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Mueller could ensnare Trump and family. TRANSCRIPT: 12/3/18, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Harry Litman, Peter Zeidenberg

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Rachel.

And, Rachel, please, never say never.  Don`t say that this is the last podcast you`re ever going to do because there are now -- Rachel, there are billions of people around the world, billions upon billions who need you to do another podcast when they finish -- you don`t have to do it immediately, but they`re going to want another one at some point, at some point. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  No, I mean, right now, just from the cutting room floor, I could do an amazing set of refrigerator poetry related to antidotes about Spiro Agnew that didn`t make it into the podcast.  But like another podcast that you have to like produce and make happen, I -- that would kill me.                                             O`DONNELL:  And, Rachel, tonight, we`re going to have a guest who`s picking on what you did Friday night, in your extraordinary opening of your show, where you tied it all together with the -- it`s all one project.  The Russian project to influence our election and the Trump project to build a Trump power in Moscow and the motive that exists that`s finally been revealed, the motive -- Donald Trump`s motive that has been revealed by the new Michael Flynn -- Michael Cohen guilty plea. 

We have a former deputy special prosecutor who`s picking up on your points wrote an extraordinary op-ed today -- 

MADDOW:  Oh, great.

O`DONNELL:  -- about this motive that you isolated Friday night, which really is the new element of the story. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.  I`m very much looking forward to seeing them, my friend.  Thanks.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.

O`DONNELL:  Well, it was a day of high crimes for the president of the United States.  The Congress that adopted articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee against President Richard Nixon would have used each of the president`s tweets today about Robert Mueller`s investigation as a separate article of impeachment against this president. 

Today, the president of the United States committed a crime in public, on Twitter, a federal crime, an impeachable high crime.  The question now is not whether the president is a criminal or whether the president is impeachable. 

The question now is, has America lost its mind?  Has America lost its legal mind?  Have Donald Trump and Trumpism and fanatical Trump voters so unbalanced the United States of America that the law does no longer apply to the president of the United States? 

And the answer might be yes.  The answer might be yes because there was no new collective cry in Congress today for impeaching the president after he committed a crime in public.  That is the benefit the president is now reaping from his years of utterly insane and reckless tweeting beginning with his pathological lying about President Obama`s birth certificate on Twitter.  Twitter is the form where the president lies more than anywhere else.  And so, the country has grown used to the president being crazy on Twitter, just outright crazy.  The country has grown accustomed to shrugging off Trump tweets, tweets filled with madness, spelling mistakes and inexplicable quotation marks. 

In his most criminal tweet of the day today, Donald Trump actually put quotation marks around the words, President Trump, as if he`s not really president.  Such is the dementia of a typical Trump tweet, and so Trump tweets are not taken seriously.  But are they not taken seriously to the point that Donald Trump can commit a crime on Twitter and it will be ignored?  Ignored by the special prosecutor who is investigating Donald Trump? 

Here is the most criminal Trump tweet of the day: I will never testify against Trump.  This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about President Trump.  Nice to know that some people still have guts.

  Article I of the impeachment articles adopted by the House Judiciary Committee against President Nixon said: In his conduct of the office of the president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the Office of the President of the United States, and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice. 

That was Article I.  Article I specified that the president, quote, using the powers of his high office engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede and obstruct the investigation.  Count five of Article I of the Nixon impeachment articles said the president should be impeached and removed from office for, quote, obtaining the silence or influencing the testimony of witnesses. 

Influencing the testimony of witnesses, that is what Donald Trump was doing today.  That is what Donald Trump has been doing publicly and expressed sympathies for Paul Manafort while Paul Manafort was on trial.  The president was trying to influence a federal criminal jury in Paul Manafort`s case with tweets.  That would have been an impeachment count against Richard Nixon if Richard Nixon did that, because the Congress that moved against Richard Nixon had not lost its collective mind and stopped caring about the rule of law. 

Donald Trump has publicly dangled a pardon in front of Paul Manafort saying that he`s thinking about it.  It`s not off the table.  The president is obviously hoping that Paul Manafort does not tell Robert Mueller anything incriminating that he knows about Donald Trump.  Count 9 of Article I of the impeachment articles against President Nixon said the president should be impeached from office for quote, endeavoring to cause prospective defends and individuals duly tried and convicted to expect favored treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony. 

Donald Trump is guilty of that beyond a reasonable doubt.  And so, the question is, has America lost its mind?  Has America lost its legal mind?  Has the United States Congress lost its mind? 

That is what Donald Trump is counting on, that he has driven America and the Congress crazy to the point he can commit crimes publicly in writing, on Twitter, and get away with it, and so he also wrote this today. 

Michael Cohen asked judge for no prison time.  You mean he can do all of the terrible unrelated to Trump things having to do with fraud, big loans, taxes, et cetera, and not serve a long prison term.  He makes up stories to get a great and already reduced deal for himself and get his wife and father-in-law who has the money off scot-free, he lied for this outcome and should in my opinion serve a full and complete sentence. 

Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes that involved Donald Trump, so that tweet is lying about that.  Involved Donald Trump to the point that Donald Trump was named an unindicted conspirator in the case where Michael Cohen pleaded guilty for the first time.  And so there in that tweet is the president of the United States saying that if you give special prosecutor Robert Mueller information against the president, you should be punished as severely as possible.  You should serve a full and complete sentence. 

Richard Nixon would not have dared say something like that publicly because Richard Nixon did not believe that America had lost its legal mind or that the Congress had lost its legal mind.  Also today, Donald Trump tweeted, Bob Mueller who`s a much different man than people think don`t want the truth, they only want lies.  The truth is very bad for their mission. 

Count 4 of Article I of the articles of impeachment passed against President Nixon said that President Nixon should be impeached and removed from office for, quote, interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and congressional committees. 

Every single one of Donald Trump`s now countless public attacks on Robert Mueller, every single Trump tweet attacking Robert Mueller is an impeachable offense, according to the Congress that brought articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, the Congress that did not lose its mind the way the Trump Republican Congress has so fully and apparently irretrievably lost its mind.  Several legal observers today believe the president committed at least one federal crime in his tweets.

Kellyanne Conway`s husband, Washington attorney George Conway, responded to the president`s tweet about Roger Stone simply by saying, file under 18 USC sections 1503-1512.  The federal law cited by Kellyanne Conway`s husband deals with obstruction of justice and witness tampering saying, it is a crime for a person to, quote, attempt to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding. 

Is Donald Trump attempting to influence testimony?  Yes, he obviously is.  And he put that in writing today and proved the case against himself in writing today beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Most of the news media will not see it that way because the news media has indeed lost its collective mind.  The news media lost its mind and its balance for Donald Trump years ago and is very, very slowly in recovery now but will not recover fast enough to know what to do when the president of the United States commits crimes in public on Twitter.  But legal professionals have been much more reliable and consistent in the face of the challenge that Donald Trump has presented to us.

And lawyers like George Conway can see clearly what the president is doing even if most of the news media cannot.  As can former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal who tweeted this in response to George Conway: George is right.  This is genuinely looking like witness tampering.  DOJ, at least with a non-fake attorney general, prosecutes cases like these all the time.  The fact it`s done out in the open is no defense.  Trump is genuinely melting down. 

Robert Mueller is not melting down.  Robert Mueller and his team know what a crime looks like when they see it.  The president`s tweets today and many other of his tweets will be in Robert Mueller`s final reports on the criminal conduct of the president of the United States.  And then they should be incorporated in what should be Article I of the articles of impeachment voted on in the House Judiciary Committee against President Trump. 

And that should happen when the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives next year.  Much more is at stake here than just the Trump presidency.  If the Congress allows the president to publicly commit the crime of witness-tampering in investigations of the president, then they are allowing every future president to do exactly the same thing.  Tonight, Michael is reporting in Yahoo News that Robert Mueller is at the stage of, quote, tying up loose ends. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller`s prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they are tying up loose ends in their investigation, providing the clearest clues yet that the long running probe into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election may be coming to its climax potentially in the next few weeks, according to multiple sources close to the matter. 

Leading off our discussion now: Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and MSNBC legal contributor.  And joining us is Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton.  David Corn is with us, he`s the Washington bureau chief and MSNBC political analyst. 

And, Jill, whenever I go back to read those Nixon articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee voted on, when you look at them in the context of what president Trump does every day now, that same Congress would be voting a very long set of articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. 

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  That`s been clear for many months, for maybe even many years now.  He has committed so many crimes in public, I think I`d use the words that the public is numb and is starting to accept as normal things that are completely abnormal and totally illegal.  He cannot be permitted to continue the attacks on the Department of Justice, the Mueller investigation, on everything we believe in a democracy, but that`s what he`s doing, and he`s not only obstructed justice and tampered with witnesses, he has done so many other things that are completely wrong. 

I think that your opening statement was so compelling that I would not want to be the defense lawyer arguing against that.  He has clearly shown that he is ready to be impeached if not indicted. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to report two congressional reactions.  One, I think fits in the category of numb, of what Jill just called numb, and that is Senator Mark Warner who tweeted this in reaction to what the president said today: This is serious.  The president of the United States should not be using his platform to influence potential witnesses in a federal investigation involving his campaign. 

Now, there`s a senator who just says it`s serious and he shouldn`t be influencing witnesses.  He doesn`t say it`s a crime.  He doesn`t say it`s impeachable.  He doesn`t express extreme outrage. 

It seems that Senator Warner`s tweet is one of those examples of a Congress that has been desensitized.  But let`s listen now to Congressman Adam Schiff, and this is I think is more important because Congressman Adam Schiff is in what will be the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, and that is where impeachment begins.

Let`s listen to what Adam Schiff said yesterday.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  The president continues to dangle a pardon for Paul Manafort, which only adds to the growing body of evidence that the president is engaged in obstructing justice.  That I think is the ultimate significance here. 


O`DONNELL:  And, David Corn, Adam Schiff seems to get it.  It doesn`t seem as though he`s been desensitized by the president`s tweet campaign. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES:  I think that`s right.  And, you know, I`ve not been a big fan politically of Democrats in the House rushing towards impeachment.  I`d rather see 12 different oversight hearings on it Russia investigation and other matters to precede first. 

But today was one of the first times I really thought, you know, apropos what you were saying at the opening here, Lawrence, that there may be no way around it.  And one reason is that the office of legal counsel and the Justice Department has put out two opinions, in 1973 and 2000, saying that they believe that the president cannot -- that a sitting president cannot be indicted.  That guideline is supposed to govern how federal prosecutors handle their cases. 

So, if the Justice Department can`t bring to bear any of this evidence against a sitting president, well, the framers gave us one other option, and that is impeachment.  It`s the nuclear option, but it`s the only other option there is.  And if he is out there, you know, witness tampering, and I take George Conway at his word here, I mean others have come out and said this, too. 

I mean, that`s a crime.  You know, dangling the pardons, that`s criminal as well.  So, we may be heading to a situation where the only, only sanction available to the -- you know, to the public here is through impeachment.  And you know what that`s going to be like. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Harry Litman, I for one don`t think impeachment should be a political calculation.  I think impeachment should be brought when the situation and the charges merit it, whether you believe you will win the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives or whether you believe you`ll win the trial verdict in the United States Senate. 

And in this instance, it seems to me if Donald Trump is allowed to publicly tamper with witnesses, and who knows what he`s doing privately, but publicly tamper with witnesses and the Congress does not move to impeach over it, the Congress is saying in effect, yes, the president of the United States at will can tamper with witnesses, dangle pardons, do whatever the president wants to obstruct and tamper with witnesses in any federal investigation, including a federal investigation of the president. 

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I mean, that`s right, and do a whole flurry of other things, demeaning of the rule of law, the derogation of so many executive responsibilities that just seem so completely contrary, historically contrary to what a president should be doing.  And what else is impeachment reserved for?  Yes, there are political calculations but I agree it`s a grave and first and foremost small D democratic responsibility to assess. 

One point on this public -- I mean, we are sort of blown away and have trouble even assessing it because he does it so brazenly in public.  But remember, the first question that Robert Mueller will ask of a Stone or a Corsi or a Manafort is, did you talk to Trump and what did he say? 

He`s practically not able to speak to them privately.  And this sort of public campaign, this tweeting is the only way that he can in fact effectuate witness tampering and obstruction of justice.  So, it doesn`t really -- it`s not such a surprise that it`s open and notorious in that way.  That`s how it`s got to be. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, Jill, Harry makes a great point.  I mean, there are plenty of criminal defendants or people in trouble who try to find ways to influence witnesses.  But the witnesses are surrounded by lawyers and there`s all sorts of -- it becomes very difficult to get often direct communication, the kind of communication people like that want. 

And here`s Donald Trump who just decides I`m just going to do it publicly.  I`m just going to do it through the media, and I`m going to use my image as a reckless speaker to my advantage. 

WINE-BANKS:  Well, let`s go back to his first pardon.  It was Sheriff Joe Arpaio for contempt of court.  That was as I said then was a clear message to future witnesses, don`t worry, you can lie or you can refuse to testify and I will pardon you.  I have your back.  That was his first message that I considered obstruction and witness tampering. 

And I also want to point out that all that he`s doing in public, I hope your viewers really get that it doesn`t make it legal because he`s doing it in public.  One of the categories of evidence that we turned over as part of our road map to the House who was looking at impeachment was all the evidence of the lies that Richard Nixon told to the public, because lying to the public to deliberately mislead them as is clearly going on here, and all you have to do is check any fact check source and you will find thousands of lie, many of them related to this investigation.  And that was an impeachable offense. 

So, I think the fact that it`s in public is confusing people.  And they`re going well, if it was in public it can`t be illegal.  It is illegal. 

O`DONNELL:  David Corn, your co-author Michael Isikoff on your "Russian Roulette" book revealing his reporting that the special prosecutor is at the stage of tying up loose ends or at least the special prosecutor`s staff has told defense lawyers tying up loose ends is where they are now. 

If that is the case, and added with that, though, the Michael Cohen plea last week, it does seem that the president of the United States is himself now at loose ends.  He has moved to a -- what seems like a new stage of hysteria. 

CORN:  Well, you know, Lawrence, we really say that every week. 


CORN:  Like we say he hit 11 this week and we have to go up to 12 and 13, and 14.  I mean, it`s Euclidian.  It goes on, it`s infinite, right?  It`s infinite.  His -- the amount of outrage here that we, you know, that we have to gin up to match the extreme reckless behavior. 

You know, it seems Mueller is tying up some loose ends.  We still don`t know exactly where he is.  We do know from court filings that Michael Cohen has spent about 70 hours, 70 hours talking, telling all to Mueller`s investigators.  And, of course, he`s talking to the southern district of New York and others as well. 

And I just have to believe that might give them more leads to pursue.  There are other matters out there that we suspect Mueller might have been looking at that we haven`t heard much from. 

So, you know, again, we just don`t know when he`s going to finish or what even is going to come out at the end of this, a report or just some more prosecutions? 

O`DONNELL:  David Corn, Jill Wine-Banks, Harry Litman, thank you for leading off our discussion tonight.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, Congressman Eric Swalwell will join us with his reaction to developments in the Mueller investigation, including the president`s attempt to influence witnesses.  And according to a former deputy prosecutor, Robert Mueller is now laying the groundwork for a conspiracy case aimed at Donald Trump and his family.  That former deputy special prosecutor, Peter Zeidenberg, will join us. 


O`DONNELL:  Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is laying out the predicate for a wide ranging conspiracy case that will likely ensnare the president`s family and quite likely Trump himself.  Those are the words of a former deputy special prosecutor during the George W. Bush administration in the Scooter Libby case, Peter Zeidenberg. 

That line appears in his op-ed today in which he says we should expect, quote, a case of conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election to be laid out in court.  Peter Zeidenberg agrees with the point Rachel made so forcefully Friday night that Michael Cohen`s new guilty plea last week of lying to Congress about how long he was working on the Trump Tower deal in Moscow is the key development in what is to come next in the Mueller investigation. 

Zeidenberg says that Cohen`s new plea deal, quote, provides a key ingredient, motive.  For those who long wondered why throughout the presidential campaign Trump could not bring himself to say a critical word about Russian President Vladimir Putin, we now know the answer.  Trump was hoping to do business in Russia and doing so would require the approval of Putin.  Once Trump repeatedly and publicly denied having any business interests in Russia, Putin had leverage over Trump because he knew this claim was an easily disprovable lie. 

Cohen`s disclosure exposes not just Trump as having lied about his business interests in Russia, it potentially also exposes his family as well.  Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner have both testified before Congress.  Robert Mueller wrote in the criminal information filing last week that Michael Cohen, quote, briefed family members of Donald Trump on the Trump Tower Moscow project.  Zeidenberg writes, Trump, Jr. was asked about his role in the negotiations about building Trump Tower Moscow, and while a transcript of Kushner`s testimony has not been made public, it is hard to imagine that he was not also asked about the Trump Organization`s business ties to Russia. 

Joining us now is the author of that op-ed piece, Peter Zeidenberg. 

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Make your case on why you believe that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is working on a wide ranging conspiracy.  You make the point that collusion is not a legal term, a wide ranging conspiracy that involves the Trump family. 

PETER ZEIDENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, as to the conspiracy itself, I mean, there`s been several dozen indictments of Russians who were charged with 371 conspiracies.  It`s a conspiracy against the United States for unlawfully interfering with the functions of the 2016 elections. 

So, we know that Robert Mueller believes that this conduct violates U.S. conspiracy law.  Now, the question is, did they conspire with anyone?

So that`s what I mean that they`re building this piece by piece. We already understand that he believes there`s a legal basis for it because a lot of people have been saying, well, it`s not illegal even if they did it.  Well, Robert Mueller disagrees with that.

So what I think we`re going to see possibly within the next few days when Robert Mueller files his pleadings regarding Manafort and on why Manafort - - why the prosecutor feels Manafort`s been lying is they`re going to be laying out in that a great deal of facts.  And I think that those facts are going to start pointing the fingers at people closer and closer to President Trump including his family.  And I think that like a lot of people I think that meeting in June in Trump Tower is going to be a focus of the government prosecution.

O`DONNELL:  You make the point in your article that the filings that Robert Mueller intends to do in the Manafort case provide him with an opportunity to do what you call an end run around Matthew Whitaker who`s been installed by Donald Trump as the acting attorney general.  What do you mean by that?

ZEIDENBERG:  Well, what I mean is under the statute, the report that Mueller`s supposed to write goes to the attorney general.  And I think a lot of people, myself included, have concerns about whether the attorney general will release that.  Now with a Democratic House, perhaps it can be subpoenaed.  Maybe they`ll fight that.  But at least there`s a legitimate question about whether that will be made public.

This opportunity in open court would be a way of getting a lot of those facts, not a hundred-page report certainly, but significant factual predicate for why Robert Mueller believes Paul Manafort has been lying.  This is going to be a contested issue.  Manafort`s attorneys are going to say, no, our guy was telling the truth all along.

So this has got -- Mueller has got a very good reason for putting in chapter and verse what was asked, what was answered, and what the facts are which lead Bob Mueller to say he`s been lying to us.  And I expect that that will include e-mails, text messages, bank records, and other witness statements to support his contention that Manafort has been lying to them in their debriefings.

O`DONNELL:  Peter Zeidenberg, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I appreciate it.

Congressman Eric Swalwell joins us next.


O`DONNELL:  Democrat Jerrold Nadler will be the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the Democrats take control of Congress.  Here`s what he had to say yesterday.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The fact that he was lying to the American people about doing business in Russia and that the Kremlin knew he was lying gave the Kremlin a hold over him.  And one question we have now is, does the Kremlin still have hold over him because of other lies that they know about?


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.  He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I want to get your reaction to the president`s day today where he was obviously publicly in the business of trying to influence witnesses.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Good evening, Lawrence.  I think the Mueller investigation if you were comparing it to a chess match has put the president in check, and the president is now making erratic moves that is exposing his position as a former prosecutor.  I`ve seen this before.  As you get close to the end of a case or close to a verdict, defendants start acting quite irresponsibly and they reach out to witnesses.  They try and delay the inevitable and I see that happening here.

There is a crescendo that is coming and all of the evidence suggest that you`re going to find that this president, his family, his business, his campaign were eager to collude with the Russians, they were eager to do business with them, and when they were confronted they told a lot of lies.

O`DONNELL:  What the president did today would have been incorporated in an Article 1, Article of Impeachment, if the Congress that brought impeachment articles against Richard Nixon was in place today.  This seems to be a very different Congress.  The sensitivity to these things seems to be very different from in Richard Nixon`s time.  Is that true on the Democratic side also?  Is there a lack of reaction to this today?

SWALWELL:  Well, for the last two years, Lawrence, we`ve quite frankly felt powerless and we`ve had to rely on people on the outside, the people who have gone to the streets, who`ve run the Protect Mueller Protests.  And with their spirit, they were able to help us elect 40 people to win the House and so we`re not powerless anymore.

Actually, we`re in this position now.  I think we have to really assert our confidence and tell the American people it`s going to be OK.  We can prevent the president`s worst instincts now.  We can intervene where necessary.  We can put a straitjacket where the president wants to be harmful.  And that`s going to start by conducting all of the investigations where he was given a free pass before.

One, to hold him accountable.  But two, we`ve got the presidential election coming up.  We`ve got the same adversary that helped him in 2016 just as capable and just as likely to want to help him again.  And we better make sure that this democracy is not made emissive again by this president and his team.

O`DONNELL:  Mike Quigley, one of the members of the Intelligence Committee, one of your members of the committee you`re on told NBC`s KC Hunt today, she asked does he think that Donald Trump Jr. lied to the Committee because in the wake of Michael Cohen`s guilty plea, there`s a lot of speculation about that.  And what Mike Quigley said was, "I wouldn`t be surprised if he lied to us."  He said there were some circumstances about communications with his father, about the meeting at Trump Tower.  Do you believe that Donald Trump Jr. lied to your committee?

SWALWELL:  I think he showed a consciousness of guilt when he was asked about conversations he had with his father, whether or not he told his father about that meeting that he took where the Russians were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.  And he told us, Lawrence, he said that he`s not going to answer any questions with his father, asserting a father-son privilege which is a privilege-privilege, you know, only something that the Trumps could create.  And I think innocent people would have been straight with us.  Don Jr. didn`t want to be straight.  Bob Mueller will know the answer to that.

O`DONNELL:  And Congressman, there`s a lot of speculation now in the wake of Michael Cohen`s guilty plea that it`s more than just Donald Trump Jr., it is possibly the president`s son-in-law that this is the key turn in the case.  Does it -- knowing what you know, is the Michael Cohen plea as big a turn in the case as it has been portrayed to be?

SWALWELL:  It is.  And the reason is that Michael Cohen is one of the only individuals who has lived in all three of Donald Trump`s world, his personal world we know that by the dealings he did with Stormy Daniels.  His political world, he acted as a surrogate during the campaign and instruct some of these agreements to silence people during the campaign.  And his financial world, he was the Trump Organization lawyer and he has come clean.  I think the American people would greatly benefit with him sitting before Congress just as you saw during the Watergate era and giving a full allocution of what he saw.

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us.

SWALWELL:  My pleasure, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Coming up, there is now a criminal investigation, an active criminal investigation of possible election fraud in a congressional race in North Carolina.  And that possible election fraud would have been conducted by Republicans to steal a very close election from the Democrat.  The State Board of Elections is refusing to certify the result.  We will have an expert joining us who have looked at the balloting in that race.  That`s coming up.


O`DONNELL:  There is now a criminal investigation underway of potential voting irregularities, that`s what they`re calling it in a North Carolina congressional election.  The local district attorney in the 9th Congressional district is now investigating what happened with the absentee ballots that delivered an election night win to Republican Mark Harris over Democrat Dan McCready in a very tight race.

The State Elections Board though has now twice declined to certify the results of that election because of "claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities" related to absentee mail ballots.  The "Charlotte Observer" reports that at the center of this controversy is a convicted felon who was paid by the Republican campaign.  His specialty is absentee ballots.  That man`s name is Leslie McCrae Dowless.

There are numerous reports of people knocking on doors in the district offering help with filling out and mailing absentee ballots.  But what happened to the ballots after that is unclear.  Some of the ballots might have been filled out by the person offering the help.  Others might have been destroyed by the person offering to help.  But in the end, there was an extraordinary outcome in the absentee ballot count.

A North Carolina political science professor studied the results in Bladen County where 42 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots were from registered Democrats and just 19 percent were from Republicans.  But the Republican got 61 percent of that absentee mail-in vote and the Democrat got just 38 percent

Michael Bitzer is the political science professor who did that ballot analysis and he will join us next.  And we will have many more details on what happened to those absentee ballots in North Carolina and what`s going to happen next including the possibility of a new election in that district.


O`DONNELL:  Here is a local news report in North Carolina about why there is now a criminal investigation by the local district attorney of possible fraud in the 9th congressional district congressional race.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So what were you doing for this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Eason says McCrae Dowless paid her $75 to $100 a week to go around pick up finished absentee ballots.  Dowless is the Bladen County`s Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor who appears to be at the center of the state investigation.  He was named twice in sworn affidavits as a worker for the Mark Harris campaign.  Eason says she never discarded ballots or saw who people were voting for but after picking them up, she didn`t mail them.  She gave them to McCrae Dowless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did all the people who voted, did their votes count?

EASON:  I guess.  Like I said I don`t know what happened after I dropped them off.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Michael Bitzer, a political scientist, and historian who writes

Michael, do you analyze these ballots and found that the outcome Democrat- Republican doesn`t make any sense at all.

MICHAEL BITZER, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND HISTORY, CATAWBA COLLEGE:  It really doesn`t.  As you indicated earlier, in Bladen County, among absentee by mail votes, Bladen County was the only county out of eight counties in the 9th congressional district that went for the Republican, Mark Harris.  All the other counties, particularly those with absentee by mail went for the Democrat Dan McCready.

And I started looking more deeply into it and found that while the state had an average of about 16 percent of non-return ballots, meaning ballots requested by mail that the voters asked for that did not return, the 9th congressional district had about a quarter of those ballots not returned.  And in Bladen and Robeson County, Bladen County had about a 40 percent non- return rate and Robeson had about 60 percent non-return rate.  So those are extremely high non-return rates for -- while it may be only about three to five percent of the electorate, could have decided out of 280,000 votes in a margin of 905 votes potentially.

O`DONNELL:  And the low reporting indicates that McCrae Dowless who is a convicted felon himself was hired by the Republican Campaign then paid other people to go around door to door collecting people`s absentee ballots.  And the absentee ballots in North Carolina apparently required two signatures, two witnesses witnessing the signature of the voter.

One witness -- according to one report, one witness signed 45 absentee ballots.  Another witness signed 43 absentee ballots.  Another witness signed 44 absentee ballots and five people who signed multiple ballots listed their address as the same one-bedroom apartment where the landlord says it is occupied by exactly one person.  All of those people are suspected associates of McCrae Dowless and that is what is making this look like some kind of criminal fraud on the absentee ballot system.

BITZER:  It does.  And if those people were collecting ballots, if they were going to the voter and asking for the ballot unsecured, they would have access to that voter`s ballot and they would have been able to manipulate the ballot or simply do away with the ballot.  There are a lot of the pieces of this puzzle that we don`t fully understand yet, but there is something obviously going on.  The data is telling us one thing and now we are starting to get a more of a narrative of what potentially could happen and what the State Board of Elections and their evidentiary hearing is working towards in terms of an investigation.

O`DONNELL:  And what is the authority there to order a new election?

BITZER:  The State Board of Elections has discretionary authority through the general statutes if four conditions are met.  And the last one is probably the most important because it says if there are improprieties that taint the overall election and call into question the validity of the vote, then the State Board of Elections can order a new election.  It doesn`t matter if there are questionable ballots that could potentially even switch the election or keep it as is.  It is up to the tainting of the general election.

O`DONNELL:  Michael Bitzer, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Tonight`s last word is next.


O`DONNELL:  Tonight`s last word goes to Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush when he was running in the Republican primaries in 1979 and 1980.


MILLER:  There are among even your friends of the minority know who you are, and who admire you in the party, one of the things that always comes up is that maybe George Bush is too nice a guy to be president?  Maybe he`s not tough enough?


MILLER:  You can`t take out after -- what about the tough enough question and then --

BUSH:  Well, tough enough is -- I don`t equate toughness with just attacking some individual.

HERMAN:  Is Ronald Reagan too old?

BUSH:  No, let the voters determine it.  Let the press determine it just like on the Democrat side, there are all these extraneous issues.  Let the people decide.

HERMAN:  Is John Connelly too slippery?

BUSH:  No.

HERMAN:  Is Bob Dole too mean?

BUSH:  No.

ROTH:  Then what`s the difference?

BUSH:  The difference is the breadth of record and that my overall performance and conviction about this country, about our ability to solve problems, our ability to solve problems, our ability to restore the credibility in the United States has been diminished under President Carter.  I believe I can do that better than anybody else.  That`s the difference. 


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  President George H. W. Bush gets tonight`s last word.  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.