Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: October 15, 2018 Guest: Brian Klaas, Rami Khouri, Daniel Dale
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: The entire country should be up in arms about your description what`s going on in North Dakota and the voting laws. Thank you for all the details you went into to explain how many people in North Dakota very legitimately do not have street addresses and maybe disenfranchised because of that.
You have a great evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Thanks, Ali. Much appreciated.
VELSHI: All right. I`m Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
A lot to get to tonight, including Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member in the House Intelligence Committee, who will join me in studio to discuss the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia and what Donald Trump said last night about possibly firing Robert Mueller after the mid-terms. That`s coming up.
But first tonight, NBC News is reporting that Saudi Arabia is discussing a plan to admit that missing "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 13 days ago. But the story reportedly being prepared by the Saudi government is raising even more questions, including why it seems to line up with a new theory floated by President Trump today.
NBC News spoke with three people who had knowledge of the situation. Quote, according to two of the individuals, the Saudis are putting together an explanation that would absolve Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the putative leader of Saudi Arabia, of responsibility by giving him plausible deniability to say he didn`t order the killing and didn`t know about it. Such an off-ramp could provide a way for Saudi leadership to save face and explain away their previous insistence that Khashoggi wasn`t killed in the consulate.
ABC News also reporting tonight, one of those two individuals said he was told by one of those close to the Saudi leadership that the kingdom will claim that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi during an interrogation or rendition attempt that went horribly awry. The third individual said the U.S. government still doesn`t know precisely what the explanation the Saudis plan to give, but the Saudi do not intend to admit culpability.
The explanation of an interrogation gone wrong seems to be contradicted by some of what the Turkish government has revealed about the incident, which "The New York Times" reported, quote, includes signs of deliberate assassination. Among other things, Turkish officials have said an autopsy specialist carrying a bone saw was among 15 Saudi operatives who flew to Istanbul on October 2nd, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared. The president said this tonight about the possibility that Saudi Arabia may be about to admit Khashoggi was killed in an interrogation gone wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just saw -- I just don`t know. I`m going to have to see what they have to say. I heard that report, but nobody knows if it`s an official report. So far, it`s just the rumor of a report coming out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Speaking to reporters earlier today, the president seemed to indicate he was at least open to if not outright supportive of the denials of any involvement issued by Saudi Arabia. At the White House this morning, he even seemed to invent a new explanation for the killing, rogue killers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen. He didn`t really know. Maybe -- I don`t want to get into his mind, but it sounded moo me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: OK, so it sounded like. The president interpreted that to mean rogue killers. And I`m going to get back to what the president just said about to Saudi Arabian citizen. That`s going to be important.
The president didn`t say what evidence he might have to support the theory that it sounded like, quote, rogue killers. It`s also not clear why it seems to so closely match the new story being floated by the Saudis tonight.
This is not the first time Donald Trump blamed rogue operatives for something despite the evidence. Donald Trump`s statements today looked a lot like his response when Russia`s Vladimir Putin was accused of interfering in the 2016 election. Today, it was rogue killers. In 2016, it was rogue hackers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I mean, it could be Russia. But it could also be China. It could be lots of other people. It could also be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And that wasn`t the only thing that President Trump said today that sounded similar to what he said about Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. The denial was very strong. It wasn`t like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very, very strong.
I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: As long as your denial is strong and powerful, you`re good.
Tonight, the president once again may be out of step with the widespread condemnation of the behavior of a foreign government as he continues to resist calls to take action.
The president has dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia tonight, saying he instructed him to find out what happened. But he continues to avoid questions on any possible punishment or sanction, and his administration will still attend an investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month despite scores of sponsors and business leaders pulling out. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon saying he won`t attend, along with the CEO of MasterCard.
But Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is still scheduled to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He`s going to make that decision. We`re going to see who`s going. He`s got a while to go. You know, it`s Friday, he has to know by the end of Friday, and we`ll make that decision. We haven`t made a decision about going yet, but he`s going to make that decision some time prior to Friday.
Joining us now, Brian Klaas, an assistant professor of global politics at University College London, and a columnist for "The Washington Post."
Joining us as well, Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut, and a political communist. He`s currently a fellow at Harvard.
And Evelyn Farkas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. She`s an MSNBC national security analyst.
And let me start with you, Evelyn, this is one of those things where the real world comes up against diplomatic realities. We have not in history taken issue with a lot of the human rights and press freedoms abuses that have been committed in Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia makes us rich and gives us lots of oil, and we do very well by Saudi Arabia. This is now reality that Saudi Arabia admits to culpability in the death of Jamal Khashoggi is going to put the American government in a difficult position.
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, I think because you have to think of a context right now, Ali, you know, we have really up tick of these extra territorial, extra judicial killings of journalists and others by autocratic leaders. So, this, you mentioned earlier in your segment, you know, Vladimir Putin, he`s been killing journalists and others in other countries. If you recall the latest one in Ukraine actually turned out to be where the journalist was helping the authorities find his assailant. So, it was a faked one.
But this one is very real. It happened in Turkey, although strictly speaking a Saudi consulate as I guess Saudi sovereign territory. But nevertheless, that Saudi citizen went into the consulate, may have been lured in, but in any event went in there and went to his death.
And he was a permanent citizen of the United States, so we bear some responsibility as well. And I just don`t think we can stand there and say nothing because all these autocrats around the world will take only one lesson from this, which is keep ongoing. You know, kill whoever you want to kill.
VELSHI: Dissidents around the world need to fear -- he was a U.S. resident.
Rami, let me just ask you about this. I want to read you a couple of tweets. One from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, because to Evelyn`s point, if we do nothing that would be one thing. We seem to be doing more than nothing, we seem to be setting up the argument that the Saudis are going to use here.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted: been hearing the ridiculous rogue killers theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the president of the United States as their PR agent to float it.
Rami, you and I talked the other day, and you were worried that the U.S. is complicit with some of these regimes like Saudi Arabia. This is -- this is pretty serious, that we seem to be in lockstep with what they`re messaging about a dead columnist is going to be.
RAMI KHOURI, SENIOR PUBLIC POILCY FELLOW, AMERICAN UNVERSITY OF BEIRUT: Yes, there`s really three terrible angles to this one that the U.S. president seems to be working closely with the Saudi leadership and coming up with this cockamamie story. The second is that the whole world basically is very critical of what the Saudis apparently have done, or what has happened in the consulate and launched accountability. And the third one, and more powerful and more frightening and oldest trend is that the United States has stood by or actively participated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian Arabs and other nationals all around the Middle East and Palestine, and Iraq, in Yemen and other places.
So, the death of Arabs, innocent Arabs at the hands of their own governments or wars by Arabs aided by the United States, that is something that is very much in keeping with the American legacy in the Middle East. It just becomes so much more gruesome when it is publicly manipulated by the American president in real-time as seems to be happening now.
So, either there`s accountability or there`s no accountability. We live in the jungle or we live in the rule of law. The American president seems to say we like the jungle.
VELSHI: Right, we at least have liked to pretend we live in the rule of law. But, Rami, your point is well-taken, that while we are concentrated on the story of Jamal, whom you know, I know you and he have had close contact, that this is bigger story. This is story about whether we`re coming down on the side of right or wrong.
Brian Klaas, Jamal Khashoggi was not the greatest critic of Saudi Arabia. In fact, he was in supportive in instances of Mohammed bin Salman in some of things that he was doing. He was critical on some fronts, but he identified as a Saudi, he wanted Saudi Arabia to move forward.
Why him? Why would they want him so badly?
BRIAN KLAAS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LONDON: Well, I think Jamal threatened them because he was one of them. And so, critiques from internal sources and people who are actually part of the Saudi establishment are much more dangerous because they`re people that Saudis listen to. His columns were written in Arabic, right? So, the thing that I think is really insidious about this, they identified him as a target and then they looked at who`s in the White House, and I think the Saudis made a strategic calculation here.
They basically calculated that Trump`s dictator worship, his hatred for the press, in particular "The Washington Post," and his deep financial ties with the Saudis going back several decades meant that they could kill this guy in the Saudi consulate and not have a harsh reaction from the American president.
VELSHI: They may have miscalculated in this instance only because of the public reaction to it. But they seemed to have been all right in their calculation of Trump doing it.
KLAAS: Exactly. They`ve been totally right about how Trump would behave. I mean, he`s been down-playing this repeatedly, highlighting that he`s not actually a U.S. citizen, as though we shouldn`t care even him even though she`s got two children who are U.S. citizens and he writes for one of the major American newspapers.
And it`s absolutely incumbent on Washington to push back hard on Trump, that we actually have to have a moral assertion of leadership in this world, and that Jamal Khashoggi`s death needs to be a wakeup call that the insidious bipartisan stain of the Saudi relationship has been in Washington needs to end soon.
VELSHI: Rami, there is a complicating factor here, America has been in bed with the Saudis for some time and as you pointed out with a number of oppressive regimes. But this particular president seems to have uniquely close ties to the Saudi regime, including Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law. He`s got financial ties to the Saudis.
And when confronted with this first, Donald Trump used the argument that, look, they buy military equipment from us. They buy it from the Russians or buy it from the Chinese. These financial relationships with some of these countries are what drive our policy towards them. And moments like this when the pressure is on, drive our responses to inhumane actions. This is being laid bare now.
KHOURI: I think so. And there`s another element to that besides the material bilateral financial element. The United States has chosen Saudi Arabia to be the linchpin of its policy, to bring together a group of countries, Arabs, Israelis and others against Iran, to push back Iran. And therefore, it is absolutely critical for Trump to maintain that fiction that Saudi Arabia can actually rally a lot of countries and armies and fight terrorism and push back Iran, and work with Israelis for a peace plan in Palestine and Israel.
And all of this is fantasy. This is stuff that Trump dreams about when he`s golfing, I think. It has nothing to do with the reality in the Middle East.
I mean, the Saudi king basically went against the policy that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, his son had about trying to work with the Israelis for this nutty peace plan that Jared Kushner came up with. So, there`s this bigger regional imperative for Trump to hold onto the Saudis as an important player, and, of course, they`re not an important player. Every foreign policy move that Saudi Arabia has made under Mohammed bin Salman in the last two, two and a half years has not only been a failure but has been counterproductive and has hurt the Saudis in so many ways.
And there`s only a few countries in the world who support Saudi Arabia, and those are countries that are dependant on it financially, mostly small Arab countries and Egypt and one or two others. So, you know, the Saudis are a really bad partner to choose as the linchpin of your regional political strategy. And Trump is a pretty, you know, low integrity president, and therefore, he carries out these policies that are certainly bound to fail.
VELSHI: Evelyn Farkas, when asked about this by Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" last night, this is what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES": Let`s say they did, what are your options? Would you consider imposing sanctions as a bipartisan group of senators had proposed?
TRUMP: Well, it depends on what the sanction is. I`ll give you an example. They are ordering a military weapon. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it, we got it.
STAHL: So would you cut that off?
TRUMP: I`ll tell you what I don`t want to do, Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these -- I don`t want to hurt jobs. I don`t want to lose an order like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Evelyn, you were deputy secretary of defense. That is the description of the industrial complex. It is a strange argument when Lesley Stahl said what would you do if our allies, the Saudis, are found to be responsible for this, Donald Trump started listing companies and their contracts and the jobs that those companies provide Americans.
FARKAS: Right. And here`s the thing, whatever President Trump wants to do with regard to sanctions on Saudi Arabia, it`s not going to be up to him. It`s going to be up to Congress. And Congress was pretty clear in a bipartisan fashion, you saw on all the television shows on Sunday, the senators saying we`re going to -- and representatives saying we`re going to take action.
We are going to sanction Saudi Arabia. Already right now, the arms sales that were under discussion -- and by the way, they don`t add up to $110 billion.
VELSHI: No, that`s a good point.
FARKAS: The Saudis just let another one go. They let another deadline go on the air defense system.
You know, these are wish lists they come up with under the Obama administration, I`m sure you`re aware. We also had about $115 billion wish list, but the Saudis never buy everything on the wish list, and they`re not going to now. And whether they want to or not, Congress has already put on hold a bunch of the things that they wanted to buy.
Those arms -- the countries, the companies also are looking closely. Of course, they want to make deal, but they don`t want to be complicit in human rights violation or aiding and abetting human rights violations. There`s the whole issue of Yemen and then Syria. So, already even before this, there was already a lot of trouble on Capitol Hill primarily over Yemen, and the way the Saudis have used their air forces indiscriminately killing as you know a school bus full of children in the summer, and that was just one of the example of many of these.
VELSHI: And we provide many of those bombs and we refuel those planes midair. So if you`re not happy about what`s going on in Yemen, you need to talk to your congressman.
All right. Thanks to the three of you, Evelyn Farkas, Rami Khouri, and Brian Klaas.
Coming up, President Trump wants to remind you that he`s the president and he`s not a baby. That and some other odd answers he gave in a rare interview.
And President Trump is staying on the campaign trail, hoping to stop Democrats from taking the House of Representatives. He won`t like the Democrat`s agenda if they do succeed.
Congressman Adam Schiff joins me next.
VELSHI: President Trump sat down this weekend for what`s becoming an increasingly rare event. A non-Fox News non-conservative interviewer asking him questions in a full-length interview. This one on "60 Minutes."
Trump was the same man he`s always been. The president continued his sympathy for autocrats and dictators, while seeming to suggest that our allies aren`t actually our allies, starting with this remark about Kim Jong-un.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STAHL: He`s a bad guy.
TRUMP: Look, let it be whatever it is. I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him.
STAHL: Do you agree Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations, in poisonings?
TRUMP: Probably he is. Yes, probably. I mean, I don`t --
TRUMP: But I rely on them. It`s not in our country.
STAHL: You have also slapped some tariffs on your allies.
TRUMP: I mean, what`s an ally? We have wonderful relationships with a lot of people but nobody treats us much worse than the European Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Really? Well, Trump said he doesn`t trust his own staff, especially it seems Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STAHL: The First Lady Melania --
STAHL: -- she said that there are still people in the White House that she doesn`t trust and that you shouldn`t trust.
TRUMP: I feel the same way. I don`t trust everybody in the White House. I`ll be honest with you.
STAHL: Is it true General Mattis said to you the reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War III?
TRUMP: No it`s not true. Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
All right. President Trump even denied that he mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who testified that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and he declared that it doesn`t matter whether Dr. Ford was telling the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STAHL: You mimicked her.
TRUMP: Had I not made that speech, we would not have won.
STAHL: Why did you have to make fun of her?
TRUMP: I didn`t really make fun of her.
STAHL: Do you think you treated her with --
STAHL: Do you think you treated her with great respect?
TRUMP: I think so, yes, I did.
STAHL: But you seemed to be saying she lied.
TRUMP: You know what, I`m not going to get into it because we won. It doesn`t matter. We won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Well, the most revealing moment maybe this exchange with Lesley Stahl, which came at the end of a question about Trump administration`s family separation policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m just telling you treated me much differently on the subject.
STAHL: I disagree but I don`t want to have that fight with you. I want to have another fight with you.
TRUMP: Hey, it`s okay. Lesley, it`s okay. In the meantime, I`m president and you`re not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I`m president and you`re not.
Trump really is the same man he`s always been. It turns out when he was pressed on policy issues during a "Time" magazine interview in 2017, he said the same thing to that reporter. I can`t be doing that badly because I`m president and you`re not.
Joining us now, Daniel Dale, Washington bureau chief at "The Toronto Star", Jason Johnson, politics editor at TheRoot.com and MSNBC contributor.
Welcome to both of you.
Daniel Dale, you make a business out of chronicling the unusual things that Donald Trump says. What do you make of that interview?
DANIEL DALE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE TORONTO STAR: Well, as you said, he was the same man. He was hugely dishonest. He was evasive. He found a way to -- to write off some of Putin`s nefarious activities even as he was being challenged about why he has a tendency to do so.
And when he was challenged at all, he resorted to anger and to pettiness. And so these opportunities are very rare where he subjects himself to any kind of critical questioning. And I think on the rare occasions when he does so, he reveals things about his personality that I think his advisers would prefer to keep concealed.
VELSHI: Jason, what do you think he does it for, though? Because he`s not going to agree with anything Lesley says. He seems to relish the fight. Why even do these things? Because every second night, there seems to be a MAGA rally somewhere in the country. And in between that, he deals with things like hurricane relief or dealing with the fact the Saudis may have killed an American resident in the consulate -- the embassy in Istanbul.
Why does he even do these interviews?
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Well, Ali, he does them because the president can`t be convinced that he`s terrible at it. And every time, whether it was Lester Holt or it`s Lesley Stahl, every time he does these interviews, he`s like the guy under the camera of the closer, he always look so nervous and he starts lying and fumbling around and attacking and being aggressive.
I mean, none of these interviews give any functional information about how our government works. And they only provide insight -- increased insight as if we didn`t know that he`s a petty, venal, racist, misogynistic man who is clearly beyond his gourd when it comes to trying to run the country. But he doesn`t believe that about himself at least for the hour or so it takes him to get in to these interviews.
But that`s had whole opponent. I mean, he does it because he`s an egomaniac and he desperately thinks that one day he`s going to do an interview where he doesn`t come off as a proto dictator monster and that`s never going to happen.
VELSHI: Daniel Dale, he said a lot of interesting things that we didn`t actually run here. One of the them was a conversation we heard a little bit about, about Jim Mattis and what he thinks about Jim Mattis. He`s always been very big on Mattis.
We heard lately that relationship may be starting to sour as Mattis speaks truth to him. Here`s a little more of what he told Lesley Stahl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STAHL: What about General Mattis, is he going to leave?
TRUMP: Well, I don`t know. He hasn`t told me. I have a very good relationship with him.
STAHL: Do you want him to leave?
TRUMP: It could be that he is. I think he`s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The president didn`t fully explain what that means -- he`s sort of a Democrat if you want to know the truth.
DALE: He did not.
I think there`s two possibilities here. One is that because Mattis is rare figure in his orbit who does push back on his ideas, on his proposals that he therefore thinks that Mattis is essentially part of the opposition. We know there are figures within the administration, you know, who clashed with Mattis themselves and it`s possible they`ve persuaded Trump that he is -- that Mattis is not really on his team.
I think another possibility, though, is that Trump is sort of preparing the spin, doing some pre-spin for Mattis` eventual departure. We know that with numerous figures in his orbit, when they leave, he makes them sort of an unperson.
Michael Cohen, different circumstances. Oh, I had a lot of lawyers. Steve Bannon, oh, he came onto the campaign very late.
And so, you know, when they`re leaving or about to leave, Trump tries to minimize their importance. And I think by calling Mattis a Democrat, he`s telling his base, oh, you know, who needs this guy anyway.
VELSHI: Jason, it`s been many months since we`re not seeing these results from North Korea that the president seems to convince the world he`s had. He seems to have a completely different impression about the summit with Kim Jong-un went and what it resulted in. Lesley Stahl asked him a bit more about why he seems to favor Kim Jong-un these days, the man he used to call little rocket man.
Here`s that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STAHL: I want to read you his resume, OK? He presides over a cruel kingdom of depression, gulags, starvation, reports that he had his half brother assassinated, slave labor, public execution. This is guy you love?
TRUMP: I know all these things. I mean, I`m not a baby. I know all these things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I don`t know what part of that stood to you, Jason, the litany of things that Kim Jong-un did or the quick response, I`m not a baby.
JOHNSON: You know, the "I`m not the baby" got me first, because clearly, the giant balloon babies are getting to the president, that he`s said that multiple times throughout this interview unprompted, although I don`t know what kind of prop makes you say I`m not a baby.
But this is what I`ve always felt was important about North Korea. The president has embraced a cool dictator, and the one thing that he could actually say is that his intervention in North Korea has probably sped up the peace process between the North and the South, and he could try and claim some semblance of credit for that because that is good for the entire region. But instead, he insists in demanding or claiming he`s led to denuclearization of the North, and that hasn`t happened. In fact, North Korea has pretty much spat in our faces on that main request.
And he refuses to listen to the actual facts on the ground. But that`s par for the course with this president. And no matter what logic he`s faced with, he`s still going to live in his own fantasy world at least until the next time you ask him the question.
VELSHI: Daniel, one of the things that are interesting is, we`re listening to this interview and clips from it, but what the president is doing and what has been announced again tonight is that he will have I think on Monday another rally in Houston. He really is having a rally every two or three nights now, and you`re getting a lot more of Donald Trump unfiltered. It seems his staff doesn`t bother attempting to control them anymore, or control the message anymore. We don`t hear John Kelly instructing him how to do things anymore.
This seems to be Donald Trump, campaign Trump. Is this -- what are we seeing now?
DALE: Yes, we`re seeing what Kellyanne Conway called Trump in full. And I think this is largely because the staff knows that there`s no point. You know, he wants to do this, he`s going to do it. They can`t win.
You know, they prepare speeches for him, but he doesn`t read them. I think he`s done somewhat better in recent weeks as the midterm has approached as staying on script, doing attacks on local Democratic candidates in the states he goes to. That`s what his advisers and the local campaigns want him to do.
But then he gets, you know, exorcised about something or he hasn`t spoken in, you know, 12 hours and he needs to get something off his chest, and he does what he does. And so, you know, these lies are filled with -- these rallies are filled with lies, they`re filled with hyperbole, they`re filled with pettiness, but this is what a lot of his base wants. And it`s no coincidence that he`s doing these rallies in red states where Democrats, especially Senate candidates, are in danger. He knows that by being Trump, he can motivate a certain part of the electorate.
VELSHI: And, Jason, does this -- does this work up to the days of the midterm elections? The president said that he`s the one who -- he claims that he got everybody worked up and he narrowed this enthusiasm gap with Republicans by coming out in full-throated defense of Brett Kavanaugh. Is this a continuation of that?
JOHNSON: Right. No, I don`t think that the president ended up being the big difference maker with Brett Kavanaugh. That was going to happen anyway. It`s like me trying to take credit for good weather in D.C. But I will say this, when it comes to the campaign trails, speaking to Republican pollster earlier today, the president has a unique ability to raise the passion and the blood pressure of everyone around him.
He is a force of nature. He gets Republicans excited. He gets Democrats furious. So he is effective to bring out in these campaigns especially in these red states where you have to gin up support for Republicans who are running for Senate. I don`t know necessarily that he does well in blue states.
I don`t know if I would want him coming down and campaigning for me in Florida. Because in any place outside of a red state, the negative backlash of Trump`s appearance will probably overcome any of the positives of turning out a shrinking Republican base.
VELSHI: All right. Thanks, I got you two for helping me analyze this tonight. My fellow Torontonian Daniel Dale and Jason Johnson, thanks to both of you.
Up next, what are Democrats` plans if they manage to reclaim power in the House of Representatives? Congressman Adam Schiff has his agenda ready. He`ll join us next.
VELSHI: With 22 days until the midterm elections, Democrats are preparing to investigate Donald Trump and his administration should they flip the House. Democrats on committees ranging from intelligence to judiciary to oversight are prioritizing where to begin scrutinizing the president`s conduct.
In August, "Axios" obtained the spreadsheet circulating among Republicans that previewed a number of investigations they feared Democrats could launch if Democrats take control of the House, scandals that Republicans have refused to investigate. To name a few, the list includes President Trump`s tax returns, the Trump family businesses, Trump`s dealings with Russia, the payment to Stormy Daniels, James Comey`s firing, the travel ban, family separation policies, hurricane response in Puerto Rico, election security and hacking, and White House security clearances.
In a "Washington Post" op-ed, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff writes that this Republican-controlled Congress has surrendered its oversight responsibilities. The Republican Congress has not only failed to assert itself or and review or investigate the conduct of the executive. Worse, it`s also been complicit in some of the president`s most egregious attacks on our Democratic institutions. It`s clear that we need a new majority that`s willing to hold this administration accountable.
So what exactly will Democrats do if they win in November? Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, good to see you in person. We normally see you remotely.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA, RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes. It`s good to be with you.
VELSHI: The Republicans circulated this lost ostensibly to scare themselves into saying, "Don`t even think about losing the midterm election because this is what`s going to happen if Democrats come in." How accurate is that list of things that the Democrats are going to want to do? And how will Democrats prioritize those things?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, it`s only accurate in the sense that these are some of the issues that the Republican Congress has been completely unwilling to look into. If you look at the committee with the most broad oversight responsibility, Governor Forman oversight that committee chaired by Trey Gowdy, the guy that brought us the endless Benghazi investigations. Only recently did he issue even a single subpoena with one foot out the door basically during the entire Trump administration. They only found it worthy of one subpoena.
SCHIFF: So it`s been a complete abdication. But what that list doesn`t convey is we are going to have to ruthlessly prioritize because there is so much that has gone wrong and so much worthy of close examination. Our first priority is going to be putting forward a positive agenda but where we do oversight, we`re going to have to really prioritize the most important matters first.
VELSHI: You know we keep on going out to Americans, many of whom are not as concerned about Russia, but they are concerned about the fact that we`ve got under four percent unemployment, yet middle-class wages have not increased. They`re very worried about healthcare. And they`re -- if they`re casting their ballot in November, for many Americans it`s going to be, can you improve those situations for me?
SCHIFF: That is exactly right. And this is, I think, both why, on the one hand, our top priority has to be answering those tough economic questions, putting forward a positive agenda. For the half of the country that is, yes, they`re working but they`re not earning enough to get by or putting anything away for retirement.
We`re in an economy which I think because of globalization and automation, is going to be as disruptive as the industrial revolution. And we have to be offering solutions to people that allow them to keep their healthcare, that allow them to put away money for their retirement. But also we need to do the oversight about why this isn`t happening, why this tax give away -- and we just saw the deficit balloon today as a result. Why this isn`t going to help --
VELSHI: No hearings on that either?
SCHIFF: No hearings on that. Of course not. No hearings on that.
VELSHI: No hearings on healthcare?
SCHIFF: One of the things that, you know, for example, Elijah Cummings who will be the chair if we`re successful in the midterms of the Governor Oversight Committee wants to look into the cost of prescription drugs and what we can do to help people meet those key medical cost. This, I think, are going to be enormous important priorities.
Because if we want to win back some of those voters who voted for Donald Trump because they`ve given up all hope that the more conventional politicians are going to do anything about it, well, he hasn`t done anything to improve their lives but we have to be offering solutions that will.
VELSHI: One of the interesting things he said to Lesley Stahl in a "60 Minutes" interview was about the Mueller investigation. She asked him to make a pledge to not get rid of Mueller. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, JOURNALIST, CBS NEWS: Will you pledge that you will not shut down the Mueller investigation?
TRUMP: Well, I don`t pledge anything. But I will say, I have no intention of doing that. I think it`s a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind.
STAHL: But you won`t pledge?
TRUMP: I don`t want to pledge. Why should I pledge to you? If I pledge, I`ll pledge. I don`t have to pledge to you, but I have no intention of doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: What do you read of that?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all even if he pledged, one thing we`ve learned, President Trump, you can`t rely on his word anyway. But he clearly wants to give himself the operating room, the maneuvering room where he could get rid of Mueller, he could get rid of Rod Rosenstein or he can push Jeff Sessions out the door. He was similarly KG about Jeff Sessions` future.
The president may conclude along with his legal advisers that rather than facing the blowback that would be occasioned by getting rid of Bob Mueller. He would get rid of Jeff Sessions and replace him with some Lackey, some Roy Cohn, somebody who will simply do his spitting and privately kneecap Bob Mueller rather than overtly fire him.
It`s long pastime I think for the Congress to do something about this to protect the integrity of the investigation. It is no longer tenable for the Mitch McConnell`s rule to say, "Well, we can`t imagine that the president would actually interfere." He interferes on a daily basis --
SCHIFF: -- trying to get documents in the justice department for his legal team that he has no right to see as someone who may be implicated in that investigation.
VELSHI: And you have written that Congress has got to say -- you`ve written in your op-ed, we must do what the supine Republican Congress has failed to do over the past two years, restore Congress as an equal branch and check the ambition of an imperial and erratic president. If the Democrats take the House, you may be the chair of the Intel Committee, a committee that didn`t do what it was supposed to do in the Russia investigation, in the investigation into Russian involvement into the election. There are a lot of Americans who are hoping that at least that committee will get something done.
SCHIFF: And we will. And I think among the most important business that hasn`t been done at all, investigation that hasn`t been done at all is the issue of were the Russians laundering money through the Trump Organization? Is that leverage that the Russians may have over the president of the United States? I think it`s negligent not to answer that question and be able to tell the American people, yes, it`s true or no, it isn`t.
But if that is the explanation for that otherwise inexplicable conduct in Helsinki in which he sides with Putin over his own intelligence agencies, we need to know about it to protect the country. And so I would hope on the Intel Committee we can restore credibility with the intelligence agencies for our committee. I would hope we can restore comedy (ph) within the committee. But I would also hope that we do a credible and nonpartisan investigation of those things that could be a threat to the country.
VELSHI: Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for being here.
SCHIFF: Good to see you.
VELSHI: Congressman Adam Schiff is the ranking member of the House permanent select committee on intelligence.
Coming up, new polls about Democratic outlook for the House of Representatives and a look at what happens if Democratic turnout isn`t as big as Democrats hope.
VELSHI: We are just 22 days out from the midterm elections and signs continue to suggest that Democrats have a strong chance of reclaiming control of the House of Representatives this November. A new "ABC Washington Post" poll gives Democrats a 13-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. That same poll also shows a major increase in voter enthusiasm since the last midterm election driven largely by Democrats and Independents.
Democrats are also heading into the final three weeks of the campaign season with a major cash advantage over Republicans. According to "Politico", Republicans in competitive districts have reserved around $60 million for TV advertising during the final weeks of the campaign. Democrats, by contrast, have reserved around $109 million for those same races. Now, that cash disparity has led Republicans to embrace a new strategy, triage.
"The New York Times" reports that the National Republican Groups have started to pull millions of dollars away from Republican candidates who have fallen substantially behind in once competitive races and are instead trying to consolidate resources in just around two dozen competitive districts. Now, that might seem like a sign that National Republicans are giving up when it comes to winning the House of Representatives. But given their position, the new strategy might not be such a bad idea.
Remember, Democrats need to win a total of 23 seats in order to win a majority in the House. Anything short of that and the balance of power remains the same. So Republicans can stand to lose a few seats if it means keeping their majority. And that same math is weighing on Democrats as they work to turn their voters out in midterms.
An analysis shows from "CBS News" and "YouGov" shows that in a high turnout scenario, Democrats could end up with as many as235 of the 435 seats in Congress. Well above what they need for a majority. But in a low turnout scenario, -- check this out. Let`s check this out. Democrats would end up with just 217 seats more than they currently hold but one seat shy of a majority.
So are Democrats doing enough to prevent that scenario in these crucial last three weeks? Jason Johnson and Daniel Dale will help me sort that up after this.
VELSHI: All right. We`re three weeks away from the midterm elections. And Democrats need to mobilize voters to take back control of the House. Senator Kamala Harris tweeted today a new poll shows that if voter turnout is low on November 6, Republicans will hold onto the House by just one seat. This is why it`s so critical we talk to our friend, we talk to our neighbors, and we get everyone we know out to vote in 22 days to elect Democrats.
Daniel Dale and Jason Johnson are back with us.
Jason, we saw a big enthusiasm gap for quite a while. We saw Democrats take the lead on that front, not just in the polls, but in the number of people who said they were looking forward to these midterm elections and they thought they were important and they would go out and vote. That has narrowed. What do you attribute that to?
JOHNSON: I attribute it to Republicans actually waking up. You know, they were so tired of winning so much under Trump that they kind of gone to sleep but the Kavanaugh race has really galvanized them. So I was expecting that enthusiasm gap between the two parties to diminish. But the Democrats are much more enthusiastic at the lower state level, at the statewide level, at the national level. There really is no comparison, if you look at how people are feeling across the country.
The challenge is not getting people to turn out the vote in all honesty. I think that`s not going to be too much of an issue for Democrats, whether you`re talking about Texas or Maryland or Florida. The issue is going to be stopping voter suppression by Republicans. And that`s something where Perez and the DNC need to be actively involved. It can`t just fall on the shoulders of Democratic statewide candidates to fight all these legal battles to make sure that Democrats can actually get out to vote.
VELSHI: Right. And part of the problem with voter suppression, Daniel, is that when there are enough stories about this, we`re talking a lot about Georgia, we`re talking about North Dakota, in which the Supreme Court has upheld the law that says that if you don`t have an address on your identification, you can`t vote.
That`s a change from the primaries, where many native Americans don`t have physical Addresses because they have P.O. boxes. The point is if enough people are convinced that there`s voter suppression out there, they don`t necessarily want to fight that system and they stay home and don`t vote.
DALE: Yes. It`s a double whammy. And so we know that many Republicans in a number of states have made a long-standing effort to try to dissuade or prevent non-white voters from being able to go to the polls and they`ve been aided by the Supreme Court and what it`s allowed to be done under the Voting Rights Act.
And then I think you`re right. You know, the fact that that is happening and people read and hear that that`s happening convinces some African- Americans, Hispanics, and others that, you know, their vote won`t matter, that people like them won`t be heard. And so all of this is to the benefit of Republicans but, you know, we do have a lawsuit in Georgia, challenging what`s going on there.
You know, we have a very energized group of Democrats who are working very hard to get members of non-white groups out to the polls. And so I think we shouldn`t tell people that this voter suppression effort is going to be fatal. Democrats might be able to overcome it.
VELSHI: It doesn`t matter who you are, what party you belong to, or what country you`re in, your goal must never be to stop people to vote. It should be get more people to come out and vote.
Guys, thanks very much. Daniel Dale and Jason Johnson, great talking to you.
Tonight`s last word is still ahead. But we want to know your thoughts about the 2018 midterm elections. Are you excited about potential change? Have you got opinions on candidates running in your district? If you`ve got something that you want to get off your chest about the midterms, share it at electionconfessions.com.
VELSHI: Time for tonight`s last word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kanye, Kanye in the oval office, really? Don`t you have better things to do? And by the way, when I say that, I`m really not sure which of you I`m talking to. The only place those two should meet is in group. It should be in the basement of a church and a dude with an earring and a leather bracelet, should be saying "I`m so glad you both decided to come back." I mean, really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could tell a lot by how each of them prepared for the meeting. Kanye prepared by learning every fact in the world backwards. While Trump prepared by clearing his desk of any valuables.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That`s tonight`s last word.
Reports say Saudi Arabia may blame the Khashoggi killing on an interrogation gone wrong. So what kind of interrogation could go so wrong? The former FBI assistant director counterintelligence will join Brian Williams in "THE 11TH HOUR which starts right now.