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

GOP fears Trump shutdown "chaos". TRANSCRIPT: 1/9/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

GOP fears Trump shutdown "chaos". TRANSCRIPT: 1/9/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

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

And we don`t have a report yet from the Trump campaign about how much money they raised last night when they put out this fund-raising e-mail before the president`s speech, which apparently was what the speech was all about.  This fund-raising e-mail went out saying we need to raise $500,000.  You need to contribute by 9:00 p.m.  And if you contribute by 9:00 p.m., we`re going to give your name to the president.  So, Donald Trump will see that you`re one of his strong supporters.

And they were telling these victims of the Trump fund-raising operation that they were going to be contributing to, quote, the official Secure the Border Fund.  The fine print showed you were contributing to the Trump presidential campaign, but normally when there`s a big fund-raising event like that, they like to report the next day just how much they raised, but they haven`t said a word about how much they raised. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Do you -- my jaw dropped when I saw you cover this last night in your "A" block after the speech when you were like, this is what all the TV networks in America just helped the Trump campaign do.  That`s what this was about.  I was flabbergasted. 

But do you think the implication of that fund-raising pitch was that people who responded to it, people who actually sent money believed that they were going to be helping build the wall? 

O`DONNELL:  If you sent money in response to this, it seems very unlikely to me that you -- that you read the fine print. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL: It was -- it was written in classic con man style to make you think that you were contributing to the, quote, official Secure the Border Fund. 

MADDOW:  Wow. 

O`DONNELL:  And then -- and then they had a 9:00 p.m. deadline, but like on special offers, it can be extended. 

And so, after -- after the speech they sent out the second e-mail saying we`ve extended the deadline for three hours if you contribute now.  We will still bring your name to the president and he will see --

MADDOW:  Plus, free shipping and handling.  And your second installment payment is free. 

O`DONNELL:  All that.  All that. 

MADDOW:  Amazing. 

O`DONNELL:  Nothing like it. 

MADDOW:  Well done, my friend.  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

Well, in "Vanity Fair," Gabriel Sherman is reporting that a prominent Republican close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described Trump`s handling of the shutdown as total chaos.  And in the actual quote between the word total and chaos is that heavy piece of profanity that Rex Tillerson reportedly used to describe exactly what kind of moron Donald Trump is.  And that chaos continued today because Nancy Pelosi just said no. 

And when the speaker of the House says no to the current president of the United States, Donald Trump literally does not know what to do or to say.  Because prior to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump has never heard the speaker of the House say no. 

When it comes to legislative matters, the speaker of the House is always more powerful than the president.  That is by constitutional design.  The speaker of the House always has the power to say no to presidential legislation, and they often do, even when the president is in the same party as the speaker. 

No one remembers George W. Bush`s re-election campaign promise that made reforming Social Security a number one priority for the second term of the Bush presidency, and no one remembers that because the Republican speaker of the House said no to the Republican president.  So did the Republican Senate majority leader. 

And so, the Republican president`s number one priority of reforming Social Security never even got a hearing in the house or the Senate because when it comes to legislation, the speaker of the House is more powerful than the president and every previous president has understood that, and so, every previous president has treated the speaker of the House publicly with respect and privately with even more respect. 

But today the president of the United States got up and walked out on the speaker of the house because Nancy Pelosi said no. 


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER:  He asked Speaker Pelosi, will you agree to my wall?  She said no, and he just got up and said, then we have nothing to discuss and he just walked out.  Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn`t get his way. 


O`DONNELL:  The Republican congressional leadership in the room with the president and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer all agree that that is exactly what happened, the president just walked out, but they insist that it wasn`t a temper tantrum because they say, they insist that the president spoke very politely. 

According to a congressional aide who described the meeting to NBC, at one point, Senator Schumer asked the president, why won`t you open the government and stop hurting people?  To which Donald Trump responded, because then you won`t give me what I want.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi seemed convinced that Donald Trump does not know that 800,000 federal workers who are not receiving their paychecks are actually having a hard time. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The president seems to be insensitive to that.  He thinks maybe they can just ask their father for more money.  But they can`t.  But they can`t. 

If you don`t understand the national insecurity, then you would have a policy that takes pride in saying I`m going to keep government shut down for months or years, unless you totally agree to my position. 


O`DONNELL:  Prior to the meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House, the president had a luncheon meeting in the Senate with Republican senators, and even that meeting didn`t go well because while the Democrats are completely, totally unified behind their leadership in the House and the Senate on this issue, Republicans are not. 

There are now at least 12 Republicans who have publicly split with the president and support the bills that Speaker Pelosi passed in the House of Representatives last week.  Eight Republicans in the House of Representatives are supporting the Pelosi position and at least four Republican senators are supporting the Pelosi position, which means now a majority of the U.S. Senate, 51 senators, support the Pelosi bills to re- open the government at the beginning -- and at the beginning of this story a few weeks ago, those bills actually passed the United States Senate unanimously. 

And so it should not be surprising now that at least four Republican senators who voted for those bills before when President Trump said he would sign those bills, before changing his mind, that at least four of those Republican senators are now in favor of those bills again, and it could be many more.  There could be other Republican senators who simply aren`t saying so publicly but would be ready for vote for those bills if they came to a vote in the Senate. 

And so, the president`s trip to the Senate today, which is an extremely rare thing for a president to do, was a desperate move to try to hold Republican senators in line against the Pelosi bills, and it`s not working.  But to hear Donald Trump describe the meeting with Republican senators, you would think that Republican senators are totally unified on this.  And you would have no idea that four Republican senators have already moved over to the Democrats` position publicly. 

And Donald Trump knows that the Republican senators are not totally unified on this, and that is exactly why he had to make that trip to talk to the Republican senators at their luncheon today, to try to hold them together.  Every reporter waiting to speak to the president after that luncheon knows all of that.  They know the Republicans are not totally unified, but Donald Trump tried to tell them that the Republicans are totally unified. 


REPORTER:  Did any Republicans in that meeting today tell you they want you to pursue a different strategy, that they want you to re-open the government? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  A couple talked about -- yes, a couple talked about strategy but they`re with us all the way.  They`re with us. 

REPORTER:  Mr. President, what about the idea that --

TRUMP:  I just want -- the fake give the fake news, and I just want to tell you that the Republicans are totally unified. 


O`DONNELL:  Totally unified. 

Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski was in the meeting.  Yesterday she became the third of the four Republican senators to defect from the Trump position.  She is opposed to the Trump position. 

Here`s what Senator Murkowski told reporters after that meeting with the president today. 


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA:  I wish that there had been more opportunity for question and answer.  But, you know, the president was very clear in what he was asking for, which was unity from the Republicans.  I reiterated that I thought that there was unity when it came to supporting our national security and providing for secure borders, as well as to deal with the humanitarian crisis, but I did suggest that there was some separation in terms of how long the shutdown would continue, that folks are impacted whether they`re in the state of Alaska or wherever around the country. 


O`DONNELL:  Maybe no one in the room translated that for Donald Trump.  Lisa Murkowski is saying that, sure, there`s Republican unity on policy, but there is no unity on the shutdown. 

Lisa Murkowski does not want the shutdown to continue, and so she wants to fund the government now and fight about the wall later. 


REPORTER:  Were you happy with how the meeting went? 

MURKOWSKI:  The meeting with the president? 

REPORTER:  Mmm-hmm. 

MURKOWSKI:  I wish that we had had a little more clear direction as to how we`re going to get there. 


O`DONNELL:  That is the polite public, senatorial language for what that unnamed Republican called total chaos. 

Joining our discussion now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.  He is co-host and executive produce of Showtime`s "The Circus". 

Charlie Sykes is with us.  He`s the editor in chief of the Bulwark and MSNBC political analyst. 

And Sam Stein, the politics editor of "The Daily Beast."  He`s also an MSNBC political analyst. 

Charlie, I`m sorry, that in the teleprompter was the first time that I learned that you are running something called "The Bulwark", which we find where?  Is that online? 

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That is online.  A lot of the staffers from "The Weekly Standard" are there. 

O`DONNELL:  All right.  We just did the full promo on it. 

John Heilemann, Donald Trump comes out of a meeting with Republicans where everyone in the world knows that Republicans are not totally unified.  If they were totally unified, Donald Trump would not have been running up to the Senate today trying to make them unified. 

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Yes.  The presence of Donald Trump on Capitol Hill at lunch, saying that the Republicans are unified, was the best evidence that, in fact, the Republicans are not, in fact, unified.  Of course if the Republicans were unified, the whole world would be different, but as we saw last night, one of the things, you know, before the speech and you covered it very well last night, Lawrence, but one of the things you noted, which was -- which was true, you know, Trump confessing to those reporters before the speech that nothing would change on the basis of the speech, which is why he didn`t want to give it. 

Trump has had very few moments of great clarity in his mental state such as it is, but that one he was right about.  He was right the politics were against him, the policy is against him.  The country is against him.  The Democrats are unified against him and his party is starting to turn against him slowly but inevitability. 

And so, he knew the speech wasn`t going to accomplish anything.  So, today, everything that unfolded I think, again, Trump rarely clear, rarely lucid, but I think he saw back as far as yesterday afternoon that he was going to be in this situation where he was going to give a speech that was going to have no effect whatsoever and he was going to have to spend today lying about the fact that his speech had a profound effect on the unity of his party. 

O`DONNELL:  Charlie, it had no effect on Nancy Pelosi who has a very simple one-word negotiating position with Donald Trump on the wall, and that word is no. 

SYKES:  Yes, and apparently the author of -- or the guy who claimed to be the author of "Art of the Deal" doesn`t know how to handle that. 

But, look, this is a very difficult position for the Republicans.  When you think about it, it used to be if they were involved in a government shutdown they wanted to shrink the size of government.  They cared about the size of the deficit.  They were concerned about the debt. 

And here they find themselves presiding over this chaos, this cluster in the cause of spending more money, increasing money, spending money on a medieval boondoggle, and think about, you know, I mean, having railed about government overreach for years, sitting in the room with the president who is threatening to declare a national emergency. 

Think about what that must sound like to conservative Republicans who claim to be concerned about the rule of law and constitutional balance between the branches of government. 

O`DONNELL:  Sam Stein, I assume that the president knew exactly what he was going to do as soon as he heard the no from Nancy Pelosi that he knew he was going to hear, and the best he figured he had today was, I`ll go out and I`ll tweet that I walked out on Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh`s going to love that. 

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yes, that`s sort of pro toe typical Trump stagecraft hoi.  Part of what he`s trying to do is at least show there is some talk or progress happening from his vantage point.  The worst thing that could happen for Trump is for things to be stagnant.  He has to at least show that things are moving, whether they`re moving in a direction or compromise or agitation or confrontation, they have to be moving, otherwise the focus comes squarely on him. 

So calling people up to the White House when you know the outcome is something that he has to do.  I will say this, though, we`re putting a preponderance of attention on Trump and Pelosi.  At the top of your monologue, you made a very interesting valid point, which is the congressional leaders hold an immense amount of power in this negotiation. 

Pelosi is just one of two.  The other person is Mitch McConnell.  And at any moment in time, Mitch McConnell could just say, I`ve had enough of this and I`ll let it go to the floor and I will likely get enough votes to override a presidential veto and we`ll be done with this. 

But Mitch McConnell has notably stayed very far away from the debate.  What I thought was the most interesting element today was not Trump getting up and walking out on Nancy Pelosi, I thought it was Mitch McConnell yet again not going out with Republicans after that confrontation to talk to the cameras because he really clearly wants no part of this negotiation. 

O`DONNELL:  That is exactly what I was seeing in those -- when they went out to the cameras afterwards, was no Mitch McConnell.  That`s what I was seeing there. 

John Heilemann, Sam is so right about how important that is.  McConnell has been very careful in his language.  People are reporting to have said -- to say repeatedly he will not bring up a bill unless.  He`s not saying that.  He`s saying things like it`s not realistic to bring up.  It could be realistic tomorrow afternoon or it could be realistic Monday.

So Mitch McConnell`s language in everything I see him say leaves him the opening that as Sam suggests could come at any moment where there`s enough Republican support in the Senate where he just moves and ends this thing.  And there`s -- in addition to the fact that Mitch McConnell had nothing to say publicly outside the White House, there is a report indicating he has absolutely nothing to say in the room when the president was in the room talking to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and that`s just inconceivable. 


O`DONNELL:  That the Senate majority leader would be in the room with the speaker and the president and not say a word. 

HEILEMANN:  Well, I mean, look, I think he`s still obviously feeling burned by the way the president has handled this entire thing and doesn`t want to get burned again.

But, look, I mean, I do think we are coming quickly -- if you listen to the tentative reporting that was coming out from the Hill over the course of this day and you started to hear Republicans, even before the Pelosi and Schumer meeting where Trump walked out, even before that, you were starting to hear this ambient noise of Republicans on Capitol Hill starting to say, well, there is really only one way out of this.  The only way out is for Trump to declare a national emergency. 

And then after the Pelosi meeting, you heard that volume was amplified to some extent.  You`re now starting to hear from Republicans, most of them not on the record, but it`s the -- as I said, the ambient noise is Republicans starting to realize the only way out is the national emergency.  And I do think, Lawrence, the point that you and Sam both just made throws into very stark relief the choice that Republicans are going to face in the coming days. 

Trump is clearly moving in that direction, and so the question for the Republican Party is going to be, are you going to acquiesce into that kind of action, which is truly the act of an autocrat.  Are you going to accept and embrace the notion that the only way out is a national emergency declaration by the president where he usurps all kinds of powers and acts in this kind of unprecedented -- not totally unprecedented but certainly unconstitutional, extra constitutional way. 

Or are you going to acknowledge that there of course is another way out and that is to behave like responsible legislators and take the vote you took again a couple of weeks ago and as you say would probably pass at this point by veto-proof margins?

O`DONNELL:  Charlie, polling overwhelmingly against president Trump and Republicans on the shutdown.  We have an "Economist" poll saying who is most to blame for the shutdown.  Obviously most people say Donald Trump, 50 percent.  Another 5 percent say Republicans.  So there you have 55 percent with Trump and the Republicans.  Thirty-two percent Democrats.  And that 32 percent Democrats is really every Trump voter in the country at this point. 

SYKES:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  Presumably. 

But, Charlie, to John`s point, the emergency saves weak senators from exactly what they want to be saved from, which is any kind of vote that is awkward.  The emergency they know would be immediately challenged in court, just like the Trump Muslim ban, probably get an injunction against it in federal court very, very quickly, and the ball has left the Senate and Mitch McConnell could kind of go on with business. 

SYKES:  Well, think about that, though, that the only endgame that they can envision involves basically overriding the legislative process. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Yes. 

SYKES:  The Republican Party has gotten to the point where they could do exactly what John describes and Mitch McConnell, you know, in the back of his mind, he always wants to have an end game, but for the end game to be the declaration of a national emergency and the transfer of billions of defense department dollars to the wall, for them to think that, OK, we`ll do that because the courts will probably throw it out, but the precedent is just horrible. 

This is a constitutional crisis, and it is just an indication, again, of the price they are paying for the acquiescence to Donald Trump and the enabling of Donald Trump.  Look, those poll numbers are bad today.  They`re going to be a lot worse as I think the damage from the shutdown becomes clearer, as the cost becomes clearer.  I also think when people begin to think through the concept of declaring a national defense emergency on the border, I think there`s going to be a tremendous backlash to that as well. 

O`DONNELL:  Sam Stein, anyone who knows anything about the way the Army Corps of Engineers, the Defense Department spends money, does construction, building things, especially things that require permits, which a lot of their stuff doesn`t if it`s being done in combat zones, say in Afghanistan --

STEIN:  Sure. 

O`DONNELL:  If you`re trying to build something in Texas and you are the defense department, you are a minimum, if you`re completely unobstructed by the political process or by courts, you`re a minimum of over a year away from a shovel hitting any dirt anywhere in Texas on the border to build this wall. 

STEIN:  Yes, absolutely.  And that`s not even mentioning the fact that you are probably usurping and taking the eminent domain land from private ranchers who don`t want anything to do with this.  You`re talking about not just one legal fight but many, many legal fights spanning across numerous jurisdictions.  And all of this, of course, is not to mention that we were promised at the very beginning of this that Mexico would pay for this wall. 

So I`m not entirely sure that a national emergency is in the best political interests for Trump.  It creates a whole host of political and legal problems.  It underscores how hollow his initial campaign promise was, and a little bit nuanced here, but I happen to think he likes having the issue of the wall as a political cudgel.  I don`t -- I think part of him wishes it was still out there going into the 2020 elections and that might be giving him some hesitation about declaring this national emergency, too. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, Sam, you`ve just hit on a theory that has been advanced by Ezra Klein.  Ezra`s going to join us later in the show with exactly that case, that Donald Trump doesn`t actually want the wall, he wants the fight. 

John Heilemann, Charlie Sykes, Sam Stein, thank you all for starting us off tonight. 

And when we come back, as I said, Ezra Klein`s going to join us with that theory that Sam just annunciated, that maybe really Donald Trump doesn`t want the wall, he just wants the political fight over the wall.  Just imagine Donald Trump going into the 2020 campaign without having a fight over the wall.  Anyway, you`ll hear more from Ezra Klein about that. 

Also tonight, more on Paul Manafort sharing campaign information with people close to the Russian government. 

And an NBC News report tonight that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wants to stay, plans to stay in office until Robert Mueller completes his investigation, but will President Trump allow him to do that?  Will president Trump fire Rod Rosenstein?


O`DONNELL:  The partial government shutdown has not stopped the hiring of lawyers at the White House.  "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that the White House has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks.  That has just about doubled the number of White House lawyers in the White House counsel`s office and they are still hiring reportedly more lawyers, all of this in anticipation of dealing with the investigative reports that will eventually be issued by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. 

Yesterday, court filings in the case of Paul Manafort who was awaiting sentencing revealed that Manafort shared campaign information with people linked to the Russian government.  "The New York Times" reports that according to a person knowledgeable about the situation, most of the data was public but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign. 

According to "The Times," Manafort wanted his former business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, to pass that campaign information to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.  The legal filing in the case also revealed that Manafort conceded that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion. 

Writing in "The Washington Post" today, Max Boot asked, why would an individual with ties to Russian intelligence need polling data on the U.S. election?  There is only one reason I can think of, to help direct the covert social media propaganda campaign that Russian intelligence was running on Trump`s behalf. 

Today, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, said this about Paul Manafort`s use of that campaign information. 


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  To me, this appears as the closest we`ve seen yet to real live actual collusion.  Clearly, Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents.  And the question is, what did the president know? 


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama and an MSNBC legal contributor.  John Heilemann is still with us. 

Joyce Vance, your reaction to these revelations about the information Paul Manafort was sharing. 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  I think that the value of this polling data really cannot be estimated highly enough.  You know, for Manafort to convey this to Russians, this is an agreement.  An agreement is the heart of a conspiracy. 

So even if it goes through the circuitous route through pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs, we`re seeing the architecture of a conspiracy here.  And what`s valuable about polling data?  It`s really the negative polling that`s used in a campaign. 

You know, the horse race, how Trump is polling versus Clinton, that`s interesting, but what really interests people running a big campaign like this is what negative arguments work against your opponent.  We don`t know for sure what kind of data Manafort shared, but I`ll bet you it`s that negative data which would have then found its way into Russian hands, into the Internet Research Agency operation that pervaded social media in the United States.

And the only real question that remains is whether this was Manafort freelancing somehow in an effort to pay off his open bad debts or whether there was someone else in the Trump campaign who was involved along with him. 

O`DONNELL:  John Heilemann, I have looked at presidential campaign data two ways.  I`ve looked at it myself and I have looked at it with the guidance of professionals who have actually run president campaigns. 


O`DONNELL:  And I find that guidance very helpful, and I`m sure Russians seeking to interfere in our election and trying to help Donald Trump would love to have professional guidance on what to look for in polling data, guidance from say Paul Manafort. 

HEILEMAN:  Right.  I mean, look, I don`t think it`s a question about love, Lawrence, I think it`s a question of need.  This question`s been around -- this issue`s been around for awhile, right? 

Russians are smart.  The people who ran these covert operations against the United States, these counterintelligence operations, these active measures, they`re smart.  They know a lot of things about Americans.  They can learn a lot about American and American politics through open source methods, through the Internet, through books, through a lot of other things. 

If you`re going to run an active measure campaign that has the kind of precision and effect that the Russian social media effort did in the United States in places where Donald Trump won by a very slim margin, in places that we know like Wisconsin -- 


HEILEMANN:  Through a lot of other things.  If you`re going to run an active measure campaign that has the kind of precision and effect that the Russian social media did in the United States, in places where Donald Trump won by a very slim margin, in places that we know like Wisconsin, like Michigan, like Pennsylvania.

To run that social media operation requires a degree of expertise and sophistication and precision, as I said a second ago, that you need guidance for.  You can`t open-source that knowledge.

You need the data.  You need the demographic data.  You need the county data.  You need all the data that good polling would show and then you need someone to help you figure out what it means and how to act on it.

Paul Manafort is one of the people probably who helped them out, it appears or this evidence suggests.  But I think it raises the larger question which is who was helping the Russians at the end of the Trump campaign when things were tight and the media -- this media campaign had its greatest effect?  That question is still outstanding?

O`DONNELL:  Well, Rick Gates, Manafort`s associate, Joyce Vance, was still with the Trump campaign.  He didn`t leave when Paul Manafort did.

VANCE:  He was still with the campaign.  He`s cooperating with Mueller.  He hasn`t been sentenced yet.  So we know that his cooperation is ongoing.

There is no doubt that Gates plays a big part in completing this picture here for Mueller.  But this is the outstanding question, and there`s a whole cast of characters that could have possibly been involved.  We simply don`t know.  We`ll have to wait on Mueller to share that answer with us.

O`DONNELL:  Joyce Vance and John Heilemann, thank you both for joining us tonight.

HEILEMANN:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, as I said, Ezra Klein will join us on what he thinks Donald Trump is really up to in the government shutdown and what he thinks Donald Trump really wants at the southern border.


O`DONNELL:  In these dark and confused and chaotic days of the American presidency in which the president has said that he is glad to shut down the government, glad to take the blame for it, and glad to keep the government shut down for months or even years, sometimes you have to be glad that the president is glad to take advice from "Fox & Friends."


STEVE DOOCY, CO-HOST, FOX & FRIENDS:  The most likely thing is he`s probably going to declare it`s going to be a national emergency.  He did not mention that last night, but according to people close to him, that is the most likely option.

BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FOX & FRIENDS:  That would be bad.  Next thing you know --

DOOCY:  Why?

KILMEADE:  -- there would be a Democrat in office and they`ll say, well, climate change is a national crisis and here are the stats that show that temperatures are rising and fish are dying.  So I just think that that would be -- will be in another legal fight and then nothing gets done as the courts mull this through.


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now is Ezra Klein, editor-at-large at Vox and the host of the podcast "The Ezra Klein Show."  Ezra, you have a theory about this case that I am strongly attracted to.  I have a doubt about it but I want you to present the theory about what Trump`s doing with the wall and we will discuss.

EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, VOX:  Theory is this, he`s doing nothing.  He`s doing nothing at all to get the wall.  I thought the tweet today was a perfect piece of evidence in support of the theory.  You do not have a negotiating session, walk in, storm out then send out a tweet bragging about how you said bye-bye to Nancy and Chuck after giving them candy, I guess, because they would not give you what you wanted when you didn`t offer anything at all.

From the beginning of this, I`ve said that there is something -- the measure of somebody`s commitment, of a politician`s commitment to a policy, is not how often they ask for it, but what they`re willing to trade away to get it.  So far, Donald Trump has been willing to trade away nothing.

If he wanted the wall, he would make an offer to give the Democrats something they wanted in order to get the wall.  What he wants is for his own base to see him fighting for the wall.  And in that, he`s succeeding.

Every single day, he`s succeeding.  I think that`s why he seems to basically enjoy this.  But that`s the entirety of his plan here.  There is no plan to get the policy, there is only a plan to be seen fighting for the policy.

O`DONNELL:  And if it were any other politician, I would be embracing this theory completely.  Here is my pause.

What you just laid out is rational.  It may be twisted.  It may be a perverse use of government but it is rational.  It is Donald Trump saying I don`t really want the wall, therefore I am rationally not offering them anything for the wall.

But this guy is not rational.  And so I don`t know how to use that rational theory of bargaining exchange, apply it to Donald Trump and say he`s not doing the rational bargaining exchange, therefore he must rationally not want the wall.  I have trouble with all that rationality that seems to be built in there somewhere.

KLEIN:  Let me try to merge it in a different way, actually.


KLEIN:  Because I`m not saying that when Donald Trump goes to bed at night, he says to himself, "You know, I don`t actually want that wall."  I think he does want the wall.

What I`m saying is you see what people really want based on what they do.  And what I think brings these things together a little bit, the bitter irony of Donald Trump claiming for so long to be a deal maker is that he has the worst view of deals you can possibly have.

He believes his deals are zero-sum.  He believes there is always a winner and always a loser.  And what Donald Trump wants is not deals, what he wants is to be seen as a winner.  That is always throughout his career, throughout his presidency, what he wants to be seen as.

And so he believes if he concedes anything, if he gives Democrats something that hurts for him to give it, he`ll be seen as a loser.  So what Trump wants is to be seen as a winner.  What he wants is to be seen as a fighter.

And he just doesn`t care that much about the wall behind that.  These things are all tied together.  It`s not so much about whether or not he doesn`t want a wall.  He`d love to have one if he can get it the way he`d want it.  But in the ordinal ranking of what is important to him, what is important is how he looks on television, far away above any policy at all.

O`DONNELL:  And certainly when you compare it to the way he dealt with Stormy Daniels, how much he wanted Stormy Daniels to be silent at the end of the campaign, he gave her something.  He gave her $130,000.  He delivered something in order to get something, and he`s not willing to do any of that here.

Ezra, I want to get your reaction to this possibility raised by "Fox & Friends" and by the wise -- the wisdom of "Fox & Friends" deciding that it`s a very bad idea to declare the national emergency and try to get somehow the defense department to start building something at the southern border.  If the president does try something like that, what do you anticipate happening?

KLEIN:  Court cases.  So that`s a way -- I mean, of the different ways he can get out of this, he could do that and say that he didn`t give anything and he`s still fighting for it and now there`s an emergency and there will be the wall.  But, of course, it would again go to the theory, he would be seen trying to get the wall but he wouldn`t get the wall because this would immediately go to the courts.

What Donald Trump could do with a declaration of a national emergency is he would be able to try to move money around from other pots that is put there for other purposes and try to bring a bit of it to the wall.  What he could get and what he could not get would be a legally contestable question and he probably couldn`t get that much.

This would not be a way you could actually get the wall.  It would not be a way you could actually dramatically change policy.  Calling it a national emergency is technically what would be happening but it makes it sound like a much more powerful thing to do than what it would actually be.

He would be able to get a little bit more money, probably not anywhere near the $5.7 billion he wants.  And it would be at the cost as the "Fox & Friends" correspondent said of setting a precedent that this could be done by any president whenever there`s something they want that they`re not getting.

In theory, when you have Republicans for years talking about too much power arrogating into the executive, being upset about President Obama doing DACA and so on and so forth, this is probably not a precedent they want to set.  And by the way, that "Fox & Friends" guy is right, climate change is actually an emergency.

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  That`s -- "Fox & Friends" has finally acknowledged that that`s where we are.

Ezra Klein, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  And coming up, Rod Rosenstein is telling people that he wants to stay in his job as deputy attorney general until Robert Mueller files his investigative report, but will Donald Trump allow Rosenstein to stay?  Will Donald Trump fire Rod Rosenstein before Mueller finishes his investigation?


O`DONNELL:  In an exclusive report tonight, NBC News` Pete Williams is reporting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will resign and leave the Justice Department after the special prosecutor who he appointed, Robert Mueller, has finished his investigative and prosecutorial work.

NBC News report says, "A source close to Rosenstein said he intends to stay on until Mueller`s investigative and prosecutorial work is done.  The source has said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March.  Several legal sources have said they expect the Mueller team to conclude its work by mid to late February.  Although they said that timeline could change based on unforeseen investigative developments.  The source said once Mueller`s work is done, the special counsel`s report to the Justice Department would follow a few weeks later, and Rosenstein would likely be gone by then."

"Reuters" is reporting tonight that President Trump`s legal team told Robert Mueller before Christmas that the president "will not answer any more questions in the probe."  In an interview, Donald Trump`s TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, "As far as we`re concerned, everything is over."

Rudy Giuliani told "Reuters" that "they could try to subpoena him if they want, but they know we could fight that like hell."

"Vanity Fair`s" Gabriel Sherman reported yesterday that "Rudy Giuliani recently told a friend that he expects Mueller`s report to be horrific."  That`s according to a person briefed on the conversation who says you`re already hearing people speculate that Trump could do a deal and resign.

Today, President Trump`s nominee to be the next attorney general William Barr met with senators in advance of next week`s confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee.  Senator Lindsey Graham who was officially named chairman of the Judiciary Committee today said everything that Democratic Senators are hoping to hear from William Barr under oath next week.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIR:  I asked Mr. Barr directly, do you think bob -- Mr. Mueller`s on a witch hunt?  He said no.  Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole?  He said yes.  And do you see any reason for Mr. Mueller`s investigation to be stopped?  He said no.

Do you see any reason for a termination based on cause?  He said no.  Are you committed to making sure Mr. Mueller can finish his job?  Yes.


O`DONNELL:  But what about Rod Rosenstein?  At his confirmation hearing next week, William Barr will probably be asked if he intends to fire Rod Rosenstein.  After the president fired Jeff Sessions as attorney general and created the opening to nominate William Barr, the president tweeted this, accusing Rod Rosenstein, among others, of committing treason.

Why would President Trump leave in place a deputy attorney general who he says has committed treason?  Why would Donald Trump allow Rod Rosenstein to continue to help Robert Mueller complete his investigation?

Today`s reports about Rod Rosenstein`s intention to stay in his job until Robert Mueller completes his work came from sources close to Rod Rosenstein.  So that`s what Rod Rosenstein apparently wants to do.  But why would Donald Trump allow Rod Rosenstein to stick with the Mueller investigation until the end and see everything that Robert Mueller has found about Donald Trump?

Matt Miller will join us next to consider what today`s reports tell us about the future of Rod Rosenstein and the future of Robert Mueller`s investigation.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We learned today about William Barr, the attorney general nominee for the president.  He has told Lindsey Graham that he would not interfere with the Mueller investigation.  Do those assurances that he`s giving reassure you in any way about the Barr nomination?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIR, INTEL COMMITTEE:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not.  Trump has made clear he doesn`t believe that he is subject to the laws of the land.  And he clearly wants to try to undermine the Mueller investigation.  I believe that`s why Mr. Barr was selected and I believe even though Mr. Barr`s got a great reputation from the past that he ought to recuse and actually his name ought to not go forward.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Matt Miller, former spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Holder and an MSNBC contributor.

Matt, what Lindsey Graham had to say is a lot about what Barr has to say, is a lot of what Democratic Senators are hoping to hear him say under oath in addition to more reassurance about the Mueller investigation.  What do you make of what Lindsey Graham had to say about his conversation with Barr?

MATT MILLER, FORMER SPOKESPERSON TO ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER:  I think you see the incoming -- the now chairman of the judiciary committee trying to do a little pre-emptive rehabilitation of his nominee.  Look, I think what Lindsey Graham said today is really the bare minimum of what you would expect from a nominee.

Of course, he`s going to pledge not to interfere with the investigation.  Any nominee would expect to say that.  What I think Democratic Senators will be looking for next week are more concrete promises, though.  For example, will you pledge to accept the advice of ethics officials on whether you ought to recuse yourself?

There are very I think serious questions about whether he can actually oversee this probe given the fact he wrote this memo to the Justice Department and gave a copy of it to the White House, this memo that questioned some of the theories of obstruction of justice that seemed to be at play in the case.

I don`t think it`s enough to say he`ll consult since we saw what Matt Whitaker did, he consulted and ignored their advice.  And I think the big question ultimately at the end of the probe, if Bob Mueller has a public -- has a report that he presents to you, will you make it public?

Those are the kind of answers that Democratic Senators need to get out of him, not just will he pledge not to interfere, which I think really doesn`t mean that much on its own.

O`DONNELL:  Matt, the reporting about Rod Rosenstein wanting to stay till the end of the Mueller investigation, why would the president allow Rod Rosenstein to do that?

MILLER:  You know I think he might let him stay just because he already has effectively sidelined him from the decisions that the president`s going to care the most about.  Because Whitaker did ignore this advice from ethics officials and now is in charge of the probe, all the reporting shows that Rosenstein is still overseeing it on a day-to-day basis but any big decisions like whether a report is made public would go ultimately to the acting attorney general.

So the president already has someone in place that will make a decision at least that he thinks will make the decision he wants.  I imagine he thinks the same thing about Bill Barr.  So I think if Rod, you know, manages to stay on as long as he seems to want to, it`s because the president thinks he`s already somewhat rigged the game.

And I will say, according to Pete`s reporting, he wants to stay, you know, kind of until the investigative steps are done but then would leave before this report kind of comes up to the attorney general.  And to me, that forecloses the idea of whether Barr will recuse himself because -- and I don`t think that ought to be a fate to complete.

Because of these questions, I think that`s a really live question that will be keyed up for ethics officials, and if Barr -- if he recommended -- if it was recommended that he recuse himself, I think he ought to.  And that would put the probe right back in Rod`s lap where, of course, it`s been for the past year and a half.

O`DONNELL:  The language is interesting.  It says that Rod Rosenstein wants to stay until the investigative and prosecutorial work is done.  Prosecutorial work is prosecuting cases in court.  We don`t know how many more possible court prosecutions might emerge from those special prosecutors` investigation.

KLEIN:  No, we certainly don`t.  Look, it seems obvious that Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi are both very likely to be indicted if that happens.  They wouldn`t be in a trial for something like nine months, maybe a year, and then you have the trial itself.

So I read that as when the investigative steps, meaning all of the indictments are filed.  I can`t imagine he`s committing to stay until the prosecutions are done because that will be many months if not years down the road.

O`DONNELL:  Matt Miller, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

And you`re not alone watching the show tonight.  At 9:00 -- let`s see.  Yes.  At 10:43 p.m., President Trump tweeted about what`s going on here tonight on MSNBC during this hour.  He doesn`t like it.  I`ll tell you what he said when we come back.


O`DONNELL:  At 10:43 p.m. Eastern tonight, President Trump tweeted about how angry he is at what I`m doing here tonight during this hour.  He said, "MSNBC is going crazy."