Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: September 6, 2018 Guest: Peter Baker, Neera Tanden, David Frum
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And, you know, when I worked there, they actually had phone booths.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes.
O`DONNELL: But not in the age of the cell phone.
MADDOW: Bring back the land lines.
O`DONNELL: Right, right. And those buildings, I mean, that closet is surrounded by marble. And that was just the toughest cell phone reception I`ve heard in a while.
MADDOW: I know. You know, I could make out almost all of what she said. The bit she didn`t say, I know -- I bet were amazing.
O`DONNELL: But I think we`re basically filling it all in in context. So it worked is what I can tell you as a viewer out here who was consuming it.
And, Rachel, we`re going to ill begin with some breaking news from "The New York Times" about "The New York Times."
O`DONNELL: They`re reporting tonight on what their op-ed piece written by an anonymous member of the Trump administration has done inside the White House. And now, apparently, they have a suspect list that has been narrowed to 12.
O`DONNELL: And the inquisition is underway.
MADDOW: We all knew that "New York Times" reporters would not let this lie just because it was "The New York Times" editorial page that broke this story. We knew this was coming.
O`DONNELL: "The New York Times" reporters are on the case about "The New York Times". And Peter Baker who`s one of the authors of this piece tonight is going to join us in a minute as soon as we get to it.
MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Thank you.
O`DONNELL: As I said, we have breaking news tonight from "The New York Times" about "The New York Times" and the panic that "The New York Times" has created within the White House. "The Times" is reporting that the White House has discussed Senator Rand Paul`s idea to use polygraph tests on senior officials of the Trump administration.
Here is "The Times" report tonight. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ally of Mr. Trump`s, recommended that the president force members of his administration to take polygraph examinations, and there was at least briefly some discussion of that among advisers to the president. Another option mentioned by people close to Mr. Trump was asking senior officials to sign sworn affidavits that could be used in court if necessary. One outside adviser said the White House had a list of about 12 suspects.
And joining us now by phone is "New York Times" chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, who is one of the reporters on this article.
And, Peter, this is an extensive look at what "The New York Times" has created, the crisis atmosphere it has created inside the Trump White House. What more have you learned about the possibility of using lie detector tests and the suspect list of 12?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Well, what I was saying it is not "The New York Times" created this crisis. I would say it was the official that wrote the anonymous piece that "The New York Times" happened to publish who has raised this question of can the president and his staff, are they on the same page? Is there, you know, a list of unsung heroes, that`s the way the anonymous writer put it, or gutless anonymous people as the White House put it, trying to thwart the president from outside. This quiet resistance, as they call it.
That`s what`s really shaking up the White House here. So, yes, they`re working outside of the idea of lie detectors has been broached, the idea of these affidavits have been broached. They have a list that they`re sort of working on about who they think it might not be.
You saw the extraordinary spectacle today having an officer coming out saying, it wasn`t me, it wasn`t me, it wasn`t me. But as we all know, that may not be the end of that story.
O`DONNELL: Peter, it seems judging by your reporting tonight, which is extensive, about what`s going on inside the Trump White House, that you and "The New York Times" have not lost any access to information inside the Trump White House as a result of "The New York Times" publishing this op-ed piece.
BAKER: Well, there are obviously people in the White House that were very mad at "The New York Times" today for publishing that. I get that. Some of them will take that out on reporters. That`s natural, too.
We had nothing to do with it, of course. The reporters who are covering the White House have nothing to do with the editorial page. We don`t even know who this person is. The editorial page, it doesn`t consult us. We learned about it by seeing it on the web, just like everybody else.
So, you know, I think a lot of people in the White House understand that, that we`re not the same side of the house. We are separate. And I think a lot of people inside the White House want to get information out there. And we`re grateful for that.
O`DONNELL: Peter, is there any indication that Donald Trump comprehends the irony of the moment? Specifically, the irony of the conversation that you and I are having at this very moment? Which is that today with his White House in crisis over people within the White House expressing their dissatisfaction with the Trump administration, that when they have a meeting about that and when they have a discussion about that, and when they reduce their suspect list to 12, that it is immediately leaked to "The New York Times" that their suspect list has been reduced to 12?
BAKER: Yes. You know, of course it`s also in their interest, perhaps, to make clear that anybody who might think about doing the same thing as this author that they are doing to respond, right? I mean, you know, a White House wants to have discipline. They don`t have any discipline, as we see in this White House at the moment.
So, they`re trying to basically send a signal this will not be tolerated. There will be repercussions for anybody that might think about it. You can play it out a couple different ways. But it is not clear whether this list or the idea of affidavits or lie detector will go anywhere. It is an indication of just how, you know, anxious and exorcise this White House is, particularly because you have a president raging in volcanic terms about, you know, what he sees as the betrayal of at least one person, and perhaps many people around him.
O`DONNELL: So, Peter, "New York Times" reporters are working hard at getting the White House reaction to this "New York Times" article and what`s happening inside the White House because of this "New York Times" article includes a suspect list of 12 people at this point within the White House that the chief of staff, John Kelly, apparently has assembled.
Does that mean that you, "New York Times" reporters, are also trying to go after the answer to the question of who wrote the op-ed piece for "The New York Times"?
BAKER: Yes, that`s a great question. If I were you, I`d ask the same question. But, you know, look, we don`t talk about our reporting until we publish. You know, we don`t talk about what we`re working on until we`re ready to say something and print.
So, you know, I`m not going to get into that. We should repeat that we don`t have anything to do with this op-ed. They are separate departments. So, we have nothing to do with the decision to publish it and we don`t know who the person is from that.
O`DONNELL: Has -- Peter, has "The Times" put any restrictions on you, on what you can investigate about this story?
BAKER: Well, again, I`m not going to get into what we can, you know, what we`re doing or what we`re not doing. I mea, that`s really the kind of thing we don`t do in general. So, I don`t think I`m going to go there tonight.
O`DONNELL: Peter Baker, thank you very much for joining us with this breaking news report tonight. We really appreciate it.
Well, they`re all denying it. We have, as of this minute, 27 denials from senior officials in the Trump administration. They are all denying that they are the author of the op-ed piece that appeared in print today.
Here is the print edition under the headline "The quiet resistance inside the Trump administration". The accompanying art shows four anonymous members of the Trump administration trying to hold the country, trying to hold America back from falling off a cliff into a black hole. For some of the names on the list of 27 Trump officials denying authorship, it was a chance to remind the news media that they actually have jobs inside the Trump administration, like Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, whose previous work experience was in the professional wrestling business, which is to say the fake wrestling business.
Denials from most of these people are completely believable because most of them are obviously incapable of the kind of thinking and concern for the country expressed in the op-ed piece. And so, we didn`t need Treasury Steve Mnuchin`s denial, but we completely agree with his spokesperson statement. Quote, it is laughable to think this could come from the secretary. That is not the only thing that is laughable about the worst secretary of the treasury in history.
Unfortunately for the administration, in denial now, they are working in the place that constantly issues the least believable denials in America. And I don`t just mean the Trump administration. I mean, Washington, D.C.
The history of the denial in Washington tells us that Washington denials have no meaning. At the top of the mountain of meaningless denials in Washington, is the multi-decade denial by FBI official Mark Felt that he was Deep Throat, the source of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein`s extraordinary reporting on the Watergate scandal in the Nixon administration. After 31 years of denying it, Mark Felt finally publicly admitted he was Deep Throat because nothing is distrusted in Washington more than the denial, Washington reporters actually invented a description for the kind of denial that they must transcribe and report in their newspapers, but they do not believe. They call it the non-denial denial.
Now, that term could only be invented in a town where denials mean absolutely nothing. Think of all of the Washington players who had repeatedly denied that they were planning to run for president while they were planning to run for president. And there is a constant stream of policy denials that everyone quickly forgets, like Democrats denying that they were going to drop the public option from the Affordable Care Act right up until the day before they dropped the option from the Affordable Care Act, or the endless recurring denials from Republicans that tax cut will increase the deficit and then tax cuts always increase the deficit and the denials are forgotten.
So, what do we do with today`s denials? Most of the deniers condemned the anonymous author of the article. They condemned the contents of the article, and they condemned "The New York Times." In other words, they said everything Donald Trump wanted them to say.
So, let`s drop all of them from the suspect list. Most of them are obviously incapable of writing such an article anyway, so we`re not losing any big suspects.
And on a day when Donald Trump desperately wanted every official to not just deny authorship of the article but attack the anonymous author of the article, attack the contents of the article and attack "The New York Times," the senior members of the Trump administration who refused to do that have become all the more interesting tonight. And that is a group of 12.
But that group of 12 does not include some people who couldn`t possibly be the author of the piece like Linda McMahon or Ben Carson. So, this is not John Kelly`s group of 12 what we just heard about from "The New York Times". This group of 12 includes people who would be very unlikely to take a risk like that, like Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar, who is new to the job and couldn`t have commented on what the article calls earlier whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment which would start a complex process of removing the president.
And even though White House counsel Don McGahn has been in big fights with the president, he is very busy these days trying to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court and having already testified for the special prosecutor for 30 hours, Don McGahn probably wouldn`t want to be anywhere near the possible legal can of worms that the op-ed piece opens up.
And so, of the 12 senior officials who did not do what Donald Trump wanted them to do today, we are left with three. Dan Coats, Jim Mattis and Kellyanne Conway, who denied authorship, all of them denied authorship of the article, but they did not condemn the article. They did not condemn the author of the article, and they did not condemn "The New York Times."
Now, viewers who were with us last night know that I worked through an elaborate process of elimination and analysis of the text of the article to end up with Dan Coats as my educated guess. And it was only a guess as the most likely author of the piece. Dan Coats denial today reduces my confident in that guess only slightly.
Dan Coats is the only person who issued a denial that was actually a two- person denial. It was written about saying speculation that "The New York Times" op-ed was written by me or my principal deputy is patently false. We did not from the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire intelligence community remain focused on our mission to provide the president and policymakers with the best intelligence possible. Well, OK.
But I, for one, never mentioned your principal deputy. I don`t know if someone else did. But OK.
Tonight with all these denials pouring in, the most interesting silence in the Trump administration is coming from the man who occupies the cabinet level position of White House chief of staff John Kelly. John Kelly is now alone in his choice to not deny authorship of the op-ed piece. "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight in Oval Office huddles, on Thursday, White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, national security adviser John Bolton, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and senior adviser Jared Kushner, among other aides, tried to convince the president that he could trust him and others in his inner circle. They argued that the author was likely a lower-level employee, according to the senior official.
And so, there is Donald Trump surrounded by people who he does not trust telling him that his betrayer not only is not one of them but is not even in their category. And no -- and one of the people in that Oval Office huddle telling the president that he could trust them, then told "The Washington Post" about the Oval Office huddle, proving that Donald Trump can`t trust anyone in that room.
Tonight`s "Washington Post" report from inside the Trump White House says, quote, Trump`s aides challenged little of the column`s substance. Indeed, senior officials have long acted to slow walk or stymie some of the president`s ideas and directives. When he was White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus had a favored strategy, according to his colleagues, tell the president that he would execute an order or firing, but not until next week. But then, Trump would often have forgotten. There is now no way for Donald Trump to forget that there is, as "The New York Times" op-ed headline put it, quote, quiet resistance inside the Trump administration.
Joining us now, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones", and co-author of the book "Russian Roulette", E.J. Dionne, an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and co-author of the book "One Nation After Trump", and Tim O`Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion, and the author of "TrumpNation." They are all MSNBC contributors.
And, Tim, I want to go to you first because you know Donald Trump well. You written a book about him. You got sued by him. You beat him in that lawsuit.
Here he is surrounded by people tonight who are saying trust us. It certainly wasn`t any one of us. And then immediately, one of those people leaks the dialogue of that huddle in the Oval Office to "The Washington Post". "The New York Times," the newspaper that created this situation for the president by publishing the op-ed piece tonight, has hot breaking news reporting about what people inside the Trump White House are telling "The New York Times" about the Trump White House`s own suspect list.
Does Donald Trump get it? Does he understand that they`re all leaking and he can`t trust any of them?
TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": Of course he did. Of course, he does. And he never trusts anyone to begin with.
One of the people in that group is his son-in-law, the guy married to his daughter and he apparently doesn`t trust his son-in-law. You know, when he -- when he sued me at one point, you know, he sued me because I had anonymous sources. He wanted to know who my anonymous sources were. They deposed me for two days during that suit.
And at one point during the course of the deposition, his lawyers began reading a list to me of Trump insiders and people outside the organization that he was close to to find out if I had spoken to them. After he got to about the fifth person, I realized they were on a fishing expedition and I said I`m not going to answer this question. They said, you`re under oath, you have to. I said, I`m not going to reveal my sources. My lawyers intervened and we moved on.
And what`s ironic about that is he`s employing the same principle right now in the White House. He is trying to ferret out anonymous sources. And it`s -- the man that`s doing this is someone who spent the last five decades anonymous offering gossip and malignant rumors to every reporter in New York and Washington about his family, about business competitors, about celebrities and politicians in order to damage them and enhance himself.
He`s adopted fake personas. He`s used the name John Miller and John Baron to promote those stories. He got that from his father. His father used to go around in New York under the persona Mr. Dream to anonymously look at properties.
This is an old Trump tool of the trade. They have been doing it forever. And he`s now going after people who have used the same devices he has because he`s profoundly paranoid.
O`DONNELL: And, David Corn, the advice he`s getting is just laughable at every level. The idea that there is an affidavit that you could get someone to sign that would in any way create a legal jeopardy is an utter fantasy. There is no legal case in which to issue this affidavit. Affidavits are part of civil lawsuits. They can be part of other judicial proceedings. They can be part of criminal cases. There is no case here.
Anyone there can sign an affidavit there saying anything, and they won`t incur the slightest legal jeopardy.
DAVID CORN, CO-AUTHOR, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE": Well, it`s like his dependence on NDAs, nondisclosure agreements, he thinks it can work.
You know, he`s entering into a wilderness of mirrors at the moment because he doesn`t know who he can trust and he wants to have a leak investigation. Now, that reminds me of two things about the Nixon days. You know, about a dozen years ago, I broke a story based on records that became available that during Watergate, Nixon ordered the FBI to find out who the leakers were to the Washington Post to Woodward and Bernstein. And guess who was put in charge of that investigation in the FBI?
You know where I`m going. You don`t remember the story, but you know the answer. It was Mark Felt. He was given the task of finding himself to be Deep Throat.
And so, whoever is working for Trump now, he has to be a suspect for being part of that quiet cabal, the resistance. And so, can you trust anyone in the White House to ferret out somebody that might be part of this inner conspiracy? This is tailor-made for Trump and his paranoia to hit 11, 12, 13 on a scale because he`s not going to be able to trust anyone, which he can`t to begin with.
And remember, Watergate began because Nixon started trying to find out who the leakers were. So, this is very historical. But also -- I mean, it will not end well. That`s all I can say.
This will not end well if you have Trump by himself being fed his own paranoia fantasies.
O`DONNELL: And so, E.J. Dionne, playing the role of Mark Felt tonight in the White House apparently is John Kelly. Now, that doesn`t mean we know that John Kelly is some day going to be revealed as the source of this. But John Kelly, who has not publicly issued a denial of being the author, is according to tonight`s "New York Times" reporting kind of leading the investigation within the White House. He`s the man walking around with the list of 12 on paper, the suspect list, the active suspect list in this case.
And he is also the man who you`re calling at "The Washington Post" Bob Woodward revealed once again in Bob Woodward`s book to have referred to the president as an idiot and that is apparently a common reference by John Kelly. It`s one that we have heard reported before.
And so, Donald Trump is sitting there tonight with Bob Woodward`s reporting about John Kelly`s attitude toward him and he`s in a huddle in the Oval Office with John Kelly with the suspect list of 12, and that very huddle is then reported in your newspaper, "The Washington Post".
E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: What you have a feeling here. I`m up here in Boston, so I`m thinking of Robert B. Parker thrillers.
DIONNE: It would be a perfect thriller theme to have a guy investigating the leak being the leaker and actually point the finger at someone else at some point. I was sitting here thinking watching this whole story that at least 50 percent of the news generated by the Trump administration has nothing to do with anything the Trump administration is doing. It`s all about Trump.
And what that suggests is that the chaos that Bob Woodward has reported on, the chaos that that op-ed piece talks about really is chaos because there is this constant machine of paranoia, of crazy charges that lead to more paranoia and then utter mistrust inside the White House. People stabbing each other in the side, in the back, in the front, and I don`t know how this can operate, and clearly it`s not operating very well.
One other point I`d make about your theory about Dan Coats, it is very clear that the author of this thing is some kind of strong economic conservative. That suggests it might be Coats or is just somebody mouthing standard Republican boilerplate on economics, but they really go out of their way to defend that aspect of the Trump administration, which proves that the reason they are still hanging around is they think it is worth having a dangerous president if you can get tax cuts.
O`DONNELL: And, E.J., you worked for "The New York Times." You now work for "The Washington Post". I want you to take us inside these institutions.
Tell us what you think it means for "The New York Times" to describe this author as a senior official. How low could that go from the very top, the cabinet level in the Trump administration?
DIONNE: You know, in journalism, these particular terms, as you know, can be rather loose. But I cannot imagine that "The Times" was going to be loose with the term "senior official" when they published a piece like this. It will be -- it would be hard for me to believe that they would create -- they knew they would create enormous stir with this piece, that it would have an enormous impact, particularly with the fact that they -- people inside the administration were talking about at least or at least in some way discussing the 25th Amendment. That`s an enormous bombshell in that piece.
So, I presume it`s got to be somebody pretty high because in something where the stakes are this high, they`re not going to mess around with the word senior official.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is in Montana tonight in a campaign trying to help out a Senate campaign where, of course, he`s talking about "The New York Times," which I doubt is a big issue in Montana tonight, but let`s listen to what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The latest active resistance is the op-ed published in the failing New York Times by an anonymous -- really an anonymous gutless coward. Look, he was -- nobody knows who the hell he is or she, although they put he. But probably, that`s a little disguise. That means it`s she.
But for the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once. I think their reporters should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good scoop.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
That would be a good scoop. Unelected deep state operatives who defied the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So, Tim O`Brien, there is a peek inside the mind of Donald Trump tonight. It is too bad he did not rehearse the pronunciation of the word "anonymous" which will come up a lot I think and for a while.
But -- and there is the Inspector Clouseau at work. He says "The Times" referred to it as a he. He said nobody knows who the hell he is or she, although they put he. That`s probably a little disguise. That means it`s she.
OK. So he`s got it locked down to she. And then in the next sentence he says, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once.
And so, there is detective Trump at work, Tim. Take us inside the mind of Donald Trump in this situation.
O`BRIEN: Let`s unbundle it a little bit, too, because as he garbled anonymous, he was sort of announcing it like ominous. And this is both ominous and anonymous, whether or not he can say it properly. He`s either tired or he`s stressed out.
There is no doubt that he`s focusing on this much more than he`s focusing on trade agreements with Canada, with national security with North Korea, what`s happening with migrant children and their families at the border. He is focusing on the detail of his persona and his reputation far more than he is on the wheels of the federal government because this kind of a thing cuts to the core of his own paranoia.
He wants to be the center of attention. But when he is the center of attention, he only wants praise. And when the people around him start to say damaging things, it becomes the Caine mutiny. He wants to know who stole the strawberries, and we`re in the middle of that right now.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have to go to a break now.
E.J. Dionne, David Corn, Tim O`Brien, thank you for starting us off tonight.
And coming up, Donald Trump, as you just saw, is campaigning in Montana. But you`d never know he was trying to help someone get elected to the United States in Montana because he`s in Montana to talk about "The New York Times".
O`DONNELL: And here is breaking news from Montana. Here is the president of the United States tonight doing something you have never seen a president of the United States do, defending his mental health.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One after another, Donald Trump, he`s lost it up here. You know, it`s pretty tough. I stand up here giving speeches for an hour and a half, many times without notes, and then they say "He`s lost it." And yet, we have 25,000 people showing up to speeches.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The president, who denies he`s lost it, is also reportedly volcanic in his anger tonight. He is becoming increasingly paranoid also if that is possible. And this is not just because of the anonymously sourced "New York Times op-ed or the release of quotes from Bob Woodward`s new book that portrays the president as unfit to serve and as having lost it.
According to "Axios" for some time last year, Trump even carried with him a handful list of people suspected to be leakers, undermining his agenda. He would basically be like, "We`ve got to get rid of them. The snakes are everywhere but we`re getting rid of them," said a source close to Trump. Mental health professionals have sounded the alarm about Donald Trump`s instability and paranoia.
Brandy Lee, the Yale University psychiatrist who edited a book about Donald Trump`s mental state last year told Salon, two White House officials actually contacted me in late October stating that Trump was scaring them, that he was unraveling. While the president conducts his own hunt for the author of the New York Times op-ed, one White House official told "Politico," "If the goal was to moderate Trump`s behavior, it will do the opposite."
Here is former CIA Director John Brennan on Donald Trump`s state of mind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think you see just a continual sort of increase in the concern, the extraordinary measures that people are taking. I do think things will get worse before they get better. I don`t know how Donald Trump is going to react to this. A wounded lion is a very dangerous animal. and I think Donald Trump is wounded.
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, David Frum, senior editor from "The Atlantic" and the author of Trumpocracy, The Corruption of the American Republic and Tim O`Brien is back with us.
And, so David Frum, there is the president of the United States. He goes up to try to help a Montana Senate candidate, spends his time talking about "The New York Times" and his own mental health.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Right. It`s a weird rally, weirder even than the usual rallies. In the rally, he had kind words for Greg Gianforte, the Congressman who body slammed Ben Jacobs then with the "Guardian" and Trump seemed to praise the use of violence against the journalist. He also raised the Spector of his own impeachment, something presidents normally do not talk about. And warned that if the Democrats do well, that his impeachment will be something that might become a reality.
And that`s again something presidents don`t like to concede because it leads to the thought, well, they must have something if they`re thinking of impeaching you. He does seem to be under more and more strand. You know, when the president praised himself for speaking endlessly without notes, presidents -- other presidents, Bill Clinton had notes. Barack Obama, enormously eloquent man, he had notes. The reason you have the notes is not because you can`t, it`s because you value your words so much. And the very fact that Donald Trump is speaking without notes is a sign of trouble.
O`DONNELL: And we`ve all seen both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama speak without notes as president and as candidates and they could do it perfectly coherently. Let`s go to the point that David just mentioned, and that is the president of the United States talking about impeachment. He actually says impeach Trump. That`s a little clip of this that will live forever.
But the reason most presidents have never discussed impeachment is because no one has ever discussed impeachment about most presidents. So it wasn`t just the president not talking about it, no one in the country talked about it for most presidents. But here is Donald Trump, flew out to Montana tonight to try to help a Senate candidate, talks about "The New York Times," talks about his own mental health and talks about his impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t even bring it up because I view it as something that, you know, they like to use the impeach word, impeach Trump. We will impeach him. But he didn`t do anything wrong. It doesn`t matter, we will impeach him. Then what you`re going to have is you`ll have a country that`s going to turn in to a third world country because if the opposite party becomes president, every time before it even starts, before you even found out whether or not he or she is going to do a great job, they`ll say we want to impeach him and you`ll impeach him. It is so ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Tim O`Brien. So he begins with, "I don`t even bring it up."
TIM O`BRIEN, AMERICAN NOVELIST: Right.
O`DONNELL: He brings up impeachment by beginning with the phrase, "I don`t even bring it up."
O`BRIEN: Right. And the president who`s governing the country as if he was a third world dictator so that if the opposite party gets into power, we will devolve into a third world country. One of Trump`s many pokertells is he will get in front of a crowd and talk about things that he`s deeply insecure about but say he`s not insecure.
You could do a mash-up of him getting on a stage and saying, "You know, I`m a really smart guy. I went to Warden, OK? You know, I`m a really rich guy. I`m worth $10 million, OK? I`m a very attractive guy, women love me, OK?" Because he`s insecure about his appeal, his wealth and his intellect.
And now we can add to that list a president who said "I`m really not going to talk about impeachment," but guess what, everyone else is talking about impeachment. Or "I`m not going to talk about mental health but tonight I`m going to address that" because he realizes these things are in the air and they`re being taken seriously and he`s ingested that. It is now part of what he`s worried about. And the real danger of a cornered Donald Trump is either cornered reputationally or legally as he will begin lashing out.
O`DONNELL: And David Frum, what the president doesn`t seem to understand is that the issue of leaking and the issue of loyalty and the issue of fidelity to the purpose of the presidency is something that is decided at the hiring stage, and this is the person who always talked about the best people, I get the best people, I will get the best people. These are the people who he got. These are the people who he wanted. These are the people who when they have a huddle with him tonight in the oval office about their suspect list of 12, at least one of them, immediately leaks the discussion in that huddle to The Washington Post.
FRUM: Normally, when leaks happen, they happen in administrations where there are very intense conflicts. And the leakers are fighting a battle in front of the president. Epically, the Reagan administration was like this. There are very very strong differences of opinions, on many issues foreign and domestic and the combatants and the president was very much a hands-off manager.
And so the newspapers would fill up with the tax by one senior staffer on another senior staffer, not on the president. What most presidents are good at, you get to be president by being a team builder. It is a gigantic organization to build a presidential campaign. You have to win votes from millions of people and you are usually pretty good at winning the loyalties of dozens of people.
And so George W. Bush, he had this ability and a small group to make people care about him and make his success their success. I think Barack Obama did the same thing. The Clinton administration was bumpier than that. The Reagan administration was bumpier.
But even in the more bumpy administrations and certainly in the last, the president gains loyalty, not just by the way he hires and not by punishing people, but by inspiring people. And that is clearly the thing that Donald Trump is unable to do, even among his closest intimates, even within the people nearest to him in his room.
O`DONNELL: And as anyone who has worked for an elected official can tell you, there is nothing that binds the loyalty more strongly than admiration for the elected official that those people are working for. And that apparently is what does not exist in the Trump administration.
David Frum, Tim O`Brien, thank you both for joining us tonight. And when we come back, Robert Mueller`s investigation has intersected now with the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. That happened today. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Today`s confirmation hearing for Donald Trump`s Supreme Court nominee began with Senator Corey Booker doing something we have never seen before in a Senate hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. COREY BROOKER, NEW JERSEY: So I am right now before your process is finished, I`m going to release the e-mail about racial profiling, and I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. I`m saying right now that I`m releasing committee confidential documents. This is about the closest I`ll probably ever have in my life to an I am Spartacus at this moment.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, TEXAS: Any senator, officer or employee of the Senate who shall disclose the secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees, and offices of the Senate shall be liable if a senator to suffer expulsion from the body.
BROOKER: Bring it. Bring it.
CORNYN: So I would correct the senator`s statement, there is no rule. There is clearly a rule that applies.
BROOKER: Then apply the rule and bring the charges. Bring it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The I am Spartacus moment Corey Brooker was referring to came when Corey Brooker`s Democratic colleagues of the hearing publically joined in his defiance of the committee rules, which completely eliminated Senator Cornyn`s already totally empty threat of a possible disciplinary action against Senator Brooker. Judge Kavanaugh got the kind of questions we should expect a Supreme Court nominee to get when he has been nominated by a president who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a current federal criminal case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself. Does he?
KAVANAUGH: Has there ever been a statute that limited or protected the president against indictment or due process of law?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When President Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, did he violate the law or the Constitution?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, CALIFORNIA: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Brett Kavanaugh didn`t answer any of those questions, but if he is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he will probably have to answer the question, must the president comply with a subpoena to give testimony?
Joyce Vance and Neera Tanden will join us next on how today`s confirmation hearing intersected with the investigation of the president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you`d agree, then, just following the U.S. v. Nixon president that a court can order a president to produce records in response to a grand jury subpoena or can be compelled to testify in front of a grand jury?
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I`m not going to answer hypotheticals about how to apply U.S. V. Nixon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and professor of the University of Alabama School of Law. She`s also an MSNBC legal contributor. And Neera Tanden is with us. She`s the president of the Center for American Progress. She was also Hillary Clinton`s policy director during the 2008 presidential campaign.
And Joyce Vance, it seems as if the probably most immediate question that could easily come up this year in the Supreme Court if Judge Kavanaugh is on the bench is that question about a subpoena to the president of the United States. I`m not sure we learned anything about that today.
JOYCE VANCE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA: There are a lot of questions coming out of the Mueller investigation that could end up before the Supreme Court. So the response you really want to hear Judge Kavanaugh give is I`ve had no conversations with anyone about the Mueller investigation. That wasn`t his initial response when he spoke with Senator Harris. He cleaned it up a little bit today but still that initial response where he stumbled so badly I think opened him up to a lot of questions in this regard that won`t go away that easily.
O`DONNELL: Well, Joyce, let me stay there for a second because he did admit to discussing it with judges in his courthouse, which I find even more peculiar, since that`s the courthouse of jurisdiction over these cases involving the special prosecutor. They could easily be sitting there, hearing an appeal on one of these cases and he would have already been discussing the investigation with possibly some of those Appeals Court judges.
VANCE: I suppose he could say that they were innocuous conversations that weren`t in any way improper, but, of course -- and I think that what you`re suggesting here is what you really need in a case like this is absolute integrity and no possibility of questioning the integrity of justices who will hear this case. So it`s critically important that the Senate before it issues its advice and consent in regard to this nominee fully explore all of these issues.
O`DONNELL: All right. Let`s listen to what might be the single most important thing that we know about Brett Kavanaugh.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALE: Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?
TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that`s really what`s going to happen, and that will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this, it will go back to the states and the states will then make a determination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Neera Tanden, that sounds like what Brett Kavanaugh`s honest answer might actually be to questions about Roe V. Wade.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think this is really a critical issue in why Democrats find it so important to get the record out because in "The New York Times" today from the leaked e-mails of Judge Kavanaugh or his e-mails during the Bush years, it makes clear that he considers Roe V. Wade not an established precedent but that is something that is open again to be interpreted by a future Supreme Court, really belying everything he said to Susan Collins, if we can take her word for truth of their conversation.
I think this kabuki theater that he`s going to respect the precedent of Roe is really that, kabuki theatre, and the truth is that this is the one area where Donald Trump has been telling the truth for years, and that is that it is his intent to move the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.
And we`re just in a political situation where Republicans don`t want to admit that ahead of the midterm elections, to ensure that Democrats become engaged in this, but now we have Kavanaugh`s own words. And his words are that he considers Roe something that can be overturned by a future court, one that he would sit on.
O`DONNELL: And Joyce Vance, this is something that presidents when they`re campaigning have been very careful to try to protect their Supreme Court nominees from. They have always tended to say I won`t have any litmus test for Supreme Court Justices. That has been the standard line from presidential candidates. So that when they`ve got a Supreme Court Justice, a nominee appearing in front of the Judiciary Committee, we won`t be able to run video of them saying exactly what they want their Supreme Court Justice to do, which, of course, we are able to do with Donald Trump.
VANCE: Trump in so many ways just shows a total failure to understand the importance of independence among the institutions that support the criminal justice system and the courts. And it`s a failure here with the integrity and the importance of that integrity for the Supreme Court. So it does cause Judge Kavanaugh to come under this heightened level of scrutiny. And as Neera points out, it`s a difficult inquiry here, because he says one thing in public but he said something else in internal deliberations in the White House in a more private setting.
And common sense tells you that it`s those more private conversations where one typically discloses one`s truthful feelings. Now, the Senate has to decide whether Judge Kavanaugh has been truthful as he has spoken with them or whether he has tried to mislead them in any way, and that problem is further compounded by the president`s statement where he`s very clear that he won`t nominate anyone unless they`re committed to reversing Roe V. Wade.
O`DONNELL: And, Neera, as with witnesses in court, when they start to sound shaky and unreliable or possibly even deliberately deceptive or untruthful on any particular point, it tends to rattle all the rest of their testimony. And we saw this extraordinary moment last night where Senator Kamala Harris tried to get an answer to him of have you discussed the Mueller investigation with anyone from a particular law firm, a firm associated with the president`s defense.
Couldn`t get an answer. There was no answer. He kept banging it back and forth and did not answer it. Took 24 hours for him to decide to eventually answer that question, which in the -- with what in the end sounded like a no but it was such a tortured process that I`m not sure what that was all about and what Brett Kavanaugh was worried about in that exchange.
TANDEN: I mean, obviously Brett Kavanaugh has been discussing the Mueller investigation with a lot of people and he`s just obviously confused or can`t remember exactly who because that exchange looked like a person who was exceedingly guilty, and maybe it turns out he`s not, like he didn`t actually have this conversation, but he looked so clearly like he was trying to find the air cover of some answer that -- I mean she turns to him directly and says, "You`re acting like you did talk to somebody and you just don`t want to say."
And that`s how I think everyone in America saw it but we have to really step back because there is also breaking news tonight that Rudy Giuliani is confirming that he -- that Donald Trump will not speak and will be required to be subpoenaed if Robert Mueller wants to talk to him. If he really wants to talk to him, he will have to subpoena. And I think this is what is so obviously crazy about the world we`re in. Any normal judge would recuse himself at this point, but the fact that Brett Kavanaugh won`t recuse himself is a sign that we should all be deeply troubled by this entire nomination process.
O`DONNELL: And Neera, the breaking news you mentioned about Rudy Giuliani is, of course, breaking Giuliani news, which is to say it ultimately makes no sense because he then --
TANDEN: It`s fair.
O`DONNELL: -- he then gave a conflicting comment to NBC News, which is why I haven`t bothered to say anything about it because it sounded like there was a little bit of very, very peculiar Giuliani confusion going on. So we`ll wait. We`ll see what he says tomorrow.
TANDEN: It`s totally fair.
O`DONNELL: See what he says tomorrow.
TANDEN: You`re totally right.
O`DONNELL: Thank you very much, Joyce Vance and Neera Tanden. We`ll be right back with tonight`s last word.
O`DONNELL: That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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