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Trump in legal jeopardy. TRANSCRIPT: 12/12/18, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ron Klain, Julian Castro, James Fallows

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

And, boy, the Michael Cohen transcript surely reads like a pretty dramatic day in court.  Daniel Goldman was in the courtroom.  He`s going to join us, and he says, yes, it really was.  The air was thick with drama. 

One of the fascinating things was Michael Cohen saying I just believed too much in Donald Trump and the blind loyalty to Donald Trump.  That doesn`t explain the $4 million in tax evasion that actually had nothing to do with Donald Trump.  That was his taxi business. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Yes, and, you know, there`s this lingering question about what it is he did not want to talk to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York about.  And there`s lingering questions that we have lots of sort of trailing ends about, but no real answers yet what exactly he was able to tell prosecutors about Donald Trump and Russia during the campaign.  Michael Cohen potentially is implicated in a whole lot of that stuff if open source reporting is true.  We know almost nothing about what he was able to tell prosecutors about that. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, that`s why we have to be patient. 

MADDOW:  My least favorite thing. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, I know.  Yes, I know.  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Well, in the Michael Cohen case, Donald Trump has much more to worry about now than just Michael Cohen.  Trump defenders in Washington including some Republican senators have been saying they can`t believe Donald Trump committed crimes with Michael Cohen just on the word of Michael Cohen alone because Michael Cohen is a liar. 

Now, that is actually now something we can all agree on.  Michael Cohen is a liar, or at least was a liar.  Even Michael Cohen agrees on that.  He pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. 

But after Michael Cohen was sentenced today, for the first time in the investigation of the president of the United States, federal prosecutors put out a press release about the case.  Robert Mueller`s special counsel`s office and the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan have been showing their work only in court, only in formal legal filings in court and in statements to judges in court. 

But today, after the court session where Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan issued a press release saying that Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, which everyone already knew.  The press release described every element of Michael Cohen`s sentence in detail which everyone already knew was already public information, every detail of Michael Cohen`s sentence. 

But then at the end of the press release came the last two paragraphs of the press release in which we saw that today, federal prosecutors used a press release to tell Donald Trump and tell Republican Trump defenders in Washington that they have much more than the word of Michael Cohen against Donald Trump.  The press release announced that the U.S. attorney`s office, quote, reached a non prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI`s role in making the above described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election. 

Now, AMI is the parent company of the "National Enquirer" which paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal to buy her story about her sexual affair with Donald Trump.  And, of course, Donald Trump`s friend, David Pecker, who runs the "National Enquirer" planned to never allow that story to be told in print in the "National Enquirer" or anywhere else.  He bought the story so he could own it and then kill it as a campaign favor for Donald Trump. 

The prosecutor`s press release says AMI admitted it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate`s presidential campaign and in order to ensure that a woman did not publicize damaging allegation about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.  AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman`s story, so as to prevent it from influencing the election. 

David Pecker`s name does not appear in this press release.  But that means what that press release means that David Pecker himself told the prosecutors that the money he paid to suppress Karen McDougal story was paid to prevent it from influencing the election.  There are other possible witnesses at the "National Enquirer" who might be telling the prosecutors the same thing.  And so, we now have Michael Cohen and David Pecker and possibly others at the "National Enquirer" who have told federal prosecutors that the money was paid to influence the election. 

The press release explains that the prosecutor`s agreement with David pecker and AMI was because AMI provided, quote, substantial and important assistance in this investigation and its agreement to provide cooperation in the future.  Cooperation in the future. 

The only future that this investigation has about these campaign law violations, the only future it has is a future prosecution of the person referred to as individual one in the prosecutor`s case, the president of the United States.  The prosecutors have repeatedly described Michael Cohen`s election crimes as having been committed in coordination with and at direction of individual one.  And individual one is, of course, Donald Trump. 

So, Michael Cohen was sentenced to federal prison today for doing what Donald Trump told him to do.  That makes Donald Trump as guilty of exactly the same crimes as Michael Cohen, and that is why David Pecker and AMI`s, quote: cooperation in the future was announced publicly today outside of the courtroom, outside of any legal filings by federal prosecutors in New York. 

The judge in Michael Cohen`s sentencing session today having studied the case thoroughly including every word presented by Michael Cohen and his defense lawyers announced in court that he believes and accepts every word of the prosecutor`s case against Michael Cohen, every word.  Judge William Pauley says, I`ve reviewed the revised presentence investigation report and I`ve adopted the findings of the facts as my own. 

In other words, he adopts the prosecutor`s view of the evidence as his own.  In court today, the judge said Mr. Cohen committed two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 presidential election with the intent to influence the outcome of that election. 

That`s the judge talking.  That is the finding of fact of a federal judge.  The judge has found that fact after looking at all of evidence in the Michael Cohen case.  Before he was sentenced, Michael Cohen stood and said something that the Trump loyalists in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives and the millions of Trump loyalists around the country should listen to very carefully. 

Quote: My weakness can be characterized as blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands. 

Every single Republican senator owes America a recitation of those words, word for word.  Michael Cohen went on to say: For months now, the president of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world, publicly mocks me, calling me a rat and liar and insists that the court sentence me to the absolute maximum time in prison.  Not only is this improper, it creates a false sense that the president can weigh in on the outcome of judicial proceedings that implicate him. 

Donald Trump stands implicated tonight in the crimes of Michael Cohen, implicated first by Michael Cohen, then implicated in court in writing by federal prosecutors.  Today implicated by a federal judge who has a finding of fact agreed that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit federal crimes and that Michael Cohen committed those crimes in coordination with Donald Trump. 

And Donald Trump stands implicated tonight in the crimes of Michael Cohen by his old friend David Pecker, the boss of the "National Enquirer", who was running an illegal protection scheme for presidential candidate Donald Trump.  In court today, Michael Cohen told the judge, time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass.  And later the judge said, somewhere along the way, Mr. Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass. 

No one will ever say that about Donald Trump.  Never.  No one will ever say that somewhere along the way, Donald Trump lost his moral compass because no historian will ever be able to find even a moment in Donald Trump`s adult life when he had a moral compass. 

Leading our discussion now, Daniel Goldman, formal federal prosecutor who was inside the courtroom today, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, and Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor, all three are MSNBC legal contributors. 

Daniel, you had one of the precious spots inside that courtroom today.  That transcript reads really dramatic.  What was it like to be in that room? 

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  It was intense, Lawrence.  I`ve been in that courtroom many times and ones just like it in that building hundreds of times and I sat through sentencings and I had at various times to pinch myself because here we are talking about crimes implicating the president of the United States.  And it was a bit of a surreal moment when the judge made I thought a somewhat gratuitous statement to repeat the line that the prosecutors had included, which is to say that Michael Cohen committed the campaign finance crimes in coordination with and at direction of individual one. 

And then Michael Cohen`s speech was quite emotional and quite intense.  And I think what he has demonstrated is that he has been singularly focused on his sort of historical legacy.  And whether -- he mentioned at one point, well, I don`t want history to view me as the villain in this case. 

But the problem as you pointed out in your open is that he seems to have neglected the fact that what really drove this sentence were these tax fraud -- 

O`DONNELL:  The heaviest part in the sentence, yes.

GOLDMAN:  A hundred percent.  If he`d just had the campaign finance fraud and the lying to Congress, he would have been facing far, far less time.  And at the end of the day, he tried to wiggle it and tried to do as much cooperation as he could to clear his name in public, but he didn`t want to do the cooperation he needed to really reduce his sentence in the Southern District. 

O`DONNELL:  Jill Wine-Banks, your reaction to this press release that the U.S. attorney put out today, adding all sorts of ammunition, in effect, to the case against the president. 

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  As you pointed out it is really one more piece of the puzzle that has come together with you now have extra corroboration for the fact that Donald Trump was directing this, knew about it.  That it was not for any personal reasons that he can try to keep these women silent.  He cannot use the John Edwards defense because it clearly is rebutted by live witnesses as well as the timing of when he paid off these women. 

But the whole thing today really brought back a lot of emotions for me thinking about John Dean`s plea, John Dean`s book called "Blind Ambition" where you now have Michael Cohen saying it was blind loyalty to President Trump that drove me to this, or Jeb Magruder, another key witness in Watergate, who much like I would say like Michael Cohen completely had no moral compass or maybe like the president, never had a moral compass.  So felt fine violating the law because anything that helped the president was okay, as long as it made him more likely to succeed, they didn`t care whether it violated the law. 

And that`s what`s so upsetting here is Michael Cohen in his trying to get sympathy basically said I did it out of blind loyalty.  But he didn`t do it out of loyalty.  It was greed for the tax evasion, which is really why I think he got the big sentence. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, the judge made it clear that his finding was that Michael Cohen did it out of greed and ambition, as the judge put it, more than once. 

Barbara McQuade, your reaction to what happened in federal court in New York today in the case against Michael Cohen and individual one. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes, well, I think the sentence that Michael Cohen got today was probably appropriate.  His sentencing guidelines were 51 to 63 months.  That`s roughly 4 1/2 to 5 years, so he actually did get some break for his partial cooperation.  And it`s kind of an odd place that he`s in.  The special counsel says he has provided some valuable information core to our investigation, which I believe goes to the Russia interference in the election. 

But there`s something he`s holding back.  The prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said he would not agree to be a full cooperator, to sign-on to a cooperation agreement, which means you share everything you`ve ever done that`s wrong and every crime you know about of others. 

So, it`s puzzling a little bit you wouldn`t want to be fully onboard in hopes of earning what`s called the substantial assistance reduction, a further reduction in his sentence, by doing it.  So there`s something he continues to hide whether about himself or others.  Yet he does retain the possibility to continue to earned credit up until one year from today.  He could still come back if he decided you know what, I do want that cooperation agreement, he could earn a reduction in a sentence that could be filed up to a year from today. 

If it`s true what he said today he really wanted to get his sentence done, start serving his sentence, because the sooner he`s in, the sooner he`s out.  Well, he could do that and he could still go back and cooperate now that a sentence has been imposed. 

O`DONNELL:  Daniel Goldman, was there some sense around the edges of this case that the reason Michael Cohen has not embraced a full cooperation agreement with the federal prosecutors in New York city is that that could involve talking about people beyond Donald Trump and beyond his own -- Michael Cohen`s own immediate culpability, including possible relative, people associated in various ways with his taxi business? 

GOLDMAN:  Let`s take a step back.  His rationale for why he didn`t want to enter into a full cooperation agreement is so he could get this over with and get back to his family.  He`s not going back to his family now for three years.  So, it doesn`t make any sense.  And there`s no way he could have really expected to get no jail time and just go back to his family. 

So, when you have that an one hand, which is a nonsensical explanation, and you have the fact he`s happily cooperating with Robert Mueller about Donald Trump, people far away from him, it leads people like me who has dealt with this for ten years, to think about things he doesn`t want to talk about. 

I see two things, one is it may be -- and I don`t mean to impugn him by speculating -- but it maybe that he has committed so many other crimes it really increases his exposure so much to the point where three years would look great.  The other thing is he does not want to cooperate against people who are very close to him, in connection to other crimes.  And so, you raise the obvious question here and you mentioned it with Rachel earlier, what is it he doesn`t want to cooperate about because I don`t buy the explanation I just want to move on with my life because right now, where he sits, he`s not going to get back to his life for three plus years. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, you get more life back by cooperation than anything else.  Jill, Lanny Davis is saying he`s been associated with Michael Cohen`s defense as a spokesperson.  He`s been saying today that Michael Cohen shared his congressional testimony, his false testimony, he shared it with the White House. 

What is that going to mean as this investigation goes forward? 

WINE-BANKS:  Well, I thought he was a little vague in his conversation with Rachel as to whether he told the White House exactly what he was going to say and that it was a lie or he just said this is what I`m going to say and assumed that they knew it was a lie.  So that makes a difference, but sharing it is certainly one of those things like Manafort`s sharing information is getting him in trouble now with the special counsel.  That certainly would get him in trouble. 

I also want to point out that I agree with everything that`s been said in terms of it doesn`t make sense what Michael Cohen is saying as to why he`s not cooperating as a full cooperating witness because our witnesses in Watergate went to jail while they were cooperating with us.  They served their time and were finished by the time they were done cooperating with us.  And in fact I sometimes think that John Dean`s prison time was really spent in our office working full time to make sure that all the facts came out. 

So, there`s no inconsistency that should have stopped Michael Cohen from a full cooperation except if he`s protecting relatives or friends or there`s something so horrible in his background that he cannot tell it fully to the Southern District of New York. 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s look at the video of president Trump`s reaction today to Michael Cohen`s sentencing. 


REPORTER:  Sir, can you comment about Cohen`s sentencing?

REPORTER:  Mr. President, your reaction to Michael Cohen`s sentencing?

REPORTER:  Mr. President, did Michael Cohen cover up dirty deeds?


O`DONNELL:  Barbara, I think he could hear those questions and the final one, did Michael Cohen cover up your dirty deeds, I have a feeling he`s going to be hearing that one for a while. 

MCQUADE:  Yes, we`ll see what he might want to tweet about it.  I think some of the best clues about what Michael Cohen is telling to the special counsel came in the filing that they filed in anticipation of the sentencing hearing today, where they talked about some of the areas that he`s been cooperating about.  One, as Jill just talked about, it was a phrase they used was circulating his congressional testimony with the White House. 

And that does suggest of giving them a heads up in perhaps of getting stories straight which could get some other people in trouble if they testified consistently and falsely as Michael Cohen did.  And also one of the things they said in there is that he provided information core to the special counsel`s investigation, which of course is links between Russia and the Trump campaign relating to election interference. 

And so, if those are the kinds of things that Michael Cohen is providing information about, then President Trump probably does have quite a bit to worry about. 

O`DONNELL:  Barbara McQuade, Jill Wine-Banks and Daniel Goldman, the lucky one who was in the courtroom today, thank you all for starting us off tonight.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, Donald Trump`s impeachable offenses became even more impeachable today. 

And all later tonight, we will begin our series of the contenders.  We will be joined by our first Democrat who`s announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a possible presidential campaign.


O`DONNELL:  Impeachable offenses.  That`s what Democrat Jerry Nadler, who will be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the election crimes that Michael Cohen says he committed in coordination and at the direction of Donald Trump.  Once again in federal court today, Michael Cohen and federal prosecutors and now a federal judge all described Donald Trump`s participation in those crimes as settled fact. 

And also today, the prosecutors revealed that they have more witnesses to corroborate Michael Cohen`s account of the crime that involved the national enquirer paying $150,000 to Karen McDougal to buy her silence for presidential candidate Donald Trump.  So those impeachable offenses became even more impeachable today, even more provable today. 

Also today, the incoming New York state attorney general who will be sworn in next month tells NBC News that her office is gearing up to target Donald Trump, his family and anyone in his inner circle suspected of breaking the law.  And just a few of those possible investigative avenues include any potential illegalities involving Trump`s real estate holdings in New York, the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian official, examining government subsidies that the Trump company has received and whether Donald Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution through his New York businesses and continuing to investigate the Trump Foundation, which the New York state attorney general has already been investigating.  Donald Trump is going to need more lawyers, a lot more lawyers. 

Joining our discussion now, Ron Klain, former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former senior advisor to President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.  And Jill Wine-Banks is back with us. 

And, Ron, a very rough day for the president in federal court, and what looks like a rough year coming up with the New York state attorney general.

RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  That`s right, Lawrence.  And I think -- you know, you mentioned earlier, this decision by the "National Enquirer" to cooperate could wind up being a significant decision, not just because of the way it buttresses the campaign finance case against Donald Trump, adding a second source against him, but because of the famous safe at the "National Enquirer" which supposedly contained all sorts of stories about Trump, that they caught and killed and that they bought and didn`t publish. 

And, you know, the "National Enquirer", they`re famous for their coverage of UFOs.  Now it might stand for unindicted felonious officials, because they`ve got Donald Trump, a lot of officials of Donald Trump that will now be moving in the hands of federal prosecutors.  I think that adds to his troubles significantly. 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s listen to Adam Schiff talk about the possibility of actually indicting the president. 


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I think the Justice Department needs to reexamine that OLC opinion, Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that you cannot indict a sitting president under circumstances in which the failure to do so may mean that person escapes justice, because if it were the case that it was now or never, that if you waited until after the president leaves office, that they could not be brought to justice, that could create an exception to that OLC rule if not mean revisiting and revising the rule altogether. 


O`DONNELL:  Jill, you`ve lived with this issue longer than any of us, the indictable of a president.  You`ve seen various opinions of it over time.  Where do you think we are now on it?  There seems to be a lot of shifting opinion now toward the validity of indicting a sitting president. 

WINE-BANKS:  I thought back in Watergate days that the president should be and could be indicted.  The evidence was overwhelmingly clear during Watergate.  We don`t know everything Mueller knows, but we know enough now to see in plain sight that crimes have been committed by the president. 

And we cannot have a society where he could escape either because a statute of limitations runs while he`s in office or because he has a speedy trial violation claim that would prevent him from going to trial later on or business witnesses die in the interim waiting so that there`s not enough witnesses to testify.  It would be wrong. 

And so whether we go with the political method, which would be impeachment in a Congress which has a Senate that will not consider impeachment, although I again think that once the evidence is clear, we would have said that about Watergate except then you had a tape recording that made it so clear that even the Republicans could no longer support the president and told him he had to resign or he would be convicted in the Senate.  So, we may get to that point because the evidence is mounting. 

As you just noted, we have multiple sources saying that he interfered with the election.  He did a campaign violation to win the election.  That`s something the American people should be upset about. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Ron, speaking of tapes Michael Cohen is known to have taped phone calls and taped discussions with Donald Trump and others.  There could be tapes of Donald Trump directing Michael Cohen and coordinating with Michael Cohen to commit these crimes.  That could be something that the prosecutors have not yet revealed. 

There could also be tapes on the "National Enquirer" end of this.  They have been known to tape phone calls.  And so, the Trump tapes in these particular crimes could be the next stage. 

KLAIN:  They could be, Lawrence.  I mean, look, I think that, you know, you alluded to this earlier, that we`ve been focused the past couple of days understandably about these campaign finance violations that Trump directed, but Robert Mueller`s indicated that Michael Cohen assisted him on the core of the investigation. That brings us back to Russia and to the possible relationship between Trump and Russia during the campaign.

And really I think the blockbuster news that came out last week that, you know, Donald Trump was working on this Trump Tower Moscow project all the way through the heart of the presidential campaign.  He lied about that.  He lied about -- Michael Cohen lied about that in testimony before Congress.  Trump himself lied about that publicly.  That is still in many ways the main event here.  And if there`s tapes of Trump and Cohen discussing that, if those tapes we haven`t heard about yet around that, that really would be blockbuster information here.

O`DONNELL:  Ron Klain, Jill Wine-Banks, thank you both for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, our very first contended will join us, a Democrat who has started an exploratory committee for a possible presidential campaign.  Now, every serious presidential campaign is already underway.  The candidates just don`t announce it yet.

And if you`ve ever read any history of presidential campaigns, you will know that they are already underway by this point in time.  So we are not jumping the gun here but we are going to begin now the conversation of what it will be like in America to have a different president, to have a Democratic president.  That`s next.


O`DONNELL:  In tonight`s first episode of The Contenders, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro announced today that he is forming an exploratory committee for launching a possible campaign for president.  And so he tonight, Julian Castro who is also our former secretary of Housing and Urban Developments in the Obama administration becomes the first possible 2020 presidential contender to join us here to discuss the policies that he would pursue as president of the United States.

Now, if you are hoping for a bunch of horse race questions about the contender`s standing in the polls or how their campaigns will raise enough money or will you decide not to run if candidate X decides to run, you`re going to have to wait for another show to ask those questions because every contender who appears on this program will be fully respected as a candidate or possible candidate for president of the United States.  And they will all be asked questions about of all things governing the United States of America.  This will probably be the only place where the candidates will only be asked about governing policy.

And so joining us now in his first interview since that announcement today is Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Developments and the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

Mr. Mayor, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate you being here.  I want to start with what we saw in the oval office yesterday.  Should the Democrats compromise with President Trump in some way on the border wall in order to cone funding the government?

JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT:  I don`t think that they should give him money for the border wall.  I think most folks realize that the border wall is not something that`s in America`s best interest, that it`s going to be a waste of time and money.  It`s not going to be effective and so I was glad to see especially incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand up in that meeting and make it clear that, you know, there`s not going to be money for the border wall.

Now, I do think that they can compromise to keep the government open, and they`ve offered a couple different solutions for that, but funding $25 billion for a border wall, either all at once as Senator Ted Cruz has suggested or in the years to come, is not something that American taxpayers should have to pay for.  The other thing is, Lawrence, getting lost in all of this as you well know and a lot of your viewers know is this president got elected by swearing to the American people that Mexico would pay for the wall.

And now he`s going to shut down the government, he says, and make sure the people that need services from the federal government aren`t able to get their services if the government shutdown because they won`t pay for the wall that he said Mexico was going to pay for.  It`s just all around, it doesn`t make sense to have that wall and it doesn`t make sense for the American taxpayers to pay for it.

O`DONNELL:  Do you agree with some Democrats who are arguing that the Immigration Customs Enforcement, ICE should be abolished and replaced?

CASTRO:  I think that it should be reconstituted.  There were 19 folks that work at ICE that said that the department is not effective right now because of the way that it`s organized.  I think that that thing needs an extreme makeover.

Now, people often ask, well, what does that mean?  Does that mean that we`re not going to have any kind of border security?  Of course, we`re going to have border security but I think that we have to be more thoughtful and effective in how it`s done.  And the fact is that time after time we have seen folks overstep their boundaries, the family separation policy that this administration has pursued is beyond the pale.  It does not reflect who we are or should be as Americans.  And so I believe that we can reconstitute ICE.

I also say that as somebody that ran a federal department, Department of Housing and Urban Development and saw throughout the federal government that we can improve how we do business.

O`DONNELL:  Do you support Medicare for all?

CASTRO:  I do.

O`DONNELL:  Good.  That was quick.  The Trump tax cut.  Would you repeal the Trump tax cuts?

CASTRO:  I would repeal the Trump tax cut, yes.  I think it`s clear that that tax cut was intended to benefit super wealthy folks and also corporations.  It doesn`t do anything for the middle class.  What we see now are jobs that the president promised would come to the United States.

In fact, we`re losing jobs.  I think in part because of that tax cut and also because the president has played a reckless game and engaging in trade wars with different countries without thinking it through.  So yes, I would repeal that tax cut.  And I also believe that we need an approach that is more sensible when it comes to making sure that we protect American jobs.

O`DONNELL:  On the trade war that you just referred to, the Trump tariffs, these are actually illegal tariffs that the president is using a clause in tariff law that says for national security reasons only the president can unilaterally change tariffs.  He is using that against Canada for which there`s obviously no national security issue.  And so what would you do about the Trump tariffs?

CASTRO:  Well, I think folks can agree that our number one priority should always be to make sure that American workers get ahead and that also in these trade agreements that American companies get a benefit.  There ought to be a mutual benefit.  And the thing is that when we`re talking about China and making sure that we`re able to effectively compete and that they don`t cheat, we need the support of other countries.

And what`s wrong with the president`s approach is that it`s a very go it alone isolationist approach, and that`s what I disagree with.  I don`t disagree about trying to improve things.  I disagree about the way he`s going about it.  And obviously, it`s not producing the results that any of us want.

O`DONNELL:  Let me squeeze in a final quick one.  What would you want changed about gun safety in America?

CASTRO:  Well, I believe that we need common-sense gun reforms.  I believe for instance that there`s no reason that we don`t have universal background checks.  There`s no reason that somebody who has a history of domestic abuse, for instance, should be able to walk into a gun shop, you know, and buy a firearm.  We need to get better about that.  We need to get better about a whole bunch of ways that we can make sure that guns do not end up in the hands of people who are dangerous.

I also agree with limits on high capacity magazines.  I don`t think there`s any reason that we need some of those high capacity magazines or assault weapons.  We have seen too many instances of folks using these AR15s and, you know, killing 30, 40 people.  That is not who we ought to be as a country.  And I think that we`ve seen in the past the ability to sensibly regulate these things and that we ought to go back to that.

O`DONNELL:  Julian Castro, thank you for being our first contender.  And good luck in your exploration of the possibility of running for president.  Thank you very much for joining us.

CASTRO:  Thank you very much,

O`DONNELL:  Really appreciate it.  Thank you.

And when we come back, it looks like John Kelly is going to get a few more weeks on the White House payroll now that Donald Trump cannot find anyone in the country, anyone anywhere to be the next White House chief of staff in the most chaotic White House in history.


O`DONNELL:  It looks like John Kelly`s going to pick up a few more weeks on the White House payroll now that White House chief of staff is one of those jobs that no American wants to do.  What everyone knows is that no one is actually able to do that job because Donald Trump makes an orderly White House an impossible dream for everyone working there.

In "The Atlantic", James Fallows has written an assessment of John Kelly`s run as White House chief of staff.  James Fallows says, "John Kelly`s forthcoming departure as White House chief of staff is a reminder of an important but underpublicized distinction among those who have chosen to support or work for Donald Trump.  The distinction is between those whom Trump has made bad and those who have been revealed as bad through their association with this man."  So which is John Kelly?  Did Donald Trump turn John Kelly bad or did Donald Trump simply reveal how bad John Kelly always has been?

James Fallows will take on that question after this break.


O`DONNELL:  James Fallows` new article in "The Atlantic" appears under the headline, "Serving Trump Revealed Who John Kelly Always Was."

Joining us now is James Fallows, staff editor for "The Atlantic" and a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter.  Tell us what you think we have now learned as a result of this White House service about John Kelly.

JAMES FALLOWS, STAFF EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  I think in that taxonomy you were quoting which I guess sounds a little harsh when distilled to that one sentence.  I was trying to say that there are people who have worked for Donald Trump who has been put in difficult circumstances.  For example, H.R. McMaster, a wonderful public servant in the military who found himself in this impossible situation as a national security adviser.

On the other hand, as you have eloquently explained here over the months, I think what we`ve learned about John Kelly is something we wouldn`t have known if he weren`t in this position which is the fact that his views on inclusiveness and dealing with refugees and immigrants say much more in common with the part of Boston where he grew up in the `50s and `60s then the fully integrated, fully inclusive U.S. Military where he spent most of his career, this becomes kind of the symbol of what inclusive America means.  It wasn`t always that way but it is now.  And I think that`s what John Kelly seems to have revealed about himself through this service.

O`DONNELL:  For me, the huge reveal was that Frederica Wilson moment where he told a story about her that was completely false and accusatory and calling her an empty barrel.  And then the whole thing and in its entirety was proven to be untrue.  And I expected an apology.  I was shocked that there was no apology.  And when 24 hours went by with no apology, at that point, I had reached my verdict about John Kelly.

FALLOWS:  It would have cost him absolutely nothing to apologize to her.  And, of course, this was of a piece with Donald Trump so consistently calling Maxine Waters and others low IQ, unintelligent.  And this was sort of another African-American congresswoman from Florida whom John Kelly both mocked, whether or not that had been factually based or not, and erroneously mocked and that he didn`t apologize to her.  I think that was, as you again you`ve recorded here, part of -- it was one of a number of instance in that tone.

O`DONNELL:  And more recently, John Kelly doing an interview where he talked about the babies and children at the southern border being taken from their parents and just casually saying that "Well, you know, they`ll be OK.  They`ll go into foster care or whatever."

FALLOWS:  Or whatever.  And again, it`s relevant that for the first few months in the administration, he was the head of the Homeland Security Department and was seem to have been not sort of egging on other than trying to tempering what the actions of ICE in those days.  So again, I think if John Kelly had not spent these past two years in the service of Donald Trump, he would have been known as a four-star Marine Corps General who had paid, you know, the ultimate price for his country.  He lost his son in combat in Afghanistan and would have had an entirely different lasting image than the one he has gained because of this service.

O`DONNELL:  And I think we now have reason to believe that one of the reasons John Kelly was chosen is that Donald Trump had learned enough about the way John Kelly really does think in private through his position of Homeland Security and Donald Trump saw himself in Kelly.

FALLOWS:  Yes, certainly we`re hearing that.  And also there was the sort of the open point that Donald Trump was making early on that he liked having my generals, especially there was Michael Flynn, H. R. McMaster, John Kelly, and James Mattis.  And one of those who is still left, of course, is Secretary Mattis, Secretary of Defense.  And so I think it`s been -- it was the views, as you say, which John Kelly may have bonded with Donald Trump and also the idea of having my generals early on.

O`DONNELL:  There is a lot more wisdom in this article than just your thoughts about John Kelly.  Everyone should read it at "The Atlantic."  James Fallows, thank you very much for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

Tonight`s last word is next.


O`DONNELL:  Time for tonight`s last word.  Many of you who have asked for an update on Joyce Chisale, the high school student from Malawi who recited her poem "Little by Little" for us on this show a few years ago.  Joyce also came to the United States earlier this year and joined me here in the studio in New York.  I saw Joyce again on my recent trip to Malawi during Thanksgiving week.  Joyce is still doing very well in her last year of high school and little by little is getting closer to her dream of becoming a doctor and a poet.

Thanks to the scholarship that you have provided that pays her tuition to attend high school.  And so thank you for your generous contributions for the K.I.N.D. fund, a partnership that I created with MSNBC and UNICEF to provide desks to schools in Malawi where those kids have never seen desks and scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi where the girls` graduation rate from high school is much lower than the boys.

You can help girls like Joyce stay in high school by contributing at  And any amount you can contribute will be very helpful.  Here is a new poem that Joyce shared with me last month about inspiring young girls like herself to finish their education.


JOYCE CHISALE, K.I.N.D. FUND SCHOLAR:  This poem is entitled, "You Can Do It."  It is dedicated to those girls who look down on themselves who think they cannot do it so it is entitled "You Can Do It."

You can do it.  Yes, you can.  Don`t look down on yourself because you`re wiser than you think.  You`re capable of becoming a good reader who can transform this nation and make some affirmation.  You are unique in your own way so don`t isolate yourself from the rest of the world.  You can do it.  Yes, you can.  Regardless of your sex or your race, you can do it.  Thank you.


O`DONNELL:  Joyce Chisale gets tonight`s last word.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The breaking news we`re covering tonight, the president`s former personal lawyer sentenced to three years in federal prison.