Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: October 26, 2018 Guest: Harry Litman, Matt Miller, Matt Gertz
ALI VELSHI, SENIOR ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: All right, and amazing at the same time. I`ve already signed up. Rachel, have a fantastic, fantastic weekend. We`ll see you next week.
RACHEL MADDOW: Thanks, Ali. Much appreciated.
VELSHI: The president of the United States cannot or will not unite the country after a national crisis. That`s where we stand at the end of a week that saw 14 explosive devices mailed to Trump critics and Democratic officials. But the president hasn`t just struggled to unify, he`s shown little interest in even trying.
"The Washington Post" writes, time and again, Trump has sought to sow discord, betting that most Americans prefer his pugilistic, divisive style over the sanitized mold of his predecessors.
Tonight, on a day when four more devices were discovered to have been sent to politicians, Trump critics and former officials, Trump ramp up his rhetoric again at a rally in North Carolina. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In recent days, we`ve had a broader conversation about the tone and civility of our national dialogue. The media has a major role to play whether they want to or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: There were chants of "CNN sucks" as the president called for a conversation about tone and civility. He let the rally crowd chant "CNN sucks." No attempt to shut it down whatsoever. Then he continued.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When a Bernie Sanders supporter tried to murder congressional Republicans and severely wounded a great man named Steve Scalise and others, we did not use that heinous attempt at mass murder for political gain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That would be the definition of false equivalence. Bernie Sanders has never incited or called for violence. Trump regularly calls reporters "enemies of the people." He`s encouraged supporters to knock the crap out of protesters. He praised a congressman for body slamming a reporter. Then the president said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Nor do we blame the Democrat Party every time radical leftists seize and destroy public property and unleash violence and mayhem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Let`s just pause for a moment. It`s Friday. We can do that. In recent weeks, Trump has explicitly said that Democrats produce mobs. His supporters even carry around signs that say "jobs, not mobs." The president refuses even this week to tone down his partisan attacks. Stop the lies, refrain from lashing out at enemies. And with all that in mind, Trump somehow still rejected any notion of responsibility. Here he is again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: No, not at all. No, I mean, not at all. There`s no blame. There`s no anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VELSHI: There`s no anything. There is certainly no pivot with this president. There never is. Here are the facts as they stand tonight. Federal law enforcement officials have arrested a Florida man suspected of orchestrating the mail bomb campaign against critics of President Trump.
Cesar Altieri Sayoc, a 56-year-old from Aventura, Florida, who`s got a criminal history dating back to 1992 has been charged with five separate federal crimes connected to the assembly and mailing of these explosive devices. Cesar Sayoc could spend as many as 58 years in prison, and that`s if no other charges are laid.
According to record, Cesar Sayoc is a registered Republican. His van and his social media profile paint a chilling portrait of someone who heavily trafficked in pro-Trump, anti-Democratic, anti-media propaganda and conspiracy theories.
His van was adorned with stickers and artwork featuring crosshairs over Hillary Clinton and other figures reviled by the hard right. Some of his actual bomb targets were featured on his van, not just Hillary Clinton but also the Obamas, Eric Holder and CNN. Numerous political and media figures that the president and conservative media have singled out were on his van including some who work at this network.
Cesar Sayoc`s Twitter profile shows him attending Trump rallies, cheering on chants of "CNN sucks" and posting conspiracies about the Clinton`s "murder list." On his Facebook profile, Cesar Sayoc likes pages called "Kill George Soros and kill all socialists." Why Facebook allowed pages with those names to exist is another story.
Today`s arrest of Cesar Sayoc comes as four additional explosive devices were found, bringing the total number explosive devices to 14. The new targets, California Senator Kamala Harris, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
And tonight, federal officials linked a 14th device to Cesar Sayoc addressed to billionaire Tom Steyer and found at a postal facility in Burlingame, California. This afternoon, FBI Director Chris Wray shot down a growing conspiracy on the right, one that the president seemed to pushed this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: These are not hoax devices. I want to focus for a moment on the amazing work of our folks at the FBI lab. Based on their initial analysis, they uncovered a latent fingerprint from one of the envelopes containing an IED that had been sent to Congresswoman Maxine Waters. We have confirmed this fingerprint is that of Cesar Sayoc.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Joining us now, Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton, Michael Tomasky, special correspondent for "The Daily Beast," and Matt Miller, former spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder and an MSNBC contributor. Thank you to all of you for joining us on a Friday night.
Harry Litman, let me start with you. What do you make of what they`ve got on this guy? It took them three days to find him. Most people who know about these things were fairly confident they would because bomb making leaves quite a trail. What`s your sense of this?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, they`ve got a fingerprint. That`s big. And there`s some suggestion that they already have DNA. That`s big. But they`re going to be getting so much more. They mainly wanted to get him off the street immediately, Ali. Now, we have the van, the all kinds of social media, friends, search warrants of homes, other people in the rallies.
They will be assembling a wealth of evidence over the next several weeks. So I think it`s impressive that they so quickly got enough to hold him. But I think it pales next to what they will be assembling over the next couple of weeks. Charges will probably increase, and we`ll see a fairly rich picture of exactly who this guy is and how he came to come from a Trump supporter to an actual terrorist.
VELSHI: Michael Tomasky, 14 bombs with real explosive powder in them, with shrapnel, we`ve heard. This could have been a very different conversation that we were having tonight. Fortunately, we`re not having that. We`re talking about 14 failed attempts. We will learn more about that in the coming days. But Donald Trump was asked today by a reporter whether he would tone down his rhetoric. Let`s listen to that exchange.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Would you yourself pledge to tone down the rhetoric for the next few days?
TRUMP: Well, I think I`ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth. I could really tone it up because, as you know, the media has been extremely unfair to me.
VELSHI: I could really tone it up. It seems that the president has learned nothing from this week. MICHAEL TOMASKY, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, of course not. And as always in these situations, Ali, we should take him at his word. He`s going to tone it up over the course of the next week. I have no doubt about that because he is going to realize -- he`s going to start thinking about -- he already has as we saw from some of his tweets. He`s going to start thinking more about this politically and what kind of impact this is going to have on Tuesday, November 6th, election day.
And if he suspects as he reasonably will, I think, that -- that this stands a chance of hurting his side, all he`s going to think about, Ali, he`s not going to think about how to be the president of the United States, he`s not going to think about how to say anything that might have a prayer of bringing the country together or making people feel like Americans involved in a common enterprise.
All he`s going to do is cast blame and figure out a way to try and turn this to his and the Republican`s advantage and try and blame it on the media, blame it on the Democrats, blame it on the liberals, blame it on somebody. You know that he and his friends in the right-wing media are going to be cooking that up all next week.
VELSHI: I do kind to find that hard to believe. I don`t dispute what you`re saying. It`s been happening all week and it`s happening as we speak, even to those people who thought this was a false flag or argued that it was a false flag. I don`t think anybody actually thought that.
Matt Miller, the president tweeted this morning. I have to say this surprised even me and I don`t know how we can be surprised. "Republicans are doing so well in early voting and at the polls, and now this "bomb" stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows - news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote."
Get in the mind of the president here. How does that tweet come out of the the commander in chief of the United States at a moment that is very frightening for a lot of Americans? MATT MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: You know, Ali, it`s a reprehensible thing to say. And I go back and try to put together the time line. So Chris Wray at his press conference today said that the FBI got onto this suspect at some point last night.
So, you would assume that the White House was briefed on that -- excuse me -- you would assumet that the White House was briefed on that immediately. We don`t know that was the case, but that`s usually the case in these events.
So, in the middle of the night at 3:14 in the morning, I think, the president sends his first tweet out attacking CNN. He then sends this other tweet out at 10:00 in the morning. So, you have to go back and say one of two things happened.
Either the president doesn`t know that the FBI has found the suspect and has found a suspect that obviously is a Trump supporter and has pro-Trump leanings. If that`s the case, he kind of derelict duty (ph) that he doesn`t know this. He is not staying on top of this case. Or two, he does know about this. He knows that the FBI is going to make an arrest. The arrest was made within the hour of him having seen that tweet.
And he`s just taking one last chance to fan the flames of a conspiracy theory. You`ve seen him do this before. He will get to the podium and he will read the script that people put in front of him, but he will find a way to send a signal to his reporters (ph) that they don`t have to believe what the press has to say. They can choose a conspiracy theory option that is more politically advantageous to what they see to their side of political divide.
VELSHI: And those brave enough not to continue down the road to that false flag theory are now using this false equivalence that Bernie Sanders told this guy to shoot-up the baseball game. That`s just absolutely not true.
But Harry Litman, let`s just go down a little further down this road that Matt Miller was going down. The White House told us or told the media that the president is on top of this thing in the last three days as we`ve been pursuing this, that he`s being informed. So, talk to me about -- the authorities were onto this guy yesterday.
The president tweeted overnight, in the overnight hours about this "bomb" stuff. Whether or not they had told him they were about to make an arrest, clearly the president understood that this is not a "bomb." This is serious matter. It`s a domestic terrorist attack. LITMAN: You know, it is stunning. I mean, if he does know, I agree 100 percent with Matt, it is reprehensible and you`ll think he`ll take one last chance to try to give red meat to the base. There is another hypothesis. There`s no doubt, no doubt that the FBI informed the White House.
But they could have informed the chief of staff and, you know, it`s possible that he could have decided to keep Trump in the dark for a little bit until the guy was certain to be apprehended, knowing the recklessness and the erraticness of the commander in chief.
So one possibility is he actually didn`t know. Although, I think by 10:00 a.m., he has to. And then that he`s still in his mode of partisan, blaming the victim, et cetera, is really deplorable. VELSHI: And Michael, the president actually criticized in that tweet that we just showed, criticizing CNN about the comparisons to Oklahoma City. But under each of our last few presidents, you can find an example of something that was threatening to the entire country. In the case of President Clinton, it was Oklahoma City. In the case of President George W. Bush, it was 9/11. With Barack Obama, Sandy Hook comes to mind.
In those moments of national threat regardless of the fact these bombs didn`t go off and we`re thankful for that, in those moments, those presidents all found the ability to just put partisanship aside. Donald Trump has not been able to do that, and nothing actually went wrong this time. TOMASKY: Well, it`s something he hasn`t been able to do it, it`s that he doesn`t want to do it.
TOMASKY: He has no desire to do it. He has the desire to do the opposite. He wants to be president only of half -- it`s not quite half even, right, for the 42 percent of the country that approves of the job he`s doing. That`s what wants to be president of. I believe he actively hates about half of the country, and he doesn`t want to be its president at any time or under any circumstances.
Yes, all presidents in our age, they walk up to the line of very tough partisan rhetoric and sometimes cross it, but they all know in the back of their minds that there will come times when they do have to be president of all the country, and they go and do that with dignity. Not this guy. He doesn`t want to do it. VELSHI: Matt Miller, what happens now? I think we`re all a little bit alarmed at the degree to which our discourse has led to this in America. I think we`re all also alarmed that the president cannot speak about civility and discourse without blaming both the media and Democrats in the same sentence.
He just has not ability to actually separate these things. In his mind, everybody is contributing to this mess. I don`t think everybody is contributing to this mess, but what do we do do move forward? MILLER: I think the safest prediction we can make is that the president will say something worse tomorrow or in the coming days. I think I was on the show a couple nights ago --
MILLER: -- and predicted that. It wasn`t a hard thing to predict. We`ve always seen him do this. He`s done it in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. He`s done it every time he talks about the Russian investigation. All the times where you would expect him to take off the partisan hat and pull the country together, he won`t do it.
And I think Michael is right. It is because he doesn`t really see himself as the president of the entire country. He sees himself as the president of the Republican Party. And so I think in the coming days, you may see him fan the flames of conspiracy theories again. But I think what you will see him do is what he said today, I might tone up the rhetoric.
You will see him -- you know, today, you saw him talk about Maxine Waters, who he has gone around with this kind of racist accusation of being low IQ. He said, oh, I`m not going to say it tonight, I`m not going to say it. Everyone knows what he`s talking about.
And in the next few days he`s going to be back to Senate, he`s going to be back to leading lock her up chants and looking the other way when people screams "CNN sucks" as he was tonight. I don`t see it getting -- it will not get better as long as he is president.
VELSHI: I`ll remind everybody of that moment where John McCain sort of put the brakes on things at a town hall where a woman said something disparaging about Barack Obama. He stopped it. For the last two nights, people have chanted "lock her up" and "CNN sucks." They made comments about George Soros. The president has in no way intervened.
Matt, thanks -- again, this is our third night talking about this -- thank you for being with us. Harry Litman and Michael Tomasky, thanks to both of you.
LITMAN: Thanks, Ali.
VELSHI: As investigators were frantically searching for the bomb maker and also for more bombs, some on the right were stoking this conspiracy theory that this assassination attempt was simply a false flag. That`s next. And later, former President Obama who was the intended target of one of the bombs had a few things to say about President Trump today.
VELSHI: From the moment the news broke that several bombs had been mailed to prominent liberals who are all frequent targets of Donald Trump`s heated rhetoric, the right-wing in this country, the right-wing media began pedaling a conspiracy theory that this attack was a false flag operation.
Now, that`s a term which you may not be familiar but refers to a hoax meant to misdirection attention. In this case that the bombs were sent by someone on the left in order to hurt Republicans. Conservative media outlets speculated wildly about alternative motives.
In a now deleted tweet, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked, fakes news, fake bombs, who could possibly benefit from so much fakery? Right-wing broadcaster Michael Savage has accused Democrats of orchestrating the attack to gain sympathy vote to the upcoming election and "to get our minds off the hordes of illegal aliens approaching our southern border."
That message was hammered on for days on conservative media outlets.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Wouldn`t it serve your purpose if you`re a Democrat operative to make it look like the Republicans are bunch of insane lunatics?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be someone who is trying to get the Democratic vote out and encourage sympathy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The left feels they`re losing on many levels, and I feel they`re planting these devices just for -- to play role of victim.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two weeks before a major election, who`s going to look like a bad guy here? The Republicans.
GERALDO RIVERA, CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE, FOX NEWS: I believe this whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Isn`t it just as likely that it`s an enemy of the president that put this together? CHAD JENKINS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: We have the worst right-wing bomb maker in history or we have a false flag operation where it`s a left-wing type of operation to create hysteria.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VELSHI: So the only thing in all of that that might be true is that this might actually be the worst right-wing bomb maker in history. Trump embraced the conspiracy theories that he saw on Fox News. "Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this "bomb" stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows."
Today, after authorities announce they had arrested 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter who`s van is covered with anti left-wing propaganda, Geraldo Rivera actually issued his own mea culpa tweeting, never mind, outsmarted myself in conjuring false flag operation designed to hurt real Donald Trump and GOP.
But other right-wing voices weren`t backing down. Ann Coulter who repeated hit this falsehood, she`d been claiming for days that "bombs are historically a liberal tactic."
Joining us now, Jonathan Alter, columnist for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Matt Gertz, senior fellow at "Media Matters." Matt, I just -- you know, we played a whole bunch of right-wing journalists and what they said about this, but actually here`s what Trump supporters, not journalist, not famous people at this rally, before the rally in North Carolina tonight had to say about this.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just because somebody has a Trump sticker on their car doesn`t mean they`re a Trump fan. You know, it doesn`t mean nothing. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you don`t think this guy actually sent these bombs? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, probably not. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They probably had it done. They may have paid him to do it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s radical people on all sides. There can be people that are problem creators. They create problems, like people on the left can create them, people on the alt-right can create them. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I heard something about it being a Bernie Sanders supporter. You know, there`s so much news going on right now that people don`t know what to believe so they stick with what they know.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VELSHI: Matt, if you couldn`t see me, I pulled all my hair out while I was listening to those things. Barack Obama probably sent it to himself, Hillary Clinton probably sent it to herself, there`s radical people on all sides. But the problem, Matt, and you guys at "Media Matters" look a this, is that they pick this up from somewhere. Nobody invented this stuff.
MATT GERTZ, SENIOR FELLOW, MEDIA MATTERS: Yeah, I think Alex Jones` conspiratorial poison is spreading through the right-wind media at this point. Conspiracy theories aren`t new to the right, but the false flag nonsense used to be sort of cordoned off on the fringes. People like Alex Jones and his ilk.
But since Donald Trump was elected, it is spreading further, obviously, as you can see. The president was, you know, became a major political figure by virtue of pushing a racist conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, and that really opened up the flood gates. VELSHI: Jonathan, let`s just talk about this. There`s sort of a few ways you can look at this. You can think this absolute conspiracy theory, false flag nonsense or you can accept the fact that this guy had been at Trump rallies, he`s been posting for a long time on social media, he`s been an anti-Democrat for a long time, he dwells in the darkest recesses of the internet.
And you can also say that maybe Donald Trump didn`t put him up to it. There`s space in between, but the right-wing seems so determined to only express the fact this is either false flag Democratic stuff or it`s got nothing to do with the rhetoric in this country?
JONATHAN ALTER, AUTHOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Right, well, look, you can`t say that Donald Trump caused this demented individual to do this, but you can definitively say that he inspired him to do this. And the MAGA bomber, as this guy I think will be known from now on, you know, was at Trump rallies. There isn`t really very much gray area --
VELSHI: Right, he`s got Trump signs.
ALTER: It`s not just the signs. So you have to actually be a flat earther, somebody who does not respect facts at all, to try to argue that this has no connection at all to his being a MAGA guy. Even the president himself on south lawn (ph) today who is leaving for North Carolina say, yeah, I guess he was one of my guys. He didn`t denounce that. He didn`t say this isn`t right. He didn`t even have the common courtesy and decency to call his predecessors in office and make sure that they were feeling OK about this. VELSHI: He specifically was asked if he would, and he said I`ll take a pass. ALTER: Yes, he said I`ll take a pass. This is reprehensible behavior. It`s not just unpresidential behavior, it`s disgusting, reprehensible behavior. Now, we`re going to have a referendum on this behavior. If you think it should be checked and that we should have some accountability for this behavior, you must vote Democrat.
VELSHI: So let me ask you about that, Matt.
ALTER: If you think he should be enabled, you vote Republican. It`s that simple.
VELSHI: So Matt, let`s think about that. Jonathan Alter makes a point that to believe some of these conspiracy theories, you have to be flat earther. You probably had to be a flat earther to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. There are in fact a lot of flat earthers in America apparently.
GERTZ: Yeah. I mean, the sort of -- the simplest explanation for why someone was sending bombs to a host of Democratic politicians is that that person did not like the people that he was sending the bombs to. It`s not that it`s a, you know, vast conspiracy in which liberals are sending the bombs, you know, deliberately making sure they won`t go off because they are -- VELSHI: Well, that`s obvious to you and Jonathan and me, but at least there`s a whole bunch of people who fall for this stuff. That`s why I wanted to play that stuff for you. What do we do about that? The idea that so quickly, something that is so obvious, somebody trying to kill someone with a bomb probably doesn`t like the person he or she is trying to kill, how quickly that can flip?
GERTZ: Yeah, it`s a very difficult problem. I mean, we are in a media environment now that is very fractured, one in which people can go out and find exactly the news that suits their tastes, and often that news is steeped in conspiracy theories and paranoia. And it`s very difficult to reach those people.
You know, they`re not tuning in tonight to find out what the facts are about this case. They`re, you know, on Facebook. They`re on Twitter. They`re listening to the people that they were inclined to believe already. They`re listening to the president. ALTER: You`re not going to ever convince these people. All that you can do is decide that this weekend and next weekend instead of playing golf or going to the gym, you start wringing your hands and you start ringing doorbells. Elections have consequences. What we`ve found from all this is that words have consequences, as they always have.
You know, enemy of the people, that was used by the Stalinists (ph), by Paul Pott (ph), by Moise Donge (ph), who is a Democrat (INAUDIBLE) who brought it in this country. But these things matter. People are radicalized by Islamic fundamentalists online and they are radicalized by Donald Trump targeting people. What`s really bogging me tonight is this what aboutism, when Trump started talking about Steve Scalise -- VELSHI: Bernie Sanders never told anybody to -- ALTER: Right. This is critical point, Ali. Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi --
ALTER: -- did not get up and put Steve Scalise with a target on him, and they didn`t say, you know, it`s OK to body slam Steve Scalise. Nobody ever said that. So this idea that both sides do it, which is something that people who are not conspiracy theorists, just regular Trump apologists are engaging in this what aboutism, this both siderism, that`s all bull. This is being done by one side in this country. VELSHI: Jonathan Alter, columnist for "The Daily Beast" and MSNBC political analyst, Matt Gertz is a senior fellow at "Media Matter," thanks to both of you for coming in on a Friday night.
Coming up, former President Barack Obama was out on the campaign trail tonight. He had a few things to get off his chest about President Trump and Republicans. You don`t want to miss this. That`s next.
VELSHI: We`re continuing to monitor the ongoing investigation into the attempted bombing of several high profile Democratic figures. Today, as the suspect in those bombings was taken into custody, two of his targets took to the campaign trail to rally voters ahead of the midterm elections.
Barack Obama held rallies in Wisconsin and Michigan today. Joe Biden held a rally in New York. During his remarks, the former vice president directly addressed the bombing attempts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope that this craziness that`s going on about these pipe bombs, I hope and pray that our leaders are going to work to lower the temperature in our public dialogue. And I have faith the vast majority will do that. Because, folks, we`re a lot better than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Obama didn`t mention the bombing during either of his speeches today. Instead, he stayed focused on the upcoming elections, specifically, he narrowed it on recent attempts by Republican officials to try to rewrite history about his signature policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The law made it illegal for the first time for insurers to discriminate against you if you got a pre-existing condition. We put an end to that. Democrats made that happen. Not a single Republican, not one joined us. Not one. Repeat that. Not one.
Since that time they have spent the last eight years obsessed with trying to undermine, sabotage, repeal that law that makes sure you`re not discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions. They`ve done everything they could. They took over 60 votes in Congress to get rid of it.
Now, that it`s election season, these same Republicans are running millions of dollars` worth of ads around the country saying we`re going to protect pre-existing conditions. Your governor`s been running one of those ads while his administration is literally suing the government to take away pre-existing conditions protections. That is some kind of gall. That is some kind of hootspa but let`s also call it what it is. It is a lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Call it what it is, a lie. That line became something of a theme throughout the former president`s speeches today. In two separate speeches, he repeatedly called all of the ways that the Republican party has embraced the era of blatant mendacity ushered in by the current president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What we have not seen before in our public life --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outright lying.
OBAMA: -- is politicians just blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying. Just making stuff up. The president said he passed a middle-class tax cut before the next election. Congress isn`t even in session. He just makes it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: In both of his speeches, the president stayed focus on the upcoming midterm elections and warned voters to be leery of last-minute scare tactics ahead of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In that 2010 midterms, it was government bureaucrats are going to kill your grandma. Just made it up but that was a thing. 2014, Ebola is going to kill all of us. Remember that? In the last election, it was Hillary`s e-mails. This is terrible. Hillary`s e-mails. We were hearing e-mails everywhere. This is a national security crisis. They didn`t care about e-mails.
And you know how you know? Because if they did, they`d be up in arms right now that the Chinese are listening to the president`s iPhone that he heaves in his golf cart. It turns out it wasn`t -- I guess it wasn`t that important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Two years into the Trump presidency, many Americans, including many of us in the media have become numb to the surreality of this current political moment. And there`s something powerful about a former president reminding us all that this is not normal. This is not -- it wasn`t always like this. It doesn`t always have to be like this.
The question is will that message be enough to break through to voters over the next 11 days? John Nichols and Karine Jean-Pierre will help me try and answer that question after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: They`ve now had two years of control of Washington. What have they done with that power? That`s not true they haven`t done nothing. It`s not true they haven`t done anything. Let me tell you what they`ve done. In Washington, they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Joining us now John Nichols, the national affairs correspondent for "The Nation Magazine", Karine Jean-Pierre, senior advisor and national spokesperson for moveon.com. Welcome to both of you.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISOR, MOVEON.ORG: Karine, let`s start with you. The president wasn`t holding back nor was the former vice president Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Is it enough to motivate people to understand that the only ability to change things is to go out and vote next Tuesday?
I think so. I mean look, President Obama, there was a poll earlier this year that showed President Obama had 63 percent in his popularity. He is the most popular living president that we have. There was a Detroit resident that I read today online that said that President Obama is still his president until he gets a new one. And I think that says it all.
So what President Obama and Joe Biden are doing are the closing arguments. The closing arguments of less than two weeks as to why people should go out. Let`s not forget, we actually have data that shows us for the past year the enthusiasm has been there on the Democratic party in off-year elections and also in special elections. So now we have to do it. It`s all about the ground game.
And I think President Obama is the best person out there to make that argument. And he said in his speech, he`s saying, look, we can`t let history pass us by. We can`t sit back and we are a country of movements, whether it`s the LGBTQ Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women`s Rights Movement, we have to take action.
And I think that is indeed resonating. You see thousands of people lining up waiting to hear from him and we`ll see. But I really do think that he is the best messenger and can really lay out the stark contrasts between him, the Republicans and also Donald Trump.
VELSHI: Well, John Nickels, he`s got a lot of stuff to work with, whether it`s the tax bill or these remarkable ads that Republicans are running about how they`re going to protect pre-existing conditions after literally spending eight years trying to get rid of it, being involved in actual lawsuits right now. Here`s some of the closing argument that President Obama made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: While they are distracting you with this fear mongering, they`re robbing you blind. They`re handing out the tax cuts to their billionaire friends. Look, look, over there. Look, there`s the boogeyman over there. They`ll take away your healthcare. Look, look, some folks are marching, coming -- it`s like a con, you know, where the door-to-door salesman tries to sell you a security system while his buddies in the back are sneaking in and taking your stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: John, what do you think? Do you think the argument is going to sort of permeate the environment so that people understand what they have to do?
JOHN NICHOLS, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: It has the potential to do that. If this is the only set of speeches that the former president delivers, it won`t be enough because we live in a chaotic moment where something that happened two days ago is quickly lost. But if he takes this on the road and keeps coming back to it, and frankly building on it, it has tremendous potential.
This was a roll your sleeves up speech. It`s notable that in Milwaukee the president appeared without his coat. He went to that microphone obviously with intention. And think about the drama of the moment. This is a man who was the subject of an assassination attempt this week.
And I think people were expecting him perhaps to be a bit shaken or at least, you know, having some sort of overlay on him. That was not the case. This was a confident, very impassioned figure speaking about the times in which we live.
I would compare it to the speeches that you heard a very long time ago from Harry Truman where you had a combination of some anger, some humor. But also remember that Truman hit the trail after he was president, in a way different than what we`ve seen in recent generations. And he went out there to defend the new deal and the fair deal and to say we cannot let these things go.
My sense is that is what Barack Obama was doing today. If he continues to do it, I think he has the potential to break through the fake news and the fake politics of our time and really have a transformational role in this election.
VELSHI: Talk to me, Karine about motivation in this election, about enthusiasm. We talked about democratic enthusiasm being very strong. We talked about the gap closing particularly after the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. But at this point, President Trump is out there rallying people about this -- what`s it called -- the hoard of immigrants coming to the southern border.
JEAN-PIERRE: The caravan, yes.
VELSHI: He lamented the fact that the focus is off of that. In fact, many Republican politicians have lamented the fact that the focus is off of that because of this bombing scare. At the same time, President Obama is trying to resonate with folks trying to say this isn`t a presidential election, but this could be your last chance to fight for things that really matter. Let me just play you some of what he said, some more of what he said in Milwaukee today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We don`t need more mealy-mouthed election officials to claim they`re disappointed about this bad behavior but then don`t do anything about it and just go along with it. We need leaders who will actually stand up for what`s right regardless of party. Leaders who will fight for you and what`s best in the American spirit, patriots who will stand up for anyone whose fundamental rights are at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: What do you think, Karine? Do you think that that -- the right people are going to hear this message?
JEAN-PIERRE: So what President Obama is doing is that he`s laying out what`s at stake and he is being very clear. He actually says that in his piece, everything is on the line, and this is the most important election of our lifetimes. And he`s saying I`m not being hyperbolic about it, I`m being very, very serious --
VELSHI: Because that`s a hard thing to convince people, right, of a midterm election.
JEAN-PIERRE: Right. But you said something, Ali, that I want to mention as well. You said that there are a lot of things, he has a lot of things that he`s popular. Obamacare is popular. Matter of fact, there are so many things that are more popular than Donald Trump. The Me Too Movement is more popular than Donald Trump. The Democratic party is more popular than Donald Trump.
The only thing less popular than Donald Trump is the Republican party. So there are issues out there that President Obama is really making a contrast to what Republicans are doing. And also one more thing is the voting registration went up this year and early voting went up this year. I don`t know, we don`t know yet which side is winning that battle, but normally that`s good for Democrats.
VELSHI: Karine, always a pleasure to see you. Thank you, Karine Jean- Pierre and John Nichols, thank very much to both of you.
Coming up, the Trump administration has extended another invitation to Vladimir Putin to visit the United States but this one comes one week after the Justice Department charged a Russian for interfering in the 2018 election.
VELSHI: Just one week after the FBI revealed that Russians are still waging information warfare to interfere in U.S. elections, guess who the Trump administration invited to Washington?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have invited President Putin to Washington after the first of the year for basically a full day of consultation. What the scheduling of that is we don`t quite know yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin once again has an invitation to Washington. There are actually two Trump/Putin meetings in the work. John Bolton who you just hear from said earlier this week that Trump and Putin are also planning to meet in Paris in November.
Donald Trump actually wanted to invite Putin to the United States earlier this year. You may recall he had to scrap that idea after his widely criticized performance in Helsinki. In just the last week, the Justice Department has charged a Russian with meddling in the 2018 election and top U.S. officials warned of ongoing election interference by Russia. So why offer to meet Putin again now?
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is going to help me figure that out next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We had a great meeting with Vladimir Putin and every time I see oh, Donald Trump had a bad meeting. I had a great meeting. We had -- great. And they played it up as negative as they can. It was a great meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Actually, that meeting was widely seen as a disaster even by Republicans. Now Donald Trump wants to meet Putin in Washington.
Joining us now Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and MSNBC national security analyst Mike McFaul.
You and I were talking, ambassador, when this meeting happened. It was largely panned. It was strange to the degree to which Donald Trump seemed to be pondering to Vladimir Putin and making excuses for him and saying that he strongly denied any involvement in the elections.
But It struck many of us strange that Vladimir Putin was invited to visit the United States. The director of national security was caught off guard in an interview with Andrea Mitchell when she first learned about it in her earpiece. What`s going on here?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I have no idea. Let`s just be honest. Nobody has done diplomacy the way President Trump does it. Usually, you set summits as action-forcing events to get the government to agree to something. That`s most certainly the way we did it in the Obama administration and that`s the way the Bush administration did it before.
But as we saw in Helsinki, there was no agenda. There was no outcome. There was no what we used to call deliverables in the government.
VELSHI: That`s the question.
MCFAUL: The only deliverable was that they wanted to hand me and a bunch of other Americans, Republicans and Democrats by the way, over to Putin for interrogation and now they`re just doing it again.
VELSHI: That`s the question.
MCFAUL: I really don`t understand the logic.
MCFAUL: You have to deal with autocrats.
MCFAUL: If you are the president of the United States, you have to engage but you need to do it to advance American national interest. I don`t understand how we are going to do that with this summit.
VELSHI: Yet more perplexing is the fact that the president has the one thing he said as critical of Russia is that they`re not abiding by some of our nuclear treaties with them and that he`s willing to pull out of that. So again, we are not clear what, as you said, agenda, outcome, objectives, what they are. It would make sense to have two invitations to Vladimir Putin or one to meet him in Paris and one to meet him in Washington if there was something we were actually working on. But part of the criticism of President Trump is he does not seem to be doing that.
MCFAUL: That`s right. There is no outcomes that are for us, right. The Russians violate the IMF treaty and we pull out. We look like the bad guys. All this engagement, all this happy talk has not led to Russia leaving Ukraine or stop to interfere in our elections as you just pointed out in your last segment, even smaller things like lifting the ban on adoption for Americans.
That`s a very concrete thing that Vladimir Putin could do tomorrow if he wanted to do something to advance U.S./Russian interests. In fact, he has never done it and our president just keeps trying to appease him to play. It`s just not smart diplomacy.
VELSHI: I got 30 seconds left. If you were to back into this now that there are either one or two potential meetings between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, what would the agenda be? What should the goal, the one or two goals be?
MCFAUL: One to push back. You don`t have to just appease Putin when you meet with him, speak strongly about the things that you disagree. Other presidents used to do that during summits. And two, if it were me, I would say extend the start treaty. I worry that this administration is going to pull out of that. I think it would be in Russia and the Americas national interest to extend the new start treaty, I hope that would be on the agenda.
VELSHI: Mike McFaul, good to see you as always. Former ambassador Mike McFaul.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.
VELSHI: Quick programming notes. Sunday, MSNBC`s headliner, an in-depth look at Vladimir Putin. That`s Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. That`s tonight`s last word. I`m Ali Velshi. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.
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