Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: September 5, 2018 Guest: Ron Klain, Eric Swalwell
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Lawrence.
And we are going to have to -- someone is going to have to because I can`t, invent a new, bigger version of the world "unprecedented".
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes.
O`DONNELL: It`s run out of gas.
O`DONNELL: We need something stronger.
MADDOW: Well, the practical consequences of something being unprecedented is that we don`t know where to look in order to figure out what we might do next because nobody has gone through it before.
O`DONNELL: Yes. We`ve never been through it before. Never in this spot.
MADDOW: And not disorienting feeling. It`s like we usually think of ourselves as like standing there in a stick -- with a strike like even if we`re blindfolded, we at least know what we`re hitting at. In this case, we`re the pinata. Like somebody is hitting us with this stick, we don`t -- we`re not -- it feels like we are not in control of our destiny if only because we don`t know what options are available to us.
O`DONNELL: So, Rachel, I don`t know about you. But as soon -- well, not as soon, a few minutes after I finished my first read of the op-ed piece, I had my guess about who the author was.
O`DONNELL: And it felt like a wild guess. And I spent some time working on it. I am now prepared to label it an educated guess.
O`DONNELL: Based -- based on my own years working in Washington and observations made at the time and a close study of the text. And I`m going to reveal all that later in the show. I know you don`t want to miss it. So I`m going to give you some time to get home. OK?
O`DONNELL: And get your slippers on.
MADDOW: You know, nobody could hear us right now. You could just whisper it to me.
O`DONNELL: Well, yes, OK, it`s a note right here. Just drop by the desk on your way out. The name is right there.
MADDOW: That little rustling noise in the corner of your set will be me.
O`DONNELL: Here`s a hint, here`s a hint, Rachel, it`s someone you have heard of.
MADDOW: Well done. OK.
O`DONNELL: That`s where we`re going to leave it until you get home and get the slippers on. When you text me and say you`re at home and you`re ready, bang, that`s when we`re going to do it.
MADDOW: I`m going to break into your scripts right now.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, NBC News is reporting tonight that the president`s anger is volcanic. "The Washington Post" is using the same word to describe the president`s anger and "The Washington Post" says that the president is, quote, absolutely livid over what he considered a treasonous act of disloyalty. Meaning, of course, the publication of an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" today by an anonymous author with the title "I am part in the resistance inside the Trump administration."
"The Washington Post" reports that the president suspects that the administration official who wrote the piece, quote, works on national security issues or in the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with his private discussions. On that point of suspicious, I actually agree with the president. I agree with that suspicion, and I will, as I said, offer my guess about who wrote that op-ed piece later in this hour. We will open it up for that later in the hour.
A striking thing about the Trump White House reaction to the op-ed piece is the full acceptance of the idea that someone inside the Trump administration really is the author of the piece. There is no reason to doubt that, of course, because "The New York Times" would never falsely describe the author of this piece who they simply identify as a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. Those are the words describing "The New York Times" source.
And one strategy for Donald Trump could have been to insist that the article is completely fake, that it doesn`t come from anyone inside the White House. And the closest he has actually come to saying that in his volcanic reaction on Twitter and elsewhere is to just weakly put it as a question, saying, does the so-called senior administration official really exist, or is it just the failing New York Times with another phony source?
And in that same tweet, the president then believing that the source does exist insists that "The New York Times" should turn that person over to the government for national security purposes. The op-ed piece comes a day after excerpts from Bob Woodward`s new book "Fear" paint a very similar picture of the workings of the Trump presidency.
The op-ed says, quote, many senior officials are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them. The root of the problem is the president`s amorality. The president`s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.
Senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief`s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims. It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening, and we are trying to do what`s right even when Donald Trump won`t.
And in what is the single most dramatic revelation, the author says, given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So, we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it`s over.
Given the instability that I witnessed, there were early comments on this program at this hour about the 25th Amendment. I believe this was the first place where the 25th Amendment was discussed after Donald Trump was inaugurated. Exactly one month into the Trump presidency, perhaps with some members of the Trump cabinet watching, I described how the 25th Amendment can be used to remove the president and make the vice president what the 25th Amendment calls the acting president.
Under the 25th Amendment, the vice president and the majority of the cabinet can decide to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Here`s what I said one month into the Trump administration.
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O`DONNELL: That is entirely up to the vice president and a majority of the cabinet. They don`t need Donald Trump to become medically unable to do the job. They don`t need a written opinion from a psychiatrist that Donald Trump is insane. If the president objects to such an action taken by the vice president and the majority of the cabinet, then the amendment provides that, quote, Congress shall decide the issue. And that will be determined by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress. And when those votes are counted, Mike Pence could become acting president.
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O`DONNELL: Using the 25th Amendment is not, in fact, a complex process, as the op-ed described it today. But that section could simply mean that the members of the cabinet who were whispering about invoking the 25th Amendment early on realized that they probably could not win that two- thirds vote in the house and the Senate after Donald Trump would object to their use of the 25th Amendment. And that`s why they decided not to try it.
Today`s op-ed piece will take its place in history for many reasons, but it is the first recorded instance in the history of the 25th Amendment of that amendment being discussed in a White House where the president is physically healthy and fully conscious. The cabinet was whispering about the 25th amendment early on because of Donald Trump`s amorality.
And so, according to today`s "New York Times" op-ed piece, as the resistance was marching in the streets against the president of the United States, some sleeper cells of the resistance were beginning to take up positions inside the Trump administration. And tonight, the president of the United States will try to go to sleep without knowing who those members of the resistance are in his own White House and in his own administration. And so, Donald Trump`s circle of trust has reportedly been reduced to a point that seemed easily predictable at the outset.
"The Washington Post" is reporting tonight Trump already felt that he had a dwindling circle of people who he could trust, a senior administration official said. According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday`s op-ed that he could only trust his children.
Leading off our discussion now, Jeremy Bash, an MSNBC national security analyst and former chief of staff at the CIA, Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, and former senior aide to President Obama. And also with us, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state for political affairs and an MSNBC global affairs contributor. Wendy Sherman is the author of the new book "Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power and Persistence."
And, Wendy Sherman, Donald Trump needs a lesson in what your book teaches, but he seems completely oblivious to everything that all of you on this first panel know about government and how it works and it is the reason you are all here, is because this is a story about the internal workings of the White House and other presidential administrations. You have all been here and we all know and the world knows that we have never seen anything like what we saw in "The New York Times" today.
And, Ambassador Sherman, I just want to get your reaction to any part of that op-ed piece as you have read it.
WENDY SHERMAN, MSNBC GLOBAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: You know, there has been a lot of discussion about the process, who it is, which you will get to later this evening. Why he did it. Why he didn`t come forward. Why he didn`t have the courage that John McCain`s funeral spoke to all of us about all weekend long.
But the real point here is what you said at the beginning, it`s the president`s behavior. And I said, actually on "MORNING JOE" yesterday that sadly I think he is unfit. And he should step aside.
And it may take a 25th amendment to get him to step aside. But want I really think will get him to step aside is November`s election. I don`t think that we will have a two-thirds majority in the house or senate, Republican controlled. They are all too worried about their own hineys, quite frankly.
It will take an election to say the times have changed. There`s no generation of leadership. We saw that in Massachusetts this week and it`s time for the kind of urge and use of power that will protect the United States of America.
O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, I know you have an educated guess about this, too, and we are going to get to that later in the hour. But I want to get your reaction to what was your immediate reaction other than who the author was when you read this today?
RON KLAIN: Well, you know, I think it speaks to a constitutional crisis and a corruption crisis and the chaos crisis. The constitutional crisis is we have a president who members of his own team believe is unfit to be president. That`s a constitutional crisis.
There is a corruption crisis here, too, because the author of this piece essentially says, hey, we left him in place because we like tax cut, military spending and deregulation. And if the Republican Party is complicit in an amoral and unfit president because they are getting goodies for their donors, that`s just corruption at a rank and serious level.
And, finally, there is a chaos crisis. And we see both in the Woodward book and in this op-ed, you have people in the president`s administration running around undoing his decisions, not following his orders, ignoring what he says. That`s chaotic. That`s no way to run the government.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump tweeted treason. The answer is no. We have not had a treason case in America since World War II because, as I`ve said before in this program, and no one seems to listen, the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution`s reference to treason as being -- as requiring a declaration of war and requiring cooperation with the country who is -- who we have declared war with in order to get to the standard of treason.
And that`s why we have not had a treason case since our last declaration of war, which is World War II.
Jeremy Bash, pardon that longer parentheses than I intended but sometimes the president is watching and he might learn something. But where do you see this going? What happens tomorrow, Jeremy, in the Trump administration?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, look, I think in some ways, this anonymous piece may give rise to other pieces to come out, to speak out and to say, yes, indeed. We have a two-track presidency. And I think this is mostly relevant in the area of national security, which is where I suspect this person works.
But also it is the focus of the piece. The two-track presidency where in essence we have foreign policy decision-making that`s been carried out by the career staff, the professionals as well as the senior appointees who know how to manage foreign policy issues. They are trying to keep things on an even keel, trying to work with allies, trying to be tough on our adversaries.
And then as the president is going off in a completely different direction, having policies vis-a-vis Russia and North Korea that are completely at odds and I think it`s one thing if it happens in invested policy. But when it happens in national security policy, it`s matters of war and peace, matters of life and death.
O`DONNELL: And, Wendy Sherman, this op-ed piece creates either more confusion in the world or perhaps more clarity in the world because our partners in the world, our adversaries in the world, other countries in the world have been wondering how you deal with this Trump White House and how you deal with Donald Trump. And this op-ed piece is saying you have to find the real person. If you really want to deal with the Trump administration on X, whatever that is, find the real person who is in control of that because it`s not the president. It`s the person who controls the paper involving X, and that person might or might not put that piece of paper or remove that piece of paper from the president`s desk.
So, dealing with this presidency, it seems, becomes probably even more complex for foreign countries.
SHERMAN: I think a lot of national security leaders around the world, a lot of leaders around the world have gone and found those people that they can relate to and talk to, but quite frankly in the end, it doesn`t matter because the president keeps pulling the rug out from the people who are doing the work. We`ve seen time and time again, he`ll say, I`ll meet with President Rouhani of Iran, any time, any place without conditions and then we have Secretary Mike Pompeo coming forward and saying, well, no, not really. We want these conditions and these conditions and these conditions.
So, at the end of the day, no one can be sure who is trying to keep our state, our country safe and protected on the right course. They`re never sure whether the rug is going to be pulled out from under them. In the past, great patriots have left our government over issues of morality, Dick Holbrooke, Tony Lake famously during the Vietnam War, they were foreign service officers. They could not stay.
And I have said to many foreign service officers, I`m sure Jeremy and Ron are saying to other people of the administration that we know, stay up until the point where it is ethically and morally not possible for you to do so. And then have the courage to speak out and speak your convictions. I wish this person had not spoken anonymously. Perhaps there is reason why the person did what they did.
But what really matters here is changing the president of the United States, changing our politics, finding the courage, the persistence to get the job done for us.
O`DONNELL: And, Ron Klain, when we think of the principles resignations, the threshold has been so much lower in the past, and I can -- there was actually one that I can think of in the Clinton administration, which was an assistant secretary in health and human services about welfare policy because Bill Clinton compromised too much in his view with the Republicans and he on principle resigned over that.
And, Ron, I want to read you something that Senator Bob Corker said today which is one of those things that is both shocking and as soon as you read it, completely obvious and was somewhere in the back of your head and in your set of assumptions already.
Bob Corker having read "The New York Times" op-ed piece then said, I didn`t think that anything was relayed in that op-ed that was new. I mean, I think this is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one. And so, again, it`s not very -- it didn`t reveal much to me. I understand this is the case.
KLAIN: Yes. And it points to another group that is responsible for the situation this op-ed lays out. And that`s the Republican leadership in Congress, which has failed to do their job of holding the president accountable. Even the ones who tweet and sometimes speak against him, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, testers (ph) on Capitol Hill, you know, issue these mild rebukes rhetorically and then go and vote with the president up and down the line.
And as you mentioned at the outset, someone who wanted to invoke the 25th Amendment would have to believe they had two-thirds of the Congress behind them for it to stick. With these Republicans on Capitol Hill bowing to Trump`s will, issuing tweets but not taking stands against him, that`s what empowers the situation we face as a country right now.
O`DONNELL: And, Jeremy Bash, we don`t know what two-thirds of either body is going to look like after this upcoming election. But here you have as much chaos as we have ever seen in the Trump White House as Donald Trump has been attempting to lead the Republicans in their re-election campaigns.
BASH: That`s right, Lawrence. I think the unavailability of the 25th Amendment is because, first, you have to have the vice president on board.
BASH: Second is you`d have to have the majority of the cabinet, and third, as just referenced, you have to have two-thirds of both chambers. And so, what is a professional working on, say, national security or security matters to do. They`re going to put their head down, do their job and not do what the president says and carry out this quiet resistance.
I just want to say, I don`t think it`s mysterious. It`s not deep state- ish. It`s not in any way improper.
I think it`s frankly patriotic. I think it`s the right thing to do. And it`s what many of our neighbors, colleagues, friends here in Washington are sadly doing each and every day.
O`DONNELL: All right. We`re now going to be joined in our conversation by the Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. Today, he tweeted: There is so much wrong about what`s described in "The New York Times" op-ed about Donald Trump. But blame falls squarely at the feet of the GOP, Congress`s absolute failure to check the president. They won`t check him. So cowardly aides won`t speak up publicly and have gone rogue.
And joining our conversation now, Congressman Eric Swalwell.
Congressman Swalwell, you have made a point now that Ron Klain brought us to here, but you are making it today that this should be looked at in terms of the fuller and wider support system that Donald Trump has in Washington that really resides in Congress.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Lawrence. And that`s absolutely right.
This is directly the result of a Republican Congress that has been unwilling to do its job and to check the president. And they do that because they would rather get the tax cuts for the wealthiest and gut health care protections. And they just figure that he`s worth the trouble.
And look what it has caused. It caused aides in the White House who are supposed to serve the president to go rogue. And I actually -- I don`t see these aides as patriotic. I see them as covering up very disturbing conduct. And the best thing they could do is to bring that conduct to light publicly, name themselves, resign and allow democracy to do its job.
If they just do this and toil away in the dark, we don`t truly know. And they get to decide what`s right and wrong and it allows Congress to get off the hook.
O`DONNELL: But, Congressman, we began the day without this op-ed piece, without this voice, this unanimous voice from inside the Trump administration, senior administration official. We now have this voice. We now have this picture, which is a flawless reproduction of the picture we`re getting from Bob Woodward`s book, from the excerpts anyway, at this point.
We don`t have the name of the person. I have heard so much dissatisfaction today from people who don`t yet have the name of the person.
But don`t we have something valuable in that op-ed piece that we didn`t have at the beginning of the day?
SWALWELL: We have consistent evidence where all the arrows continue to point in the same direction, Lawrence, whether it`s the Woodward book, whether it was "Fire and Fury," whether it`s what Omarosa described. There`s a consistency here that you have a reckless, corrupted, amoral president and they are doing everything they can to cover up for him, these aides.
But, again, you have a Republican Congress that just looks the other way. You know, the author said that it`s cold comfort, but that they are seeking to stop the president`s worst instincts. There is nothing comforting about that. That`s about as comforting as a frost bite.
This person should come out publicly and the Republicans should be ashamed they have allowed this to happen. But democracy does not leave us helpless, Lawrence. We can solve this this November and we can actually do the job that these aides are doing and hold the president accountable.
O`DONNELL: If Democrats get control of the House of Representatives, and we have Democratic chairman of the committees there, let`s say we have that tomorrow, what would be the reaction of those chairs of those committees in the House to reading this op-ed piece? Would they then be speaking the testimony from administration officials, high officials, cabinet officials, asking them directly if they are the source of this article?
SWALWELL: I think the American people can count on us to do the investigations the Republicans will not do, especially as Jeremy Bash pointed out, it comes to national security and particularly on the question of what was said in Helsinki between the president and Vladimir Putin. There`s a lot of issues here, but we can`t count on these aides to decide right or wrong. We need the Congress to speak up and hold this president accountable.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
O`DONNELL: And to turn back to our panel here -- Wendy Sherman, you worked on the Democratic Senate as a Senate staffer, as did Ron Klain and I.
What -- if the Democrats were in control of the Senate tomorrow, what would you expect this op-ed piece to provoke by way of possible senatorial investigation?
SHERMAN: I think the Senate would do what the House would do under Eric Swalwell`s leadership once it changes to Democrats. But they would go even further, I think. I think they would haul people in from the administration. I think they would look to see whether, in fact, it was time to invoke the 25th Amendment.
You know, we count on the Senate because they have six-year terms and don`t have to worry every two years about whether they will get re-elected to have a longer view. And we have to have a longer view that takes us to the 2020 election and really changes the leadership of this country.
You asked about people around the world. They don`t know what to do with us. They look at this corruption. It gives autocrats and dictators notice because they see a corrupt government. We cannot lead effectively under these circumstances.
O`DONNELL: Jeremy Bash, I have to believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, of government service workers in the departments, in the permanent staff in places like the State Department, places like the CIA, the NSA, Justice Department, all over the administration who have read this op-ed piece today and felt I am not alone. They might not know who joins them in that feeling in the next office or the next cubicle, but I have to believe that there are hundreds and hundreds of people working in the administration at the level that really gets the job done and really keeps the government moving who read that op-ed piece today and saw in it a reason for them to continue.
BASH: You`re right, Lawrence. This op-ed is no minority report. I think it is the consensus view. I think it`s the vast majority of people who work in and around the White House, in and around the senior policy levels of the administration, have arrived at the same view of this.
There are the people I talk to, the people that Ron, Wendy, Eric Swalwell, you talk to, Lawrence. I mean, I literally have not talked to a single person working at senior level of government who said, oh, actually, everything is fine. The president is perfect. He`s making great decisions. We`re all standing in line.
That just doesn`t happen. This bursts into the open what`s been whispered about in Washington for two years.
O`DONNELL: And, Ron Klain, there is Senator Corker saying day one it was his assumption on day one. And not just an assumption apparently, he had information on day one as a result of the transition that this is the way it was going to work. There were going to be people in there who were going to try to keep this unfit person who was occupying the presidency under their kind of control.
KLAIN: Yes. And, look, pre-day one, right, we saw it on the campaign trail last year. We saw the warnings Secretary Clinton tried to issue. We saw his behavior as a candidate and all the things he said.
The transition followed that. And this -- the situation we`re in now is the inevitable product of that, Lawrence, the product of the fact that there are career staff and responsibility political appointees who feel like they have to serve in the government. They are serving the government. They try to do the right thing. They swore an oath to uphold the situation.
In Bob Woodward`s book, there is a story that Secretary Mattis rejected a direct order from the president because he thought it was unlawful. That`s his constitutional responsibility as well. It`s not a good situation, and it`s not a healthy situation and it needs to be rectified.
I agree with Wendy. It needs to be rectified by the person who wrote this and others coming forward and telling the whole story and not really continuing just to operate in the shadows.
O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, Jeremy Bash, Wendy Sherman, thank you all for getting us started in our special coverage this evening.
We`re going to take a break here. And when we come back, the question everyone, including Donald Trump, is asking tonight. Who is it? Who did it? Who wrote that op-ed piece? I have been thinking about it, kind of studying it. My educated guess is next.
O`DONNELL: Who is it? That`s the question of the night. Who did it? Who is the author of the "New York Times op-ed piece who the president calls gutless and anonymous and is now demanding that "The New York Times" must turn over that person to the government? That person has already been turned over to the government by Donald Trump. Donald Trump chose the person who wrote today`s op-ed piece that has become the president`s obsession. It is one of Donald Trump`s best people.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve got the best people. I know the best people. We`re going to use our best people. The best people. The best people. I know guys that are so good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And now they`re gutless. It`s one of them. And it`s someone who knows what the cabinet was thinking early on about possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from the presidency. "The Times" used only the word senior official to describe this person so a member of the cabinet or someone who is in the room with members of the cabinet all the time, a cabinet-level official.
The person still works there so it is not the first secretary of state Rex Tillerson or H.R. McMaster or Reince Priebus or former economic advisor Gary Cohn who does appear to be a significant source of Bob Woodward`s new book which is a detailed book-length version of the op-ed piece that describes an incompetent, irrational presence whose staff is constantly manipulating him and in the words of the op-ed piece, "Working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."
It is easy to dismiss most of the cabinet right off the bat because most of them have never demonstrated even the slightest disagreement with the president and most of them have never publically demonstrated the capacity for the kind of thinking about government and how it should work that is demonstrated in this op-ed piece. So it`s not Steven Mnuchin or Wilbur Ross or Ben Carson or Rick Perry or Betsy DeVos or Linda McMann who ran a wrestling business before becoming a senior official in the Trump administration.
There is every reason to believe that the author of the piece is an experienced politician who knows the workings of Washington well and knows how to deal with "The New York Times" at the highest levels. That leaves out almost everyone else, James Mattis, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, Sonny Perdue, Alex Azar. And so that leaves us with a short list that includes people like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Ambassador of United Nations Nikki Haley.
"The New York Times" did use the word he to describe the author of the piece, but they have since tried to walk back that gender disclosure saying that, "The use of the word he was an error." But there are very few senior officials in the Trump administration who are women and Nikki Haley works in New York City. She is not in Washington often enough to be accepted by the "Times" as an authority of what`s really going on inside the Trump White House day-to-day.
And Nikki Haley has a future or at least wants to have a future in the Republican politics. So Nikki Haley would never take the chance of destroying her career in Republican politics by being exposed as this author eventually will be as the betrayer of Donald Trump inside the Trump administration at the highest level. That brings our guessing game down to Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence.
The op-ed piece has a heavy emphasis on foreign policy. Take foreign policy in public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea`s leader Kim Jong-un and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
The rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly and where allies around the world are engaged as peers, rather than ridiculed as rivals. Both Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats have said, in no uncertain terms, that Russians directed by Vladimir Putin did indeed attack our election. Dan Coats and Mike Pompeo are both doing what is described in that section of the op-ed piece, calling out Russia for meddling and advocating sanctions against Russia.
The piece says the president, "Expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its maligned behavior." But his national security team knew better, such actions had to be taken to hold Moscow accountable. This isn`t the work of the so-called deep state. It`s the work of the steady state. And so the one unit inside the Trump administration that is called out for specific praise in this op-ed piece is the national security team.
Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats are members of the national security team. Mike Pompeo served as the Trump CIA Director before becoming the Trump Secretary of State. Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats are both former members of the Congress. They`re both men who successfully ran for federal office, campaigned, got out there, made speeches. Mike Pompeo became a member of the House of Representatives. Dan Coats first entered the House of Representatives and then was elected to the Senate.
The op-ed piece has a flow and a sweet to it that resembles a political speech. The op-ed piece is a campaign speech against Donald Trump. It has the high-mindedness of an ambitious campaign speech. Both Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats are capable of the kind of thinking and phrasing and pacing that went into this campaign speech against Donald Trump. But only one of them has no expectation of ever making a campaign speech again in his life.
Mike Pompeo is an ambitious former member of the Republican House of Representatives who is 54-years-old and has, he hopes, a bright political future ahead of him. In his dreams, he would become the second former CIA director elected president. George H.W. Bush was the first. And so Mike Pompeo has a future in Republican politics to protect which leaves us with 75-year-old Dan Coats who knows that director of national intelligence is his last job in government.
Dan Coats was a reliable Republican Senator who could be counted on in every party line vote. As a Senator, he always cared about things like deregulation, tax cuts, increased military spending, which happened to be the only three Trump agenda items that get positive mention in the op-ed piece.
Dan Coats` idea of a leader was Ronald Reagan who was elected to the presidency when Dan Coats was elected to the House of Representatives. And his friend Bob Dole, that was a leader to Dan Coats. Bob Dole was the Republican leader of the United States Senate when Dan Coats was a senator. And Dan Coats is the only member of the Trump administration who has ever had public moments like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, COMMENTATOR, NBC NEWS: Moments after the president appeared to be siding with Vladimir Putin over you, you personally by name, you stood up and spoke out. I`m wondering, why did you do that?
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I`m not surprised we`re starting with Russia. I was just doing my job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Just doing my job. That is what I watch Dan Coats do every day that I worked in the United States Senate in the 1990s. He was just doing his job. I disagreed with him on almost every policy question, but he appeared to be a serious Republican Senator trying to do his job. He wasn`t one of the first people reporters would go to when there was breaking news in the Senate, but he is one of those people now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: We have some breaking news. The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.
COATS: Say that again.
MITCHELL: Vladimir Putin coming to --
COATS: Did I hear you right?
MITCHELL: Yes, yes.
COATS: OK. That`s going to be special.
MITCHELL: Were you aware of that? Just want to clarify.
COATS: I think based on my reaction I wasn`t aware of that.
MITCHELL: Would you recommend that there not be a one-on-one without note takers?
COATS: If I were asked that question, I would, yes, look for a different way of doing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The Dan Coats who I watched at work every day in the United States Senate is not someone who could easily abide a Donald Trump in the presidency. And so based on the process of elimination you have just seen and based on the content of the op-ed piece which delivers specific praise to only one person by name, and that person is Dan Coats` old friend in the United States Senate, Senator John McCain.
My guess, my educated guess, is that the author of the "New York Times" op- ed piece is John McCain`s old friend Dan Coats. "The New York Times" says the author of the piece approached the newspaper through an intermediary recently. It sounds like the approach came after John McCain died 11 days ago. I`m sure Dan Coats has been thinking about John McCain a lot recently and he has probably been asking himself, what would John McCain do?
And then, Coats might have finally decided that what John McCain would do or what he would want Dan Coats to do would be to tell the American people the truth of what they needed to know about the president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: I`m wondering when you watched that in Helsinki, what was your gut reaction watching him validate Vladimir Putin`s assessment over yours?
COATS: Well, my thoughts there were that I believe I needed to correct the record for that and that this is the job I signed up for and that was my responsibility. Obviously, I wish he had made a different statement but I think that now that has been clarified based on his late reactions to this. And so I don`t think I want to go any further than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was as far as Dan Coats was willing to go publically. Two months ago. Today, I think maybe Dan Coats went further than that. A lot further.
O`DONNELL: Let the guessing begin. "The Washington Post" says that Donald Trump has narrowed his list of suspects of who wrote that op-ed piece to people who work, "On national security issues or in the Justice Department." And I for once agree with Donald Trump. I think it`s someone that works on national security issues, and I think it`s Dan Coats.
So who did it? We`ll ask our guests. Joining us now, Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion writer for "Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor, Jason Johnson, politics editor for root.com and MSNBC contributor, and Ron Klain is back with us.
And, Ron, I`m going to let you go first because I saw a tweet from you earlier today saying that you had a guess on this. We have not shared notes. I have no idea what your guess is. You had no idea what mine was until I just revealed. My big Dan Coats guess was a big wind up to it. Ron Klain, who wrote it?
RON KLAIN, AMERICAN POLITICAL OPERATIVE: So, Lawrence, I have to say that tweet is someone I share something in common with and that`s my fellow Hoosier Dan Coats.
O`DONNELL: There you go.
KLAIN: I`m sure we`re guessing for a lot of the same reasons. I mean he is someone for whom there is no love lost between him and Donald Trump. One of the few members of the administration to publically differ with the president. So you have to be from the national security team to write that piece. It cites our handling of Russia is a success. No one but someone from the national security team would think that.
And then it does have this political overlay, the language about free markets, free people, the embracing of tax cuts as a major success. That`s a Republican politician. And then the ending, kiss for John McCain. So if you add that all up, I think it fits Dan Coats like a glove with the final point that he is nearly end of his career, doesn`t really care about the consequences. I do think all the signals point to former Senator Dan Coats.
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, go ahead.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, ROOT.COM: So in high school, we learned the theory that Shakespeare, was Shakespeare actually an individual or was a selection of people who put things together?
O`DONNELL: Oh, I like this.
JOHNSON: I don`t think it was one person. I actually thought it was Mike Pompeo and probably someone like either Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway. And here`s the reason why, I always -- I agree with you, Lawrence, it was somebody in the sort of the national security apparatus but the language was so flowing, the language was so flowery. The use of the word lodestar which had people running off after Mike Pence, you need a communications expert to put this together as well.
So I actually think while one person, they may use he or she from "The New York Times", I actually think this was probably put together by two or three members of the administration who are all concerned, who could then also say they have plausible deniability.
O`DONNELL: I would just footnote that with a career senator like Dan Coats has the people at his side who could help him polish that and it was very polished. Jennifer Rubin, who do you think?
JENNIFER RUBIN, CONSERVATIVE OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: I think it`s someone one level down. It was very interesting that Jennifer Palmieri who was, you know, worked in the White House. I`m pretty familiar with the sourcing rules for "The New York Times", it could be someone much lower down and that to me makes more sense.
In one respect because of this, there was one phrase in there, free markets, free people, free ideas, that`s a Russell Kirk quote. That`s kind of a brainy, wonkish deputy or undersecretary type. I think either in the state department or perhaps working with Dan Coats. It is not the guy at the top of the food chain. And it is someone who would have had a lot of contact with Trump, maybe made overseas trips with him, maybe have been in the room with cabinet officials.
But that to me makes a lot more sense. And as you point out, that language doesn`t sound like Dan Coats who is a kind of by the book kind of guy. Now, the problem is, of course, even when their name is on an op-ed, these people don`t necessarily write their own material. They have speechwriters and they have staffers. But on something like this, I don`t think the person is going to trust another person to write it because that`s one more person to identify him. So I`m going with the state department or national security deputy kind of person who`s one level down.
O`DONNELL: Well, I think every member of the cabinet and every senior official can expect their next question they get from a reporter to be, did you write that op-ed piece and we`re going to see people saying no, and we might have someone refuse to answer, and that person rockets to suspect number one as soon as that happens.
We`re going to squeeze in a quick break. We`re going to be right back.
O`DONNELL: The op-ed piece from inside the Trump administration says, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it`s over. And our panel`s back with us. Jason Johnson, I was struck by that phrase, one way or another. The author of this piece seems to be absolutely fine with any way we get rid of Donald Trump, whether it be the 25th Amendment or impeachment or resignation or the Mueller investigation or defeat in re-election. That one way or another was very strong.
JOHNSON: And what they`re also sort of implying here, Lawrence, is they don`t seem to have too much of a concern with how far this drags the country down until we get to that one way or another. Look, I think this is a cowardly letter in general. I think you can`t dance with the devil and then claim you`re an angel and virtue signal.
So at the end of the day, while this person may anticipate doom, these sort of, you know, shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic, that`s not patriotic, that`s cowardice. And if you`re doing this so you can get tax cuts and you`re occasionally saving America, that`s not something to be proud of. So the gloom and doom that they predict is a gloom and doom they seem to be comfortable with America facing.
O`DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin, I always expected a raft of memoir proposals to publishers from Trump White House officials claiming that they saved the world while they were there if there was still a world when they came out. And what I did not expect was that someone would do it from inside the administration in a "New York Times" op-ed piece in real time.
RUBIN: Yes. I`m with Jason on this. I don`t think this is particularly brave. And by the way, the person goes out of the way to make a very peculiar point, which is we didn`t want to create a crisis by invoking the 25th Amendment. We have a crisis. It`s a crisis when the elected president of the United States is not really running things. That we have a rolling or a soft coup by people who think they know better than the person the American people elected.
Listen, I didn`t vote for Donald Trump. I think he`s a nightmare but this is not democracy. This is not how it`s supposed to work. We do have legal processes for moving a president out, whether it is the 25th Amendment, whether it is impeachment, whether it is his party rising up and demanding his resignation. So I don`t put too much stock in this person`s fidelity to constitutional principle, and I am a little concerned that this is just a CYA in a very dramatic fashion.
O`DONNELL: "The Washington Post" is referring to, in its reporting tonight, what they`re calling sleeper cells in the White House. They say the phrase the sleeper cells have awoken circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies. It`s the horror movies when everyone realizes the call is coming from inside the House, said one former White House official, in close contact with former co-workers.
Ron Klain, the sleeper cells have awoken. This president is going to try to find out who this is, we know that.
O`DONNELL: And so the question becomes, what`s going on in the president`s own attempt to do this? Will he pick up the phone? Will he call Dan Coats after watching this show? Will he call other people in the administration, his own suspects and ask them directly?
KLAIN: Well, we know that he`s raving mad tonight and that`s scary. But I`ll say it`s one more thing that does point to Dan Coats. The author would have to believe they have the tradecraft to write this, not have it be found out and get it to "The New York Times," not have their computer be searched, not have their e-mail be searched. That, again, points to the director of national intelligence, who would have the so-called trade craft to pull off this kind of a thing.
O`DONNELL: And, Ron - sorry. Jason Johnson, the investigation, however this -- I don`t even know if that`s the right word for it within Trump world about this is obviously going to consume the president and who knows who else. We were wondering yesterday how long John Kelly has before he gets fired for calling the president an idiot in Bob Woodward`s book. But tonight, the president is thinking, that`s the high ground for him, people calling him an idiot in Bob Woodward`s book. That`s nothing compared to this op-ed piece.
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, Lawrence. This is not going to be an investigation. This will be an inquisition. They will be dragging people all through the streets trying to find out what happened. And, again, I think a key thing that we find out in this letter again is he`s not complaining about the Muslim ban, he`s not complaining about Charlottesville, he`s not complaining about some of the egregious domestic things that this administration has done, he`s primarily talked about national security. And that`s where they`re going to come in.
And again, it`s still cowardice. It`s still saying I worked at the death star but tried to aim it a little bit to the left, that`s what they`re saying. But that`s where the president is going to focus his inquisition. Someone is probably going to get caught and a lot of people are going to get fired after midterms.
O`DONNELL: And Jennifer Rubin, Donald Trump is a very cowardly man. He`s demonstrated that throughout his life. And within the administration, the only person we`ve heard about him being willing to confront directly is Jeff Sessions, probably because he`s physically small and probably because, as Donald Trump has revealed in the Woodward book and elsewhere, he thinks Jeff Sessions is stupid because he is a Southerner with a southern accent who did not go to an ivy league school.
But Donald Trump confronting Dan Coats or Donald Trump confronting Mike Pompeo or anyone else in that administration is actually something hard to envision for such a cowardly man.
RUBIN: It`s true. He actually doesn`t even confront Jeff Sessions. He just tweets about him and rages about him to other people. He could fire him if he wanted, he is president of the United States, but he won`t even do that. So I think that`s right. I think he will send his minions out to forage around in desks and look at computers and look at phones and all the rest of it. And maybe he`ll even roll out the lie detector tests. That would be fun. But I don`t think that he is going to have the nerve to look someone like Dan Coats in the eye and say, "You did it. I know you did it." I don`t think that`s his style.
O`DONNELL: And Ron Klain, you`ve been involved in trying to strategize congressional elections for Democrats. This is the kind of moment that is the nightmare moment for a party where you`re - everything you`re trying to do gets completely distracted by the person who is supposed to be the figurehead of your campaigning.
KLAIN: Yes. I mean, you know, they`re about to send President Trump out on the stump to campaign for Republicans who is considered incompetent by his awn administration, an idiot by his chief of staff, possibly removable from office. I mean, it is a nightmare. It`s a nightmare of unprecedented proportions and I think it`s why Democrats are so enthusiastic about our possible wins this fall.
O`DONNELL: Ron Klain is going to get the last word in tonight`s discussion. Ron Klain, Jason Johnson, Jennifer Rubin, thank you all for joining us in tonight`s coverage. Really appreciate it.
That is tonight`s last word. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, another wild day capped off with an audible alarm sounding from inside the White House. A senior official in the administration shares his deepest fears with readers of "The New York Times," fears about a president unfit for office and the president wonders if it`s treason.
Tonight, with the Bob Woodward`s book not yet in stores, already rattling the windows at the White House.
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