IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump at G20, TRANSCRIPT: 11/30/2018, The Last Word w. Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: E.J. Dionne

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: November 30, 2018 Guest: E.J. Dionne

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That`s going to do it for us tonight except for one teeny tiny little best new thing in the world. My wonderful mom and pop celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary today. My mom was fresh off the boat from New Finland, and she wore a white mini dress. My dad was a captain in the Air Force, and he wore his uniform. No, you can`t see the wedding picture, that`s private.

But it was in this state in 1968 at a chapel, at Presidio in San Francisco, and today marks a half century for them since then. Fifty years of better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. Happy 50th, mom and dad, you`re amazing. And with that, now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" tonight with Ari Melber, sitting in for Lawrence. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Can I wish your parents a happy anniversary?

MADDOW: Everybody is allowed to. I`m so excited for them. You are absolutely allowed.

MELBER: Happy anniversary.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Before I let you go to your weekend, I have to ask you. We cover this stuff a lot, daily you might say. But when I look at this week, it does seem like much more of an inflection point in that it`s the first time Mueller has identified Trump family members as relevant to filing. It`s the first time he`s charged on an American lying in a way that helps Russia. Does it feel like we`re getting to an inflection point for you or are you just taking it one day at a time?

(LAUGHTER) MADDOW: No, it feels like we have now entered into a new phase, and it may have started with the Manafort stuff at the beginning of the week in terms of taking that hard 90-degree turn in the cooperation deal with him, announcing that he`s in breach, that he`s lied, that there`s going to be a full explanation from the special counsel`s office, which we may get next week in terms of what he has done and how that fits into his larger role in the scandal.

But then to get the Michael Cohen stuff and to get the Trump Tower Moscow Project including the involvement of individual one, President Trump, put front and center and made the subject of a felony conviction, this is -- this is a new phase. And we are going to get a lot more from the special counsel`s office over the course of the next few days next week. But I think that we should expect this to be rolling out fast now. MELBER: Exactly. And I will say on a law school note and letting you go, watching you read the intense legal factual drama of a hearing, law schools all across America could use that. It was more interesting than reading the transcript which I`ve done from time to time. MADDOW: You know, it`s kind of just me reading the transcript out loud, but I do the little voices. Eventually I`m going to get puppets or maybe friends.

(LAUGHTER) MELBER: Puppets? Well, puppets are some of the best friends we can all have.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Rachel, I wish you a great weekend and a happy anniversary weekend to your family.

MADDOW: Thanks very much, Ari. Much appreciate it, my friend.

MELBER: Thank you to Rachel. Today, we begin with this thought that is a fact. A United States president arrives at a major foreign policy summit with the world credibly wondering whether that president is actually there representing the United States, which is what he`s supposed to be doing, or is he there representing himself, as a private businessman who simply uses his role in American politics and global geopolitics to that effect?

Is he a compromised former candidate who owes Russia? That question hung over the scene you just saw there because of what I was just discussing with Rachel. Donald Trump`s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted things in court this week that actually go beyond crimes, which of course matter because there was a crime, but go towards something else, which is U.S. national security.

Cohen telling the world he lied about the president`s business interests in Russia as they were being pursued during the campaign, and that the Russian government was in on the truth that they were lying to us about. Just think about that, just that part before we get to the rest. That`s what we learned this week.

Cohen and Trump had a lie designed to deceive American voters and American press and American government, but the Russian government knew it was a lie. They were in on it the whole time. They knew Donald Trump was trying to build this Trump Tower in Moscow worth potentially millions, while Donald Trump was running for president. And some people at the Kremlin reportedly knew the Trump Organization wanted to give Putin a $50 million penthouse gift at that tower if it were built.

Former acting director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, tweeting overnight that Putin had, yes, the seeds of blackmail. So is this G20 Summit gets under way today? No one was involved in any of this who follows the news or foreign policy could miss this extraordinary moment.

Vladimir Putin and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, another leader who Donald Trump has at times inexplicably defended, having something between a bro hug and a high-five there on the world stage. The crown prince also leads the country where Trump has other significant business interests. We don`t know the extent of those either. We don`t have the tax returns.

What were those two celebrating? Well, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, foreign policy leader himself, tweeted, "that feeling when you own the president and can do whatever you want." That is just one critic`s view, but remember Donald Trump`s first national security advisor, Mike Flynn? President Trump was of course forced to fire him because Flynn lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador and the Justice Department found out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. Not only do we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And according to this man who used to run the CIA, the Russians had the seeds of blackmail on the president. Now, Donald Trump began the day with a tweet defending the entire operation that he knows, we know he lied about. The pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow. Here`s how he puts it now. "Very legal and very cool." Adding, "lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn`t do the the project. Witch hunt."

Now, let`s be clear about why I`m even showing you that. It is because facts matter, and the president is no longer clinging to the lie that he was busted for. He could, I guess. But he knows even in an environment where he`s leaning on his own people to think of everything as a witch hunt, that is too much. So you`re witnessing the president changed his story as it demolishes itself with an assist from his former fixer and lawyer.

Before Michael Cohen`s plea, Trump had said he had nothing to do with Russia. Now, he lightly looked. The president also ignoring the question of how he`s compromised. But it`s difficult to ignore that question as Trump and Putin find themselves there at the G20 Summit as we witnessed foreign policy in the making.

The president seemed to intentionally keep some distance from Putin, and the claimed the decision to cancel that scheduled meeting which he had tweeted out just a few hours after Cohen`s guilty plea has nothing to do with any of this. In fact, he invoked Russia`s attack on Ukrainian ships that happened counted up four days earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not happy about it. Nobody is. And hopefully they`ll be able to settle it out soon because we look forward to meeting with President Putin. But on the basis of what took place with respect to the ships and the sailors, that was the sole reason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And here`s the Kremlin`s reaction, basically taunting the president`s explanation today, saying, "we`ve heard the official explanation and taken not of it, but is it true? I think the true reason is rooted in the domestic political situation in the U.S." If you`ve heard about Donald Trump trolling people, it looks like he`s getting trolled back but by this adversary that may or may not have all this stuff on him.

Russian state media, I can tell you, also indicated that Trump and Putin might still somehow interacted at the G20. And Putin`s own spokesperson said, "well, they might meet on their feet like some other leader meetings there." The president says this also in an interview with Voice of America`s Greta Van Susteren tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Frankly, in light of what happened with Ukraine with the ships and the sailors, it just wouldn`t be the right time. But I will meet with him. I think we have a very good relationship, and I think we`re going to have a very good relationship with Russia and China and everyone else. I mean, I think it`s important. So, I`ll meet with him at the appropriate time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: That is the new spin replacing the old spin. I`m joined by John McLaughlin who was acting director of the CIA and MSNBC national security analyst for us as well. I`m now joined as well by Malcolm Nance, NBC counter-terrorism intel analyst, and Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at The Washington Post and a contributor for us as well. Good evening to each of you.

John, this looks like a national security problem even if it is not itself illegal, the business dealings, which is yet to be investigated. JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That`s right. I think by lying to the American public as he did and by the fact that the Russians knew he was lying, had this never come to light, this would be a classic case of what the Russians call kompromat. Sometimes people compare that to what we call opposition research here, but in fact, opposition research in the United States is carried out to weaken an opponent.

Russians do this sort of thing to gain leverage. And that`s what they would have gained, had this never come to light, at some point in the future, they would have been able to pull him aside and say, you know, remember when you were talking in your election about the dealings with us, you know that wasn`t true. That would not be something that he would want to come out. MELBER: How do you -- how do you distinguish, though, between what we might call conventional kompromat where something is undeniably bad and somebody has it on --

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MELBER: -- versus what you`re describing here which is what makes this kompromat it would seem to be primarily is the lying and the conduct of Trump and Cohen, not the fact that at some point in time, someone who is in business sought more business. MCLAUGHLIN: That`s correct. And it isn`t traditional kompromat in the sense that Russians often carried this out which is usually through doctored videos and so forth and so on. Usually, a kompromat comes about when you end up taking something you shouldn`t take. Information, sex, money. Those are classic Russian cases.

The Trump Tower meeting would be another case where had that never come out through the media in the future, had this been a normal administration, and had the Russians wanted to exert some leverage, simply holding an e-mail in which Donald Trump, Jr. had said, yes, I`d love to have dirt on Hillary Clinton in the middle of a campaign, that too, would have been a card they could have played had it never come out. MELBER: You said had this been a normal administration. Are you saying this is not a normal administration?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think you know what I mean. Just follow the last week or two. It`s not a normal administration in the sense that there`s so much corruption. There`s the Mueller investigation. MELBER: You don`t have to answer that seriously. It`s a super bonkers administration. I think we all know that. RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Super bonkers.

MELBER: You`re very careful.

MCLAUGHLIN: I like super bonkers.

MELBER: Super bonkers.

MARCUS: Yeah.

MELBER: Ruth, we need to do a reeducation of all the times that Donald Trump was overtly lying about this during the campaign because reasonable people who may have disliked him at the time still wouldn`t assume, maybe, that everything he was saying about Russia was a lie then. A lot of it looks worse now just with these disclosures tonight, just what I was discussing with Rachel. I want to play some of that for your analysis. This is him discussing Putin in 2015. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you like Vladimir Putin`s comments about you?

TRUMP (via telephone): Sure. When people call you brilliant, it`s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, MSNBC: Well, I mean, also it`s a person that kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries. Obviously that -- it would be a concern, would it not? TRUMP (via telephone): He`s running this country and at least he`s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country. SCARBOROUGH: But, again, he kills journalists that don`t agree with him. TRUMP (via telephone): Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe. So, you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARCUS: Well, those comments were appalling and shameful at the time and they were different from what any other Republican or Democratic candidate for president or pretty much any other office short of a dogcatcher would say.

But to see those comments and all of the other comments that he made about Vladimir Putin and Russia during the campaign and afterwards and to understand those now in light of what we now know about his business interests and his business dealings during the campaign, remember we knew some of this already, that not from him and not during the campaign because it had already come out that, yes, there was in fact this Moscow Project that was going on. Now we know it extended for way longer during the campaign than we could have imagined.

So to look at all of this now, all of his comments now in light of what we now know is just extraordinary that sheds some light on to help at least explain why he has been so loving towards Vladimir Putin and so submissive towards Russia both throughout his candidacy and in his presidency.

MELBER: Malcolm, I want to ask you something that`s been on my mind that I don`t think we`ve dug to the bottom of and we`ve been covering this story now a couple of days in a couple of forums. And that is, why do you think that the Trump folks wouldn`t take this moment to say, you know what, we made some bad calls about business, but this is all about business. There`s no election collusion, there`s no hacking conspiracy.

What I`m saying is, a good criminal defense attorney for this president and some of the people around him could seize this moment and say this is the thing, it`s a business thing, but this is what was on his mind when he said all those weird Russia things, not some larger criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States. Why do you think they haven`t done that? MALCOLM NANCE, COUNTER-TERRORISM INTEL ANALYST, NBC: Because I think it`s being directed from the top down. And this is the way Donald Trump has always done business. I believe that what we have here is a very broad- based criminal conspiracy. But it`s a conspiracy to them that they don`t believe since they now run all the wheels of government. They don`t believe that any of this is of a matter, if it has to deal with Donald Trump making money and Donald Trump advancing the Trump family organization.

That being said, this is -- it`s very clear, and John McLaughlin made this very well in his tweet. What we have here is not just the edge of blackmail. We`re two and a half years into blackmail here because as we see it, the person who has kompromat on him, who now has leverage from a former KGB case officer, a person whose job was to exploit this, is the president of the United States, which means we don`t know whether the nuclear posture of the United States has been compromised.

We clearly see the foreign policy of the United States has been compromised on multiple levels by multiple players. You know, the way that foreign spies get their victims is through an acronym that`s used in the intelligence community called mice, M-I-C-E.

They get you through money, ideology, coercion or corruption or they play to your ego. And Donald Trump is a walking example of how any intelligence officer can turn someone against their own nation. And John Brennan said, most of the time, they don`t even know that they`re committing treason.

MELBER: John, here was how Putin handled the public discussion of that potential kompromat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you -- does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF Russia: Yeah, I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he visited Moscow. It`s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please, just disregard those issues and don`t think about this anymore again. TRUMP: And I have to say, if they had it, it would have out long ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m curious of all your analysis of that, especially given what we know now and including Donald Trump`s decision to jump in on a question that was not posed to him there. MCLAUGHLIN: Putin didn`t say no. That`s the main thing. He talked all around it. And he said don`t talk about this anymore. And Trump jumped in to kind of underline the point in an odd sort of way. So it leaves you not knowing, but it leaves you as the whole Helsinki summit aftermath left you, scratching your head about what really went on in that room.

The fact that I actually can`t think of another presidential summit at that level on which we know so little. They`re entitled to confidential discussions, and there`s classified information that they don`t have to put on the table, but so very little has been said about what actually transpired in that room that it stands out, I think, in the history of presidential summits. MELBER: Right, and it becomes another piece of archive or history that has to be reassessed given the incriminating information that has come out just this week alone. John and Ruth and Malcolm, thanks to each of you on quite a busy Friday night.

We have a lot more in this episode of |THE LAST WORD. The Michael Cohen confession revealing Trump family members could face their own legal jeopardy over what they did.

And later, some Republicans standing by the president until they don`t. There is a GOP reckoning coming, and we have some proof to show you. That`s tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Now, let`s turn to a story that I`ve been arguing is pretty important when you take in the whole week. Bob Mueller just name checked Donald Trump`s family for the first time. And that itself is big. Now, sure here on the news and in politics, people discuss all the time how the Trump family seems implicated in problems related to the Trump business and the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency.

But now this is different because the special counsel is telling a court that the family`s involvement is relevant to at least one indictment, as Michael Cohen discussed his status and progress of that Moscow Project with individual one, Donald Trump, and "briefed family members of individual one within the company about the project."

Shortly after this plea deal was revealed, Yahoo News then reported multiple sources asserting that Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. were also working to make Trump Tower Moscow a reality. Another story is telling Yahoo News that Mueller has asked questions about their work on Trump Tower Moscow.

Joining me now is Daniel Goldman, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York where a lot of that Cohen action went down, and Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama and both MSNBC analysts. Let me start with you, Daniel. What do you see as legally important for the family?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, I think you could put it into three different (INAUDIBLE). You`ve got Don Jr.`s testimony to Congress which is increasingly looking suspect. You`ve got some issues with the Trump Organization and potential foreign corrupt practices act, bribing foreign officials in order to do business in other countries. And then you`ve got the big unknown which is what their role was in what we`ve been calling collusion.

And you`re right to point out that Michael Cohen`s indictment and his criminal information references the children in connection to Trump Tower. But Bob Mueller is not investigating Trump Tower Moscow. He`s not investigating the Trump Organization. He is investigating Russian collusion. And there has to be a materiality component to these false statements so they have to have influenced Mueller`s investigation.

So the big question is, how does the Trump Tower Moscow connect with Russian collusion? That sort of remains open. And then there`s this issue which connects them a little bit and particularly Don Jr. in that June 2016 meeting which is sanctions.

If you need to remove the sanctions in order to do the Trump Tower deal, then Don Jr. talking to Russians in June of 2016 about sanctions becomes a lot more close -- a lot closer to what Bob Mueller is looking at.

MELBER: And you`re using a little bit of legal jargon there talking about materiality. What you`re saying is, it can`t be a random insignificant lie. It`s got to be an important back to the collusion. So what are you getting at there?

GOLDMAN: That it has to -- the Trump Tower Moscow and what Michael Cohen lied about has to have been capable of influencing the investigation. That`s what materiality means. It has to matter and it has to matter to the investigation.

And I guess the main point here is that this is not the southern district of New York charging Michael Cohen with making false statements about Trump Tower. It`s Bob Mueller who is investigating the campaign. So somehow, these two things have to connect. And we`re waiting to see how Mueller will connect them.

MELBER: And Joyce, do you see that connection as involving money?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MSNBC ANALYST: You know, it`s interesting. We see so much of the contours of the investigation, but we don`t know exactly where the pieces are on the chessboard or what roles they play.

I think Dan is actually dead on the money on his assessment of this. When we talk about materiality and try to decide if it`s money or something else, a way that`s helpful for me to think about it is if you`re investigating me for bank robbery and I lie to you about my hair color, nobody cares very much. It`s not material.

But if I lie to you about being asked to drive the get-away car, then that would be an important matter and something that I could be charged for lying about. It`s the same deal here. It looks like a lot of the smoke surrounds the money and the money making potential.

Dan mentions the foreign corrupt practices act which is where a lot of us think Mueller may be looking. Short answer is, we`ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.

MELBER: On the family member side, they would argue they weren`t originating this plan. This is coming from Felix Sater and Cohen`s the one making the calls. And they`re receiving, you know, this kind of information or plotting that didn`t ultimately come to fruition. It`s still a little different from their old defense. Take a listen to Eric Trump sounding like, well, like his dad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIC TRUMP, SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It`s the greatest hoax of all time. I was there throughout the campaign. We have no dealings in Russia. We have no projects in Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MELBER: Daniel? GOLDMAN: Well, look, I mean this is where we get into semantics. Ultimately there was no deal in Russia. That is true. But what they were hiding is their efforts to make a deal in Russia that miraculously and perhaps, you know, not coincidentally ceased on the same day that it became public that Russia had hacked the DNC`s e-mails.

So, there is a link right there, and we get a sense of around the edges of a lot of links. And unfortunately, Ari, and for the viewers, you know, we`re going to have to wait until Bob Mueller connects these dots. I am guessing there are more e-mails and I am guessing that Michael Cohen`s testimony is a lot more robust than what`s in that criminal information. That is really going to tell the story. MELBER: Joyce, a final thought from you on that point and why Mueller puts what he -- what he includes in this and what he`s holding back?

VANCE: Mueller doesn`t put out anything beyond what he has to to accomplish his immediate goal. In order to achieve the Cohen plea, it was important to put certain facts into the pleadings, and he has given us those. But it has to be true that there is a lot more. We know that Cohen has cooperated for a large number of hours.

There are other cooperators. Felis Sater and perhaps people that we are not aware are cooperating yet. At end of the day, it looks to me like all this financial dealing in Moscow will somehow converge on what we`ve all called the collusion, the effort by Russia to influence the outcome of the election. And it will get neatly wrapped up into one package. We just don`t know exactly how that all works out yet. MELBER: It`s pretty fascinating stuff. Joyce Vance and Daniel Goldman, thanks to both of you. Up next, Michael Cohen`s guilty plea has some Republicans now warning their own party they have to be ready for a day when they can no longer accept the president`s defenses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The facts on the Russia probe clearly got worse for Donald Trump this week, from his lawyer confessing to those Russia lies to his campaign chair getting busted for an alleged double-cross operation against the special counsel to these damning facts that we`ve all seen accumulate, and it may move Trump critics and independents for sure or at least harden the resistance that`s already out there. But what about Conservatives and Republicans? Well, tonight, I can report some of it may be changing.

Take a Conservative with a very conservative iconic last name Podhoretz, John Podhoretz who announced that while he has long been a self-described skeptic of the collusion with the Russia story, two big developments, he says, now show there may be a strong case for collusion, the revelation that Cohen lied about Trump`s business interest.

And two, I`m reading from him, "The first possible connection between Russian intelligence and actions taken by the president, Credico telling Jerome Corsi that WikiLeaks had a lot of stuff on Hillary and Corsi telling Roger Stone the stuff was coming and that Trump should start to talk about Hillary`s health which he did. And Podhoretz didn`t just announce that there, he wrote it and published it in the very conservative Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post for, I presume, many other conservatives to read and see and judge for themselves.

Or take another Republican Matt Lewis who now warns his fellow conservatives they should question how they will react in the future if Mueller`s evidence does show what he calls nefarious, unethical, and criminal actions that go at the height of the Trump administration. Reading from Mr. Lewis, "We should be ready to accept the very real possibility that serious misdemeanors were committed and lies told. The people who defend the indefensible, who put "loyalty" to a man, not principle or America, above all else will not be judged well by history."

Joining me now for a little contemporaneous history is the E.J. Dionne, opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and analyst here. And back with me at the table in Washington, Ruth Marcus.

E.J., two op-eds does not a revolution make. I`m sure you`re familiar with that old Mark Twain quite. But what is happening here in your view?

E.J. DIONNE, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC: Well, good on John Podhoretz and Matt Lewis, I think it should be said that they`ve always been a little more independent from Donald Trump than most Republican politicians. And I think it`s going to take more evidence to push for Republicans against Trump now than it took to push them against Richard Nixon in 1973 and `74 because this is much more conservative and less presidentially independent party.

But we did have an interesting moment this week when the Senate voted by a very big margin against the president`s position on Saudi Arabia. And there were a lot of Republican defections. And a political scientist I was talking to tonight had an interesting idea that this was kind of a trial run. These Republicans will be able to see how much pushback do they get for breaking with Trump like this.

Now, the Saudi issue is not one I suspect Trump`s passionate supporters have really strong opinions on. But it is an indicator that it is possible for Republicans to break with Trump. But as I said, I think Mueller is going to have to come up with a lot of evidence before most of them are ready to walk away.

MELBER: Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So I`m an op-ed editor so I have to say I think two op-eds do can revolution make but I would like to see the op-eds be from say a sitting elected Republican as opposed to armed chair Conservative just opining. And what we have seen all along and during the Trump administration is an increasingly capitulation of the elected part of the Republican party. Certainly, a lot of the Conservative commentary has accommodated itself in a quite disappointing way to Trump itself as well.

MELBER: So let me ask you how do you --

MARCUS: But it`s the elected officials who have really not stood up to him.

MELBER: How do you explain that being the political op-ed editor that you are, after a November election that delivered 39 seats to Democrats, a larger popular margin than we`ve seen in 40 years including the midterms after Watergate, a higher voter turnout since women were given the right to vote in midterms. I mean just a huge blue wave that shows, and that`s midterms, that the further reckoning may be coming for Republicans who don`t find their own independence here.

MARCUS: So a reckoning may be coming but a few things. One is before the general election reckoning is a primary reckoning, and it goes back to something that E.J. mentioned, which is you can imagine a world maybe not that many months from now in which Mueller comes out with a devastating report and Congressional support for President Trump begins to crumble in the way that it did during Watergate. And we sort of have this rosy view of Watergate where brave, honest Republicans stood up. No, they didn`t.

MELBER: No.

MARCUS: They didn`t turn against Richard Nixon until they had to turn against Richard Nixon but we do have --

MELBER: And the people turned first.

MARCUS: And the people turned first. So when Republican Senators and Republican House members are convinced that their electoral fate is better off diverging themselves from Donald Trump, they will do that because there`s no love lost for Donald Trump among most of these. But when you have a gerrymandered, very polarized primary base electorate that`s still solidly with Trump, they are the voters and their leaders or elected officials will follow for them.

MELBER: Well, and E.J., that goes to a migration we`ve seen in a lot of Republican thought which went from well, of course, it would be wrong to get foreign help with a campaign to something much more muddled, which is preview of a strategy to minimize even damning things in the Mueller report. I obviously was thinking about this as I was interviewing Jerome Corsi this week because he is the red-hot center of that.

Mueller has given him paperwork showing that he may indict him for lying, but he was very blunt in our interview about saying the whole point of the intel he was trying to gather from WikiLeaks was to help Trump. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEROME CORSI: Told Stone, I told everybody I knew and I knew it would help Donald Trump and I was happy to do that. I was speculating but I was sure I was right.

MELBER: Is it accurate to say you expected Roger to tell Trump?

CORSI: I didn`t -- look, logically, should I have expected it, yes, of course.

MELBER: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Yes, of course, E.J., he admits he went to Europe to get this intel on the stolen e-mails and wanted to get it to Trump.

DIONNE: Well, you know what, those two op-eds show is that it`s become much harder to continue to support Trump slavishly but it`s not clear that Republicans are ready to stop now. And to go to Ruth`s point, I think the key is when do Republicans start worrying more about a general election result than about a primary result?

And as you suggested, the results certainly in the House races said Republicans have a lot to worry about. So I think there are four Senators who will give us good indications. The two most vulnerable incumbents in 2020 are Susan Collins and Cory Gardener. They`re going to be I think your leading indicators if there starts to be a break with Trump.

Probably the next vulnerable are Tom Tillis in North Carolina and Joni Ernst in Iowa. If they break, then he`s in real trouble and then we may have seen a point where there`s so much evidence that the Republicans can`t hang on. But until --

MELBER: Of course you know what Mark Twain also said is every time it seems like Susan Collins is about to break with Trump, she leaks for four days, gives a couple of press conferences and takes it all back on the Senate floor. I`m sure you remember that old saying.

DIONNE: Mark Twain said it as well as it could be said. No, that`s right. And you saw that on the Kavanaugh business for sure. And that`s why I`m saying it`s going to take a lot to get these folks to break but I think she above everyone has the most to worry about from her general election electorate in Maine.

MARCUS: Not totally sure she`s going to run again. I think that`s still an open question. That will be interesting to watch as well.

MELBER: I mean she`s got to be one of the most phony moderates around.

MARCUS: Well, sometimes she`s voting against her party, but most of the time she`s voting with them. And she did this last time around bigly, I think.

MELBER: Bigly, you heard it here first.

DIONNE: Bigly.

MELBER: Bigly. Well, I`m going to fit in a break but Friday night politics and some very interesting insights. My special thanks to E.J. Dionne and Ruth Marcus, to both of you.

Coming up, theories of the Russia probe ranging from Trump`s involvement is still may be just a coincidence all the way up to the top, that there was a kind of Russian double agent action inside the United States. There`s some very interesting work on this. We`re going to dig into it and where we`re going in n the Mueller probe next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Michael Cohen`s bombshell plea deal this week has raised the stakes for the president and his family. But more than a year and a half into this probe, it`s unclear still how much the stakes have been raised for other members of team Trump. Secrecy, of course, is a hallmark of Mueller`s probe and the scope is still a big secret all the way in.

"ABC News" has reported that nearly three dozen sealed criminal indictments have been added to the federal court dock in D.C. this year, which legal experts say could at least some of them be tied to Mueller and part of a quiet effort to protect his investigation from any premature effort to shut it down. There are also big question marks over what would happen with Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen in these coming weeks.

And so some of the big questions we have going forward is where is this headed, how much will Trump be implicated? Back when the investigation first began, some of the talented legal analysts and writers at the site Law Fair broke down a full seven potential theories of the probe. This is what lawyers call theories of the case. It allows you to look at everything from complete innocence for the president to, as they put it, the most alarming scenario possible. Again, just a theory that Trump had been "Compromised".

Let`s walk through some of the theories. Number one a set of coincidences in disconnected events. Or two, that Trump attracted Russia files meaning that the big action that Trump campaign side was that it basically operated in a way that affirmatively attracted some of these questionable Russia files like Carter Page but didn`t try to do anything with them.

A third theory is that the Russian operation was not about Trump at all, that it was about basically Hillary Clinton that Russia was just trying to damage her but counted on her still winning. Another theory that Russian intel penetrated the campaign but Trump simply didn`t know. That`s true. There is nothing impeachable about any of it. Or theory five, that Russian intelligence actively penetrated the Trump campaign and the Trump basically knew or there was so much smoke he obviously should have known.

The public case that the Russians targeted the Trump campaign for penetration and influence, guess what? That alone is already pretty strong. Then there are two very extreme theories, I mention again this is from a piece about theories. Number six, Kompromat. No direct evidence though has emerged from that although we were discussing it with the CIA`s John McLaughlin tonight.

And then there`s the seventh theory that, "Your president is a "Russian agent". The information that`s come out this week does affect where we are on those spectrums of theories and where this investigation heads next in the coming months, could shed a lot more light or even give us a final answer.

We`re going to get into exactly that next with Malcolm Nance and Joyce Vance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Back with me is Malcolm Nance and Joyce Vance.

Malcolm, we went through some of the theories according to experts. What does the new information do to your working theory?

MALCOLM NANCE: Well, I think number five, six, and seven are all a sequence of events which have led Donald Trump to be not an agent, which is a term of art where you actually are paid and work for a foreign government, but I think he`s a witting asset to where he knows where the money is coming from. He knows they have kompromat on him. He knows that they came into his campaign and he worked with it because he`s a win-it-all type guy.

MELBER: Yes. And you mentioned the money being the trail. Joyce Vance, when you think about whether the money will prove it and you think about the defenses that people need to make, I mean, you know, Meek Mill who`s been in and out of prison, is a musician, has a new album out today. And in it, he says, you know, 250 a show and they, the feds, still think I`m dealing crack. When you bring my name up to the judge, just tell him facts.

The idea that the factual defense that his money is good now, he makes it from music is enough. Do you think that kind of factual or Meek Mill defense will work for the Trump family members here?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S ATTORNEY: I don`t know if the defense really works but I think Meek has a good point, which is that the government always has the burden of proof. And you can`t just assume that because there`s smoke, there`s fire. You can`t assume that because there are deals in Russia that there`s illegality. So the government will have the same burden in this situation that it would have in any other criminal prosecution, of showing that that money really is about illegality and complicity with Russians. And we just don`t know enough publicly to say that yet.

MELBER: I wonder, Joyce, what you think of some of the other things we`re learning about Michael Cohen`s legal odyssey because some of the reporters at "CNN" came up with this and I thought it was interesting that Cohen was, of course, it says a key witness, was under the impression initially that Trump would offer him a pardon to stay on message, how they put it according to two sources. But after that famous raid, one source said it headed south of the president, Trump started to distance himself and then Cohen who`s been around Trump knew the game had changed. Cohen knew things had changed and he acted to protect his family.

What do you think of that arc, which of course doesn`t put Cohen in this gray of light of just being patriotic now? And how do you explain that Trump wouldn`t give him the pardon that so many people who think the worst of Trump think he`s promising pardons all over the place?

VANCE: You know it seems like a realistic arc here. Cohen has never been someone who`s had a change of heart and wants to personally further the American way of life. I mean he`s someone who is opportunistic and who is trying to save his soul. But that said, if there is evidence that the president knew about or was involved in dangling a pardon in front of Michael Cohen in an effort to keep him from cooperating with Mueller, at least for some point of time in this investigation, then the president is in very, very dangerous territory.

MELBER: Right. Because that itself as you`re saying, as with Nixon, could be also obstructive. Briefly, Malcolm, the other thing that came out was House intel members today saying they think they may have other lies on the books. Your view of that.

NANCE: Oh, yes. There are a lot of people who apparently were trying to stay on message with the president, which is now the operative term for lying before Congress, lying before the FBI, and lying before their wife and kids. I think that a lot of people are going to be hauled back, particularly Eric Prince, who has some deep connections to the Russians and the Emirates in this story and others who are just going to have to clarify that or they`re going to have to show their loyalty by going to prison.

MELBER: Very interesting stuff. My thanks to this special impromptu law firm we`ve assembled of Nance and Vance. Have a good weekend, you guys.

NANCE: Thank you.

VANCE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Much appreciate it. What happens when you take Stephen Colbert, a Mueller witness, and MSNBC and put them all together? We will show you with THE LAST WORD next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: And now after a long week, it is time for tonight`s last word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT: Well, it turns out, Corsi`s performance might just be for one viewer.

CORSI: I`m not counting on Donald Trump for anything, including a pardon. That`s not the basis on which I made my decision. I don`t --

MELBER: Why are you bringing up a pardon in a television interview?

CORSI: Well, everybody -- you were talking about it before.

MELBER: But I didn`t ask you about the pardon. You`re bringing up a pardon.

CORSI: I`m bringing it up because I want to make it clear, I don`t expect one, I`m not asking for one.

COLBERT: Yes, pardon me. I beg your pardon. I`m not asking for a pardon by repeatedly bringing up pardons. Pardon? Also, you know who I love? Dolly Pardon, just so talented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So talented, both Stephen Colbert and Dolly Pardon and anybody who might be bringing up pardons. For all the reasons, people do that sort of thing. Tonight, Stephen Colbert does get THE LAST WORD.

And "THE 11TH HOUR" is up next.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END