LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I`m so glad you made that point about Mississippi. I am sadly old enough to remember when Mississippi had Democratic senators and plenty of other states that now have Republican senators had Democratic senators. But the Republicans slowly and patiently made their inroads over a number of decades in some cases before they finally started to lock down Republican seats in states that Democrats have since almost forgotten about until this time.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes.
O`DONNELL: Until this time, when Democrats went back to Georgia and Texas and places like Mississippi and Alabama and said, we`re going to fight here, we`re going to compete here.
MADDOW: Yes. And it`s -- I mean, what is interesting about this is some old school politics in terms of the racial divide, and it`s about whether or not Democrats can succeed in states when the path to succeeding is about ensuring that African-Americans are not only motivated to vote but they`re allowed to vote, right? In the Deep South, that`s hugely an issue in terms of the partisan divide but it`s also an issue whether they can persuade the national Democratic Party to take context in those states seriously, to show they`ve actually got a fighting chance. And every time a Mike Espy gets close or a Doug Jones wins or a Beto O`Rourke gets close, that makes that second part of the argument that much easier.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and it`s a very good thing for each party to have to look at their resources and say, how much do we have to spend and how much do we have to fight in various states? And for decades now, the Republicans have looked at the South and said we`re not spending a penny, we do not have to lift a finger. We`re going to go to these other swing states and compete there.
Democrats have states like that, say, New York where they really do not compete for Senate races in a state like New York. But you try to have as many of those states as you can so that you as a party can pump all your resources into the swing states. Republicans have a lot more states they have to spend money on.
MADDOW: Yes, if you can -- if you can soften up the other side`s supposedly safe seats, that`s half the battle. Absolutely.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, we have breaking news in the Paul Manafort case tonight, including a new report with more detail about why Paul Manafort`s cooperation deal with the special prosecutor has completely collapsed. That report comes after a day full and I mean full of developments in the Mueller investigation. So full that it will occupy most of what we talk about in this next hour.
And after a month of quiet in the Mueller investigation leading up to the mid-term election, Washington now today is finally consumed by it, including another failed effort in the United States Senate today to pass legislation that would protect Robert Mueller from being improperly fired by President Trump or his so-called Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker who was illegally installed in that post the day after the midterm election when Donald Trump fired Jeff Sessions. That point about the illegality of Matt Whitaker`s appointment is being raised by state attorneys general who are fighting that appointment in a lawsuit. One of those attorneys general will join us later in this hour.
The most important development, though, the most important development of the day, the one that will vividly stand out in bold print in history above everything else that happened today was the president of the United States publicly discussing a pardon for Paul Manafort. In an interview with his favorite hometown newspaper, "The New York Post", which was founded by Alexander Hamilton and now operated by a right wing extremist, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump said this publicly about pardoning Paul Manafort. It was never discussed but I wouldn`t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?
No such quote exists in the historical record of any such president ever driven from office by a special prosecutor`s office, no such public quote. Richard Nixon thought about issuing pardons to obstruct the special prosecutor investigation of his administration. Richard Nixon discussed the possibility of pardoning his White House chief of staff Bob Haldeman who ended up doing 18 months in federal prison, and Carl Bernstein`s book on Nixon`s final days captured the whispered backstage drama about the possibility of pardons at the White House, a subject Richard Nixon would not dare discuss publicly.
The president`s senior advisers including his new chief of staff then, Alexander Hague, and Leonard Garment, the lawyer with the best political sense in the Nixon White House, were adamantly opposed to the president issuing pardons for anyone including his former chief of staff Bob Haldeman. The president`s criminal defense lawyer, though, James Sinclair was a brilliant litigator who had no experience in politics and at one point according to Woodward and Bernstein, James Sinclair said, maybe pardon should be considered. And that is when Leonard Garment erupted, saying if Richard Nixon pardoned any of the then accused criminals in his administration, the president would be impeached.
Leonard Garment said, if the president grants this pardon, he will be insuring his own trial. He will be forcing it. The public has to have a head, and if the president takes the heads away, the public will have his. And that will be the monkey trial of all-time. The president has to take his chances.
Meaning Leonard Garment said the president has to take his chances that he can survive this special prosecutor`s investigation without issuing pardons that would in effect block the investigation, obstruct justice. No one -- no one in the Nixon White House had to say to anyone else in the Nixon White House, don`t let one word of this pardon discussion leak because they knew that the very fact that the president was even thinking about pardons would move the president even closer to impeachment.
And today, we see in the 21st century version of the Nixon administration, there is no Leonard Garment. There is no one saying to Donald Trump, you can`t discuss pardons publicly and you can`t do pardons. There`s no one saying even to Donald Trump`s utterly incompetent TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani, we cannot be caught discussing pardons.
And so, the president of the United States today publicly discussed pardoning Paul Manafort. Quote, I wouldn`t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?
That means there is a pardon table in the White House with a Manafort pardon on it, possibly on the top of the stack of pardons ready to be issued by this president. And this president unlike Richard Nixon wants everyone, everyone to know that he is thinking about pardons, especially Paul Manafort.
If you`re Paul Manafort and the president tells you today that your pardon is sitting on his pardon table, you know that the only way you get that pardon is by not cooperating with Robert Mueller. That`s the only way. And so there is the president of the United States. There he is, committing the crime of obstruction of justice in plain sight. He is willfully obstructing Robert Mueller`s pursuit of justice in the Manafort case and other cases by telling Paul Manafort that he, the president, is thinking about pardoning him.
And when historians are staring at those sentences that the president spoke today, they will find no other publicly uttered lines like that by a president in history. And that comes in a news cycle in which Rudy Giuliani has now repeatedly revealed that Paul Manafort has been sharing information with Donald Trump. Giuliani confirmed to the "Associated Press" that Manafort`s criminal defense lawyer was sharing everything he was discovering about the Mueller investigation while Paul Manafort was in cooperative talks with Mueller`s investigators.
Giuliani said: They share with me the things that pertain to our part of the case. That is what lawyers refer to as a joint defense agreement. But as former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance pointed out on this program at this hour last night, there can be no joint defense agreement with someone who has no defense. Someone who no longer is mounting a defense cannot have a defense agreement.
Paul Manafort was found guilty by a federal jury in Virginia, and then Paul Manafort pleaded guilty in a separate federal case in Washington, D.C. And so, Paul Manafort has no defense. Paul Manafort has no defense, when his lawyer claims to have been participating in a joint defense agreement with the president. That was not a legitimate joint defense agreement.
Paul Manafort`s lawyer, Kevin Downing, may in serious jeopardy for information obtained through his attorney-client privilege with a third party whom there could be no joint defense agreement with. And this is another historic moment in the investigation involving the president of the United States.
One of the president`s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, has confirmed as if perfectly normal, that the president of the United States has been obtaining information from a convicted felon who is also a self-admitted felon who has pleaded guilty. No president in history has ever publicly welcomed such an association. No president in history has ever publicly trafficked in such a relationship, in such an information gathering relationship with a convicted and admitted felon.
And no president`s lawyer has ever deemed it a survivable piece of public information, a piece of information that could just be casually made public. Such is the sheer madness of the Trump world and the legal world, according to Rudy Giuliani. And in a country and news media that has long passed the point of outrage exhaustion, it is very difficult for America tonight to see how outrageous, how criminally minded and how fully impeachable the president`s public comments today reveal him to be.
"The Wall Street Journal" is breaking the news tonight that some of what Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller about, quote, include comments about his personal business dealings and about his contacts with a former associate in Ukraine. That former associate is Konstantin Kilimnik who worked with Manafort`s lobbying firm in Ukraine and has himself been charged by Robert Mueller.
"The Journal" reports Mr. Mueller has long been interested in the relationship between Messrs, Manafort and Kilimnik. He has questioned witnesses about a boat trip Mr. Manafort took with Tom Barrack, a long time friend of Mr. Trump after Mr. Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign in August 2016, say people familiar with the matter. Witnesses believed investigators were seeking to determine whether Mr. Manafort ever met with Mr. Kilimnik on that trip.
Mr. Manafort also allegedly misrepresented information about payments he received related to his lobbying work.
And if that`s not enough, "The Washington Post" has a breaking news report later tonight that Donald Trump`s company, the Trump Organization, quote, turned over to Mueller`s team phone and contacts logs that show multiple calls between the then-candidate and Stone in 2016, Roger Stone in 2016 according to people familiar with the material.
"The Washington Post" reports that Roger Stone says he never discussed anything improper with Donald Trump and added, quote, unless Mueller has tape recordings of the phone calls, what would that prove?
Joining us now, Jed Shugerman, professor of law at Fordham University, Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and MSNBC analyst, and Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and MSNBC contributor.
And, Gene, I just want to start with you quickly since you remember every one of these beats that unfolded during the Watergate investigation. The idea that Richard Nixon would ever have allowed himself to be caught publicly discussing the pardons of Bob Haldeman and others was just unthinkable to Nixon who knew where the impeachment lines were drawn.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, because there were lines. There used to be lines, Lawrence.
ROBINSON: And, you know, amid the evidence compiled by Leon Jaworski as evidence of Richard Nixon`s obstruction of justice was allegations that he sort of dangled clemency and pardons in front of potential witnesses. And what is Donald Trump doing?
The difference of course is Donald Trump is doing it in public, in front of us. We`re seeing it before our very eyes. And they seem nonchalant, almost proud of the fact they are obstructing justice. I mean, that`s what they`re doing. It is clearly obstruction of justice.
And the only question is whether, you know, it`s legally provable. I`m not a lawyer, but that`s what it is.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, your reaction to this collection of developments that include the president saying outright to Paul Manafort directly publicly today, I`m thinking about pardoning you while Paul Manafort`s plea agreement and cooperation deal collapses.
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, so I think there`s actually an interesting connection between those two events, Lawrence, because Manafort`s treachery and all the time being a kind of double agent for Trump is so improper and so funky that it actually makes the offer of a pardon seem more directly tied to trying to scuttle the investigation of Trump himself. In other words, it suggests that Manafort was going to great lengths, extra legal lengths, very improper lengths in order to have the possibility of a pardon from the president.
And should that pardon eventuate, it will look much more sinister than it looked a few months back. It will look as if it`s exchange for some very suspect and criminal behavior on Manafort`s part.
O`DONNELL: Jed Shugerman, I can`t think of a non-sinister version of the pardon?
JED SHUGERMAN, PROFESSOR OF LAW, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I can think of a faithless version of a pardon as well.
So, I mean, one thing to keep in mind is that this raises the question of obstruction of justice.
SHUGERMAN: It also is a bribery problem. So, bribery is described legally as a quid pro quo for an official act. I think many lawyers look at this and see there`s as ample evidence of obstruction in so many different ways over these two years. But once we get the dangling of a pardon, that is offering an official act in return of a thing of value.
What`s the thing of value? Lies to --
O`DONNELL: The bribery is Donald Trump bribing Paul Manafort for his silence, saying, I will pay you a pardon if you give me your silence in exchange.
SHUGERMAN: Silence or here lies. The coordination of our lies is a thing of great priceless value. So, I`d say whether it`s bribery claim, it`s conspiracy, but here`s the other thing I want to mention. The lawyers like Downing that you emphasized in the intro, these lawyers are now facing serious criminal jeopardy.
Not necessarily for the communication, but they`re facing criminal jeopardy for participating in the conspiracy to obstruct justice, witness tamper and be a conspiracy for a bribery in the communications between Manafort and Trump.
O`DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin, we look back tonight at the honor of the Nixon White House with people like Leonard Garment who would never, ever allow the kind of thing that Rudy Giuliani is trafficking in with Donald Trump every day.
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s right. I think it`s a combination of hubris and ignorance which is powerful combination in the Trump White House.
I think the timing of this is also very interesting. Remember Donald Trump just turned in his written answers to the special prosecutor just before this story broke. So what do we think that has to do with it? Do we think Trump`s answers have now been synced up so to speak with Manafort and the lies he`s been telling the prosecutor?
That could well be and that could well account for the timing of the revelation that Manafort has been lying to the special prosecutors. So, there`s all kinds of ways in which Donald Trump is going to get caught up in this and which his lawyers are going to get caught up. They seem not to understand that the special prosecutor knows much more about what`s going on than they do, that he has all kinds of ways of confirming the information, that he has documentary evidence and he has other witnesses.
And what they think they`re doing pulling a fast one on Robert Mueller is somewhat mind-boggling. Aside from the illegality, how can you be so stupid to think you`re going to get away with this?
O`DONNELL: We`re going to squeeze in a break here and continue with more of our coverage of these developments of the Mueller investigation.
And when we come back, we know a lot more apparently now about President Trump`s written answers to the questions that special counsel Robert Mueller gave him.
We`ll be back with more.
O`DONNELL: Tonight, we`re learning more details about how Donald Trump answered some of special prosecutor Robert Mueller`s written questions. Two sources familiar with the matter tell NBC News that Donald Trump denied knowing about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the Russians who were there promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump also denied talking to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and its dump of e-mails stolen by Russian agents from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton`s campaign chair John Podesta.
The source tells NBC News that Donald Trump indicated that he answered the questions -- this is the key phrase -- to the best of his recollection.
Back with us, Jed Shugerman, Harry Litman, Eugene Robinson and Jennifer Rubin.
Jed Shugerman, what does that mean legally when someone says this answer is to the best of my recollection?
SHUGERMAN: They`re trying to plug in some words with lawyers that think they`ve outsmarted this process by using written statements. That actually cuts the opposite way in a certain sense. When Trump is answering questions live you can always price in a certain kind of vagueness or dancing around in live responses that you`re going to get.
But when you have lawyers drafting statements, you have much more credibility on the line because you`ve written them down with lawyers. That can backfire if they`ve lied about anything. You can`t just say I`ve misstated something because it was assumed to have been done with writing.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, your reaction to what we know so far about the president`s written answers?
LITMAN: Well, first I was surprised they were concrete and actually spoke directly to the Trump Tower meeting and to the Stone involvement. Second, they do seem to dovetail with what Manafort said he was being badgered, in his words, about by Mueller, although, they are two fairly obvious topics, so really no great revelation there.
But to Jed`s point I agree, except I think what`s going on here is Trump is envisioning a sort of political process where this plays out in the Senate or in a report or in the public eye rather than in a court of law. And at that point his sort of bobbing and weaving, saying best of my recollection, et cetera, could fly in a way it wouldn`t be for a jury if it gives Senate Republicans enough cover to say -- well, we`re not going to convict him based on that.
So I think that`s part of the calculation that the written answers envision.
O`DONNELL: This is another one of those days when we realize what -- how much has changed for Donald Trump since the midterm elections. Let`s listen to what Adam Schiff said today about what the Democrats will be looking for in this arena.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: One of the key documents, for example, we are going to pursue are the phone records that would show who was on that phone call that Don Jr. had sandwiched in between his calls to setup the meeting at Trump Tower with Emin Agalarov. So there are steps we`re taking to try to determine the facts and that`s what we`ll be pursuing.
REPORTER: You will be pursuing those records?
SCHIFF: We will be pursuing them and as is our practice, we will seek to get any records we can get voluntarily, but there may be requirements of the telecommunications company among others subpoena them. So, it won`t fall whatever process is necessary to get answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, it`s not just the special prosecutor that the Trump world has to deal with now.
ROBINSON: No, no, it`s not. I mean, they`re going to have to deal with the Democratic Congress with subpoena power, able to subpoena documents, to call people up to testify. That`s a whole new ball game.
And, you know, about that Trump Tower meeting since -- you know, let`s go wheels within wheels within wheels. You know, the president submits these answers saying oh, I knew nothing about this meeting, he -- presumably before that he perhaps heard from the Manafort team what kinds of questions were being asked about that meeting.
Well, suppose Robert Mueller was not entirely convinced that Paul Manafort was pulling strings. Suppose Mueller was very careful in what he said to Manafort in the way he posed questions to Manafort, not to give away any sort of concrete documentary evidence or any other evidence he might have of Trump`s foreknowledge of that meeting, so that Manafort could tell Trump essentially they`ve got nothing on you, you can deny, you could say you didn`t hear anything about it and they`ve got nothing. In fact, they might have something.
So I don`t discount Robert Mueller`s savvy regarding Manafort and his true allegiances.
O`DONNELL: Jerome Corsi is the other character from Trump world who is pulling away from what was to be an agreement with the special prosecutor to plead guilty to a single perjury count. Ari Melber interviewed Jerome Corsi today.
And let`s just -- the audience should understand at the outset, Jerome Corsi is a pathological liar. He`s a professional pathological liar. He was the originator of the attacks on John Kerry`s service in Vietnam where John Kerry served honorably and was decorated in combat as a commander of a swift boat. Jerome Corsi was part of it, was the originator of the accusations to try to turn that service against John Kerry. He was the originator of the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
So with that let`s listen to pathological liar Jerome Corsi being interviewed by Ari Melber.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: You also have a joint defense agreement with President Trump. Is that still active today?
JEROME CORSI, ROGER STONE ASSOCIATE: Yes, it was not formally written. We acted that way and we represented such in the special counsel, we know that.
MELBER: You do or do not have a joint defense agreement?
CORSI: There`s nothing in writing. My attorneys and the president`s attorneys are communicating as if there were an agreement --
MELBER: You have a verbal understanding of an agreement?
CORSI: Yes, that`s correct, and that exists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin, the president and his attorneys are communicating with every pathological liar and criminal out there that they possibly can.
RUBIN: It`s remarkable, actually. And because there is no defense for someone who has already pled guilty, what they have said, everything they have said is discoverable. So, those lawyers are now themselves potential criminal defendants in a scheme to obstruct justice or to execute a bribery.
They will have to be called in. They must testify. They must give the prosecutor everything he wants to know.
And if you want to put another layer on top of this, "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that those evening calls from Roger Stone to Donald Trump during the campaign were ongoing. That Donald Trump would call from, get this, a blocked number, call Roger Stone on a regular basis and they would talk.
The report does not indicate if we know the content of that conversation. But that`s another area that the special prosecutor is surely going to explore. And there may be other evidence pointing to what was said if people talk to others about what the conversation was, if Roger Stone sends an e-mail to someone else referencing those calls.
So, this is a whole another just one of holes and tunnels for the special prosecutor to explore. And I think as far as those lawyers go, the lawyers are going to need lawyers.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and Roger Stone`s comment to "The Washington Post" about it was, of course, the classically criminal framing of if the prosecutor doesn`t have tape recordings of those conversations what difference does it make?
Just another extraordinary piece of reporting by "The Washington Post."
Jennifer Rubin, Gene Robinson, Harry Litman, Jed Shugerman, thank you all for starting us off tonight on this important night of analysis of these developments in the investigation.
When we come back, the midterm election has really changed everything for Donald Trump and he learned that again today in the United States Senate 14 Republican senators turned against the president on an important vote today in the Senate. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley will join us on that, next.
O`DONNELL: The Republican defeat in the midterm elections has changed everything for Donald Trump. The Republican-controlled Senate turned against Donald Trump today in a way that it never did prior to the Republicans losing the House of Representatives. Senate Republicans can now see that staying in lockstep with Donald Trump for the next two years would mean marching to a wipeout for Senate Republicans two years from now, similar to what the House Republicans suffered this year.
And so today, 14 Republicans in the Senate including hardcore Trump supporters like Lindsey Graham turned against the president on a vote that would block U.S. support for Saudi Arabia`s war in Yemen. Those 14 Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting against the administration policy in Yemen. In the end, the vote was 63-37 with the president on the losing side of that vote. Some of the Republican Senators changed their minds on this issue claiming that it was the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that changed their minds about how to vote today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I changed my mind because I`m pissed. The way the administration`s handled the Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable. I mean institutionally, we have a right to be briefed by the CIA. How can I make an informed decision as a United States Senator about whether or not the crown prince is complicit in a murder if I don`t have access to the intelligence that I read about in the paper? That`s unacceptable for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Everything Donald Trump did was fully acceptable to Lindsey Graham before the midterm election. Today, the full Senate was given a closed-door briefing on the situation in Saudi Arabia, including the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And many Senators, Democrats and Republicans, were disturbed that the director of the CIA Gina Haspel who knows more about the Khashoggi case than anyone else in the Trump administration was prevented from participating in the briefing, prevented by the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURIN (D), ILLINOIS: The most persuasive presence in this briefing was an empty chair, a chair that should have been occupied by Gine Haspel, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. We were told in this briefing that it was at the direction of the White House that she not attends.
HAAKE: Senator, were you explicitly told that the White House blocked Gina Haspel from coming to this meeting?
DURBIN: We asked why Gina Haspen isn`t there and the two who were there said that was a decision by the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The two who were there were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis. After their briefing concluded, the CIA Press Secretary released this written statement. While Director Haspel did not attend today`s Yemen policy briefing, the agency has already briefed the Senate select committee on intelligence and congressional leadership on the totality of the compartmented classified intelligence and will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers in Congress. The notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today`s briefing is false.
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon who attended the briefing.
Senator Merkley, what`s your reaction to the CIA`s written statement saying that no one told Director Haspel not to attend this briefing?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, it`s a deflection because certainly her attendance was requested and she didn`t appear. And why didn`t she appear? Would she have done that on her own or would she have consulted with the president`s team? And certainly, always seems that that`s a choice of the president and his team. And so we feel Trump does not want her to share the details about why the CIA strongly believes that the crown prince was very involved in this plot to murder an American resident.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now Secretary of State Pompeo said about Gina Haspel not attending the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why wasn`t the current CIA director here briefing Senators as well?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I was asked to be here, and here I am.
REPORTER: Senators were very frustrated. Normally, in your past role as CIA director, you would be here briefing these Senators on an issue this sensitive. Why isn`t the CIA director herself here today?
POMPEO: I was asked to be here and I`m here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senator Merkley, that coded answer says everything. He can see -- he can offer no legitimate reason why she wasn`t there.
MERKLEY: No, that`s right. And essentially what Pompeo was conveying today was that because Saudi Arabia is a player in the region in a way that supports some of our U.S. objectives that we`re not going to hold them accountable for this murder. It`s basically unbelievable to me that we`re saying that you can murder an American resident with impunity if you buy our arms or help us with some other policy.
O`DONNELL: Senator, how is it that this administration has come to see the Saudi-U.S. relationship as one in which the Saudis have all the power and the United States has none? The Saudis have all the power over the United States to determine what the United States` posture must be to Saudi Arabia.
MERKLEY: Well, this is a bit of a mystery because it very much is the tail wagging the dog. Is it because they supply oil to us? Is it because they buy our arms? That`s what the president has said. Is it because they helped us against ISIS? And I must say that help wasn`t massive.
Let`s remember that it was the Saudis, mostly Saudis that attacked us on 9/11. And remember that the Saudis funded a lot of the extremists` madrassas that trained terrorists that were very much a part of the challenge in the world. And let`s remember it`s the Saudis whose three- year bombing campaign in Yemen has produced the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world and the worst epidemic of cholera ever experienced in human history with something over a hundred children a day dying of disease and starvation.
So we are -- we have a very unbalanced relationship with Saudi Arabia. It`s hard to explain and we`d like to understand all the president`s conflicts of interests in his own transactions, his own business transactions with Saudi. But even the Republicans are gate very frustrated with essentially making America a tool of Saudi policy.
O`DONNELL: And Senator, what was the reaction that you experienced in the room to this briefing?
MERKLEY: Well, it was a -- person after person stood up on both sides of the aisle and expressed extreme frustration, extreme frustration we weren`t getting the briefing. Extreme frustration that Secretary Pompeo was dancing around the core issue. He was conveying that because there wasn`t a smoking gun, that, well, we don`t really know what happened.
But, of course, in a criminal court, there`s tremendous amounts of circumstance evidence that`s relevant and all that information was never mentioned or brought forward. And, of course, the woman who would have brought it forward was the director of the CIA who was not there.
O`DONNELL: Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
MERKLEY: You`re welcome. Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, one of the ways to protect the Mueller investigation is to prevent Donald Trump`s new so-called acting attorney general from interfering with that investigation. That is what some state attorneys` general are trying to do. One of those attorney`s general will join us next.
O`DONNELL: Today, President Trump continued his Twitter attacks against Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller which gave even more ammunition to the majority of the United States Senate that is trying to protect Robert Mueller with legislation that would make it more difficult for the president to have him fired.
This legislation is considered even more urgent by Republican Jeff Flake and other Senators who support it now that the president has installed Matthew Whitaker as the so-called acting attorney general who`s now in a position to supervise and impede the investigation.
Here is Jeff Flake on the Senate floor today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: With the president tweeting on a regular basis, on a daily basis that the special counsel is conflicted, that he is leading a so-called 12 angry Democrats and demeaning and ridiculing him in every way to be so sanguine about the chances of him being fired is folly for us, I believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senator Flake was once again blocked by Senate Republicans in his attempt to get a vote on his bill today, which is co-sponsored by Democrat Chris Coons and other Democrats and it is also supported by enough Republicans to easily pass the Senate. On another front, state attorneys` general have joined a lawsuit that would protect Robert Mueller because it challenges the legitimacy and legality of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.
This week, 14 state attorneys` general joined a lawsuit brought by the State of Maryland challenging the illegal and unconstitutional appointment of Matthew Whitaker. One of the officials who joined that lawsuit, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will join us next.
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. And I want to ask you about this lawsuit that you and the other attorneys` general have joined against Matthew Whitaker. It in effect is asking the court to, let`s see if I get this right, order the president to install a legitimate acting attorney general. Is that essentially what you`re asking for?
MAURA HEALEY (D-MA), ATTORNEY GENERAL: That`s right. We`re asking for a court order for the president to follow federal law and the Constitution. And here`s why this is so important, Lawrence. We need an attorney general who`s there to protect the public and not the president. And as we`ve seen and as we`ve heard, we know what this is about and we know what the president is trying to do with the Whitaker appointment.
And as state attorneys` general, what we are making clear through this court filing is that it violates federal law because there`s a clear law that says who the attorney general actually is supposed to be when there is a vacancy and that is not someone like Matt Whitaker. It`s, in fact, the deputy attorney general. It violates the Constitution because anybody who serves as acting attorney general is in fact supposed to have been Senate- confirmed.
And really importantly, Lawrence, it also, as we go forward, undermines the legitimacy of every single action taken by the Department of Justice. And you know there are thousands of lawsuits right now all across this country in which the Department of Justice is taking a position. All of its actions are now called into question legally as a result of this. So we need order restored immediately and that`s why we`re in court.
O`DONNELL: On November 8, you wrote a letter that was co-signed by many of the attorneys` generals directly to Matthew Whitaker saying, "Because a reasonable person could question your impartiality in the matter, your recusal is necessary to maintain public trust in the integrity of the investigation and to protect the essential and long-standing independence of the department you have been chosen to lead on an acting basis." Have you gotten an answer to your letter from Matthew Whitaker?
HEALEY: No, not at all. And, you know, that raises a whole other issue, Lawrence. I`m talking about the legal arguments that we`ve made in a court filing but you`re right. A few weeks ago, when Matthew Whitaker was appointed, we sent a letter demanding that he recuse himself.
Let`s just remember the context of this. Jeff Sessions did the right thing and had the common sense to fulfill his ethical obligation and recuse himself when there was the appearance of conflict. Here with Matt Whitaker, we have clear conflict. Look at all he has said and done about his efforts and desire to shut down an ongoing criminal investigation.
So in the face of an existing conflict, we have an acting attorney general who`s refused to step aside, refused to recuse himself, that`s what we demanded. But right now, we`ve moved beyond that and we`re in court.
O`DONNELL: Now, you as an attorney general and other attorneys` general around the country have lawsuits that you filed. federal lawsuits in which the attorney general is a named party. And therefore, it is of crucial legal importance to you who the attorney general actually really is. Isn`t that also a factor in criminal cases, that there could be criminal defendants who are on the road to conviction or at some point in the process who in an appeal of a conviction can raise the issue of this case was brought illegally under an illegitimate attorney general?
HEALEY: Absolutely. And that`s why this is so critical, that the court act now, and restore order, make sure that Whitaker is removed and that the deputy attorney general assumes the role as is required under federal law of acting attorney general until an attorney general is appointed.
Think about all these cases right now. We have criminal defendants. We have plaintiffs. We have civil defendants, all of whom had their cases compromised and the legitimacy of actions undermined by the existence of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. There will be litigation for years to come as a result of this appointment unless and until order is restored, Whitaker is out, and the deputy A.G. assumes properly under the law the role of acting attorney general.
So this raises huge issues for the rule of law and for order in our courts all across this country. It`s illegal. It`s unethical. It`s wrong. And that`s why we`re in court, asking the court to act for the sake of the American people.
O`DONNELL: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. Really appreciate it.
HEALEY: Great to be with you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
Tonight`s last word is next.
O`DONNELL: And tonight`s last word, an update on Giving Tuesday. Last night, after the show, I tried to keep up with all of your comments on Twitter about your Giving Tuesday contributions to the K.I.N.D. fund, Kids In Need Of Desks, the partnership I created with MSNBC and UNICEF to provide desks to schools in Africa and to provide scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi, where like many African countries, public high school is not free.
But I could not come close to keeping up with the flow of your tweets last night. I liked as many of them as I could. I replied to as many of them as I could. I retweeted some. It really was an overwhelming flow, helped enormously by Brian Williams` very generously adding his voice at the end of his program last night to supporting the K.I.N.D. fund.
And so I was not completely surprised today after all of that tweet activity last night that we had a very good fundraising yield from Giving Tuesday. But I was stunned to discover that it was more than double what you contributed last year on Giving Tuesday. Since Monday night at 11:00 p.m., when we first mentioned our Giving Tuesday drive, you have contributed $438,750 to the K.I.N.D. fund. And we still have a very long way to go to provide desks for every school in Malawi that needs desks and scholarships for every kid there who needs help staying in high school.
You can donate anytime at lastworddesks.msnbc.com but for tonight, we owe you a very big thank you for your record breaking giving Tuesday.