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Cohen to meet committees again. TRANSCRIPT: 2/28/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Bill Kristol; Peter Wehner

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

And I have some material from yesterday`s hearing that I`m going to be using tonight because as we said last night, there was just too much for one hour of coverage last night. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Tell me about it.  I know. 

O`DONNELL:  And so, yesterday`s hearing will continue in this hour tonight.  But we also have a lot of new news for tonight, including Emily Jane Fox`s astonishing reporting that what has been called the smoking gun in yesterday`s hearing almost didn`t get into the hearing.  She`s going to tell us where that check came from with Donald Trump`s signature on it. 

MADDOW:  My favorite moment was that congressman from Louisiana being like where are these boxes?  Where is this box of treasure?  Why haven`t these things been handed over to the FBI? 

And Michael Cohen was like I just got them back from the FBI.  And the guy was so caught up in what he was asking in his fantastical tale, he couldn`t even hear that as an answer.  Then to get Emily Jane Fox`s reporting today about where exactly those boxes were was just perfect. 

O`DONNELL:  She knows where the boxes of treasure are.  She`s going to be my first guest.  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, President Trump has just arrived back empty-handed from his negotiations with Kim Jong-un, the murderous dictator who he continues to call his friend. 

And when the president landed tonight he was greeted by an investigative report in "The New York Times" saying his son-in-law Jared Kushner was rejected for a security clearance and president Trump overrode the objections and ordered a security clearance for Jared Kushner.  "The New York Times" says that the White House chief of staff at the time John Kelly wrote a self-protecting memo at that time saying that president Trump ordered the Kushner security clearance over John Kelly`s objection.  We`ll have more on that later in this hour. 

And at the end of the hour we will show you that moment in yesterday`s Michael Cohen hearing where everything went off the rails for a few minutes after a congresswoman said that Congressman Mark Meadows did something racist during the hearing.  Eventually the congresswoman defused the issue by apologizing to Mark Meadows.  But there will be no apology on this program tonight when I show you the very racist things that Mark Meadows said in order to get his job in his first campaign for Congress. 

You`re going to want to see once again what happened in that hearing yesterday with Mark Meadows, especially after you see just how racist a campaign he ran when he won his seat in the House of Representatives.  And there will be no apology at the end of this hour for what I have to say about the racism of Mark Meadows.  I think it`s the most important thing we`re actually going to do in this hour, but it`s not today`s news, so we will save it for the end of the hour.  And you really don`t want to miss this. 

But first, Michael Cohen`s testimony to the House of Representatives continued today in a closed hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.  We`ll be joined by a member of that committee who is also a member of the committee that Michael Cohen testified to publicly yesterday.  Michael Cohen spoke to reporters briefly at the end of today`s session. 


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY:  There`s not much I can say other than it was very productive.  As I said, I`m committed to telling the truth and I will be back on March 6th to finish up.  There`s more to discuss.  So thank you guys so much.  Sorry -- I`m sorry you guys had to stick around all day long. 


O`DONNELL:  Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff confirmed to reporters that Michael Cohen will return next week for another closed session with the intelligence committee.  He said that at some point a transcript of Michael Cohen`s testimony would eventually be publicly released.  Adam Schiff announced that next month the committee would have a public hearing with Felix Sater, a convicted felon with connections to Russian organized crime who maintained an office in Trump Tower. 


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  The following week, on march 14th, we`ll have an open interview with Felix Sater on Moscow Trump Tower.  I should tell you, just to set your expectations, not every hearing is going to be like the open hearing with Michael Cohen.  We`re going to try to do as much as we can in open session.  Some we can and some we can`t. 


O`DONNELL:  NBC News has confirmed reporting by "The Daily Beast" that the House Intelligence Committee intends to call Allen Weisselberg, the Trump business chief financial officer, to testify before the committee according to a source with direct knowledge of that situation.  The move comes after Michael Cohen repeatedly cited Allen Weisselberg as having firsthand knowledge of the crimes Michael Cohen described in his testimony involving payoffs to women during the presidential campaign for their silence. 


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation.  To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company? 

COHEN:  Yes. 

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  Who else knows that the president did this? 

COHEN:  Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari. 


O`DONNELL:  That is just one of the many moments where Allen Weisselberg`s name came up in yesterday`s hearing.  The chairman of yesterday`s hearing, Elijah Cummings, said today that the committee will pursue the testimony of Allen Weisselberg and Trump family members. 


REPORTER:  You said you`re going to be following up with some people.  Are there some people -- are there people like Allen Weisselberg that you --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  All you have to do is follow the transcript.  If there were names that were mentioned or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we want to take a look at all of that. 

REPORTER:  Do you want people in the Trump family?  Ivanka Trump?  Donald Trump Jr.? 

CUMMINGS:  Just follow the transcript. 

REPORTER:  Would it be fair then to say if any names came up multiple times in that hearing --

CUMMINGS:  They have a good chance of hearing from us. 


O`DONNELL:  And we learned today that yesterday`s smoking gun almost didn`t make it into the hearing.  Reporting in "Vanity Fair," Emily Jane Fox tells us that Michael Cohen`s first draft of his prepared remarks to the committee which he started writing weeks ago did not include any exhibits.  And when his lawyers told him he would be attacked for being untrustworthy, Michael Cohen went to work in search of documentary evidence that could support his testimony.  That`s when he found the check, signed by Donald Trump in the White House six months into the Trump presidency, that one member of the committee called the smoking gun yesterday.  It is the first check that we have ever seen signed by a president of the United States in the commission of what federal prosecutors in New York City have called a federal crime. 

And we are fortunate to have Emily Jane Fox in our lead-off panel of guests tonight. 

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, a member of the House Oversight Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.  Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for "Vanity Fair" and author of "Born Trump."  And David Cay Johnston is with, he`s the founder of and he`s the author of "It`s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing in America."

David Cay Johnston has been doing investigative reporting on the business end of Donald Trump for years. 

Emily, we have to start with you.  I was almost shaking reading your report that the smoking gun almost didn`t make it into the hearing yesterday.  Tell us about how Michael Cohen went to work trying to find documentary evidence for his hearing. 

EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR, SENIOR REPORTER:  It really is a story about the importance of cable news, because Michael Cohen had been working on his statement for weeks.  He did have a conversation with his attorneys when they read the draft saying this is very powerful, this is very clear, the lines are very clear, but they had a problem, that the Republicans are going to stop you at every turn and try to diminish your credibility and try and attack you. 

And because these are just anecdotes they`re going to try and discredit these anecdotes.  And as he`s hearing this, actually Representative Adam Schiff, whose committee he was in front of today, was on television talking about the president`s financial documents.  And it jogged something in Cohen`s memory.  And he said, wait a minute, I have some financial documents.  I think they`re in the boxes that were returned to me from the Southern District of New York from when federal agents executed search warrants on his homes and office. 

And so he went down to the storage facility in his apartment building that happens to be a Trump-owned apartment building.  And he started going through boxes.  And there were --

O`DONNELL:  I learn in your report today, it`s not just a Trump-owned building.  Who else lives in the same building with Michael Cohen? 

FOX:  Funnily enough, Jared and Ivanka keep an apartment --

O`DONNELL:  Jared and Ivanka Trump, their New York apartment is in the same building as Michael Cohen. 

FOX:  It is.  They spend most of their time in Washington now.  They do have a shared apartment. 

O`DONNELL:  So he goes down to the basement of this building --

FOX:  And there are nine boxes that were returned to him.  He goes through box number 1.  It`s kind of junk.  Box number 2, kind of junk.  Box number 3, it is jackpot. 

And what he finds in there are the financial documents from 2011, 2012, 2013.  He finds a slew of handwritten notes from the president on articles, things ripped out from magazines and newspapers and printed out from the Internet. 

The notes ranging from threatening -- Michael C., threaten this reporter with a lawsuit.  This story is terrible, call so and so.  To an e-mail with Allen Weisselberg, whose name came up I think more than two dozen times yesterday.  And the e-mail was about the reimbursements that Cohen had received for the Stormy Daniels payoff.  It reminded him, well, there have to be copies of these checks somewhere, not in this box, but why don`t I call the bank?  This was all last week.  OK?

This draft was written, he`s preparing to go to Congress, and so he went to the bank and he got a copy first of this check that is signed by President Trump.  And then he got the day before the hearing a copy of the check that was signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg. 

So these things were last-minute additions, and they frankly turned the whole hearing around into an anecdotal story that could have had holes poked into it, into something that as Michael Cohen put it in the hearing, you know, you don`t have to believe me.  You can say I`m uncredible.  That is up to you.  But you don`t have to believe me because there`s documentary proof and I`m going to put them up on slides in this hearing room and the whole world can look at them. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Krishnamoorthi, how important were those exhibits in your hearing yesterday? 

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS:  I think they were very important because they added, you know, some real documentary evidence to corroborate his oral evidence.  Whenever the Republicans kept jumping up and down screaming he was a liar, it`s very interesting that not once did they impugn the integrity of the evidence or say that it was somehow false.  In fact, it was very hard for them to do so. 

O`DONNELL:  I just want to show the moment that you had yesterday in that hearing which changed our understanding of what might be happening next in this story when you asked Michael Cohen about any other possible evidence. 


KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven`t yet discussed today? 

COHEN:  Yes.  And again, those are part of the investigation that`s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York. 


O`DONNELL:  Congressman, were you surprised by that answer? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Truthfully, yes.  I didn`t expect him to answer quite that way.  In fact, there was a question right before that question where I actually asked him when was the last time that Donald Trump or one of his agents or advisers reached out to him or communicated with him, and he said it was two months after the raid, which is very unusual timing. 

And then I asked him what was said, and again he said I can`t tell you, that is under investigation by the southern district of New York, the prosecutors in the southern district of New York.  And so, again, I think there`s a lot of information that we still don`t know and certainly anything that`s under investigation by the Southern District of New York I would argue is something that we should be probing as well in Congress. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Congressman, you are also one of the few who`s in the closed -- both hearings, the closed hearing today with the intelligence committee.  What can you tell us about what happened in that hearing, especially in terms of consistencies with yesterday`s hearing or expansions on what you heard in yesterday`s hearing? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Unfortunately, I can`t get into the details of the testimony, but I can say a couple things.  One, he was very cooperative.  Two, there was so much testimony that he was able to give on the questions at issue that he`s coming back next Wednesday, or on March 6th, and that was not expected today. 

And so I think that just overall he`s been very cooperative.  Going back to the oversight hearing, I thought he came across as credible.  And if there`s anybody who knows the consequences of lying, especially lying to Congress, it`s Michael Cohen because he`s in part going to prison because of that.  At this point I don`t see any incentive for him to further lie because that would only increase his sentence, not decrease it. 

O`DONNELL:  What was your judgment of his credibility in today`s closed hearing? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I didn`t see any inconsistency from the open hearing.  He just comes across as a liberated person.  Lawrence, I think that he comes across as someone who`s like I`m going to prison in two months and, all of a sudden, that provides some clarity as to what he needs to be doing right now, which is telling the truth and, of course, putting his affairs in order and taking care of his family. 

O`DONNELL:  David Cay Johnston, you spent years trying to get documentary evidence to Trump businesses but you don`t have a key to Michael Cohen`s basement.  So, I`d like to get your reaction to the supporting documentation that Michael Cohen brought to that hearing yesterday.  And anything else you think we should be focusing on. 

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FOUNDER, DCREPOR.ORG:  Well, that check is absolutely a smoking gun, and I`m glad that Emily Jane has this terrific story.  It shows what good reporting is going on here by journalists. 

By my count, Michael Cohen identified potentially 14 different crimes in his testimony. 

My concern is that a lot of that the dots were not connected.  And a lot of the examination was very poor. 

Now, the congressman who`s on our panel and two other Congress members, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Katie Hill from California, asked very pointed questions that got and elicited important new information.  But way too many of the questions were preening, they were time wasted on telling us what we already know.  And I hope that the committees in the future do a better job of examining the witnesses. 

O`DONNELL:  And, David, all the things you`re talking about are things that could be subjects of future hearings, obviously. 

JOHNSTON:  Oh, and I`m sure we`re going to see lots of hearings coming forward, particularly know that Cohen has laid out these 14 at least paths to pursue and to decide which of these are more significant.  The financial documents are particularly bizarre in that Trump suddenly doubles his net worth to close to 8.7 billion.  Remember, that`s the figure he mentioned the day he announced he was running for president almost four years ago. 

And what they show is something I`ve been showing about Donald, including when I got his net worth statement in 1990.  He just makes it up.  He just makes it up.  There`s no reality behind it.  By the way, I`ll tell you, Lawrence, I was doing my net worth statement this evening and I`m worth $7 billion. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman, quickly, before we go, I wanted to get -- react to what David just said and his review of the performance of members yesterday.  And people saw what they saw.  I don`t want to drag you into defending your colleagues.  But I want to go to another point. 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I did great. 

O`DONNELL:  You just got a very good review.  But I want to go into the private session in this way.  It was always my experience working in the Senate that whenever you closed the door and it was a private meeting every senator performed better in private than they do publicly.  No wasted words, every single comment I always found when the door was closed was much more efficient, much more pointed, much sharper. 

Is that true when you have a closed-door session, say, of the Intelligence Committee as you did today compared to what we saw yesterday? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Great point, Lawrence.  I think when you have those cameras, especially in that open session, I did feel like sometimes when the Republicans talked it was almost as if they were playing to the cameras.  At the start of the oversight hearing yesterday they interrupted Elijah Cummings not more than five words into the hearing to basically move to adjourn or postpone the hearing.  And at that moment I really felt like they were playing to Donald Trump, who apparently was watching live from Vietnam. 

And so absolutely, when there`s a closed-door session, I do think the theatrics goes down and we actually have a little bit more of a subdued Q&A session. 

O`DONNELL:  We can`t wait for the transcripts of the closed-door session.  Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, David Cay Johnston, Emily Jane Fox, thank you all for starting us off tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

And when we come back, we have breaking news from the "New York Times" reporting that Donald Trump order John Kelly to give Jared Kushner a top security clearance over the objections of intelligence professionals and his own White House counsel.  And then, of course, Donald Trump publicly said that he did not do that. 

And Donald Trump did not make a deal with Kim Jong-un, but that doesn`t mean that the North Korean dictator walked away with nothing.  Kim Jong-un got the American president on video absolving him of killing American citizen Otto Warmbier. 

And at the end of this hour we`re going to talk about the display of racism in the House of Representatives yesterday.  I will explain to you why the congresswoman who correctly said it was racist chose to apologize for saying that.  It`s all about the house rules of decorum, which allow members of the House of Representatives to insult anyone in the world except members of the House of Representatives. 


O`DONNELL:  As we mentioned at the beginning of this hour, "The New York Times" is out tonight with a new report that President Trump ordered his then Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top security clearance over the objections of intelligence officials, a move that John Kelly found so troubling at the time that he wrote a memo about it specifying that Jared Kushner got his security clearance only at the order of President Trump.  Then White House counsel Don McGahn wrote a similar memo according to the "New York Times." 

Here`s what President Trump said last month when asked by the "New York Times" about whether he interfered in the security clearance process for Jared Kushner. 


REPORTER:  There`s been a story in the news in the last two weeks about your son-in-law`s security clearance.  Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials?  The career veterans? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.  I don`t think I have the authority to do that.  I`m not sure I do.  But I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t do it. 

REPORTER:  You never --

TRUMP:  Jared`s a good -- I was never involved with his security. 


O`DONNELL:  And here`s what Jared Kushner`s wife said about her husband`s security clearance just three weeks ago. 


IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER AND SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT:  There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband`s clearance. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, an expert in security clearance is Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to President Obama.  He is now an MSNBC political analyst. 

And, Ben, we`re seeing -- this "New York Times" reporting is very clear tonight.  Very I think authoritative that the president obviously interfered in this process.  We just saw the president say publicly that no, he didn`t.  We just saw Ivanka Trump say that no, that`s not the way her husband got the security clearance. 

In your reading of this "New York Times" report tonight, what did they do in effect to the security clearance process in order to get one for Jared Kushner? 

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first of all, it`s telling that they felt like they had to lie about it.  If they didn`t think they`d done something wrong, then why did they feel like they had to lie about it? 

The second thing is the career professionals go through this and they look for, Lawrence, whether there`s any vulnerability in giving someone a security clearance.  And they make a recommendation based on that investigation.  And clearly they felt there was a vulnerability in giving Jared Kushner a security clearance and Trump as the president can overrule them.  I think what should really concern people here is what we know about Jared is that he was potentially compromised. 

Perhaps it was because of the things he`d done with Russia during the campaign.  Perhaps it was because of his relationships with Saudi Arabia or Qatar that we know were seeking to kind of buy influence during the transition.  And this should be very worrying because just yesterday, Lawrence, we saw Jared in Saudi Arabia with Mohammed bin Salman, the murderous crown prince of that country, knowing -- Jared knowing all of the secrets that our intelligence community did not think he should be trusted to know precisely because other countries might be able to leverage Jared to get that information. 

O`DONNELL:  And isn`t one of the vulnerabilities that you`re referring to the fact that Jared Kushner was seeking financing from Saudi Arabia, seeking financing from the very people that he was meeting with in Saudi Arabia? 

RHODES:  Exactly.  And so the scenario you`d be worried about, right?  Is that they can blackmail him, that they know they have leverage over him.  They know that perhaps he`s seeking deals with them or maybe they know that they`ve agreed to do something to make payments in his real estate interest that are compromising to him and they can use that to leverage him and say we`d really like to know some information we have.  That`s why we have an intelligence community that goes through this process.  And it`s truly extraordinary and should be worrying to people and shows frankly that Trump doesn`t really care about our national security, that he would overrule those professionals in order to give his son-in-law a clearance, right? 

And, again, this is not someone who`s somehow indispensable to the function of the U.S. government.  This is someone who had no experience in national security before he came into the White House.  Why is it necessary for Trump to skirt the rules like this and then lie about it? 

O`DONNELL:  "The New York Times" reports that Jared Kushner wanted to get a -- basically a comment from John Kelly at the time saying that he -- supporting that Jared Kushner deserved a security clearance.  And John Kelly refused to do that.  Now, that`s the same John Kelly who did an awful lot of things for President Trump without any question whatsoever and embarrassed himself in many times over and over again doing things for Donald Trump.  But he wouldn`t do this. 

RHODES:  Yes.  And, Lawrence, this connects to everything else we`ve been looking at with the Russia investigation, the Saudi relationship.  There was something so alarming in that security clearance investigation that John Kelly felt the need to write this contemporaneous memo.  He knew that this was going to come out and was going to look really bad. 

And again, we still don`t know all the facts.  We don`t know why it is that the intelligence community did not think Jared Kushner should get this clearance in the first place.  But we do know, as you say, John Kelly was willing to lie, to cover for Trump, to say all kinds of things.  He wasn`t willing to do this.  And he knew this was going to catch up to them. 

And, frankly, there`s a lot more facts to be uncovered here.  And I`m sure that the house Democrats will be looking into that. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Ben, as you and I both know, the memo that John Kelly in effect wrote to himself about this are the kinds of memos you write in government when you expect what has happened to be investigated including possibly investigated by prosecutors. 

RHODES:  Absolutely, Lawrence.  We`ve seen a pattern here for a couple years where the Trump people seem to think that this stuff is never going to catch up to them, that they can break all these rules, violate all these protocols.  And what we`re seeing now, in part because the American people chose Democrats to lead the hospital, is it`s all catching up to them.  It caught up to them yesterday in Michael Cohen`s yesterday.  It caught up today in "The New York Times" story about the security clearance.  There will be further investigations. 

And someone like Kelly had to at least be around Washington long enough to know that the chickens come home to roost and there are a lot of chickens are going to be coming home to roost over the next several months. 

O`DONNELL:  Ben Rhodes, we need your authority on this subject tonight.  Thank you for joining us.  Really appreciate it. 

RHODES:  Thanks, Lawrence.  Good to see you. 

O`DONNELL:  When we come back, a conservative who says the Republican Party is reveling in being, these are his words, the stupid party.  Our next guest.


O`DONNELL:  Bill Kristol has spent his adult life in Conservative Republican politics.  When he was serving as Vice President Dan Quayle`s chief of staff, he was considered one of the leading young intellectuals of the Republican Party.

After Dan Quayle was abruptly driven out of office by the election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Bill Kristol wrote a strategy memo for Republicans about how to defeat Bill and Hillary Clinton`s health care reform legislation which everyone in Washington at the time, including most Republicans, believed was going to pass.

But in those days, Bill Kristol even as a private citizen was powerful enough in Republican politics to strategically turn the Republican congressional ship around, and the Republicans did indeed defeat the Clinton health care bill in Congress.  Now that the Republican Party has become the Trump Party and Bill Kristol stands in opposition to everything that Donald Trump represents, Bill Kristol is ignored by the Republican Party and his frustration mounts.

Today, he wrote this.  "Conservatives have spent over half a century disproving the claim that we are the stupid party.  Now, under Trump, conservatism is embracing, indeed reveling in stupidity."  Peter Wehner has honorably served the Republican Party in three Republican presidential administrations.

Today, under the headline "Republicans sink further into Trump`s cesspool," he writes in "The New York Times", Republicans on the House Oversight Committee tried to destroy the credibility of Michael Cohen`s testimony not because they believe that his testimony is false but because they fear it is true.

By now, Republicans must know deep in their hearts that Mr. Cohen`s portrayal of Mr. Trump as a racist, a con man, and a cheat is spot on.  So it is the truth they fear and it is the truth, the fundamental reality of the world as it actually is that they feel compelled to destroy.

After this break, those two Republican bad boys, the outcasts, Bill Kristol and Peter Wehner, will join us.


O`DONNELL:  In the last hour of his show tonight, Sean Hannity might have made himself a witness in congressional investigations and in federal prosecutors` continuing investigations of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS:  You know, I was kind of dragged in a little bit into the Michael Cohen issue.  I interviewed him many times with you on T.V.  He was never my attorney.  He had to apologize to me for his attorney saying that in court.  And -- but I can tell you personally, he said to me at least a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments and he didn`t tell you.

TRUMP:  Yes.

HANNITY:  He told me personally.

TRUMP:  No, he did.  And he made the decision.  And remember this, he`s an attorney.  Whatever decision he makes, he`s supposed to rely on an attorney to make a decision.


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, two career Republicans who are not part of the Trump Party.  Bill Kristol is the director of Defending Democracy Together and editor-at-large of "The Bulwark".  And Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the ethics and public policy center.

And Bill, your tweet today really caught my eye, saying that Republicans have struggled mightily against the label of the Stupid Party which was thrown at them across the aisle for decades.  And you have the feeling now that that label is sticking to the people who are across the aisle from the Democrats in the Congress now.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER:  Yes.  And unfortunately, deservedly so in many cases.  Look at the Republican performance when Michael Cohen testified yesterday.  Look at CPAC, the Conservative Conference, it was always a mix of kind of youthful, you know, high jinx, and some showmanship.

It actually used to have people actually arguing for conservative ideas and policies and now it`s just a combination of grifters and demagogues.  I spoke -- I gave a talk at Tuesday night to the college Republicans, talked with a lot of young men and women.

And it was both heartening, there are a lot of fine young people, and depressing.   One of them said to me, how can I -- I`m a believer in markets, I`m a believer in American global leadership, I admire Republicans, from Reagan through McCain, Bush, and McCain.  But how can I be a Republican with this party that I see on television and read about?

Trump is obviously the heart of the problem.  But the degree of corruption in following Trump is really -- it`s daunting for those of us who might hope to save the party.

O`DONNELL:  Peter Wehner, you wrote about the hearing that we all saw yesterday.  And now, we just saw Sean Hannity offering testimony and basically leading Donald Trump into agreeing with the testimony.  He didn`t ask him a question.  He didn`t ask did Michael Cohen do this on his own.

Sean Hannity sat there and told the president that Michael Cohen, you know, did this payment to Stormy Daniels on his own.  And then the president just agreed with that.  That sounds like testimony that the committees are going to want to hear.

PETER WEHNER:  They may.

O`DONNELL:  Under oath.  I meant to add under oath.

WEHNER:  Right.  And under oath is a big distinction.  It`s an important thing.  But I wanted to build on what Bill said.  It`s not just the Stupid Party but it is a party that has been corrupt in a lot of ways.  And that`s not an easy thing to say for somebody like me and Bill who have been lifelong Republicans.

But it`s just been stunning to watch this unfold.  And I think what happened was an original sin, which is that the party, between itself, tied itself to Donald Trump and they decided they would follow him wherever he went.  And so his moral and intellectual failures and defects became theirs.

And what`s happened is that they will not stand up to him at any point regardless of what he says.  When he said during the campaign that he could go down Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and that his supporters wouldn`t break from him, that was some fundamental insight into the kind of attachment that his supporters had toward him.  And we`ve seen that play out in the last two years.

O`DONNELL:  And Bill, we saw the president while Michael Cohen was testifying basically fly halfway around the world to absolve the North Korean dictator of murdering in effect the American citizen Otto Warmbier.

KRISTOL:  And generally to praise the North Korean dictator.  You know, you can differ on Korean policy and what to do about it.  But the idea that the American president has no moral standards in dealing with foreign leaders and distinguishing dictators from Democrats, it really is kind of amazing I`ve got to say and depressing.

Some Republicans are standing up to that.  But again, it was these young people at Columbia that really struck me.  I spoke today at Brown, my little Ivy League College tour here.  Had dinner with a lot of the students.

And again, I think the degree -- leave aside the substance, which is bad.  The political damage that is being done to the future of the Republican Party by Trump and Trump`s enablers.  And Pete`s right about this.  Trump himself, OK, maybe he`ll lose in 2020, he`ll be gone.

But the whole party will be full of people who refused to stand up to Trump, who refused to vote against this ridiculous emergency declaration in the House, 13 brave Republicans stood up but a huge majority didn`t.  We`ll see what happens in the Senate.  I think that damage -- I`ve been hopeful it can be undone pretty quickly but it`s going to take a lot of work to undo it.

O`DONNELL:  I`m sorry, we`re up against the clock.  That`s all the time we have right now.  Please, both of you come back.  We have to continue this discussion.  Bill Kristol, Peter Wehner, thank you for joining us tonight.

And when we come back, what I think is the most important thing we`re going to discuss in this hour.  What we saw in a racist moment in that hearing yesterday.


O`DONNELL:  In his written opening statement to the House Oversight Committee yesterday, Michael Cohen described Donald Trump this way.


COHEN:  He is a racist.  He is a con man.  And he is a cheat.


O`DONNELL:  Not once in the all-day hearing did a single Republican try to defend Donald Trump against the accusation that he is a cheat or against the accusation that he is a con man.  Con man is what Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio called Donald Trump during the presidential campaign.

But one member of the committee thought he had the perfect defense against the charge that Donald Trump is a racist.  Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina had Lynne Patton stand silently beside him as the proof, the living proof that Donald Trump is not a racist because she once had a job working for the president`s son Eric and now has a job in the Trump administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Michael Cohen told the committee that he helped Lynne Patton get both of those jobs.  Mark Meadows did not ask the chairman to allow Lynne Patton to say a few words.  Instead, he spoke for her, claiming that she says, and he quoted her saying, "There is no way that she would work for an individual who was a racist."

In Mark Meadows` world, Lynne Patton didn`t have to speak.  She just had to stand there while he spoke for her.  She just had to stand there as living proof that Donald Trump is not a racist.  No one in that committee room and no one watching on T.V. had ever seen a stunt like that in a congressional hearing.  And some Democrats felt compelled to comment.


REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE (D-MI), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I just want to put on the record as being a black American and having endured the public comments of racism from the sitting president, as being a black person I can only imagine what`s being said in private.  And to prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies that is totally insulting.


O`DONNELL:  Mark Meadows had no reaction to that.  But he had a very big reaction hours later when one of the freshman congresswomen on the committee said that what he did was racist.  Mark Meadows came close to tears over that.  And the congresswoman apologized for any misunderstanding.  And then today, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Mark Meadows approached her and gave her a hug.

I`ll explain why all of that happened in the sequence that it happened and what you need to know about the House rules that explains why all that happened.  Next.


O`DONNELL:  As I just mentioned, yesterday, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows brought a black woman who works in the Trump administration to stand silently beside him during the Michael Cohen hearing to prove Michael Cohen was wrong yesterday when he said Donald Trump is a racist.

Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib had something to say about that.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN:  Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean they aren`t racist.  And it is insensitive that some would even say -- the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.  Donald Trump --

MEADOWS:  Mr. Chairman, I ask that her words be taken down.


O`DONNELL:  And then the hearing went off the rails for the next few minutes as Chairman Elijah Cummings masterfully refereed the dispute that broke out between Rashida Tlaib and Mark Meadows who claimed that Congresswoman Tlaib had called him a racist which technically and only technically she didn`t.  She said what he did was racist.

Mark Meadows knew that the rules of the House were on his side in asking for Congresswoman Tlaib`s words to be taken down, stricken from the congressional record of that hearing.  The rules of decorum of the House of Representatives do not allow members to make comments "affecting the rights, reputation, and conduct of members."

Have that one memorize.  The only people in the world that members of the House of Representatives are not allowed to insult are members of the House of Representatives.  The Constitution actually grants members of Congress the right to say anything about anyone no matter how libelous it may be as long as they say it on the House and Senate floor or in hearing rooms.  They are completely immune from libel laws as long as they`re in that building.

Freshman members of Congress are warned about this.  They`re warned about the decorum rules and so Congresswoman Tlaib knew yesterday that the rules of the House gave Mark Meadows the privilege of calling for a vote to remove her words from the record of the hearing.

And so she diplomatically saved her Chairman Elijah Cummings from having to call a vote of the committee on striking her words.  She said she did not intend to call Mark Meadows a racist.


TLAIB:  To my colleague, Mr. Meadows, that was not my intention and I do apologize.


O`DONNELL:  Then this morning just before noon, Mark Meadows approached Congresswoman Llaib on the floor of the House and asked to put the episode behind them which she graciously agreed to do and the moment even included this hug.

The reason Mark Meadows desperately wanted to get this behind him is that by the time he approached Congresswoman Tlaib on the House floor this morning, two different videos emerged showing that Mark Meadows ran for Congress on sending President Obama, his words, back home to Kenya.


MEADOWS:  What we`re going to do is take back our country.  2012 is the time that we`re going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.  We`re going to do it.


O`DONNELL:  Three days later, Mark Meadows was asked by a North Carolina voter if he is elected to Congress, will he pursue a congressional investigation of whether President Obama who the questioner called this guy, is a citizen of the United States.  Here was Mark Meadows` answer.




O`DONNELL:  So there you see Mark Meadows running on the racist platform of send the black president back to Africa and lying to a voter who wants him to do that.  Mark Meadows told his voters then, yes, he would pursue a congressional investigation of President Obama`s birth certificate and that was a lie.  He never did that.  And because Mark Meadows is a politician, he wasn`t finished with that one-word answer to that question.


MEADOWS:  I see it as -- if we do our job from a grassroots standpoint, we won`t have to worry about it.  You know what, we`ll send him back home to Kenya or wherever it is.  We`ll send him back home.  And so in doing that, I believe that what we will find is that we will get a new commander in chief.


O`DONNELL:  Mark Meadows grew up in the 1960s in Brandon, Florida.  I grew up in the 1960s in Boston.  It`s hard to say which place was more racist then, probably about the same.  Here`s my Boston in 1976, the man on the three-piece suit who survived that attack is Ted Lands Mark, a distinguished Boston attorney.  The guy with the flag is from a neighborhood just like mine.  All white and just about all racist in those days.

I grew up with guys who wanted to do things like that.  And no one who grew up in my neighborhood in Boston was surprised the day we saw that photograph on the front page of "The Boston Globe".  But Boston has changed a lot since then.

We had some white racist politicians in Boston when I was growing up and we had even more blatant white racist politicians in the south when Mark Meadows was growing up.  A white racist governor who stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama trying to keep it a racist constitution.  But Governor George Wallace was crushed that day by President Kennedy`s administration who forced him out of that doorway.

And just as we`ve seen in Boston, many white politicians in the south grew and changed and were eventually replaced by more enlightened politicians.  But there are more modern-day inheritance of the kind of racism that southern politicians constantly demonstrated when Mark Meadows was a kid.

When I was growing up, it seemed like every other day, it was "send them back to Africa."  Heard that every other day in my neighborhood.  Not from a politician, just someone in my neighborhood speaking from a hardcore racist heart.

Send them back to Africa is one of the oldest racist refrains in the history of American racism and that is what Mark Meadows chose to echo when he decided to run for Congress.  He used racism to get his job.  That is racist.  Send President Barack Obama back to Kenya.

You don`t get to use racist tools in your political campaign and then come close to tears in Congress when you think someone just called you a racist which you most definitely are.   Send President Barack Obama home to Kenya is a classic racist political play.

And the only people who have to apologize for calling Mark Meadows a racist are the people he goes to work with every day in the House of Representatives because of the rules of decorum of the House of Representatives.

But until Mark Meadows apologizes for running a racist campaign to get his job in Congress, then everyone outside of the House of Representatives has the right and the moral authority to call him a racist.  Because if we pretend that the people who say and do racist things aren`t racist, then we are denying the very existence of racism and that is a grave crime against the truth of life in America and American history.

If Mark Meadows isn`t a racist, no one is.  Even George Wallace eventually apologized for his racist tactics as governor of Alabama before he died.

Tonight America awaits Mark Meadows` apology.  That`s "Tonight`s Last World."  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts right now.