama."
And so clearly -- and we had the report last week of Donald Trump making fun of Jeff Sessions and his accent, and his southern accent. And so clearly, if Trump supporters in Alabama understood Donald Trump`s real attitude toward them, there might be a different support level down there.
O`BRIEN: Well, I think that`s the wild card about the Woodward book is what real-world impact is it going to have. You saw during the Kavanaugh hearings today that the GOP was not going to let go of Donald Trump until they got some of the goods in the bag. And I think this is going to wait to be seen.
O`DONNELL: Tim O`Brien and John Heilemann, thank you for joining us tonight.
And when we come back, what I thought was the most stunning and revealing moment in today`s confirmation hearing, it was something Brett Kavanaugh refused to do.
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MALE: There will always be an asterisk after your name. Appointed by a president, named as an unindicted co-conspirator after the vast majority of documents relating to the most instructive period of his life were concealed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so a Supreme Court confirmation hearing unlike any other began today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Federal Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh is the first person to be nominated for the United States Supreme Court by an unindicted co-conspirator in a current federal criminal case.
If you`ve been following the Kavanaugh confirmation process closely, you probably learned nothing that you didn`t already know about Brett Kavanaugh in today`s hearing except this. The two men facing each other there are both proud and loving fathers. One of them has two children. The other used to have two children. Now he has one. His 14-year-old daughter Jamie was one of the 17 people killed in the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Fred Guttenberg explained what you`re seeing in that photograph this way, "Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as morning session ended, put out my hands to introduce myself as Jamie Guttenberg`s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence."
Here is the video of that moment, and you will see Fred Guttenberg is the first person to speak to Brett Kavanaugh when he gets out of the witness chair.
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MALE: Four seconds.
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O`DONNELL: The photograph of Brett Kavanaugh turning his back on Fred Guttenberg went viral almost immediately and by the time Brett Kavanaugh made his opening remarks, the White House was already issuing statements defending Brett Kavanaugh turning his back on Fred Guttenberg.
So I had high hopes for Brett Kavanaugh. High hopes that he would find Fred Guttenberg in the audience and just shake hands with him, say something sympathetic to a grieving father in his opening remarks, perhaps, but he didn`t. He could easily have just added a sentence or two. That`s the most it would take to his opening remarks. He didn`t say a word about Fred Guttenberg or Fred`s daughter Jamie, but he did talk about some other girls, girls with very bright futures.
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BRETT KAVANAUGH: For the past seven years, I`ve coached my daughters` basketball teams. I love coaching. All the girls I`ve coached are awesome. And special congratulations to the girls on this year`s sixth grade CYO championship team, Anna, Quinn, Kelsi, Shawnee, Chloe, Alex, Ava, Sofia, and Margaret. I love helping the girls grow into confident players. I know that confidence on the basketball court translates into confidence in other aspects of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I love everything about that. I love that he loves coaching his daughters` team and I love that he gave a shout out to them and the other sixth graders on the team. I love everything he said there and I believe he means every single word of that. I know that confidence on the basketball court translates into confidence in other aspects of life.
Not if you don`t get to have a life. Not if a mass murderer walks into your school when you`re 14-years-old and takes your life away, and that`s what happened to Jamie Guttenberg. And now her dad goes everywhere he can and reaches his hand out to everyone he can to try to bring sanity to America`s gun laws.
He did it to me at a big crowded event in Washington. Fred Guttenberg approached me the same way he approached Brett Kavanaugh today with that outstretched hand and said, "I am Fred Guttenberg. I`m the father of Jamie Guttenberg who was murdered at Parkland." And those words, those words froze me in place, listening to every word that he had to say, marveling that he could compose himself and smile through that unimaginable burden of grief.
And today, Fred Guttenberg tried that same approach with the nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States and the nominee turned his back on him and then when given a chance to apologize, to clarify, it didn`t seem to even cross his mind. And so even though Brett Kavanaugh took no questions today from the Senators, we learned more about him in his response to Fred Guttenberg than we will probably learn about Brett Kavanaugh in the rest of the hearings.
And joining us now, Fred Guttenberg.
FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: Lawrence, you just gave me my first legitimate laugh of the day. I remember exactly what you`re talking about at the March for Our Lives on March 24th. I remember walking up to you and those exact words that you described are exactly what I said today to Judge Kavanaugh. When I got to the part about my daughter Jamie was one of the kids murdered in Parkland was when you see him turn around and move the other way.
O`DONNELL: And, Fred, just as a human experience, I just have to tell you that when I heard those words from you, it was just like a cementing in place. It was like the world -- I forgot the world around me. There was nothing else to do except to take in what you had to say. And I would assume that most of the time with most people in Washington who you approach, who you try to talk to about this, when you identify yourself that way, that they must respond to you, don`t they, most of them?
GUTTENBERG: You know what, Lawrence? They do. And I don`t make an effort just to go up to people who I think believe in gun safety. As you said in your open, I go up to everyone. I want to talk to everyone about this because if you agree with me, then we work together. If you don`t agree with me, then I hope to change your mind or at least find a place where we can agree because it`s in everybody`s public safety if that happens.
Judge Kavanaugh does not agree with my positions. And as a dad, I watched him introduce his kids. He has a beautiful family. He seems like an amazing dad, and I`m sure he`s a wonderful man. I`ve never really met him other than the effort to shake his hand, but I know by his public statements, I know by his rulings that I have a reason for concern.
And I`ll give you an example. We passed gun safety in Florida. It`s passed in other states around the country. Everywhere we pass safety, the NRA files a lawsuit. The NRA is right now spending a lot of money to get him selected and what will eventually happen is one of these lawsuits, maybe it will be Florida, will end up in front of him and he will have to judge it.
I am concerned that something like raising the age to 21 which we`ve done in Florida, red flag laws which we`ve done in Florida, eliminating bump stocks which we`ve done in Florida before we get to even all the more serious stuff, he would rule unconstitutional. I hope to speak with him as a father and look him in the eye and tell him, those few things would have saved my daughter, not the bump stocks, but raising the age to 21 and red flag laws.
O`DONNELL: And, Fred, was it clear to you that he could hear what you were saying to him?
GUTTENBERG: Oh, listen, I have no doubt. I know my voice. I`m certain he heard my words and I`m certain when he heard me say my daughter Jamie was murdered in Parkland, that`s when he turned.
O`DONNELL: And Fred, I`ve been in that hearing room many, many, many times and I absolutely can back you up that anything said from that distance in that situation is easily audible in a situation like that. And I`ve seen many people engage in conversations in those circumstances many, many times. And so I`m sorry that it turned out the way it did for you today and I really appreciate you joining us here tonight, Fred. Really, thank you very much.
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