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Trump makes first visit to troops. TRANSCRIPT: 12/26/2018, The Last Word w. Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Eleanor Clift, David Jolly

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: December 26, 2018 Guest: Eleanor Clift, David Jolly

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. What was the best Christmas gift you got?


MELBER: Sleep.

Sleep is a timeless gift we give ourselves.

REID: Sleep.

MELBER: I know you so I know you deserve that gift.

REID: I need it desperately.

MELBER: Nice to see you. I will see you around in the building.

I am Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell tonight. And we have a lot of news, believe it or not, even though it is a holiday season.

Today, in the face of bipartisan criticism following the resignation of this defense secretary, President Trump did something that many people have been waiting for, something you probably heard Lawrence talk about previously. He made his first ever visit as a U.S. president to American troops in a war zone. That was today.

The president and first lady making a surprise appearance to visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq at the al-Assad Air Base. The president also visited American troops in Germany during a stop on the way home.

Now, in Iraq, Trump talked foreign policy to the soldiers on the ground. He took the chance to make a public pitch for the very controversial way that he hastily announced the withdrawal from Syria, a move widely seen as benefitting Russia and sparking the departure of his defense secretary.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said go get them. We need six months. Go get them. They said give us another six months. I said go get them.

Then they said go, can we have one more like period of six months? I said no, no. I said I gave you a lot of six months and now we are doing it a different way.

America shouldn`t be doing the fighting for every nation on earth, not being reimbursed in many cases at all. If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price. Sometimes that`s also a monetary price. So we are not the suckers of the world. We are no longer the suckers, folks.


MELBER: No longer the suckers.

Let`s be clear and break this down. Part of what you just heard there actually does have a long precedent in American debates over foreign policy, the idea that the U.S. shouldn`t necessarily always police the world. OK. And part of it is a new and chaotic feature of this particular president`s leadership, military decisions made on the fly justified after the fact in harsh and even sloppy terms with these public hints that yes, it`s worse than it looks because some of the experts closest to the president are the most concerned.

You ever wonder what they`ve seen that maybe we don`t know yet? Because we know something led to Defense Secretary Mattis` resignation just like something else made Trump take back the announced plan that Mattis would continue on for two more months. Now, it`s been as I was just mentioning with Joy, a busy Christmas with a shutdown, with market jitters.

But remember, it was just last week that Trump claimed Mattis will be retiring with distinction at the end of February, a statement made before President Trump bothered to even read General Mattis` resignation letter according to reporting in "The New York Times." Trump only came to understand what had even happened after days of news coverage recounting how Mattis issued the stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglected allies and tolerance of authoritarians.

The president grew increasingly angry as he watched the parade of defense analysts go on, yes, TV to extol Mattis` bravery. Until he decided on Sunday, he had enough. On Sunday, the president tweeting Mattis will be gone starting January 1st, 2019 which brings us to this acting administration we are living through now.

Now, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is the acting secretary of defense. He`s a former Boeing executive, has no stated military experience. Trump saying today in Iraq, he is not in any hurry to name a permanent defense chief and that Secretary Shanahan, quote, could be there for a long time.

President also used the opportunity to briefly stoke fears about how long the ongoing shutdown will last.


REPORTER: How long do you think the shutdown will last, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Whatever it takes. I mean, we`re going to have a wall. We`re going to have safety.


MELBER: President Trump unlikely to get his wall according to who controls Congress as we headed into January, but the uncertainty President Trump has caused at home and abroad has led to a pair of high profile pieces this weekend by people who apparently can`t wait any longer. They want the world to know they view the current president as a quote threat to the country, one from a former Obama national security adviser, we all remember, Susan Rice, the other from a less senior official but has a potentially bright future, according to many Democratic insiders, that`s Congressman Beto O`Rourke.

Let`s start with his. You need to see this if you haven`t yet. He writes what is happening now is part of a larger threat to us all. My fear is that we will choose certainty, strength and predictability over this cause of function even if it comes at the price of our democracy, if there were ever a man to exploit this precarious moment for our country and for our form of government, it`s Trump.

Now, you might say, well, OK, but that`s a politician. And politicians, they make all kinds of attacks on other politicians. All right.

But now, again, against the backdrop of this change of leadership of a defense secretary departing, Susan Rice writing in the "New York Times," this is a person who has never been a politician, isn`t to this day. The headline, take a look, quote, the threat in the White House.

She writes, quote: This president couldn`t care less about facts, intelligence, military analysis or the national interest. He refuses to take seriously the views of his advisers, announces decisions on impulse and disregards the consequences of his actions and abandoning the role of a responsible commander in chief. Mr. Trump today does more to undermine American national security than any foreign adversary.

If she means what she says as a former national security adviser, that cuts ice. All of this foreign policy uncertainty comes amid another piece of news. As I said, there is a lot going on around the world. Nuclear saber- rattling for Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming today that Russia has now successfully tested a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead five times the speed of sound and which will be formally added to Russia`s arsenal next year.

Putin calling it a, quote, wonderful, perfect new year`s gift, a public belligerence on the world stage that does stand undeniably against the back drop of President Trump pulling U.S. troops out and retreating from Russia`s ally, Syria.

Let`s get into it with some more experts. Malcolm Nance, an MSNBC counterintelligence analyst, also Republican Congressman David Jolly from Florida, and Eleanor Clift, a columnist with "Daily Beast", and analyst to the "McLaughlin Group", and as I like to call her, Swellanor. Not my term, but I`m always happy to use it, Eleanor.


MELBER: That is a brief moment of likeness against what is, Malcolm Nance, pretty dark statements from people who -- I`ll speak as a journalist, I`m curious of your view as a former intelligence official, people who aren`t known, Susan Rice, to pop off politically at all. What do you think is driving her and do you agree with her assessment?

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC COUNTERINTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, what`s driving her into this very dire stark assessment are the facts that we can see before our very eyes. Donald Trump as president of the United States has taken a tact to where he believes the fundamental security underpinnings of this nation that have been established in blood from the time that we entered World War II, that those fundamental underpinnings, NATO, the Atlantic Alliance between Washington and the European capitals, maintaining stability throughout the western and eastern hemispheres, they should go away.

He believes the United States should not be a force for good through the advancement of democracy. He fundamentally believes that autocracy, the way that it is run by his partner, Vladimir Putin, should be the operating method for the way the United States will advance in the future which means you must get rid of NATO. He`s actually hinted that he wanted the United States to withdraw at one point. You must get rid of national security and financial trade alliances.

And he doesn`t believe in anything we`ve believed in 243 years. So, of course, Ambassador Rice is right. The man does not believe in what America stands for. He believes in an alternate reality America in which it would be very comfortable in some other universe where fascism rules.

MELBER: Eleanor, how do you distinguish between what the president may be drawing on which I mentioned has roots in avoiding conflicts abroad and isolationism and the rest of it that Malcolm and Susan Rice and others are associating himself with the critique that he is actually becoming a threat to the nation. And contrast that against what the president would claim and we always report his side of the story, as well. He says Saudi Arabia is agreeing to spend the necessary money needed for Syria. So, isn`t it nice, he says, quote, wealthy countries helped rebuilt?

CLIFT: He is taking a very simplistic approach to foreign policy and you can hear him echoing probably talk in Joe`s bar down the street. You know, all these other countries are taking advantage of us. You know, Donald Trump is going to make them pay up.

He is talking like the real estate guy from New York who`s rebuilding the ice rink in Central Park and trying to get a better deal. You know, I have given them six months notice and told them that is enough. We don`t want to be suckers anymore.

I think it is appealing, again, to his base and God knows I have heard so much of his base and catering to his base. It`s the kind of approach to foreign policy, I think, that people who don`t want to look at the complexities of the American role in the world, it`s the approach they would take.

And then to deny Secretary Mattis that last two months when he would have attended a NATO meeting where he would have served as basically a bulwark against Russia, to have the acting secretary of defense attend who is basically a procurement officer. I mean, he understands buying and selling planes and budgeting. He is not a strategist. He may be a very good person, but he is not somebody who could stand up to the president or who can articulate the strategy and the values that this country has built up over certainly the last seven decades.

And this president is squandering the collective goodwill that he certainly didn`t earn and he wants everyone to believe that he alone can fix it. It`s the authoritarian form of government and that`s why he gets along so well with the Turkish president.

MELBER: And, Congressman, as Eleanor says, the acting secretary is just that, another official who doesn`t yet have the constitutional support of the Senate that a long term chief would, adds to the acting of staff and the acting attorney general as someone who used to be in the co-equal branch of Congress. Do you view that as also problematic?

FORMER REP. DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA: Of course, all the acting secretaries, those answering to the president as a yes person. I think the concern and anxiety of congressional leaders but also Americans across the country is, do we need a check for the president`s malfeasance, for this untoward leanings and this love connection he has with authoritarians like Malcolm said? Or is it simply a matter of having adults in the room to check his incompetence? And what I mean by that is Republicans are happy to criticize President Obama from leading from behind. That was a narrative that many of us, myself included, expressed concerns about for the vacuum created in places like Syria because we didn`t enter soon enough.

The president`s decisions to withdraw, though, if Obama was arguably leading from behind, Donald Trump is taking it to a whole new level. He is being led on a leash. The question is why and to whom is he answering. But if nothing else, if it is his own ego, what is he doing that is jeopardizing the men and women that he visited today? Because --


MELBER: I take it, Congressman -- I take it you are getting the idea that domestic politics he is leading by retweet and in foreign policy, you are saying leading by a leash that extends where? To the Kremlin?

JOLLY: Well, certainly -- you can make that argument, right? To Malcolm`s point, is he flirting with authoritarians? But also, if you just set that side, there is a level of incompetence. There truly is. I mean, there are legitimate foreign policy decisions that Republicans disagreed with, with President Obama.

But with Donald Trump, there is an incoherence with foreign policy, that even Republican leaders can`t understand and don`t know how to confront.

MELBER: Malcolm, the other piece tonight that I wanted to share for your analysis and I was reading up on this in a story that quoted you, so you know we`ve been following it, is a "Newsweek" report that Donald Trump through this visit and everyone think the president visiting the troops and how long it took him to get there is a positive thing, but how you do it matters. It says Trump and the White House communications team revealed U.S. Navy SEAL team was deployed to Iraq after the president`s secret trip and notes a report saying details of the troop were embargoed until the finishing of the remarks. It was about a hundred U.S. special ops troops.

The pool report went on to say Trump paused to take a selfie with a U.S. navy lieutenant commander who said he was a chaplain for the SEAL Team Five. The chaplain said let`s take a picture. After Trump left Iraqi air space the president posts a video showing him posing for pictures with service members that appear to be from SEAL Team Five.

In your view, is this compromising operational security and how does this happen?

NANCE: Well, it happens because Donald Trump says it happens. Donald Trump is compromised operational security of many missions. We -- the thing is there are so many, it occurs almost weekly. Most importantly, when he compromised an extraordinarily covert operation that the Israelis were carrying out in Syria to their enemies, to the Russians, the people who would be there helping Assad thwart that operation. It`s just mindless.

Representative Jolly talked about incompetence, they are incompetent and they are incompetent because they don`t care about what the rules are. Look, I lived under, you know, operational security clearances and protected status for a quarter of a century and the one thing that I would never ever want to do is get near a photograph, whether it is publicity or something else for anyone who holds a top FBI security clearance.

But President Trump rolls in and everybody wants to be accommodating. And even though that unit was probably part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that`s training the Iraqis, they engage with ISIS all the time. Should they be captured? They will be exploited because all they have to do is say here is you with the commander in chief. Clearly, you are a SEAL.

So, the commanding officers should have quiet meet and greet off inside their sensitive compartment information facility and the president and his staff should have thought I will not exploit the SEAL teams.

One last point. President Bush had a photograph of himself taken with gold quadrant of SEAL Team Six. They digitized their faces out. In this, they jump out in front of the cameras. And the White House put it out in their video feed.

MELBER: Eleanor, do you think if Barack Obama made this operational security mistake, it would be treated as a political and media scandal?

CLIFT: Of course, it would. But again, this president treats foreign policy like it`s a financial transaction. Are we getting our money`s worth? And he was really frustrated that he had to make the secure landing in Iraq, all the lights out, and I think he wants to be greeted with rose petals, because he thinks we spent -- I think he used the phrase a trillion dollars that we spent all this money there and we have to go in under this kind of security. He was asked if he had second thoughts about going. He had second thoughts about going when he learned what he would have to go through to get there.

So, again, there is an ignorance of how government works, an ignorance of the complexities of foreign policy. If he is not getting his money`s worth and acts like every dollar is coming out of his pocket, maybe that is a good thing that he pay careful attention. But again, he relies -- his principal adviser is his gut.

I look around the government and I don`t see too many other people offering sound advice. And it`s not very comforting to know we have a president who has no process in place which is why a picture like that could be posted. I`m sure nobody thought twice about it.

We need a government where there is more attitude, analysis, complexity, not a government that operates on the whim of one man. Even when his gut makes the right decision and sometimes it does. I do think that it is time to rethink how long we have been in Syria, how long we have been in Afghanistan. But you don`t just decide one day, OK, I`m bringing everyone home and at the same time, you just sent three times as many troops to the southern border for a nonexistent caravan, a mythical caravan, three times what you had in Syria where they were doing serious work and the strategy was paying off.

So he`s what we`ve got. I guess we can keep on criticizing him. But there is a price to pay for his media reaction. I think Secretary Mattis is gone because he was frustrated that Mattis was getting so much good news. So, he gets good people and they get good reviews and then they are out of there which is why he is staffing the government with all these actings, easy to get rid of.

MELBER: Well, it is very interesting listen to some of the experience and insight each of you offer. I can`t say I feel better. But I feel informed. I`m just sharing with you my honest emotional reaction to what you shared with me.

What I`m going to do is fit in a break. So, my special thanks to Malcolm Nance and Eleanor Clift. Congressman, I`m going to bring you back I believe. So, see you shortly.

What else do we have on the show? Well, coming up, is the Supreme Court now considering weighing in on the Mueller investigation? Very interesting stuff.

Chief Justice John Roberts now saying he wants to be briefed by the end of the month on the mystery subpoena that all of Washington has been tracking.

I`m happy to tell you, Jill Wine-Banks will break it down later on THE LAST WORD.

But, first, the latest on what the Democrats are calling the Trump shutdown and one Republican write is a, quote, made up fight for the president can look like he is fighting. That is a Republican quote. That`s next.


MELBER: Merry Christmas. We are about to enter the fifth day of the government shutdown over Trump`s request for a border wall.

Now, more than 400,000 federal employees deemed essential are working without pay all this season. That would include people that you probably see when you travel, like TSA workers staffing airports. Also, over 41,000 federal law enforcement and corrections officers, over 380,000 federal employees are also furloughed, which means, of course, not working or being paid.

Now, in the past, after a government shutdown, Congress typically passed as a bill to pay the workers retroactively. So, it`s not like it saves money. This time, though, there has been zero progress towards reopening the federal government in the first place.

On Christmas Eve, the president tweeted this one, I am all alone, poor me in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed border security.

If Trump wants to make a deal with Democrats he is not acting like it. The president no longer on the same continent as Congress, although many people it was a worthwhile effort to, of course, visit the troops. And just before he left, Trump went out of his way to make it clear he won`t budge on any aspect of the wall demand other than what to call it.


TRUMP: I can`t tell you when the government is going to be open. I can tell you, it`s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they like to call it. I`d call it whatever they love. It`s a disgrace what`s happening in our country.

But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.


MELBER: I`m joined by John Harwood, editor at large of CNBC, and Congressman David Jolly back with me.

John, let`s start out in a normal place. If you are a normal person and you are living your life and you`re doing Christmas and in and out of the news, you heard the government shutdown, you heard the markets are up and down.

But you as our CNBC guru, how real is this? How long term is the shutdown? Is the president to be taken at his word at this when a lot of people understand we don`t take him at his word on a lot of these fights?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR-AT-LARGE: No, he`s not to be taken at his word. I think the shutdown will probably last another week or so. This is something that, of course, didn`t need to happen. The president had a deal on the table with Republicans in the Senate that the House was going to then pass. He decided after getting flack from the far right, especially media commentators that he wasn`t going to go ahead and do the deal that he had agreed to.

But I think what is likely to happen is the Democratic House will come back. They will immediately pass the bill that the Senate had by unanimous consent passed. The Senate is likely to add another $300 million on to that and go from 1.3 to 1.6 for border security, not for a wall.

And the president will say, look, I won and the government will reopen. That`s what I think will happen. But you never know with this president.

MELBER: So, that would be signing the bill, but no wall?

HARWOOD: Look, there is never going to be a wall. Republicans in Texas don`t want a wall. This was a ridiculous promise he made in the campaign that was never going to take place, the idea that Mexico was going to pay for the wall, never going to take place. Paul Ryan openly mocked it when I interviewed him about that in 2016.

What we are left with is a president trying to save face with the base that he made that promise to by showing them he is fighting for this. No, he is not going to get it.

MELBER: Everything you say makes sense, John, but when you say I almost -- but some of this is quite obvious. I want to back up and make sure we are clear. He is not holding a line to enforce the campaign promise. He is holding some sort of line to break the campaign promise.

The promise was somebody else would pay for the wall, not the U.S. government. Now, he shut down the government on the claim he is going to make the U.S. pay for the wall.

Have you ever seen, I know it`s a different world we`re living, but have you ever seen this president fight this hard to draw attention to the fact that he is trying to break the core promise that someone else would pay for it?

HARWOOD: No. And really to put a finer point on it, Ari, he`s staging this fight in order to stage the fight. The fight is the point. Showing the base that whatever I promised and whatever is going to come out on the other end of it, I am fighting the Democrats for this issue.

Remember, before the shutdown, the president signaled his out by saying, well, I`m going to build the wall whether they give me the money or not, the military is going to finish it. We already built a lot of it.

That`s not true. They haven`t built any of the wall. But it is a matter of what he can sell to his base. And he was prevented from doing so by people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh a week or so ago. We`ll see whether they can do it again.

MELBER: Well, in fairness, Congressman Jolly. As you know, Ann Coulter is the secretary of homeland security. So, it`s understandable that she would have veto authority over these important matters.

Congressman, people often ask in this business and I think in politics in general, lately, OK, what is it going to take for Republican A, B or C to step up and call out Trump and speak truth the way some of them used to? And the answer often is retirement.

So, Senator Corker, as he leaves office, take a look at what he said.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: This is purposefully a contrived fight. This is a made up fight so that the president can look like he is fighting. This is something that is unnecessary. It`s a spectacle and candidly, it`s juvenile. The whole thing is juvenile.


MELBER: Congressman?

JOLLY: And, look, every Republican senator who`s not retiring, who refuses to say that deserves the indictment of the American people today. We know that two years in. But to your earlier point, Ari, Donald Trump`s going to define this as border security and the Democrats rightfully should define this as a lie to the American people that Mexico is going to pay for this.

Democrats should focus in on the lie and not on the fact that they need nuanced border security. But there are a few off-ramps that are currently developing for the president of the United States. One is the definition. You had that in the lead-in. Is it a fence, is it a wall, is it border security?

The reality is the Senate bill actually says the pedestrian barrier has to be consistent with historical barriers of DHS. The president is ceding to that.

Another thing that could happen, as John said, if the Senate adds money, the House and Senate could pass the same bill, Donald Trump doesn`t have to sign it. After ten days, that goes into law. Donald Trump can say, hey, the Congress did this, I don`t agree with it, I`m going to keep fighting for $5 billion but I`m not going to stand in the way."

MELBER: You`re talking -- do you think he knows that?

JOLLY: Well, I think his counselors are actually telling him that. Yes, I --

MELBER: Are you doing what so many people do? Are you trying to tell him tonight as he is held up alone in the White House watching TV?

JOLLY: Well, I think he is already losing. I think he`s already lost the fight. And so the reality is he is changing the definition of a wall. He realizes the Senate and the House can pass a bill and he doesn`t have to sign it at all and it will go into effect. I mean those are options for the president right now where he can declare some notional success but also walk away without his tail fully between his legs.

HARWOOD: And Ari, to Congressman Jolly`s fight point, about fighting over the definition, Nancy Pelosi said this evening that I think Trump`s going to be satisfied with a beaded curtain at this point. So look for Democrats to find with the eventual deal.

MELBER: I saw the curtain comment. Is that like a reference to like what they put in front of a fireplace, like the sealed curtain? What is it? Or is it like the kind that separates like in a place like a dorm room?

HARWOOD: I think, Ari, you see it in a lot of college dorm rooms.

MELBER: Dorm room. David, would you vote a dorm room or do you vote a fireplace?

JOLLY: Look, this is the president capitulating. Here is the third opportunity, though.

MELBER: Listen, David says you`re a congressman, you can`t even answer a joke question.

JOLLY: This is actually important.

MELBER: Beaded Curtain. Which one? Are you or not going to pick?

JOLLY: Beaded curtain is better than artistic steel slats. OK, the sweater feat is remarkable.

MELBER: All right. And Congressman, we give you the last word on policy before we go.

JOLLY: There are seven appropriation bills that have not been signed. Six of them are already agreed to. Only DHS has the hiccup. The president and the Congress could agree to reopen the government for six appropriation bills which would be virtually the rest of the government but for about four percent of federal employees, they could do that. That`s a third off run for the president.

MELBER: Mr. Congress and Mr. Economy, you both have made salient points here about what may be a farce, but a farce with some consequences. John Harwood and David Jolly, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, there is outrage but also understandably deep heartbreak after an 8-year-old boy has died in U.S. border patrol custody. That was on Christmas Eve.

As you may know, it is the second child to die this month. It`s an important story we`re bringing you tonight. Democratic leaders say they are demanding answers from the Trump administration as they come to power. Maria Teresa Kumar joins us on this important story next.


MELBER: For the second time this month, a child has died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. An 8-year-old migrant boy from Guatemala who Reuters has identified as Felipe Gomez Alonzo died on Christmas Eve. The causes are currently unknown.

Felipe`s mother telling Reuters, "I`m sad and in despair over the death of my son." His death comes three weeks after a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala named Jakelyn Caal died at a hospital in El Paso after being detained by border agents. She was buried in Guatemala on Christmas Day.

Today, Democratic lawmakers are calling for immediate hearings as well as new legislation that would require health standards for federal immigration agencies which may address part of what they view as this problem, including strict border enforcement by the Trump administration.

Here is Congressman Steny Hoyer. Now, he would become house majority leader literally within about a week saying, "After this new Democratic Majority begins, the House will hold hearings on this young boy`s death and the death of 7-year-old Jakelyn Caal earlier this month and the conditions under which thousands are being held."

On the aftermath of Felipe`s death, Secretary of the Homeland Security announced that she will travel to the U.S.-Mexico border later this week. Now, here is how Secretary Nielsen responded to questions from the House Judiciary Committee last week regarding the number of migrants who have died in U.S. custody.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: If you do not know how many human beings have died while in the custody of the department that you lead and you in preparation for today`s hearing you didn`t ascertain that number but you don`t know it today?


CICILLINE: Do you have a rough idea?

NIELSEN: Sir, what I can tell you --

CICILLINE: I`m talking about people who have died in your custody. You don`t have the number?

NIELSEN: I will get back to you with the number.


MELBER: I`m joined now by Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and CEO of Voto Latino, an MSNBC contributor. And I appreciate you joining us on this important topic. And I know you are making sure to do that through some digital technical barriers that we have had. Can you hear me OK?


MELBER: Good. I`m fine. This is deeply disturbing. This is an important story. When you look at what we are learning, what is the cause? Is it clear from the evidence it is worse under Trump? And how can the United States fix what I don`t think most Americans would ever want happening in the name of our border security which is these apparently avoidable deaths of young children?

KUMAR: Well, Ari, I think it is very clear that Secretary Nielsen is absolutely not incompetent with her job. She was not prepared for this office. She basically has over 240,000 federal employees that she has to oversee and is completely ill-prepared.

The idea that she cannot answer how many individuals have died under her custody is reprehensible. But these are policies that could have been prevented as you mentioned. There are measures that we have basically been able to process individuals for before.

But between her and President Trump, when they decided that they were going to start closing ports of entry, when they were going to tear gas families trying to go through the legal channels through ports of entries, she and the president forced individuals to go and make more dangerous areas to cross the border. Because, Ari, as you know in order to seek asylum, you have to officially cross a border.

So with those border closures, what we are finding is that the individuals are looking for different ways to enter including Jakelyn and her father, including this young man, the 8-year-old recently with his father. So these are exasperating issues because unfortunately the president and Secretary Nielsen are creating much more pressures for these families instead of allowing for them to cross the border and follow asylum laws.

And for the viewers who are watching, these are asylum laws that the American government created. We actually set the standard across the world. And now, we are failing these families and we are failing our own institutions and our own laws.

MELBER: It`s very well put the way you explained it. And, of course, it comes amidst the backdrop where the Supreme Court with John Roberts siding with more traditionally Democratic-appointed justices have just pushed back against Donald Trump`s effort to narrow asylum although the case will continue.

I want to play as well the defense from the Customs and Border Patrol commissioner. Now, there is plenty of buck passing in Washington that predates Trump, for sure. But given what we have reported, given the loss to these lives, these issues that you work on, this seemed like really unfortunate buck-passing. Take a look.


KEVIN MCALEENAN, COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMER AND BORDER PROTECTION: Our stations are not built for that group that is crossing today. They were built 30, 40 years ago for single adult males. And we need a different approach. We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care, for children in our facilities.


MELBER: Your view of that response and where Congress does fit in?

KUMR: All I`m hearing is that they basically want to fund more of our taxpayer dollars to hold children in detention for long periods of time. Let`s not forget, under the Obama administration, under the Bush administration, individuals seeking asylum would basically receive an ankle bracelet and a court date. Ninety percent of those individuals would show up in court.

Instead, the Trump administration is detaining families in really harsh conditions and processing them for a lot longer. The death of this child, he was -- in six days, he was in four different facilities, Ari. He, unfortunately, didn`t receive medical care upon arrival at the first detention facility that he received.

There were all these little -- these lapses in the system. And instead of going back to a proven record that actually works, a model that works, of processing these individuals, the Trump administration instead wants to detain these children and their families for indefinite periods of time exacerbating a system that is already broken and instead trying to use them unfortunately as red meat for his base.

And there is absolutely no reason that we are not creating, that we`re actually not providing a humanitarian response when these individuals try to seek basic resources.

MELBER: Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you for your expertise on this. We will stay on the story I know and I know you will keep working on it. So thank you for your time tonight.

KUMAR: Thank you, Ari. Thank you for covering it.

MELBER: Coming up, is the Supreme Court now directly overseeing a grand jury subpoena linked to Bob Mueller? What we know about this fight and that super-secret subpoena that everyone in Washington is buzzing about. Jill Wine-Banks is here next.


MELBER: Did you hear about this one? The Supreme Court has just begun considering a mysterious grand jury subpoena potentially related to Bob Mueller`s Russia probe. Earlier this week, Chief Justice John Roberts ordering a week-long stay, a kind of delay, in this ongoing subpoena fight which many people have linked to Mueller.

Now, the case involves a mystery company. So it`s not defined. We know that it is according to the briefs owned by a foreign government which is fighting this federal prosecutor`s grand jury subpoena. The company lost its initial efforts to block the subpoena on appeal and was going to be held on contempt, meaning punished for not complying. Justice Roberts now pausing that.

The Supreme Court has basically five days under its schedule to decide whether to hear the case. Court filings have been short on details and trotted in secrecy for months. Now, the justices do intervene this would be, according to experts, the first time the full Supreme Court hears a completely sealed court case. That is a big deal. And if it is Mueller- related, it is an even bigger deal.

So after this break, we`re going to break down that big deal with Jill Wine-Banks.



REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Now, I would suspect this could indicate that Bob Mueller has opened up a line of investigation that would look at finances.

MELBER: Do you think this is China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or something else?

SWALWELL: Or Germany, right? I mean it could be --

MELBER: Or Deutsche Bank.

SWALWELL: So I think it could be any of those. But I think my gut as a former prosecutor tells me this is banking-related.


MELBER: Playing a little subpoena bingo there. I was interviewing Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell on "THE BEAT" discussing what everyone`s been talking about, this Mueller-linked mystery Subpoena case according to a lot of experts.

Now, Jill Wine-Banks is a former Watergate special prosecutor and a legal analyst at MSNBC. Nice to see you tonight.


MELBER: Let me put to you the same question a lot of us lawyers have been talking about. Your former Watergate co-counsel, if you will, Nick Akerman, believes that it`s a Chinese financial institution. Others say that it`s more likely a hostile foreign country other than China, one that might fit more in Mueller`s orbit. What do you think?

WINE-BANKS: Well, I`m sorry that the broach I ordered of a fortune teller`s crystal ball hasn`t arrived yet because maybe then I could answer the question. But really we`re left with total speculation because the facts that are known to us are so scant that we really can`t tell.

I think there`s some reason to believe it is not a bank, that it is a corporation that is owned by a foreign government and that would pretty much eliminate Deutsche Bank. It could be a Chinese bank but there`s a reason to think it`s not a bank.

In the beginning, of course, speculation was that the subpoena was for the president. That seems to be completely out of the ballpark, even though many people now think that Russia owns the president. I don`t think he`s a corporation owned by them so it`s not him.

MELBER: Well, Jill, corporations are people.

WINE-BANKS: Yes. Yes, that is true. The Supreme Court said that. So maybe. It`s really almost impossible because of grand jury secrecy to tell.

And I think people have to understand as much as we want to know what this is, it`s sealed for a reason. It clearly involves a grand jury because the title of it is in Re: grand jury subpoena. So we know that it`s for a grand jury. We don`t even know that it`s a Mueller grand jury.

MELBER: Right. And we --

WINE-BANKS: It could be --

MELBER: We`ve mentioned that in our reporting and I appreciate you reemphasizing that. There are some clues that go in that direction but that certainly is not confirmed by the court papers and the special counsel as is their usual commenting one way or the other.

I mean it would be handy if they told us, "Hey, it`s not us." But they haven`t done that either. You can`t read into that. Let`s take then to the other part that`s a little less speculative because it goes to present, which is what`s the Supreme Court doing here in giving this delay and how would they even handle as I alluded to earlier in the program the very rare case of a sealed hearing?

WINE-BANKS: Well, it`s very unusual. As far as I know, it`s the first time there`s been a completely sealed hearing. And it was so basically sealed back in the court of appeals that the courthouse floor that it was argued on was closed to all other persons who weren`t involved in it.

So again, it`s really speculation as to what`s happening. I think that we just don`t know enough to guess who it is. We can guess that it`s really important or it wouldn`t have gotten to the Supreme Court. But what they`ve done now is really a technical hold, basically. It`s not a major decision.

They are going to hold off having a penalty imposed on this foreign-owned company until they decide whether they`re going to take the case.

MELBER: So you`re saying we just don`t know?

WINE-BANKS: Yes, that is unfortunately what I`m saying.

MELBER: Well, Jill, I know that you are sometimes a fan of the group Wu- Tang Clan.


MELBER: But this is a little more Notorious B.I.G. He used to say if you don`t know, now you know. But here it`s more if you don`t know, now you don`t know, and we just have to wait.

WINE-BANKS: I think that`s exactly right. And it will be at some point in our history, we`ll find out who it is but it`s not right now. And we`ll have to wait just like we have to wait to see whether Mueller is going to have a report in February or not.

MELBER: Right. Well, we`ll be waiting on that and your new pins. And as always, I like learning a little bit of extra law from you. So Jill Wine- Banks, really appreciate you joining us tonight.

WINE-BANKS: Thank you very much for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Up next, tonight`s last word.


MELBER: Tonight`s last word. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been released from the hospital after undergoing surgery for cancer. The 85-year-old justice who had two cancerous nodules removed from her lung on Friday is now out. Doctors say there`s actually no evidence of any remaining disease and she`s recuperating at her home in New York.

Ginsburg had been treated for cancer you may remember twice while on the court. And in both times, she made a full recovery and didn`t miss any argument sessions. The court is next scheduled to hear arguments on January 7.

That is tonight`s last word. A little court update.

I`m Ari Melber. If you want to catch my show, it`s at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.