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Day 12 of shutdown, no end in sight. TRANSCRIPT: 1/2/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Francesca Chambers, Jennifer Palmieri, Adam Jentleson, David Frum, David Frum, Jonathan Capehart

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Rachel.  And happy New Year, and, Rachel, you`re welcome. 


O`DONNELL:  I spared you this holiday season`s beard, which at this time last year.

MADDOW:  Oh, yes.

O`DONNELL:  You had to say good evening to and it lasted exactly one night because half of the tweets said I looked like Steve Bannon.  So, I spared - - just none of that. 

MADDOW:  Do you remember, though, I proposed a third way, which is not like me.  But I proposed you could shave the beard and just go back to the -- and you didn`t even. 

O`DONNELL:  Zero consideration. 

MADDOW:  I might buy you a fake one of these. 

O`DONNELL:  Rachel, I have a prediction.  I have a prediction that when Elizabeth Warren completes her exploration of running for president, she will find at the end of that exploration, a presidential candidacy with Elizabeth Warren as the candidate.  That`s what I think she`s going to find. 

MADDOW:  The thing I did not spend a lot of time talking about because I didn`t want to wade too much time like in process, weedy stuff, but you and I know this stuff is important, is that she has already put together such a formidable apparatus in terms of early state campaign staffers and in terms of the organization she`s got around her.  Yes, this is exploratory, but you can tell from the work she`s already done and the people she`s already hired and the work she`s already put out there for this exploration, that this is going to be a big full time marquee level campaign. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, she really has an A-team, and she attracted an A-team, and she knew how to assemble an A-team, and that takes a while.  And I know there are people out there who like to pretend that presidential campaigns start some time around now.  They start a long time before now. 

And if you have read the history of a single presidential campaign you know that they basically start within a week of the last presidential election.  Somewhere in that first week after Hillary Clinton shocked the Democratic Party by coming in second in the Electoral College, there were a bunch of Democrats including Elizabeth Warren who had to be in conversations with themselves at least about running for president. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And then there`s the interesting question of who else are the other key people you talk to early onto try to setup the initial building blocks for you running a serious marquee level campaign?  And one of the things that Elizabeth Warren just told me is she thinks that all the Democratic candidates should say we`re not going to take money from billionaire super PACs. 

In which case, if that happens, that would actually change those initial calls, right?  Because even those most progressive candidates end up calling the big donors, the big bundlers, the people who can shift resources their way.  If those aren`t the initial calls, if the initial calls aren`t to staffers and people who are sort of power brokers in different ways with large amounts of money, that does sort of change the gatekeeper conversations for who gets to come in at a top tier level. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, there has not been a Democratic nominee for president who wants to do it the way Elizabeth Warren announced.  She thinks they should all do it, on your program.


O`DONNELL:  We`re going to talk about that later in this hour.

Great interview, Rachel.  And thank you for supplying us with material we`re going to use later in the hour. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

Well, in his first public speaking of the New Year, today, the president of the United States revealed that the 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals who call out in the book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" are right, but Donald Trump`s condition is obviously getting worse. 

Now, all of us in middle age and above find ourselves spending more and more time looking for our keys.  There`s some neurological decline that`s absolutely inevitable over time, can`t escape it.  But Donald Trump`s is dramatic.  If you thought that his pathological lying could not become more pathological or that he could not become more delusional, you were wrong and the mental health professionals who told us he would are right. 

Here is a sample of President Trump`s 2019 mental process.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When they say I`m not popular in Europe, I shouldn`t be popular in Europe.  I don`t care about Europe.  I`m not elected by Europeans. 


O`DONNELL:  You got that?  He`s not elected by Europeans, so he`s not self- aware enough to realize that he`s not popular in Europe, or is he?  Because then he said this. 


TRUMP:  I could be the most popular person in Europe.  I could be -- I could run for any office if I wanted to, but I don`t want to. 


O`DONNELL:  And there you have the first president of the United States who felt it necessary to say I don`t want to run for office in Europe -- but, of course, also said that he could if he wanted to. 

Those statements came when the president was talking to reporters in the cabinet room with a new acting secretary of defense sitting right beside him, and the new acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, had to sit there and listen to the pathological liar beside him saying that the reason we now have an acting secretary of defense is that Donald Trump fired Defense Secretary James Mattis, something the world knows is a lie.  In fact, General Mattis shocked Donald Trump with a public resignation letter that took Donald Trump several days to figure out was actually an attack on him. 

Donald Trump`s first encounter with the American military involved what most men his age in 1968 were trying to do, and that is avoid military service in combat in the Vietnam War.  Last week, the day after Christmas, "The New York Times" revealed that the foot doctor who provided Donald Trump with the written excuse of bone spurs to get out of military service told his daughter that he did that as a favor for Donald Trump`s father who was then the doctor`s landlord.  Now that Donald Trump has spent some time around generals including his former defense secretary, Retired Marine General James Mattis who he now condemns as incompetent, Donald Trump thinks that he could have gone all the way to the top in the American military. 

And today, he actually said this. 


TRUMP:  I think I would have been a good general, but who knows? 


O`DONNELL:  Who knows?  I know.  We all know.  Everyone in that room today with the president knows. 

The world knows that Donald Trump would not have been a good general and could probably have never made it through basic training.  Trump supporters know that.  Even they know that. 

And so, the president`s delusion is getting worse, much worse.  Or at least his willingness to publicly display his delusion is getting even worse now as he ages and as we enter a New Year.  The congressional leadership including Democrats and Republicans who went to the White House today to discuss a solution to the partial shutdown of the government that Donald Trump forced when he flip-flopped and violated his own agreement to pass a bill that was decided unanimously by the United States Senate. 

Before that, a delegation of Democrats and Republicans including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer went to the White House today.  A "New York Times" profile of former Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, quoted Senator Reid saying this about Donald Trump.  Quote, you can`t legislate when you have a chief executive who`s weird for lack of a better description. 

Harry Reid is right, of course.  And so after that weird meeting with the weird chief executive that was weirdly held for no reason at all in the situation room, everyone agreed to only one thing, and that was that nothing was accomplished by that meeting. 

But tonight there is yet another comment from the psychiatrists studying Donald Trump to consider, a comment that has leaked from that meeting.  NBC News is reporting that Chuck Schumer repeatedly asked the president why he would not support passing six spending bills that both parties have already agreed to that would reopen the government departments and agencies that have no jurisdiction over the border wall that Donald Trump wants to fund.  Donald Trump eventually answered saying, I would look foolish if I did that. 

Now, consider the enormity of the delusion in that statement.  First of all, Donald Trump thinks that if he did something rational like sign spending bills for everything that the Democrats and Republicans already agree on, he would look foolish.  But it also means that he does not think that he already looks foolish. 

He looks foolish to most Americans.  He has looked foolish to most Americans every day of his political career, which is why he didn`t win as many votes as Hillary Clinton.  And if we were to analyze this comment about looking foolish just within the framework of the government shutdown, just within the couple of weeks` framework of that, it would mean that Donald Trump does not believe that he looked foolish when he said this three weeks ago. 


TRUMP:  You know, what I`ll say, yes, if we don`t get what we want one way or the other, whether it`s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shutdown the government.  And I am proud. 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  We disagree. 

TRUMP:  And I am proud to shutdown the government for border security, Chuck.  I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I`m not going to blame you for it. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Jennifer Palmieri, former White House communications director for President Obama, former communications director for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign. 

Also with us Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry Reid.  He`s currently the director of public affairs for Democracy. 

And Francesca Chambers, the White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail". 

And, Jennifer Palmieri, you`ve worked in a White House, we have never seen anything like what we`re seeing in this White House.  And that decision today to have a legislative meeting about the budget in the Situation Room was obviously a stunt at the Republican White House.  And it makes me wonder at what point do the Democrats say we aren`t going to participate in White House stunts, if you want to have real White House meetings we`ll attend those? 

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHIE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Right, and I think that in the first meeting of the year when you`re the incoming speaker and the Senate minority leader, in the case of Pelosi and Schumer, and the president of the United States, as it comes too, meeting to the White House you need to go.  I thought it`s in the Situation Room probably for an obvious reason to make it seem as if national security is at stake with the wall, which it`s not. 

The other could be very clever staff work, which is even at a Trump White House, you`re not going to let the press send their cameras into the Situation Room.  Perhaps a staff person wisely thought at the White House end not allowing cameras in, it was going to end up being better for the president.  And the Situation Room is a place to do that. 

O`DONNELL:  I think that`s a great point, Jennifer.  I didn`t think of that, but the White House staffers not wanting a rerun of that Schumer- Pelosi confrontation with Donald Trump on video, picked a room there could be no video. 

But, Adam Jentleson, earlier in the day in the cabinet room, we saw the president in new flights of delusion and pathological lying about everything from his imagined firing of James Mattis to he could have been a great general himself. 

ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER SENIOR AIDE TO SEN. HARRY REID:  Yes.  You know, what feels scary about this shutdown, which has massive effects across the country, not just for the people who work for the government, the people who rely on the government for many different types of services is that, you know, when we went through the previous longest shutdown in 2013, we were going through it but you at least had the feeling that the players involved were responding to rational inputs.  If Republicans had a really bad day of press stories, we on the Democratic side knew that that would weaken their resolve and make them more likely to compromise. 

What`s really scary about this shutdown it doesn`t feel like Trump is responding to rational inputs.  It makes you wonder how long this could actually go on. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, and, Francesca, that goes to the Harry Reid comment which is you can`t negotiate with this someone who`s this weird.  And Harry Reid had a lot more to say.  Harry Reid said about Trump: He is not immoral but is amoral.  Amoral is when you shoot somebody in the head, it doesn`t make a difference, no conscience. 

Harry Reid then went onto say I think he is without question the worst president we`ve ever had. 

And, Francesca, that comes out today and it`s not really a controversial report, and there really isn`t any kind of counterargument being pushed by Republicans that Donald Trump is not the worst president we`ve ever had. 

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILYMAIL.COM:  Well, Republicans were a little bit busy today with Mitt Romney`s comments.  Lots of big news today, including the government shutdown. 

And responding to Jen`s comments, I do think there`s something in the fact of having it in an area where reporters couldn`t be allowed in and the president couldn`t say at the last minute, you know what, let`s bring them in here, because that happens at the White House where something is supposed to be, quote-unquote, closed press and the president decides to bring them in last minute. 

The original meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi wasn`t supposed to happen either, but we all saw how that turned out.  So, by having it in the Situation Room, they could say they`re getting a very important border security and national security update, but it also kept reporters out of the room. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Adam, I want to get your reaction of your former boss, Harry Reid, about what he had to say about the president today. 

JENTLESON:  Well, I thought it was classic Senator Reid.  He`s always had a way with words.  It was a way with words that kept those of us on his press staff on our toes frequently. 

But, you know, the thing about it was he just said what he meant and he meant what he said, and you never had to guess where he was coming from.  And I think that came through in this interview.  I think he made himself very clear about how he feels about President Trump.  And I think most Americans would agree with him. 

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to go back into the cabinet room to take one more look at what the president had to say there today.  And this is where he found himself basically publicly negotiating with himself a little bit over how much money he`d be able to settle for involving his wall if he could get any out of the Democrats in Congress. 

Let`s listen to this, where he doesn`t rule out accepting less than the $5 billion he`s allegedly demanding.  Let`s listen to this. 


REPORTER:  Is there a number below $5 billion that you might be willing to accept in order to reopen the government and get this thing moving forward? 

TRUMP:  Well, I`d rather not say it.  Could we do it for a little bit less?  It`s so insignificant compared to what we`re talking about. 


O`DONNELL:  All right, now let`s just compare that TV negotiating style with Nancy Pelosi`s TV negotiating style with Savannah Guthrie.  Let`s watch this. 


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Are you willing to come up and give him some of his money for the wall? 


GUTHRIE:  Because apparently that`s the sticking point. 

PELOSI:  No, nothing for the wall.  We`re talking about border security. 

GUTHRIE:  Nothing for the wall.  But that means --

PELOSI:  We can go back and forth, no.  How many more times we say no?  Nothing for the wall. 


O`DONNELL:  Jennifer, very different style between those two. 

PALMIERI:  Yes, she`s very -- I mean, she`s probably the most effective negotiator and legislator that we`ve seen in Congress in a generation. 

And I think that she`s in a difficult position.  She`s the speaker of the house.  She`s trying to negotiate with a president that`s not particularly competent and a bad negotiator and untrustworthy.  So I think, you know, that she has to have a position that you can stick with. 

And I think she`s come up with, she and Schumer, have both come up with a reasonable one.  Let`s pass what we can pass now and hold homeland security back for a few weeks and come to an agreement on that, but let`s proceed with funding what we can.  I think sometimes you try to game out both sort of signaling to the press where you`re going but also working behind the scenes to lay out where you want a negotiation to actually end up.

But you can`t really do that with this president because he`s not someone you can negotiate with and he`s not trustworthy.  So I think you have to stick with a most responsible governing position you can that she has come up with, understanding that this  House just got a elected with a lot of people not supporting President Trump and not supporting the wall and help the president with you and get the president something that he`s forced to sign. 

O`DONNELL:  Francesca, are there any signals at all in the White House about where they might be willing to goal or where this is going to end up? 

GRAHAM:  This is little bit like the dog chasing its tail at this point, Lawrence, because we keep going in circles what it is the president would want, what he would be willing to accept.  And today, GOP leaders came out of that briefing saying they`d want to see everyone back at that White House on Friday.  And they said it that was because he said there seems to be some movement on this issue after the leadership elections tomorrow.  And it`s not really clear what makes him believe that Nancy Pelosi would change her mind about this once she`s elected speaker and would be willing to give him the funding for the border wall, and why he seems there would be a solution to this on Friday. 

And I think you need to look to Mitch McConnell`s comments today when he said it could be days and even referred to weeks before there`s a solution to this.  So the shutdown could be lasting a bit longer. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, Mitch McConnell who promised there would not be a shutdown even after the president promised one it seems to be stepping out of this. 

Francesca Chambers, thank you for joining us.  Jennifer Palmieri, Adam Jentleson, thank you for starting us up.

And when we come back, Donald Trump and Mitt Romney both proved today that Donald Trump fears Mitt Romney a lot more than Mitt Romney fears Donald Trump. 

And Jill Wine-Banks will join us with a new development in special prosecutor Robert Mueller`s investigation. 


O`DONNELL:  Donald Trump has a new problem, and his name is Mitt Romney.  And judging by their exchanges today, Donald Trump fears Mitt Romney a lot more than Mitt Romney fears Donald Trump. 

Most senators become famous after they are elected to the United States senate.  It`s the Senate that makes them famous, but some arrive in the Senate already famous.  Like younger brother of the president of the United States, Ted Kennedy.  Harvard professor and former U.N. ambassador, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  Former New York Knicks basketball star Bill Bradley and, of course, former First Lady Hillary Clinton. 

The traditional advice for the big stars of the freshman class in the Senate is to stay quiet at the beginning, try to convince your fellow senators that you`re there to do the work of the Senate, not just there seeking more attention. 

Mitt Romney is the most famous freshman senator we`ve seen in a while.  He is the first freshman senator in history who was the nominee for of his party in a presidential campaign.  Important footnote here, I know you`re all thinking about Hubert Humphrey who was also elected to the United States Senate after losing a presidential election as the Democratic nominee.  But Hubert Humphrey had served 15 years in the Senate before becoming Lyndon Johnson`s vice president and then the Democratic nominee for president in 1968. 

And so, technically, Humphrey was not considered a freshman senator when he returned to the senate. 

Mitt Romney ignored the tradition of famous freshman senators staying quiet, and he did it in a way that we have never seen before.  He didn`t even wait to be sworn in as a senator.  He didn`t wait for his first speech on the floor of the United States Senate.  He wrote on op-ed piece "The Washington Post" attacking Donald Trump`s character, saying that Donald Trump does not have the essential qualities of honesty and integrity that Mitt Romney believes a president must have. 

And Donald Trump showed just how afraid of Mitt Romney he is.  In his response, there was no wild Twitter attack.  The president who does not know the meaning of the world team player simply said that he hopes Mitt Romney will be a team player. 


TRUMP:  So with Mitt Romney, I`d love him to be a team player. 


O`DONNELL:  Mitt Romney attacked Donald Trump in even stronger language when Donald Trump was on his way to winning the Republican nomination for president. 

And then Mitt Romney did not vote for Donald Trump for president.  He voted for the woman.  Mitt Romney says he wrote in the name of the woman he is married to, Anne Romney, on the ballot for president of the United States.  And now, Mitt Romney attacks Donald Trump`s character, and all Donald Trump has to say is I hope he`ll be a team player? 

That is what Donald Trump sounds like when he`s afraid.  Mitt Romney has just been elected to a six-year term.  Mitt Romney is going to be a senator longer than Donald Trump is going to be president.  Mitt Romney owes Donald Trump nothing.  And Mitt Romney owes Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell nothing. 

And one poll shows that 64 percent of Mitt Romney`s extremely Republican state of Utah sent Mitt Romney to Washington to stand up to Donald Trump.  And today, Mitt Romney said that he currently has no intention of running for president in Republican primaries against Donald Trump.  But he`s waiting to see who does. 


ROMNEY:  I haven`t decided who I`m going to endorse in 2020.  I`m going to wait and see what the alternatives are.


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, David Frum, senior editor for "The Atlantic", and Jonathan Capehart, Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. 

And, Jonathan, I want you to put your Republican hat on.  You worked for the Republican mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, when he was campaigning.  So you`ve been inside what I would call the reasonable side of the Republican Party, where men like Mitt Romney had spent a lot of time certainly as a Massachusetts governor, that`s where he was.  Hard to tell much difference between Romney as a Massachusetts governor than a Mike Bloomberg as a New York City mayor in policy terms. 

Your reaction to what you saw Romney do today and what you think it means for a senator like him who`s now elected to a six-year term and doesn`t have to worry about being primaried next year in what is Donald Trump`s party?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, I think you raised a very good point, Lawrence, when you say Mitt Romney doesn`t owe anything to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, doesn`t owe anything to President Trump, which gives him a certain lot of freedom that a lot of the other Republican senators he`s about to join don`t have. 

The other thing is we will now find out starting tomorrow once he`s sworn in, what he`s going to do to marry these expressions of contempt for the president and for -- you know, contempt for the president`s moral character both in the op-ed and "The Washington Post" and in a speech that he did a little while -- a few months or so back, also lambasting the president.  What he`s going to marry that to actual action where he as a sitting senator will criticize the president, maybe vote against the president on something that the president wants. 

That is going to be the key thing because the one thing we can`t forget about Mitt Romney, he`s no revolutionary.  He`s no bomb thrower.  He`s not someone who`s going to go out there and, you know, race through the ramparts.  He`s looking for order.  He`s looking for a way to go back to the way things used to be when we had a president who was a moral exemplar for the country. 

And I don`t know if Mitt Romney is going to go so far as to be out there every day, clubbing the president about the head over his moral failings.

O`DONNELL:  David, Mitt Romney said in his op-ed piece basically he wasn`t going to be out there every day clubbing the president.  He was going to vote with the president when he agreed with the president.  He was not going to vote with the president when he doesn`t agree with the president, and he wasn`t going to comment on every tweet. 

But we know in the Trump cycle of outrageous behavior, there is a point of once every fortnight -- it might not be once every tweet, but once every fortnight, there is something truly outrageous that the microphone will be put in front of Mitt Romney when he gets off that elevator in the Senate office buildings and he`s going to have to say something.

  DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  Your question shows why this op- ed is so powerful and so astute.  One of the problems that the more distant Republican senators have had is they get whipsawed.  That Jeff Flake will say this and then get barraged by questions.  You said this so why didn`t you do the following 87 things? 

Mitt Romney has put the beginning of his markers.  I`m not going to pretend like Paul Ryan that I don`t read the tweets.  I`m telling you in advance I`m not going to talk about that.  I`m telling you in advance, I am reserving my commentary for signal moments, for the Charlottesville moments, when the president stepped so far of the bounce -- because otherwise, I`m going to be constantly responding to every tweet every morning. 

Mitt Romney has also made it clear, don`t ask me, am I going to oppose every nomination of the president`s?  I`m going to support most of them.  I`m a Republican and when he`s in line with party, teaching in party tradition, don`t look to me to show my dislike for him by not voting like a Republican.  So he`s training expectations. 

He`s doing is he`s setting up rendezvous with destiny in the near future where when he does speak and most of the time he won`t, that speech will be ever more powerful, precisely because it was so planned and so disciplined.

O`DONNELL:  And Jonathan, one thing we don`t know yet is what committee assignments is Mitt Romney going to have because that`s a very important forum for disagreement with a president.  And we`ve seen it through the ages within the party, that`s really the forum -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, is the forum where the Democratic senatorial opposition to the Vietnam War began.

Eugene McCarthy was a member of that committee.  He ended up running against the Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson who was waging the Vietnam War.  And those committee positions are the places where we often see the most important criticism of a president.

CAPEHART:  Right.  You`re right.  And we`re talking about a particular president who has a lot of acting secretaries and acting people in positions that are going to need Senate confirmation.  And so depending on which committees soon to be Senator Romney sits on, we will get to see those moments where he is questioning the nominee, where he is putting them through their paces to see if they are qualified to be in the positions that they`re in.

That will be one test to see how Mitt Romney, Senator Romney challenges President Trump.  But then the next hurdle is going to be how does he vote in the end on the floor?  And my hunch is -- and maybe David would disagree with me, but my hunch is that when push comes to shove, if the nominee is on paper is qualified to be in the position, I don`t see someone like a Senator Romney who is all about order and respect for the institutions denying a president, leave aside who the president is, but denying a president his nominee for a particular cabinet position.

FRUM:  I think you would see Senator Romney voting for a Justice Kavanaugh but against a prosecutor or Attorney General Whitaker.  He is going to act like a Republican.  And people who watch him especially on the station need to understand you cannot ask him to be different than who he is.

But President Trump today put down a marker that is I think a real claxim (ph), especially for Republicans.  At the end of his -- or in the middle of his Kavanaugh session today, he delivered an endorsement of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

And not only did -- the thing that`s so remarkable with that is, not only did he endorse it, but he endorsed it in terms that only someone who is really listening very closely to the way today`s Russia talks about then- Soviet Union would know, in a way that very few people, someone who doesn`t follow the news closely like President Trump would do.  And yet he picked up on the Soviet -- the false Russian claim that the invasion then happened in response to terrorism.

I think you`re going it see Romney at his most effective when he`s speaking up for traditional Republican views especially in foreign policy against a president who`s going to be under fire because of the questions, is this president`s foreign policy view driven by compromise.

O`DONNELL:  Go ahead, Jonathan, quickly.

CAPEHART:  Yes, real quickly on the loyalty piece because you played that before, the president saying I hope he`s a team player.

O`DONNELL:  Team player.

CAPEHART:  He`s hoping Romney is going to be loyal to him, but again these nice words that he`s said about Romney we know they`re not going to last very long.

O`DONNELL:  Jonathan Capehart and David Frum, thank you for joining us on our first episode of Senator Romney versus President Trump.  There will be more.  Thank you very much.

CAPEHART:  All right, Lawrence.  Thanks.

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, a new report says that Russians were pressuring Paul Manafort to pay some heavy financial debts that he owed them during the presidential campaign.  Jill Wine-Banks will join us with analysis of that next.


O`DONNELL:  Tonight, an investigative report by "Time Magazine" reveals that a former Russian spy pressured former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort to pay his financial debts to a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin.  Victor Boyarkin told "Time Magazine" that he was in contact with Manafort during the 2016 presidential campaign on behalf of Oleg Deripaska.

"He owed us a lot of money", Boyarkin says, and he was offering ways to pay it back.  In a series of e-mails sent that spring and summer, Manafort tried to offer private briefings about the presidential race to Deripaska apparently as one of the e-mails puts it to "get whole."

"Time Magazine" reports the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller`s team has approached Boyarkin regarding his connection to Manafort.  Paul Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced on March 5.

Joining us now, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst.  And Jill, what is the special prosecutor looking for in this kind of situation?  Is there anything illegal about offering a briefing to a Russian oligarch about the presidential campaign?

JILL WINE-BANK, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  I think the major thing that is really standing out to me is what is the quid pro quo here and why was he working for free for Donald Trump when he owed so much money that he couldn`t repay it?  And he was clearly being pressured.

Did that influence how the platform got changed, the Republican platform suddenly became more pro-Russian.  Did it affect sanctions?  What do they have on Donald Trump as well as on Manafort?  So I think that what Mueller has to be looking at is all of those things, not just Manafort.

O`DONNELL:  And, Jill, when the special prosecutor looks at e-mails, obviously this was an e-mail traffic that "Time Magazine" is aware of.  So the special prosecutor has seen all of that e-mail traffic.  And this is of the reasons why we all presumed Paul Manafort was cooperating with the special prosecutor because he was in this deep, and the special prosecutor has all this information.

Now that that cooperation has broken down, this seems like the looming sentencing for Paul Manafort includes all sorts of stuff that we don`t know about.

WINE-BANKS:  Exactly.  And, you know, we learned a lot when we found that Victor Boyarkin was one of the people named in the sanctions list.  Nobody really knew exactly who he was.

But when you follow the chain of e-mails that`s who was mentioned as the go-between.  And he was the one who was actually pressuring Manafort to pay back the money he owed.  And obviously, Manafort was trying to find a way to pay it back, whether it was through offering these private briefings, which might not be necessarily improper.

But it certainly depends on what kind of information was released or what kind of promises were made.  And we saw the change in the platform.  That`s a big clue.  We saw the lack of interest in the sanctions that Congress wanted.  Those are reasons to believe that something was being paid back.

O`DONNELL:  And Jill, I don`t have time to ask you about your pin tonight but you always explain your pins on Twitter.  So go to Jill`s Twitter feed and you`ll see an up-close shot of it and she`ll tell you all about it.

Jill Wine-Banks, thank you for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, our political panel`s reaction to Elizabeth Warren`s first interview tonight as a presidential candidate with Rachel Maddow.


O`DONNELL:  Rachel`s interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren in the last hour covered a lot of ground including Senator Warren`s long history working for consumer protection in the financial services industry.  But it also revealed what might be one point of agreement, that many Democratic presidential candidates have with Donald Trump about the American military withdrawal from Syria.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Now that the president made this decision the way he made it, do you agree with him?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  So I think it was right to get our troops out of Syria.  And let me add, I think it`s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan.  I think that everybody who keeps saying no, no, no, we can`t do that in a defense establishment needs to explain what they think winning in those wars look like and where the metrics are.

We`re now 17 years in Afghanistan, and we control, what is it, that the government controls less than 60 percent of all the land.  It doesn`t have the support of the people.  The heroin trafficking is up.  There are multiple groups that are terrorist groups throughout Afghanistan.  Lots of different problems in Afghanistan.

And what seems to be the answer from the foreign policy establishment, stay forever.  That is not a policy.  We can`t do that.

Now, having said that, we can withdraw, you`ve got to withdraw as part of the plan.  You`ve got to know what you`re trying to accomplish throughout the Middle East and the pieces need to be coordinated.  And they need to be coordinated not just in our activities, but this is why we need allies.  This is why we build alliances.

MADDOW:  Are you troubled by the nature of the president`s process?

WARREN:  Are you asking me whether or not I think foreign policy ought to be conducted by tweet?  The answer is no, it should not.  We actually need to plan this out and talk about with our allies how we ensure more safety and stability in the region.

But the idea that the way we`re going to do that is just continue to keep troops and more troops forever and ever and ever in that part of the world is not -- it is not working.  And pretending that somehow in the future it is going to work by some unmeasured version of it, it`s a foreign fantasy that we simply can`t afford to continue to engage in.


O`DONNELL:  Jennifer Palmieri and Adam Jentleson will join us next with their reactions to Senator Warren`s interview.


O`DONNELL:  Here`s Senator Elizabeth Warren telling Rachel Maddow in the last hour why she is running for president.  I mean exploring the possibility of running for president.


WARREN:  This isn`t about me.  This is about tens of millions of families across this country who are getting cheated and they`re getting cheated on financial products.  They`re getting cheated on prescription drugs.  A Washington that works great for drug companies, not for people who are trying to fill prescriptions.  You can just keep going through the list.

It`s working great for oil companies that want to drill everywhere, not for families who have children that want to breathe the air.  This is truly about what kind of a country we`re going to be.


O`DONNELL:  Back with us, Jennifer Palmieri and Adam Jentleson.

Jennifer, I want to get your reaction to what I showed just before the break which was this fundamental agreement with Donald Trump on Syria.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Right.  And there are probably other Democrats in the presidential campaign that agree with her and there will be others.  I think most notably comes to mind Joe Biden who will not.

And what she -- and the way she had laid it out was either you leave with a thoughtful plan or you stay forever and I imagine that Former Vice President Biden would argue that there is a different way, that you have a plan for what you`re trying to achieve when you`re in Syria and you have a plan for what you`re trying to achieve in Afghanistan.

And I`m not sure I can imagine that he would say the U.S. should just pull out of that part of the world, that that`s a responsible thing ultimately in the United States` interest to do.  I think the good news about having a lot of candidates in the Democratic field is these kinds of issues can get a thorough examination, perhaps a more thoughtful one than we see happening from a discussion coming out of the White House.

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Adam, what`s so striking about it is even though the positions are the same, they don`t sound the same at all.  When Donald Trump says something, it doesn`t sound like anyone else`s phrasing of the same thing.

ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER SENIOR AIDE TO SENATOR HARRY REID:  Yes.  I mean, it`s -- what you heard from Senator Warren was a thoughtful approach to a similar outcome, and I think that`s just something that`s fundamentally different about her and President Trump.  And then probably I think it`s safe to say most Democrats and President Trump.

There`s a very rational, thoughtful argument for why we should be pulling our troops out of Afghanistan and Syria.  I think Senator Warren laid that out.  But thoughtfulness is not Something that is in great supply in the Trump White House.

O`DONNELL:  And Jennifer, Senator Warren`s going to have an important forum for this argument whenever there is a new Trump defense secretary nominee who comes up for confirmation.  She`s a member of the Armed Services Committee.  She`ll be able to engage that nominee in this directly in a very high-profile way.

PALMIERI:  Right.  And if Trump has a nominee and I could also see a scenario where he tries to avoid that and have the acting secretary of defense just stay there and not have that policy further examined by the Congress.  But I mean we`ve got a whole new ball game, right?

We have a Democratic House that has subpoena power.  That means -- I think we all hear that phrase and we think about Mueller investigation and Russia but that also means that the House Foreign Affairs Committee has oversight.

And then you have the Democratic Presidential campaign primary happening where I think you`re going to see a more actually thoughtful examination of issues.  And that`s going to really change the dynamic around Trump and I think that you`ll start to see that -- we will see that new reality set in relatively quickly and it should be sobering for the people at that address on Pennsylvania Avenue.

O`DONNELL:  And Adam, Elizabeth Warren said she believes all the Democratic candidates should be directly financed from voters.  She doesn`t want self- funding by rich Democratic candidates and she doesn`t want giant corporate backers and other kinds of PACS supporting democratic candidates.

JENTLESON:  Yes.  I mean I think that`s a bold position.  And I think it`s the right one.  I think that one of the things that scares a lot of people about Senator Warren, scares people with power is that she is proposing a fundamental shift in power.  She wants to take power away from people who have used it to do some very bad things and give it to the people.  And I think that`s what she`s proposing here.

O`DONNELL:  Adam Jentleson and Jennifer Palmieri, thank you both for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

Tonight`s last word is next.  But first, over the Christmas and New Year`s holidays, you continued to contribute to the K.I.N.D. fund at a record pace and have now contributed over $3 million in just the last month to provide desks to schools in Malawi and scholarships for girls to attend high school there.

Your kindness this season has brought the total you have now contributed since we started the K.I.N.D. fund on this program eight years ago to over $20 million.  That extraordinary threshold was passed this season, and you are still contributing as you can at any time at

I`ll have much more to say about this later but tonight in our first show of the new year, I just want to say thank you.


O`DONNELL:  Big, historic programming note.  MSNBC will have complete coverage tomorrow of the swearing in of the next speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.