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Cohen to testify to Intelligence Committee. TRANSCRIPT: 3/5/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Lanny Davis, Raja Krishnamoorthi, John Brennan

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

Michael Cohen testifies again tomorrow, closed doors, to the Intelligence Committee.  We have a member of the committee who will be questioning tomorrow joining us.  And his lawyer Lanny Davis is going to be joining us. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Very good.  Lanny Davis made some news on our show earlier this week and what he has within the past week and he tends to have his finger on the pulse here.  Good luck with that. 

O`DONNELL:  He`s very good at that.  And that`s why he`s the lead guest tonight and he might make some news tonight.  We will see.

MADDOW:  On the edge of my seat.  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel.

Well, as I said, Michael Cohen will be testifying once again tomorrow at a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee and Michael Cohen`s lawyer Lanny Davis will be our first guest tonight.  When Michael Cohen speaks investigators, around the country take notes and go to work. 

"The New York Times" is reporting tonight that New York state insurance regulators are investigating President Trump and his company because of Michael Cohen`s answers to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK:  Did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company? 


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

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


O`DONNELL:  "The New York Times" is reporting, quote, New York state regulators have issued an expansive subpoena to the Trump Organization`s longtime insurance broker, the first step in an investigation of insurance policies and claims involving President Trump`s family business, according to a person briefed on the matter. 

"The New York Times" also reports that the nine-page subpoena demands a broad range of materials dating back to 2009.  The subpoena demands copies of all communications between an insurance broker and Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. 

State and federal investigators are not the only ones who found Michael Cohen`s testimony credible enough to require further investigation, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that 50 percent of voters believe Michael Cohen now more than they believe President Trump with only 35 percent believe President Trump more than they believe Michael Cohen.  That same Quinnipiac poll shows that 64 percent of voters believe that President Trump committed crimes before he took office.  Only 24 percent do not believe the president committed crimes before he took office. 

Forty-five percent of voters believe that the president has committed crimes while in office.  Forty-three percent do not believe that the president has committed crimes while in office. 

Michael Cohen provided the House Oversight Committee evidence that President Trump has indeed committed crimes both before he took office during his presidential campaign and while in office as president.  That evidence came in the form of checks delivered to Michael Cohen from President Trump, including one that was signed in the White House by the president. 

Michael Cohen testified that those checks were part of an illegal pay off scheme to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about her affair with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. 


COHEN:  In February of 2017, one month into his presidency, I`m visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time and he says to me something to the effect of don`t worry Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming.  They were FedExed from New York and it takes awhile for that to get through the White House system.  As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter. 


O`DONNELL:  Here is that February check for $70,000 which covered two months of the agreed upon payment of $35,000 a month to Michael Cohen to reimburse him for the money that he paid to Stormy Daniels. 

Note that this check came from the Donald J. Trump trust account.  The trust account.  That check is signed by the Trump chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr.  Michael Cohen received another check with the same signatures from the same trust account a month later for his monthly payment of $35,000. 

And the check that Michael Cohen produced in last week`s hearing with Donald Trump`s signature was written six months into the Trump presidency and came from a different account, what appears to be a personal checking account of Donald J. Trump.  The accounts used to pay these checks are an important element of this story, which we will explore in a moment with Michael Cohen`s lawyer Lanny Davis. 

One of the least important manners Michael Cohen testified to was Donald Trump`s desperate concern to keep his academic records from high school and college hidden from public view. 


COHEN:  When I say con man, I`m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the college board to never release his grades or SAT scores.  As I mentioned, I`m giving the committee today copies of a letter I sent at Mr. Trump`s direction threatening these schools with civil and criminal actions if Mr. Trump`s grades or SAT scores were ever disclosed without his permission. 


O`DONNELL:  Fordham University confirmed they were threatened to keep Donald Trump`s college transcript hidden.  The University of Pennsylvania where Donald Trump transferred after Fordham has made no public comment.  And "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that friends of Donald Trump tried to seize his high school records in 2011 right after Donald Trump said that he wanted President Obama to, quote, show his records because Donald Trump believed that Barack Obama was, quote, a terrible student. 


DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN:  The word is, according to what I`ve read, that he was a terrible student when he went to Occidental.  Now, maybe that`s right or maybe it`s wrong, but I don`t know why he doesn`t release his records. 


O`DONNELL:  It`s against the law for schools to publicly release student`s transcripts but Ivy League schools like the University of Pennsylvania where Donald Trump graduated and Harvard where Barack Obama graduated from law school do make public records of the students who graduate with honors and then Ivy League schools most students actually graduate with honors, not graduating with honors is unusual in Ivy League schools. 

There are three levels, of course.  Cum laude, the lowest, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, the highest honors.  Donald Trump did not graduate with honors from the University of Pennsylvania.  That is public information. 

And that puts him somewhere in the bottom half of his class academically even though the president once claimed to have graduated as the number one student in his class.  Barack Obama did graduate from Harvard Law School magna cum laude. 

Last night, at this hour, we have the breaking news report by the "Wall Street Journal" that Michael Cohen`s lawyers discussed the possibility of a pardon with President Trump`s lawyers.  "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Rudy Giuliani, quote, left open the possibility that the president could grant Mr. Cohen one in the future. 

Here is what Michael Cohen said about a pardon last week. 


COHEN:  My testimony certainly does not diminish the pain that I have caused my family and my friends.  Nothing can do that.  And I have never asked for nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump. 


O`DONNELL:  And leading off our discussion tonight is Lanny Davis, an attorney for Michael Cohen. 

Lanny Davis, thank you for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it. 

I want to start with the pardon which we just introduced here.  "The Wall Street Journal" reporting was not that Michael Cohen personally requested a pardon but his lawyers at some point discussed the possibility of a pardon with President Trump`s lawyers and that Rudy Giuliani for one left open the possibility.  Is that accurate reporting? 

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN:  Yes, the time period is what needs to be stressed.  Michael Cohen lied for Donald Trump for ten years and is going to prison in part because of a lie to Congress as well as the cover-up scheme that Donald Trump is still paying for or was paying for when you showed those checks. 

The statement that Michael made was after he made a decision, and I think I was part of that, when he decided to express his shame for his prior lies when he was certainly looking at the option of pardon when they were dangling that as a way of I think luring people to stay within the tent.  And then when he decided on July 2nd, 2018, I will not lie anymore, and he asked me to help him tell the truth.  So that sentence, which I helped write was about the time period after he decided as we decided to call it his turn to the truth.

And at that point, he said to me, I want you to publicly say, I wouldn`t accept a pardon if he begged me to take it.  And I said, are you sure?  And he said, yes.  And I went out publicly and I said he would never accept a pardon and that was the reference intended by that sentence. 

O`DONNELL:  But why wouldn`t he accept a pardon?  Who has not accepted a pardon? 

DAVIS:  Well, I was doubtful when he said it to me.  He was in a great, stressful situation with a wife and two kids and looking at a prison sentence potentially.  And he had lied for ten years and was expressing shame to me.

And I said, are you willing to say that publicly?  And you have a deep hole and you are a good man, and a good father but in order to win credibility which I see from the polls he has won, you need to be willing to tell the truth and all the truth and part of that is would you accept a pardon to get out of this fixture and from this man that you describe as having done dirty deeds for ten years.  And he said to me, yes, and then he said, I want you to say that publicly, maybe people will believe me, and I did. 

O`DONNELL:  And I want to get your reaction also to what we`re seeing as the expanding investigations.  Michael Cohen speaks and the requests for documents fly.  It`s hard to remember a congressional reaction like this to congressional testimony over 80 requests for documents from the White House from Trump businesses, from other government entities, all almost all of them coming out of Michael Cohen`s testimony, which is continuing as we know there will be more Michael Cohen testimony tomorrow morning. 

Is that what you expected knowing, you knew in advance what Michael Cohen`s testimony was going to be, did you expect it to provoke this follow up? 

DAVIS:  I honestly did but it`s still more to come because we had a list of subjects that was basically Michael Cohen`s confession of him facilitating these subjects or his memory of them.  And one of them for example, you mentioned the grades.  He threatened a major educational institution with criminal sanctions if they released Donald Trump`s grades. 

On another occasion, Michael said to the American people and to every serviceman and every rural American who considers themselves to be patriots, listen to this, if you voted for Donald Trump, he said to Michael Cohen, don`t say anything if people ask for proof of my bone spur that allowed me to not go to Vietnam, and then he said, quote, you got to be stupid to go to Vietnam. 

And so, Michael was forbidden to respond to reporter`s questions what turns out to be a fake assertion by him that he had a bone spur to get out of serving.  At that point, Michael looked at the television camera, and right at that moment, he said, Mr. President, isn`t it ironic, you said people have to be stupid to serve in Vietnam, you`re now in Vietnam.  Of course, in a failed negotiation with the North Korean leader.

But that`s the kind of thing that is going to encourage more investigations.  He lied to the Secret Service -- excuse me, the selective service on his draft deferments and almost everything in his testimony, if you read it is a subject area that will be grounds for further investigation. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to go to what one member of the committee called the smoking gun and that was the check that Michael Cohen produced with the president`s signature on it written in August, so that`s about six months into the Trump presidency, possibly signed on that desk in the Oval Office because according to Michael Cohen`s testimony, these checks had to be FedExed, you hear him say FedExed, to the White House so that the president himself could sign them, that is what the president told Michael Cohen in the Oval Office, according to Michael Cohen. 

I noticed, Lanny, that the one the president signed is not from a business account.  It is not from a Trump company account.  It simply has the name Donald J. Trump on it.  That looks to me like a personal check.  That would be a very odd source for a business payment, for if Michael Cohen is being retained by the business in a retainer agreement, it strikes me as odd that the Trump business isn`t paying for those legal services. 

DAVIS:  Well, first of all, I`m a lawyer and I always try to use the word "alleged" if we`re talking about crime because everyone is entitled to due process, including Donald Trump.  But there is literally no way to dispute that he committed a crime.  He not only wrote a personal check but they invented a cover-up story that it was a retainer check. 

The word "invented" and "fictional" or "bogus" was not my opinion, it is a fact there was no retainer agreement.  It was a scheme concocted by Michael, by Donald Trump and by Mr. Weisselberg as a way of avoiding tracing the pay off money, the hush money to Stormy Daniels.  The prosecutors and the U.S. government said that in the information statement on Michael`s plea of guilt. 

There is no doubt that the word reimbursement was the reimbursement of Michael Cohen advancing the hush money and who said the word reimbursement after Donald Trump denied knowing anything about the Stormy Daniels payment at all?  Rudy Giuliani on television called it a reimbursement to Michael Cohen. 

So there were no facts in dispute that the president of the United States as president committed a felony.  Literally, there is no way to dispute that statement and I say that with a caution that alleged is a word you should always try to use when you`re accusing somebody of a crime.  I can`t find the ability to use the word alleged because everything I said to you, Lawrence, is an undisputed or undisputable fact.  That shows a felony, a conspiracy to pay hush money and to cover it up. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, two of the checks that we`ve seen so far apparently there are going to be more available for public inspection, but were signed by Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. and those were taken from the trust account, the accounts set up that Donald Trump is not supposed to touch, it`s supposed to be the separation of the Trump businesses from the Trump presidency. 

But Allen Weisselberg presumably has testified or been questioned by the FBI about this in New York City since that`s the office that has been prosecuting the Michael Cohen case and Allen Weisselberg, do you know if he`s taken the position there was indeed a retainer agreement for Michael Cohen`s legal services that this was payment for that had nothing to do with Stormy Daniels? 

DAVIS:  Well, that was the cover story I know because Mr. Weisselberg and Michael and Mr. Trump together decided that Michael needed to do it to avoid it being traced because two or three days before an election that turned out to be very close and won by Mr. Trump.  They did not want after "Access Hollywood", they did not want the story about an adult film star being subject to a hush money payment. 

So, Mr. Weisselberg said, well, I can`t afford it and why don`t you do it from your line of credit, Michael, but we don`t want it traceable to the Trump Organization.  To answer your question, Lawrence, Mr. Weisselberg was given limited immunity by the federal prosecutors in the Southern District for the testimony about this hush money scheme.  Michael had to plead guilty.  Mr. Weisselberg was given immunity but it`s limited immunity. 

And I don`t know the answer to whether he told the prosecutors about this scheme and told the truth that there was never a retainer.  This was a cover-up but now the question is his signing that check as implementing this hush money illegal scheme is a crime.  And the question is did he tell the federal prosecutors about the signing of these checks at the time he was granted limited immunity, that`s something between him and his lawyer, but I`m sure there`s a concern about that. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Lanny, we all saw on television that there wasn`t a single Republican who went anywhere near the smoking gun.  They would not touch the smoking gun of the check signed by Donald Trump and the other check signed by Allen Weisselberg and I know that there has been testimony behind closed doors.  And can you tell us if any Republicans have at any point challenged or questioned Michael Cohen at any point about these checks? 

DAVIS:  No.  And I sat there not necessarily surprised that the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, many of them people that I respect and descent people, descent friends, descent parents and descent human beings never once mentioned Donald Trump throughout the entire hearing.  They pounded away at what Michael had already admitted to in shame that he had lied for ten years for Donald Trump, that he had lied to Congress and he was going to prison paying the price. 

Now, one member of the House Oversight Committee on the Republican side had the decency to at least give him credit for taking the responsibility and paying the price and never once asked about those checks, about the president of their party that I`m sure they genuinely believe in. 

So, it`s a remarkable hypocrisy that I wish I could have seen more from good people who are Republicans supporting Donald Trump. 

O`DONNELL:  Lanny, I have a quick question unrelated to this that goes back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  That`s when you became one of the most prominent lawyers in America in your defense of President Clinton and that`s when the country met Lindsey Graham for the first time.  He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who was a prosecutor of the case against Bill Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial.

And today, I`m not sure you`re aware of this.  Lindsey Graham had a meeting with the president and which he told the president to follow the Bill Clinton model in handling himself in the presidency while under investigation and just do the business of the president and stay away from the investigation.  And he said to the president according to Lindsey Graham himself, that Bill Clinton is a good model for the president to follow. 

Did you ever think you`d live to see the day where Bill Clinton impeachment prosecutor would tell a Republican president to follow the model of Bill Clinton when under investigation? 

DAVIS:  Let me think about this -- no.  I got to know Lindsey Graham after debating many times on television and friendship with Senator McCain and a good friend of mine, Joe Lieberman, is another way I got to know him.  And all I can say about Senator Graham, there is much about him I like, but the disappointment is that in honor of John McCain, he is supporting a president who disparaged John McCain as not being a hero because he got captured as missing in action and as a prisoner of war, excuse me. 

So I just find a great disappointment in Lindsey Graham even though we still have a friendship.  I`m just utterly baffled that he would after all that he said about Donald Trump during his presidential campaign and his close friendship with John McCain, that he would still be that supportive of President Trump. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, I have much more to say about what Lindsey Graham said today at the end of the show tonight. 

Lanny Davis, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

DAVIS:  Thank you for having me, Lawrence.  For all the time, thank you. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you. 

Well, one of the members of the House Intelligence Committee who will question Michael Cohen again tomorrow will join us next. 

And new reports tonight that President Trump also pressured government officials to give his daughter Ivanka Trump access to national secrets in spite of concerns from intelligence officials.  Former CIA Director John Brennan will join us. 

And at the end of this hour, as I said, we will show you how no one has humiliated Senator Lindsey Graham more than Lindsey Graham has humiliated Lindsey Graham, including today. 


O`DONNELL:  There is apparently a big difference between what Michael Cohen can say in public testimony and what he can say on closed door testimony.  One of the most important answers, if not the most important answer that Michael Cohen gave in his public testimony last week was this. 


REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS:  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:  Joining our discussion now, the congressman who asked that question, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who will also be in the closed door hearing with Michael Cohen tomorrow in the House Intelligence Committee. 

And Eugene Robinson, who has watched more congressional investigations from the press gallery than any of us is with us.  He`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor for "The Washington Post".  He`s also an MSNBC political analyst. 

And, Congressman, I want to ask you about what the difference is if you can tell us between the public testimony and issues that Michael Cohen can get into and private testimony and have you learned more in the closed door testimony than you did in the public testimony? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Thanks for having me on, Lawrence.  Yes, you do learn a little more in a closed setting because you can get into a lot more detail.  You can talk about classified information.  This is down in this SCIF where the under ground bunker beneath the Capitol, and there are no cameras.

And I think that the fact that there are no cameras means there aren`t the same theatrics that you saw, for instance, with Republicans in the oversight hearing.  So, you do get to learn a little more and the discussion or the Q and A is a little more sober. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Gene, it seems that the public is in support of what the House Democrats are doing.  We have a poll tonight asking the question should Congress do more to investigate Michael Cohen`s claims about Donald Trump`s behavior?  Yes, 58 percent.  That is pretty solid support, Gene. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALSYT:  Yes, that`s pretty solid support.  All that polling was fascinating about how people view President Trump`s truthfulness versus Michael Cohen`s, and it`s fascinating that people think Congress ought to do its job. 

I mean, this is Congress` job.  We shouldn`t forget that.  It`s not just an option for Congress to investigate possible potential criminal wrongdoing by the president.  Congress has a responsibility to do that and can`t and shouldn`t and must not just sort of sit back and let it pass as was done in the past two years. 

So, Republicans wouldn`t mention the name of President Trump in that oversight hearing, but Democrats will, I hope, Republicans ultimately will, too, because these investigations have to be done. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman, why did you ask Michael Cohen that question about any other possible illegal acts?  Did you have reason to believe that there are more? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  In part, yes but I was also trying to close out the questioning and just, you know, make sure that we weren`t leaving anything on the table, that there wasn`t something that we forgot to ask him about that he wanted to talk about.  In this particular case, he said that he could not talk about it because the Southern District of New York was examining it. 

I was just pointing out the previous question I asked was perhaps related to this, he said that his last communication with the Trump administration or President Trump himself was two months after the raid but couldn`t go into that because it was under investigation by the Southern District of New York. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Gene, "The New York Times" is out tonight with more on these checks that have been -- that were written by Donald Trump to pay reimburse Michael Cohen according to Michael Cohen, and it`s a fascinating collection now of these checks because they change accounts.  We see in "The Times" reporting what we already knew that there were checks written by Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr.  But we saw that one in the hearing written in August signed by Donald Trump. 

Now we`re seeing that starting in may according to the checks reproduced in the "New York Times" tonight, all of the checks came from Donald Trump`s what appears to be his personal checking account.  There is no indication of any business on that particular check and signed by Donald Trump starting in May the rest of the checks that are revealed by "The New York Times" tonight are from that Donald J. Trump account signed by Donald Trump going right through November into December.

And, Gene, for some reason, they changed accounts where that money was coming from, switched it out of a Trump business account and moved it into what appears to be a Donald Trump personal account.  And that may be because Alan Weisselberg started to get very nervous about what this was.

ROBINSON:  It could be.  Maybe that`s the reason because just stepping back from it, you would -- it looks as if they just abandoned the cover story, right?  If it was coming out of the trust account that that was consistent at least with the false cover story that this was some sort of retainer agreement.

If it`s going to be just Donald Trump writing a personal check to Michael Cohen, it can`t be business attorney relationship retainer.  It is just Trump reimbursing him for the money that he shelled out for Stormy Daniels.

I mean it`s -- so the only thing that makes sense since it`s unlikely I think that Donald Trump Jr. would get nervous and would say wait a minute, perhaps it is Weisselberg said hold on a minute, this isn`t right.  We`ll just have to see.  I suspect the Southern District of New York has an opinion on this.

O`DONNELL:  Congressman, we didn`t hear any questions about that in the hearing about why they switched accounts but now that we`ve seen so many more of these checks as of tonight with "The New York Times" reporting, is that something you expect follow-up on in the committee and do you expect to hear in the committee from Alan Weisselberg about why the accounts changed in making these payments?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Quite possibly, yes.  I think that following the hearing, Chairman Cummings was asked who are the next witnesses that he would want to see before the committee.  And he just simply said follow the transcript.

As you know, Mr. Weisselberg appeared in the transcript multiple times.  Can I just point out one thing?  And perhaps you alluded to this earlier.  But not once, not once did the Republicans question the veracity of those checks.

They didn`t question the signature on those checks or the fact that it came from Donald Trump`s bank account and some of the checks and from other bank accounts and the others.  And in fact, they didn`t impugn or attack the credibility of any of those checks.  And so in my humble opinion, that was a tacit admission of that evidence.

O`DONNELL:  And Eugene, the only mumblings that we`ve heard from any Republican about the check is actually Lindsey Graham offering his own opinion that it`s unusual to pay for crimes with checks.  That`s the best the Republicans have come up with.

ROBINSON:  It is unusual.  It`s kind of lame.  And it`s really dumb.  But that -- none of those adjectives rules out this, having been a check used to pay for a crime.

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to have to take a break there.  Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Eugene Robinson, thank you both very much for joining our discussion tonight.

And when we come back, new reports that President Trump also pressured White House staff to authorize a security clearance for Ivanka Trump.  He was resisted in that according to the new reports and he just ordered the security clearance himself.

Former director to the CIA John Brennan will be our next guest.  And at the end of the hour, more on Lindsey Graham, more about how Lindsey Graham humiliates Lindsey Graham including what he had to say today.


O`DONNELL:  Today, the White House refused to hand over any documents to Congress about how Donald Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner received his security clearance after "The New York Times" reported this week that Donald Trump ordered a top secret clearance for Jared Kushner despite objections from intelligence officials and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Tonight`s "CNN" is reporting that the president`s daughter, Ivanka, was also denied a security clearance through the normal process.  According to that report, Trump pushed Kelly and McGahn to make the decision on his daughter and son-in-law`s clearances so it did not appear as if he was tainting the process to favor his family.

Sources told "CNN" after both refused, Trump granted them their security clearances.  Here is what Ivanka Trump said last month about her security clearance and her husband Jared Kushner`s security clearance.


IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP`S DAUGHTER:  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:  After this break, we`re going to hear from someone who knows more about security clearances than anyone we could possibly be discussing this with tonight.  Former CIA Director John Brennan will join us next.


O`DONNELL:  In a letter to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings tonight refusing to turn over any documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump`s security clearances, the White House counsel wrote, "The Committee has failed to point to any authority establishing a legitimate legislative purpose for the Committee`s unprecedented and extraordinary intrusive demands, including the demand to examine the entire investigative files of numerous individuals whom the president has chosen as his senior advisors.  As I have explained in multiple previous letters, it is clearly established as a matter of law that the decision to grant or deny a security clearance is a discretionary function that belongs exclusively to the Executive Branch."

Joining us now, John Brennan, former CIA director.  He is now a senior national security and intelligence analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.

What is at stake in this security clearance controversy between the House and the White House?

JOHN BRENNAN, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, MSNBC AND NBC NEWS:  Well, I think the integrity of the system of the security clearance process is at stake.  If the reports are true, it sounds that Donald Trump overruled the determination that was made by the intelligence community that neither Ivanka Trump nor Jared Kushner should receive a security clearance.

It`s unheard of a president of the United States would intervene in that process.

O`DONNELL:  Can I just interrupt?  When you say unheard of, in your decades of government service, you`re saying you personally have never heard of a president doing this?

BRENNAN:  I`ve never heard of a president talking about the security clearance of an individual, much less overruling the determination that was made.  So this is something that is unprecedented.

And the fact that he did that, Donald Trump, I think the Congress has legitimate concerns about how he is, in fact, exercising a legal authority but doing it in a manner that really undermines again the integrity and the purpose of security clearances.

O`DONNELL:  What are the reasons that security clearances for someone like Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump would be held up?  What would be the kind of objections that would be raised?

BRENNAN:  It could be any number of things.  And I don`t know the facts here.  But there could be some unresolved issues about foreign entanglements, specifically financial entanglements.  Or episodes where an individual is not deemed to be trustworthy with information or relationships, foreign relationships that were not revealed in the security clearance process in terms of interviews.

It`s not surprising given the nature of their financial and business relationships that are ongoing, in fact, that they were denied.  Quite frankly, I don`t believe that Donald Trump would have, except for getting more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, would have been approved for a security clearance given those foreign entanglements and cavalier treatment of classified information.

O`DONNELL:  So what are the kinds of things that hold up a security clearance at this level?  How nit-picky is it?  Can it be something like, you know, we think he didn`t tell us the exact truth about the last time he smoked marijuana in college or is it -- does it have to rise to a certain level to be a problem?

BRENNAN:  I think especially for somebody who is going to be in the White House as -- at the level of assistance to the president, you want to make sure that you do everything possible to try to resolve any outstanding issues.  But something like that, you know, in terms of not acknowledging smoking marijuana or something, it`s not going to hold up that clearance.

It would have to be something substantial and something that the CIA, the investigators really were concerned about because it could potentially compromise an individual.  Either because a foreign person or entity might try to use that relationship inappropriately or that the person who is being granted the security clearance or being in consideration might, in fact, be mindful of those personal interests that they might pursue contrary to U.S. National Security.

So the investigators take their jobs very very seriously.  I have worked closely with them over the years and they will do everything possible to get to the bottom of an issue.  And if they deny it, if they outright deny it as opposed to continuing to try to resolve the issue, there must be something substantial and significant.

O`DONNELL:  Based on what you`ve seen of Michael Cohen`s public testimony, knowing that he`s going into the House Intelligence Committee again tomorrow for yet another closed-door session, did you -- in listening to Michael Cohen`s public testimony, did you hear of things that you would want to be explored in the private hearings with the Intelligence Committee?

BRENNAN:  Well, absolutely.  As the congressman just said, in the private meetings without the glare of the cameras, there is much more substantive discussion and there`s not the theatrics that takes place in the open hearings.  And so there were a lot of very tantalizing tidbits of discussion that came up in the open hearing.

O`DONNELL:  What tantalized the former CIA director the most?

BRENNAN:  Well, I think the private things that couldn`t be discussed even in the closed hearing, which is that these are matters under investigation by the Southern District of New York.  Clearly, there are other investigative threads being pulled out of concern that there was criminal activity taking place.

And so I`d want to hear more from Michael Cohen about some of his personal interactions with Donald Trump during the campaign and even subsequent to the election and find out exactly what was the nature of those discussions. But again, I think the special counsel`s team has counseled Michael Cohen not to get involved in issues that are still very much a matter of criminal investigation.

O`DONNELL:  Are you one of those willing to, at this stage of the game, venture a guess about where Robert Mueller is in his process and how close he is to filing a report? And beyond that, what you would expect from such a report?

BRENNAN:  Well, I think Robert Mueller wants to be able to conclude his work and turn over the investigative threads to the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and other jurisdictions as appropriate as we`re coming up to two years.  So I think he does want to conclude that.

I wouldn`t be surprised if, for example, this week on Friday, not knowing anything about it, but Friday is the day that the grand jury indictments come down.  And also this Friday is better than next Friday because next Friday is the 15th of March which is the Ides of March.

And I don`t think Robert Mueller will want to have that dramatic flair of the Ides of March when he is going to be delivering what I think are going to be his indictments, the final indictments, as well as the report that he gives the attorney general.

O`DONNELL:  What makes you believe that he has more indictments?

BRENNAN:  Because he hasn`t addressed the issues related to criminal conspiracy, as well as any individual --

O`DONNELL:  Criminal conspiracy involving the Russian --

BRENNAN:  The Russians, yes.  I think it was very --

O`DONNELL:  And that`s an area --

BRENNAN:  -- person -- U. S. personnel`s.

O`DONNELL:  That is an area you know something about.  That investigation was developing while you were still on the job.

BRENNAN:  Well, it was in terms of looking at what was going on with the Russians and whether or not U.S persons were actively collaborating, colluding, cooperating, and involved in a conspiracy with them or not but also if there is going to be any member of --

O`DONNELL:  Did you see enough at that stage to believe that there would now -- that that would result in indictments once investigated?

BRENNAN:  I thought at the time that there was going to be individuals who were going to have issues with the Department of Justice.  Yes.  And I think we`ve already seen a number of individuals who have been indicted.  They either have pled guilty or have been convicted now.

So again, I don`t have any inside knowledge.  And I`m not talking with anybody in special counsel`s --

O`DONNELL:  Yes, you do.  You have the inside knowledge of what began --

BRENNAN:  But not (CROSSTALK) of the investigation right now.  But I do think also if anybody from the Trump family, extended family, is going to be indicted, it would be in the final act of Mueller`s investigation.

Because Bob Mueller, and I think his team knows, that if he were to do something, indicting a Trump family member, or if he were to go forward with indictment on criminal conspiracy involving U.S. persons, that would basically be the death now of the special counsel`s office because I don`t believe that Donald Trump would allow Bob Mueller to continue in the aftermath of those types of actions.

O`DONNELL:  John Brennan, thank you very much.  You have to listen to every word in the John Brennan answer.  Thank you very much for joining us, sir.  I really appreciate it.

And coming up, the humiliation of Lindsey Graham by Lindsey Graham continues.


O`DONNELL:  Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tried to warn voters about what he called the world`s biggest jackass.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  Just stop being a jackass.  You don`t have to run for president and be the world`s biggest jackass.


O`DONNELL:  That was 2015.  And he was talking, of course, about Donald Trump.  Lindsey Graham is a changed man.  He now worships at the altar of Donald Trump more fervently than most Republican senators.  And to do that, Lindsey Graham had to change in more ways than one and publicly humiliate himself which he has done repeatedly for Donald Trump.

After this break, we will show you Lindsey Graham`s latest humiliation of Lindsey Graham.


O`DONNELL:  Remember when Lindsey Graham couldn`t stop saying jackass?  It was when Donald Trump was running for president.


GRAHAM:  You know, run for president but don`t be the world`s biggest jackass.

What`s the reaction you`re getting to calling him jackass now repeatedly?

GRAHAM:  A lot of people are offended.  The jackasses are offended.  So all I can say is that I`ve had it.  I`ve had it.  I`ve had it.


O`DONNELL:  Lindsey Graham was telling the truth about the jackass thing, but he wasn`t telling the truth when he said I`ve had it.  In fact, Lindsey Graham was ready to take a lot more from the jackass that turns out the jackass phase was just something Lindsey Graham had to go through on his way to worshipping Donald Trump and humiliating himself in the process because before Lindsey Graham became a Trump worshiper, he said things like this.


GRAHAM:  He`s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.  He doesn`t represent my party.  He doesn`t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.

He`s an opportunist.  He`s not yet to be the president of the United States.  I don`t think he has the temperament of judgment to be commander- of-chief.

I think he`s a kook.  I think he`s crazy.  I think he`s unfit for office.


O`DONNELL:  And here`s what Lindsey Graham had to say about Donald Trump tonight.


GRAHAM:  I`m all in.  To the extent that I can help this president, I will.


O`DONNELL:  So Lindsey Graham effortly goes from "I`ve had it with Donald Trump" to "I`m all in with Donald Trump."  Lindsey Graham goes from he`s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot, not fit to be president of the United States.  I think he`s a kook.  I think he`s crazy" to "I`m all in."

So who is the world`s biggest jackass now?  Today, Lindsey Graham met with the president who he said is crazy and not fit to be the president of the United States.  And according to Lindsey Graham, he gave the president some advice about how to handle the now multiple investigations into the president`s activities.

A "Bloomberg" report says Graham said he told Trump to "listen to his lawyers, fight back appropriately, but just keep your head down and keep doing your job.  Challenge them to fix problems.  President Clinton was a pretty good model.  Clinton kept his focus on being the president."

So now, Clinton was a pretty good model when he was under investigation.  It turns out if you`re patient, Lindsey Graham will refute just about everything Lindsey Graham has ever said.  As a member of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, Lindsey Graham served as one of the prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

This is what he said the standard should be for removing a president from office.


GRAHAM:  So the point I`m trying to make is you don`t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this Constitutional Republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Thank God you did that, because impeachment is not about punishment.  Impeachment is about cleansing the office.  Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.


O`DONNELL:  Unfortunately for Lindsey Graham, there is no Senate process for restoring the honor and integrity of Lindsey Graham.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian William starts now.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END