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Trump defends Saudi Arabia. TRANSCRIPT: 11/20/2018, The Last Word w. Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Harry Litman

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: November 20, 2018 Guest: Harry Litman

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, you have a great evening. Thank you.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Thank you, too.

VELSHI: I'm Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence O'Donnell.

Tonight, we begin with the question. What happens when people who stop President Trump from his worst impulses are no longer around, what happens when the safety net is gone? That's what we're asking tonight following a major report in "The New York Times", that the president last spring wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his biggest political adversaries, Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James Comey. That's according to two people familiar with the conversation.

Trump told this to his White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn. "The Times" reports that Don McGahn, quote, rebuffed the president, telling Trump that he had no authority to order a prosecution. Mr. McGahn said that while he could request an investigation, that, too, could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences including possible impeachment.

Now, it's not clear if President Trump read that memo, but according to "The Times", he has continued to privately suggest investigations of both Comey and Clinton, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel. To be clear, these ideas have been on the president's mind for a long time, since before the 2016 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because you'd be in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: "The Times" reports that Trump has also repeatedly expressed disappointment in the FBI Director Christopher A. Wray for failing to more aggressively investigate Mrs. Clinton, calling him weak, one of the people said.

All right. This news comes after multiple reports over the last year and a half of the president wanting to fire both special counsel Mueller and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But here is the thing. In all of those reports, Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions and Trump's lawyers stopped him from actually carrying out these actions. So what happens now that McGahn and Sessions and most of Trump's lawyers are gone, and in their place is a new acting attorney general who seems much more willing to play by Trump's rules?

The president has been asking for someone like Matthew Whitaker to be in charge for ages. Listen to this remark last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, the saddest thing is that because of the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it. I look at what's happening with the Justice Department. Well, why aren't they going after Hillary Clinton with her e- mails and with her -- the dossier and the kind of money?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That's hard to say just how Matthew Whitaker will respond to requests like these from the president. Actually, it's not hard to say. One could actually take an educated guess.

Here's why. In July 2016, before the election, Whitaker penned an op-ed in "USA Today" titled, "I would indict Hillary Clinton." OK, so we're clear on that.

And so, while we're talking about the acting attorney general, "The Washington Post" is out with a new report on Matthew Whitaker's financials. In the three years after he arrived in Washington in 2014, Matthew Whitaker received more than $1.2 million as the leader of a conservative nonprofit, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.

According to "The Post", the nonprofit reported having no other employees and despite the remarkable name, containing the word accountability, the group's origins and the source of funding used to pay Whitaker remain obscured. Matthew Whitaker made more than $500,000 just in the first nine months of 2017, according to tax filings reviewed by "The Post". All of this will now be under scrutiny by the new Democratic majority and the House of Representatives. Congressman Eric Swalwell will join us later on that.

And all of this is taking place as the Mueller investigation reaches a new stage tonight. The president's legal team has confirmed to NBC News that Trump has answered written questions submitted by Mueller's office. One of the president's lawyers said the Trump answered questions on, quote, Russia related topics. It's unclear at this hour whether the president answered any questions on obstruction of justice, but you can bet he was probably asked about the news that we just learned tonight from "The New York Times."

Joining us now: Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton. Ken Dilanian joins us first. He's an NBC News national security reporter for NBC News. Mimi Rocah as well, federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal contributor.

Welcome to you both.

Ken, let's start with you. What's the news tonight, that the president has been asking for someone to allow him to instruct the Department of Justice to investigate his rivals and he's been stopped until now?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, I like how you framed it up, Ali, because it's important to say that he has been stopped. Unlike Richard Nixon, he didn't actually follow through and give the order.

But the only analogy in modern American history is Richard Nixon because the second article of impeachment against Nixon was obstruction of justice, meddling in the Justice Department, misusing the FBI, ordering the IRS to investigate his political enemies, and some government officials resisted Nixon and some didn't. But after Richard Nixon and after the Watergate scandal, a tradition grew up. It's not a statute, it's not a law, but it's a tradition that the president and the White House must stay out of Justice Department criminal matters.

And so, you had -- when George W. Bush tried to fire seven U.S. attorneys, it became a scandal and a series of congressional hearings and the Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez ended up losing his job over that. And Barack Obama was reluctant even to comment on pending criminal investigations lest he be perceived as interfering.

Donald Trump clearly does not understand that and I think you're right to suggest that until recently, he's had people around him who have tried to block him from his worst impulses, now he has a sitting attorney general who has criticized and impugned the Mueller investigation and suggested that Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted. So, it's really a worrisome situation going forward.

And the last thing I'll say is I don't believe that Donald Trump answered any questions about obstruction of justice because his lawyers have been saying that that's off limits.

VELSHI: Right.

DILANIAN: And that fits into his philosophy. He feels like Mueller has no right to ask him about obstruction because he has every right to meddle in Justice Department investigation ands fire the FBI director for any reason. And that's just not consistent --

VELSHI: So, that's -- Harry, this is interesting. That's a philosophical disagreement. Now, there have been presidents, the last few presidents, whose lawyers have argued that presidential privilege and executive authority goes farther than maybe some interpret it to be going.

But this is a different issue. This is the president thinking he can't be obstructing justice because it's his justice. It's his Justice Department, it's his instructions. That's just not a normal reading of the law.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, that is exactly right, Ali. They have expressed it before, and Giuliani in talking about the questions they submitted today and as ken said, excluding taking the obstruction questions off the table, proffered the exact same view. Basically, it's impossible, a logical impossibility for the president to obstruct justice. It's a really discredited and needless to say a really dangerous view. And I think scholars on all sides of the aisle think it's hokum.

VELSHI: Mimi, I want to read to you from "The New York Times" article about this memo that White House lawyers wrote for Donald Trump after he asked Don McGahn to look into investigating his rivals. Lawyers in the White House counsel's office wrote a several-page document in which they strongly cautioned Mr. Trump against asking the Justice Department to investigate anyone. If charges were brought, judges could dismiss them and Congress, they added, could investigate the president's role in the prosecution and begin impeachment proceedings.

Ultimately, the lawyers warn Mr. Trump could be voted out of office if voters believe he had abused power. Now, that's one paragraph that is talking about possibly years of litigation and elections and in a few minutes I'm going to talk to Eric Swalwell about what the House Intel Committee might do. But somewhere in here, Don McGahn succeeded in convincing Donald Trump to resist his worst impulses.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Right. And we don't know exactly how he did that, but it's also interesting that McGahn, it appears in the reporting, chose to memorialize this in a memo.

VELSHI: Right, that's also interesting, yes.

ROCAH: We've seen that before with his interactions with Comey and others. It's like people's radar goes up. Now, I don't know if McGahn memorialized everything, but we haven't heard that before about him. And so it's interesting that he knew that this was a troubling enough conversation, a conversation of enough import that he was going to memorialize it in case it became the subject of hearings or something later.

I mean, this is big. You know, this is -- you are so numb and I said this a little earlier. Other people have said it, too. This is not surprising maybe because we have heard, as you pointed out, Trump say it on Twitter and whatever. But it still needs to be shocking.

VELSHI: Right, right.

ROCAH: This idea that the president not just in a tweet, we cannot just blow this off as talk by Trump and, you know, even just saying his impulses. This was a serious request to the White House counsel. Can I use the Department of Justice to not just investigate -- because the request initially was prosecute?

VELSHI: Yes.

ROCAH: -- my political opponents. That is what dictators do. That is not what the president of the United States does.

And, granted, it is not a written law or even a written rule. It didn't need to be and I think some people, many people are realizing we need to write some of these norms into rules and codify them in some way because we can't trust that, you know, everyone, certainly not every president apparently, is going to honor those well-established principles that exist for a reason, to keep those two entities separate.

VELSHI: Ken Dilanian brings up the fact that we saw some of this during the Nixon administration, but I guess everybody thought it was such an anomaly that we didn't have to codify it. Again, Harry, let me ask you about Matthew Whitaker. There are all sorts of things about Matthew Whitaker that are interesting, not the least of which is that the president claimed he didn't know him or know of him, which is kind of impossible to believe in the president. We have quotes of him actually saying he knew him and thought he was a good guy.

But Matthew Whitaker has actually, believe it or not, chimed in on this particular issue in the past. Let's listen to what he said in May of 2017.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, it is pretty interesting that we don't have a special counsel appointed for the whole former secretary of state having a illegal e-mail server in her house, and we appoint a special counsel with zero evidence of any ties between Russia and Russian nationals and the Trump campaign. Black is white and white is black.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

VELSHI: Harry, it's kind of interesting. Matthew Whitaker seems to be on the record as doing and saying everything or being willing to do or saying or supporting everything Donald Trump seems to be believing about Hillary Clinton. I haven't heard what he said about James Comey, but about the Mueller investigation, about starving it of funds, about how it doesn't have good grounds.

This guy is Donald Trump's dream.

LITMAN: Totally. I mean, he looks like -- this has been the engine of his advancement. That's not a stray comment. The 1.2 that you reported he got paid by the mysterious tax-dodging foundation, it looks like it was all about Hillary bashing. He's a two-time political loser from Iowa who somehow became cultivated by the Koch brothers, and then thereafter, he is given to Sessions by Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society who was the person who had helped with the Supreme Court cases.

It doesn't just seem his views. It actually seems to sort of raise on -- for being there. As Mimi says, there actually are, Ali, written regulations and understanding between the DOJ and the White House. This kind of thing would be absolutely the third rail. I was at the DOJ for the Vince Foster dust up and Clinton. You couldn't say word one about anything, and it looks like you have installed here in the Oval Office, and now probably the new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone doesn't look to be the kind of person who would be pushing back either.

So, certainly the table is set for what would be really not just sobering as Mimi says, not just -- but truly a shocking abuse of power. Kind of Putin-esque move by Trump.

VELSHI: We know that some members of the House are going to look into this. I'm going to talk to Eric Swalwell about that. But, Ken, Chuck Schumer wants to look into this. He has had, according to "Politico", Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter Tuesday suggesting the Justice Department inspector general investigate communications between Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and the White House.

Quote: I am particularly concerned about whether Mr. Whitaker may have shared with the White House or could share in his new role confidential grand jury or investigative information from the special counsel investigation or any criminal investigations, Schumer wrote.

This is interesting. We hadn't thought about this, ken, but the acting attorney general -- you guys have all thought about this. The acting attorney general is in charge of this investigation. He can take its report and shelf it. He can put it away and not show it to anyone.

But as acting attorney general, he probably has access to information that the White House would be very interested in having.

DILANIAN: That's right, Ali. I think that is a very important concernment and even more important than Chuck Schumer caring about it because he's in the minority. The House Judiciary chairman who will have subpoena power has already said he's going to call Whitaker before his committee --

VELSHI: As witness number one. He said that's his first order of business. He's going to call Whitaker. And if Whitaker doesn't come, he seems to be prepared to subpoena him.

DILANIAN: Absolutely. I think my favorite lawyers here on this panel can talk about this, but I think rule 60 of the grand jury rules would prohibit Whitaker from just taking grand jury information and handing it to the president. But what's really frustrating is Whitaker can block Robert Mueller, can block investigative steps that he proposes to take.

And the regulations do say that Whitaker has to inform Congress about that, but only after the investigation is complete. So, we only have to hope that Mueller finds a way to signal to Congress if, in fact, Whitaker is meddling in his investigation or blocking him in some way.

VELSHI: Mimi, who -- who has the best chance of getting something done here? Chuck Schumer is writing to the inspector general at the Justice Department. Jerry Nadler wants to subpoena or talk to Matthew Whitaker. The Intel Committee is going to have things to do.

Who gets to do something about this? Because this is really wild, that Matthew Whitaker, a guy the president lied about not knowing or knowing about, now is on the record as being able to advise the president on all these matters that we've seen, are very, very dangerous. And to your point, the kind ever thing they do in dictatorships. Where does it get stopped?

ROCAH: And there's concern about the communications he had even before he was appointed, was there some kind of agreement, you know, in exchange for the appointment. I mean, look, I think that the inspector general is in a very good position to do this. And, in fact, he did an interview recently where he was sort of asked about this. And he said, well, you know, this would be something within our broad mandate.

They have a very broad mandate. The Department of Justice, it really would be a violation of, as Harry said, rules of the Department of Justice, in addition to norms. And so, he would be the person to look into it and come look into it efficiently. I mean, obviously, Congress should and will. You know, you do have the danger of too many cooks in the kitchen and too many people looking at one thing, too many bodies.

So, you know, I think we'll probably see it narrowed down. I mean, I would expect there would be difference between the inspector general and Congress if they both look at it. But it's -- this is an area that is ripe for corruption and it is looking more and more like there's been some corruption.

VELSHI: I cannot say it enough. The president said he didn't know of Matthew Whitaker and didn't know Matthew Whitaker.

Harry, last question here. Robert Mueller, he's at the center of this whole thing. What's his next move?

LITMAN: Right. And has he already made it and we just don't know, because like all of us, he was aware that the midterms were coming and the complexion could all change after it. So, you know, rule number one with Mueller is, you know, you don't know what Robert Mueller knows, but I -- but there are two or three things that are tangible that we know are happening quite soon that may well reveal or be coincident with new charges.

We have the Manafort very short delay, only another week until we know about his cooperation. We have the Flynn sentencing memorandum from the -- from Mueller which has to say on December 4th what Flynn's cooperation has been over the course of the year. And that will be public. And we have the tangible possibility that Corsi who soon -- who is a close associate of Roger Stone may be indicted. Any of those three could kind of crack loose this last piece about domestic involvement on the Russia side.

VELSHI: Harry Litman, I had $5 riding on the fact that I wasn't going to talk about Jerome Corsi today. You made me lose five bucks.

Good to see you all. Thanks very much, Harry Litman, Ken Dilanian and Mimi Rocah.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, member of the soon to be majority on the House Intelligence Committee will be later on the show.

And coming up, Donald Trump sides against the United States intelligence community in defense of an autocrat. The question is why?

And later, some breaking news on the House leadership fight. Nancy Pelosi appears to become the highest ranking woman in American government again. Now, she's ready to take on the Republican president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. With those seven words, President Trump made a stunning break from his own intelligence community today. In an extraordinary statement containing no fewer than eight exclamation points, the president doubted his own CIA's conclusion that Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, this man, ordered the murder and dismemberment of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The president said, quote: Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't.

The statement which was part of a rambling first person narrative that some speculate the president himself wrote or dictated, spark an immediate backlash. The publisher of "The Washington Post" Fred Ryan called it, quote, a betrayal of long established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships. He said the president is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests.

Before leaving for Mar-a-Lago this afternoon, the president said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's a very complex situation. It's a shame, but it is what it is. I'm not going to destroy the world economy and I'm not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.

This is about America first. They're paying us $400 billion plus to purchase and invest in our country. That's probably the biggest amount ever paid to the United States.

This is over a long period of time. It means hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment and product.

It's about "Make America Great Again". It's about "America First". We're going to stay with Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: And that, ladies and gentlemen, was president Trump lying again.

Saudi Arabia is not really paying us hundreds of billions of dollars or creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It's $14.5 billion for new weaponry. And if you can count it, it's fewer than 20,000 jobs per year. A recent estimate is 17,500.

Joining us now, Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and former senior director and spokesperson for the National Security Council in the Obama administration. Also joining us is Evelyn Farkas, senior fellow at the German Marshal Fund, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Both are MSNBC contributors.

Evelyn, regardless of the fact that the president lied again about why we need to be in business with Saudi Arabia, no one has ever suggested that sanctioning Saudi Arabia for this means a complete cut off of all relations with Saudi Arabia. And really, this is about humanity and human rights more than it is about weaponry.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Exactly, Ali. The thing is the president does seem to make it a choice, you know. We either have no relationship with Saudi Arabia or we have this full-on love relationship and acceptance of Mohammed bin Salman who is, of course, the crown prince who ordered this assassination.

And this assassination, I mean, it's no different from what Putin has done in poisoning Skripal and his daughter, you know, the former spy who -- former Russian spy who he poisoned. You know, he went ahead and poisoned - - assassinated his enemies and just the same way the Saudi Arabian crown prince has done the same thing.

Our government should not be standing by that man. Sure, we can have relations with Saudi Arabia, but we do not have to accept the crown prince as the designated heir to the throne.

VELSHI: Right. You can buy things from them, sell things to them, we can have diplomatic relations, but we can send a message, Ned Price, that we do not accept the idea of killing your critics.

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, that's exactly right. Look, a lot of people today have called the president's approach to Saudi Arabia transactional. But the thing about transactional relationships, Ali, is that you actually get something in return. In this case, we haven't gotten anything in return for President Trump kowtowing to the Saudi prince just the same way as Evelyn was alluding to before, that he has bowed time and again to Vladimir Putin.

In this case, what we have given Saudi Arabia is not only a pass for the brutal murder and dismemberment of a U.S. resident and "Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi, but more broadly than that, we've given them a pass for this brutal war in Yemen that is now home to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. We've given them a pass for the role they've played in the region, including the ongoing blockade of Qatar, where more than 10,000 U.S. troops are subject to some of these conditions. And we've given them a pass for the destabilizing role they played in the region more broadly.

So, this may be transactional, but as of yet, we haven't gotten anything out of it.

VELSHI: You know, Evelyn, the fact is that Republicans in Congress, particularly in the Senate, don't break from the president all that much. But we do have a little bit of a break here. The chairman and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, the senator from Tennessee who is leaving office -- he didn't run for election again -- and Bob Menendez of New Jersey wrote a letter to the president tonight saying: In light of recent developments, we request that you specifically address whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Mr. Khashoggi's murder. We expect to receive your determination within 80 days.

Now, Evelyn, we do have the Magnitsky Act that was brought in with the help of Bill Browder to address this sorts of things, to force the executive's hand when it comes to human rights abuses.

FARKAS: Right. I mean, the Senate has a number of pieces of legislation, as does the House, pending. What I heard over the weekend -- and I worked for a long time in the Senate -- from my sources, they think they have veto proof majority. But the problem, of course, would be Mitch McConnell. We don't know whether he would buck the president by allowing something -- one of these bills to come to the floor.

You mentioned the Global Magnitsky. That's the first most obvious one, sanctioning individuals for human rights violations. But beyond that, you already have legislation by Corker and Chris Murphy and a couple others obviously, specifically focused on Yemen because that's such a brutal war, the human rights -- well, the human catastrophe there is horrendous, and we have determined, at least Congress has determined that it's not in the U.S. national interest to be supporting that conflict.

Again, it's another example, as Ned said, of the Saudi government actually making things in the Middle East worse for themselves and certainly for the United States. So, Congress, Congress is going to push back.

VELSHI: Corker tweeted something interested to me, Ned. I never thought I'd see a day the White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Ned, what's behind this? We saw the numbers, the job creation numbers the president said are not as big, money we're getting is not as big as the president said. We -- Saudi Arabia needs America generally speaking.

What's going on here? This is just weird. The rambling statement the president put out there, the constant references he makes to not making money off of Saudi Arabia, not being in business with them, leads one to think that's what the president has got on his mind.

PRICE: I think that's right, Ali. President Trump essentially posed a rhetorical question in that statement today. Who am I supposed to believe, the analysts that produce this high confidence CIA assessment that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for this, the same analysts who have sworn an oath to protect our Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, or Mohammed bin Salman? In the end he certainly didn't side with the CIA.

And I think we have to take notice of the fact that he has done this in two cases. In Russia where he has consistently sided with Putin over our own intelligence community, and in Saudi Arabia where he's done the same.

And, Ali, I think it is no coincidence that in both of those places, President Trump and his broader family and businesses have significant financial interests in both of those countries. President Trump in 2015 bragged about how Saudis pay $40 million or $50 million for his apartments. He has entered into previous business dealings with Saudis before.

So I think in this case, what we're actually seeing is not that the president is recruited assets of the Saudi government, or in my estimation even the Russian government, but his allegiance is conflicted. His allegiance is to follow the dollar, to follow the dollar which has gotten him everywhere he has ever been in life and he is following it now.

And he is setting himself up so that when he is no longer president of the United States and he is once again a private citizen, he will have the same, if not more business opportunities open to him and countries like Russia and countries like Saudi Arabia that he - that he has now.

ALI VELSHI: We'll leave it there, Ned. Thank you. Ned Price and Evelyn Farkas, thanks for joining me tonight. Coming up, Congressman Eric Swalwell will join me. I'm going to ask him what the new majority on the House Intelligence Committee can do to find out if President Trump or his family have any conflicts of interest in Saudi Arabia. I'm going to ask him about the big Democratic victory in the midterms which got even bigger tonight. I'll tell you about that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Tonight the blue wave has snagged another seat from Republicans, this time in deep red Utah. The Associated Press reports that Democrat Ben McAdams has flipped Utah's fourth congressional district defeating Republican incumbent Mia Love by a margin just large enough to avoid a recount.

NBC News has still not called this race because it's still unclear tonight just how many votes remain to be counted. The difference here you can see, 694 votes. Now that, if that does go to Democrats that would bring the overall Democratic gain in the House to a total of 39 seats with one race still to be called.

Since winning back control of the House, Democrats are preparing to hold Donald Trump and his administration accountable for any abuses of power, now on that list Trump's attempts to interfere with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Joining me now, Democratic Congressman from California Eric Swalwell, who is a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, Congressman, good to see you.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Ali. Thanks for having me back.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this reporting from the New York Times that the President had pressed Don McGahn to - to be able to talk to the Department of Justice about prosecuting, not investigation, but prosecuting Hillary Clinton and James Comey. And that Don McGahn pushed back on that. As of now that's reporting. Is that of interest to you?

SWALWELL: It is, Ali, and it's certainly not how an innocent person would conduct themselves. Innocent people cooperate with investigators. Innocent people allow investigations to proceed if they're given the luxury of having the question sent over to them they turn them in a, you know, reasonable mount of time. And they don't undermine the investigation on Twitter through associates at the White House. They just follow the law. They don't act above it.

VELSHI: Let's talk about the investigation, or investigations and how they move forward. For instance, as we were just talking about Saudi Arabia, one of the things that will be of interest whether it be with Saudi Arabia or Russia, as Ned Price was just mentioning, is not whether or not Donald Trump is a recruited asset of one of these governments, he probably isn't, but whether or not his business interests taint his - his dealings with them.

How do you go about doing that? Do you - do you go after his tax returns as an Intel committee? Does someone else do it? How do you research this stuff?

SWALWELL: Yes. Ali, it's a great question. We're certainly not in the dark anymore because of free press reporting. We have an idea about how alarming this conduct is. But we prioritize what matters. We don't do things just because we can. We don't seek to pound the flesh. We look at what matters to the American people because our national security may be at risk.

So the Ways and Means Committee, they'll be able to get his tax returns. Now, that will also help investigations on the Oversight Committee, on the Intel Committee, on the Judiciary Committee. And we're not seeking his tax returns because we have any voyeuristic interest, or any parlor or palace intrigue.

VELSHI: Yes.

SWALWELL: It's really because with the President, we know he has had Saudi assistance in the past buying his hotels, bailing him out when he was in bankruptcy, and buying a yacht. And that may instruct just why he's making foreign policy decisions that are counter to America's morale leadership in the world.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about the politics of this as you head into the majority in Congress. Politico has written about the conflict the Democrats may have amongst themselves on how to proceed, it says tension between cautious Democrats and those who want to train their subpoena firepower at the White House is being repeated through the - throughout the House as establishment veterans faceoff against progressives out for revenge against President Donald Trump.

While much of the base wants lawmakers to take on Trump and big corporations that have benefited from his tax cuts and deregulation, more moderate members fear that oversight investigations will be a distraction or cause political blowback for the party. Analyze that for me.

SWALWELL: Yes, valid concerns. I would say first, collaborate where we can because on infrastructure, the Dream Act, background checks, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs. Donald Trump has aid he wants to do that. He knew Republicans would never bring it forward.

VELSHI: Yes.

SWALWELL: He's going to see bills on those issues making their way toward his desk if the Senate wants to work with us. Now, we're not going to look the other way anymore. We're - investigations must occur. And we should do a few things, and do them right.

And you can take on Trump by doing it that way. And I think that means filling in the gaps on the Russia investigation, looking at where he's cashing in on access to the Oval Office, whether it's with the Saudis, the Chinese easing their sanctions against ZTE while they're giving him a loan on his Indonesian Trump Tower property. Or even also looking at instances where foreign policy is being driven by his interests.

I just want to say on Khashoggi, Ali .

VELSHI: Yes.

SWALWELL: . he should immediately demand the release of Khashoggi's remains. He should insist with the King, just father to father, that the King removes the Crown - Crown Prince in his role right now. And also that we suspend any arms sales until we see the reforms needed in Saudi Arabia.

VELSHI: That's kind of amazing. I mean, Congressman, that - that - that - whatever that was. The press release that the President put out there with exclamation marks and a whole thing about Iran, it was kind of amazing.

There's, sort of, one correct answer when dealing with the fact that Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated by - by the Saudis. There's one correct answer and that is condemn them for it.

SWALWELL: You condemn them, and you also trust the men and women in your intelligence services who toil everyday, and conduct evidence based investigations, not gut based investigations, or investigations that are led by financial interests. They are objectively looking at the evidence.

And they need to know that this president is going to be with them otherwise you'll see the morale start to fall at our intelligence services. And there's other national security challenges from North Korea, from China, other countries where we need to rely on them, and they need to know that the President has their back.

VELSHI: Congressman, good to talk to you as always. Thank you. Congressman Eric Swalwell .

SWALWELL: You too.

VELSHI: . of California.

SWALWELL: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: Coming up, more breaking news. Nancy Pelosi is poised, once again, to become the highest ranking woman in American government. And she's ready to take on Donald Trump. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VELSHI: There's news tonight in the ongoing battle within the Democratic Party over who will be speaker of the House in 2019. Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, the one member of Congress who was openly considering challenging Nancy Pelosi, announced today she will not be making a bid for the speaker's gavel after all.

In a statement announcing her decision, Representative Fudge threw her support behind Pelosi as the next speaker, writing, "Our party should reflect the diversity of our changing nation and guarantee our citizens the unfettered right to vote and to have every vote count. Leader Pelosi has granted me the opportunity to create the record necessary to satisfy the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County versus Holder so that the protections of the Voting Rights Act will be reinstated and improved."

Shortly after that announcement, Pelosi's office put out a statement announcing they would be naming Fudge the chairwoman of a newly restore subcommittee on elections. Fudge's decision to back out of the race and back Pelosi is a major blow to the efforts of a group of moderate House Democrats looking to oust Pelosi from the speaker's position. It's also an example of the kind of legislative deal making and caucus wrangling that Pelosi became famous for during her last tenure of speaker.

In a new feature, Robert draper took an extensive look at Pelosi's long career as one of the most effective Democrat leaders in modern American history. As Draper puts it, "Pelosi has used the tools at her disposal -- committee assignments, campaign donations, to establish a balance among her party's coalitions while also reminding everyone that her job was not simply to officiate and appease."

One of Pelosi's former senior staff members quoted in the piece sums up her governing philosophy with a single rhetorical question. What do you call a person who is 99 percent loyal? Disloyal. She has a long memory.

Robert Draper joins me next on how Nancy Pelosi could be Trump's biggest nightmare for the rest of his term.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: One of the Democrats leading the charge to keep Nancy Pelosi from being the next speaker of the house is Congressman Seth Moulton. This is how some of Congressman Moulton's constituents responded at a town hall last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am deeply upset that you are challenging Speaker Pelosi with no person that you challenge -- that you take (inaudible) her job, no policies that you disagree with.

REP. SETH MOULTON: The majority of Americans want the change. The majority of Democrats want this change.

AUDIENCE: No!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Joining me now, Robert draper, contributing writer for The New York Times magazine whose new piece is Nancy Pelosi's Last Battle. It's published in The New York Times magazine. Robert, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. Is Seth Moulton right that the majority of Democrats want this change as it relates to Nancy Pelosi?

ROBERT DRAPER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: I'm not sure what poll he's looking at, or, for that matter, what kind of work (ph) he's doing inside of his caucus. The short answer is no I don't think he's right, Ali. I mean, I - I - and look, winning changes everything. I mean, if - had - had the Democrats not managed to take over the House it'd be a totally different story.

VELSHI: Right.

DRAPER: And all of - and frankly, all of Pelosi's people were telling me that. They'd say, yes, it's sayonara to the entire leadership chain. But now, you know, they feel emboldened by the fact that they've picked up so many seats. And they've also, I think, begun to concentrate on the likelihood that the Democrats now have an effective counterweight.

And they may not proactively get much passed, legislatively speaking. But they'll be a counterweight to - to Trump. Trump's a formidable challenge in that regard. And they want to have someone experienced there.

Now, this presents an opportunity, I think, for these people like Seth Moulton, or so-called dissidents. And that opportunity is that they can extract some concessions as Marcia Fudge did. It's perhaps a case - I'm not convinced, Ali, that - that Pelosi's got the numbers just yet to be able to confidently say, you know, OK. Yes, game over. I'm not talking to anybody.

VELSHI: No, it's close.

DRAPER: Right, yes.

VELSHI: But here's something interesting .

DRAPER: Yes.

VELSHI: . she's 78 years old.

DRAPER: Right.

VELSHI: The Democratic leadership is - is pretty old. A congresswoman, the new representative elect, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 29 years old or something like that.

DRAPER: Right, yes.

VELSHI: So there's 50 years between them. She defeated, in the primary, and ally of Nancy Pelosi. So she'd be definitely one of those people who'd say, maybe we need new leadership. Here's what she said on Chris Hayes' show last night.

DRAPER: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, AMERICAN POLITICIAN: For me, when I - when I was reading this letter that was, kind of, released today my main concern was that there is no vision, there is no common value, there is no goal that is really articulated in this letter aside from we need to change.

If we are not on the same page about changing the systems and the values, and how we're going to adapt as a party for the future than what is the point of just changing our party leadership just for the sake of it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So that's kind of interesting to hear that, Robert. Somebody who might have been one of the signatories to that letter, she wasn't. But might've been somebody who'd be pushing for younger newer leadership is not going to be.

DRAPER: Well, that's right. Also though - I mean, she's now looking at who the existing leader is of the Democratic caucus. It's a progressive woman. And - and, you know, the - there certainly are other progressive women in the caucus, but this one happens to be experienced.

What I was going to say that this is an - this is an opportunity for the whole left (ph) to perhaps extract from Nancy Pelosi a concession that she'll just serve two more years. And, essentially, be a transitional figure. Now this is not something Pelosi wants. She doesn't want to be a lying duck.

VELSHI: Yes.

DRAPER: But she may not have the numbers - you know, she may not have a choice in the matter. And - and, essentially, the promise would be that I, Nancy Pelosi, will, A, be there to, sort of, you know, stand in the trenches against Donald Trump for the next two years.

And then, assuming that we take back the - the White House in 2020, I will have, along the way, nurtured people who can - who can replace me, and others within the leadership chain. So that is a negotiation that still may be out there waiting - waiting to eventuate.

VELSHI: Robert, I - I printed out your article which probably was a bad thing to do because it's - it's - it's 13 pages. But something caught my attention in here, it was something that Chris Van Hollen, now Senator, former-congressman said.

He said one of the things that really sets Nancy Pelosi apart is her uncanny ability to unite all the different Democratic coalitions around a negotiating position, and whether it was Bush, or Boehner, or Ryan, they never doubted that she had the votes to backup her position. If that's true, that puts Nancy Pelosi in a good position in the Pelosi v. Trump conversations that are now going to happen on a - a regular basis.

DRAPER: Sure, that's right. And of course - I mean, the problem in any kind of negotiations that take place with Donald Trump is you don't know if he's negotiating in good faith. And I talked to Pelosi about that, and she basically can only say well, all we can do is try.

And so, you know, when he's constantly shifting the goalpost, then being a master negotiator doesn't do you any good when the stakes, or the terms of the negotiation are constantly being thwarted.

But you're right that - that when Pelosi says look, I can beat you on this, or I have the votes to achieve A, B, C, history suggests .

VELSHI: Yes.

DRAPER: . that she's knows exactly what she's talking about. And you can pretty much take to bank whatever her whip count is, that it's going to hold.

VELSHI: Republicans know how serious this is. The Wall Street Journal on October 29th released an analysis that said in the campaign cycle more than 135,600 House and Senate ads have mentioned Pelosi in an entirely negative context. That's more negative advertising than Donald Trump faced this year.

DRAPER: Right - right. You know - well, and what that indicates, among other things, is that she went entirely undefended. Unlike Donald Trump who had all of these pro-Trump heads (ph), who had all of these vociferously supporting .

VELSHI: Right.

DRAPER: . him. Pelosi was out there on her own, and this is a measure of Nancy Pelosi's toughness, Ali, that she's basically said to members who were in tough districts, look, you know, do what you have to do to get reelected. If you have to distance yourself from me, if you have to condemn me, go ahead and do it. I'm going to cut you the slack to do that. Part of Pelosi's power is knowing how to leverage it and knowing when the power has its limits. In certain aces she really can't, I mean, despite some of those quotes you referenced earlier, you know she can't always put her thumbs deeply on people and say do as I say. She realizes that ultimately that politics is local and that people in their own districts have to do what it takes to survive.

VELSHI: Like her or don't like her, understand she is formidable and it seems everybody does. Robert, thanks for the very interesting piece. I hope everybody reads. Robert Draper with -- a contributor writer for The New York Times magazine.

All right. Tonight's Last Word is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. With just a few seconds heft, I want to read you a tweet from Dave Wasserman. He's an editor at the Cook Political Report and at the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight, he's also a contributor here. "The Dems' national lead in raw house votes, now 8.8 million -- just broke the record for largest for either party in the history of midterm elections. (The previous record was 8.7 million, set by Dems in 1974.)

I'll leave you with that. That's tonight's Last Word. I'm Ali Velshi. The Eleventh Hour with Brian Williams starts right now.

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