Former Fox News Executive suddenly resigns. TRANSCRIPT: 3/8/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Rick Wilson, Heidi Heitkamp, Malcolm Nance, Nancy Gerner

JOY REID, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back on Monday, and I`ll see you tomorrow morning on my show "A.M. Joy." Now it`s time for "The Last Word" with the great Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence tonight. Hey, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC:  Hello, friend. You know, here`s the interesting thing about that story you just told.

REID:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  There are really valid reasons for lots of people to not like big media mergers.

REID:  Yup.

VELSHI:  There are really valid reasons.

REID:  Totally.

VELSHI:  The one that Donald Trump picked is the wrong one.

REID:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  Not liking how they cover you. You know, right cause, wrong reason, once again.

REID:  Yeah, absolutely. Can I just say, Ali, just to give you a quick compliment, I was watching your show as I do every day earlier today. You had on a woman who the two of you had a conversation about the unemployment numbers that was so detailed and broken down and the fact that, you know, why you have that big bulge in unemployment numbers --

VELSHI:  Yeah.

REID:  -- or employment numbers in January, it was so smart.

VELSHI:  Thank you.

REID:  I literally was like writing down the name of that guest to steal her for my show.

VELSHI:  Diane Swonk -- Diane Swonk from Grant Thornton. I have been talking to her for 15 years. As I told her today, every time I talk to her, I get a little bit smarter.

REID:  I got a little smarter today as I always do watching you, Ali Velshi. Have a wonderful show tonight.

VELSHI:  Thanks, Joy.

REID:  Thank you.

VELSHI:  And I`m Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence O`Donnell. Tonight, let`s begin with a little game. Imagine the 2020 election is right around the corner. How does Trump world spin the last 24 hours into a winning message? You have a resignation, a prison sentence, a weak jobs report. Are those things even spinnable?

That`s what the Trump 2020 campaign is facing at the moment and no event may be roiling the White House more tonight than the exit of another senior staffer. President Trump just lost his fifth communications director in two years.

Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive turned senior White House official, is resigning after just eight months. Believe it or not, eight months is the longest anyone has held that position under this president. The White House says that Shine is moving to a role with Trump`s re- election effort.

Details on that are sparse. He did say he wants to spend more time with his family, which is always ominous. Many saw Bill Shine`s hiring as the foxification of the West Wing, including one of our first guests tonight, Vanity Fair`s Gabe Sherman.

Gabe Sherman reports tonight that Shine has been on the outs with Trump for months. "As Roger Ailes` right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox`s P.R. department. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward`s book "Fear."

"Trump started complaining to people that there was no advanced prep on Woodward`s book," a republican close to the White House said. "Trump let Shine know he wasn`t happy."

According to Gabe Sherman, one theory of Bill Shine`s exit is that "Trump pushed Shine out now because House Democrats are looking to investigate the White House`s ties to Fox."

Tensions were likely especially high this week after The New Yorker`s Jane Mayer rocked the White House with her deeply reported piece on the close ties between the Fox -- between Fox News and the White House.

Mayer wrote that as a Fox News executive, several lawsuits named Bill Shine as complicit in a workplace culture of coverups, payoffs, and victim intimidation. And Politico is reporting tonight that Trump had complained to allies about Shine being tangled up in those lawsuits.

Past Trump staffers are also coming back to haunt the president. His former campaign chairman is a convicted felon, and today the president actually says he feels bad for Paul Manafort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it`s been a very, very tough time for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  The president of the United States says he feels bad for a man who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud. Undeterred by the facts, the president also grossly distorted the words of the judge who sentenced Paul Manafort. In an effort to claim vindication on collusion, the president made this demonstrably false statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The judge, I mean, for whatever reason, I was very honored by it, also made the statement that this had nothing to do with collusion with Russia. So, you know, keep it going. Let`s go. Keep the hoax going. Just a hoax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  OK. To be entirely clear, that`s just not what happened. Paul Manafort was sentenced for charges unrelated to possible Russian collusion. Judge T.S. Ellis said Manafort "is not before the court for any allegation that he or anybody at his direction colluded with the Russian government."

And more bad news for the president came in the February jobs report today. The economy gained just 20,000 jobs in February, falling far short of analysts` expectations. It was the smallest gain in well over a year. Expectations were for 180,000 new jobs. And that is what the president has to talk about as his re-election campaign gets under way. That is what he is selling to the American people today.

Now, take all of that and contrast it with today`s message on the Democratic side, as House Democrats passed sweeping anti-corruption and voting rights legislation, the vote for HR1, 234-193 on party lines, makes good on Democrats` campaign pledge to clean up Washington, a pledge that helped catapult them into the majority.

That bill includes a requirement for presidential candidates to release their tax returns, an especially sore subject for Donald Trump as Democratic congressional investigative committees are moving to get his personal and business tax returns.

Now, Mitch McConnell has vowed that he won`t even bring HR1 to the floor of the Senate for a vote, but Democrats were under no illusions that this bill would get a welcome reception from Senate Republicans or President Trump. They hope, however, that the message they`re sending, that money and corruption in politics should be eradicated, will win the day over the kind of message Donald Trump and his allies are presenting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:  This is a fight we are engaged in, we are not going to end it until we win, and we can save a lot of time by the Senate just agreeing to the For The People agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  All right. Joining us now: Rick Wilson, Republican strategist and contributor to the Daily Beast, author of the book "Everything Trump Touches Dies"; Gabe Sherman, the aforementioned special correspondent for Vanity Fair and an MSNBC contributor, out with a new piece tonight, "Why Roger Ailes`s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing"; and MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley. She served as chief legal adviser to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Welcome to all of you. Thank you for being with us. Gabe, you`ve been particularly busy because you and I talked earlier today --

GABRIEL SHERMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  -- When this news first broke. You`ve done a lot of research since then.

SHERMAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  The question when somebody leaves the White House and joins the campaign is that is that a good thing, is it a bad thing, is it good for them, what is this about?

SHERMAN:  Well, clearly this is not a good move for Bill Shine. You don`t leave the communications director job in the White House, the highest profile perch in communications in American politics, to go become a "senior adviser" to the Trump campaign. This is clearly a soft landing for him.

As I reported today in Vanity Fair, this was a relationship that really hit the skids over the last several months. Donald Trump was not happy with his Communications Department. He brought in Bill Shine to plug the leaks and improve his message and his image. Clearly none of that had happened.

Now, in Shine`s defense, you got to look in, you know -- look in the mirror and the proverbial Twitter feed. It`s Trump who is doing a lot of the damage but he blamed Shine for those problems. He even would tell privately to friends the nickname that he gave him was "Bill no shine."

VELSHI:  Oh, my God. Rick -- I love that. Rick, Jane Mayer`s piece in The New Yorker --

Sure.

VELSHI:  About Trump`s anger with Bill Shine in which she writes, "A source close to Trump says the president has been complaining that Shine hasn`t been aggressive enough. Late last year, Trump told the source, Shine promised me my press coverage would get better, but it`s gotten worse." The source says, "Trump thought he was getting Roger Ailes but instead he got Roger Ailes`s gofer."

Rick, can anybody be the director of communications for Donald Trump?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, CONTRIBUTOR FOR THE DAILY BEAST:  Ali, of course not. And Gabe, you know, has great sourcing on these stories about how the differential between what Trump expected and what Shine could deliver was vast.

You know, look, he didn`t need Bill Shine as an interlocutor between himself and Sean Hannity. He gets phone calls from Sean Hannity all the time. Trump is his own program director, his own communications director. He comes up with this stuff on the fly. No exquisitely laid out plan will survive contact with Donald Trump`s Twitter feed. And so the entire thing is always contingent on what Trump is going to do at any given moment, what impulses take him.

And so Shine was doom from the beginning. You know, in the future, all of us would be White House communications director for 15 minutes because this thing is just going to go on and on and on. No one can survive in this job. It is impossible. It is completely, you know, completely fruitless position to hold.

VELSHI:  It is riding the proverbial bull. Maya, let`s talk about the pardon, now 24 hours -- not the pardon, I`m sorry, the sentence for Paul Manafort, now 24 hours old. The president was asked about pardoning Manafort earlier today. Here`s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over):  Are you ruling out a pardon for Manafort?

TRUMP:  I don`t even discuss it. The only one discussing it is you. I haven`t discussed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  The irony, of course, of that, Maya, is that the president tweeted this morning that he had discussed a pardon with Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen had asked him specifically about this. Where do you -- where do you stand on what Paul Manafort is thinking with respect to a pardon as we head into a week in which he is going to be sentenced again for his crimes that he`s being tried for in a D.C. court?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY:  Well, I think two things. One, Donald Trump has been very explicit about calling manafort a stand-up guy because he didn`t "flip" on the president.

So, one, the president has made very explicitly clear that he will be very supportive, at least in the court of public opinion, with those from his inner circle who get his back, notwithstanding what law enforcement wants or needs. Secondly, Paul Manafort, you know, frankly, got off light with this sentence. Let`s be clear.

VELSHI:  Sure.

WILEY:  But he is facing Judge Jackson in the District of Columbia, so he`s got another sentencing round. But remember that even if Donald Trump were to pardon him, he`d have two issues. The one would be the question of why is the president pardoning him? Is the president pardoning him because he is looking for some additional help and support in ongoing investigations?

The second question is why would Paul Manafort think he`s off the hook? Because the reality is that given his -- the crimes he`s been committed of -- convicted of, there are the potential for bank fraud claims, tax evasion claims from state attorneys general, and the president cannot pardon him from those crimes.

VELSHI:  Rick Wilson, let`s go back to the first question, the idea of how do -- does the president spin this. Tom Steyer, I`m going to be talking about this later in the hour. Tom Steyer has released a couple of ads saying that when history is written, it will judge how, you know, there will be two buckets of politicians, those who decided to do the right thing and those who stuck with Donald Trump.

What has to happen for this not to hurt Republicans even more than it already is, given these things swirling around the president?

WILSON:  Sure. Ali, I always told Republicans, I want you to remember two numbers, 49 and 8. That`s 1974 where Richard Nixon`s numbers were in the 50s --

VELSHI:  Right.

WILSON:  -- right up until they weren`t. At the end of 1974, 49 Republicans lost their House seats and eight Republicans lost their Senate races. So, this can recapitulate itself very easily.

And what they will never understand is that the fear of Donald Trump`s mean tweets, the fear of what Donald Trump`s crazed followers will do when he tweets about senator so and so or congressman such and such is vastly outweighed by the fact that when Americans realize the depth of the corruption in this man, when they realize the depth of the behavior that he`s engaged in across all these different domains, and if it gets to that sort of fight, they will pay a political price.

They already paid a price in 2018 for it, and 2020 is shaping up to be an equally terrible year for them across the same number of areas where they are associated with a man who is not trusted by Americans, who Americans believe is a liar, who in majority or plurality -- excuse me, Americans believe he is a criminal. This is not a good look on any political party and the people who mindlessly support him are going to be dragged down with him.

VELSHI:  Gabe, the great reporting by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker compliments some great reporting you`ve done over the years, including a great book about Fox and its relationship --

SHERMAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  The role that it has played. It`s not surprising. There is a great depth and great sourcing in the reporting. But the overarching idea that Donald Trump is tied in with Fox Mews these days --

SHERMAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  Why is that worrying Donald Trump, that that`s getting out there?

SHERMAN:  Well, this is not clearly just a matter of optics at this point. This is possibly a serious political problem for Donald Trump because now that the House Democrats are emboldened to investigate these relationships and the idea that perhaps, as Jane Mayer reported, that Donald Trump ordered the Justice Department to do a business favor for Rupert Murdoch by blocking the AT&T-Time Warner merger, a business rival of the Murdoch media empire, that is something they will dig into.

Also, we should point out that there was a southern district investigation of Fox News of how Roger Ailes possibly used company money to cover up the sexual harassment claims. After Donald Trump fired Preet Bharara, the then federal prosecutor, that investigation slowly went away.

House Democrats judiciary committee could presumably do an investigation to find out what happened. Why did the SDNY drop its investigation of Fox News?

VELSHI:  So it`s not that President Trump is worried about the perception that he`s tied in to Fox News --

SHERMAN:  No.

VELSHI:  It`s really --

SHERMAN:  There are serious corruption issues that they could investigate, of course.

VELSHI:  Maya, the Democrats passed HR1 today. It`s a very comprehensive bill. It would make a particular day the voting day. It would make it a federal holiday so that people could vote. It would deal with registration issues. It would deal with gerrymandering issues. It will deal with tax returns. It was a good symbolic move to pass it in the House. It`s not going to get through the Senate. Is that going to hurt Republicans if it doesn`t?

WILEY:  It certainly will in certain parts of the country. I mean, remember that we`re talking about the question that is fundamental to our democracy, which is whether our citizens can vote. You know, we`re one of the few powers in the world that doesn`t have -- that has -- that has a pretty low participation rate in elections and doesn`t have a federal holiday for our national elections.

You know, the other thing is since 2010, what we`ve seen is largely on the part of the Republican Party, significant efforts to make it much more difficult for those who are lawfully allowed to vote, to make it much more difficult for them to vote.

And that`s not good for our democracy, but it`s also not good for the Republican Party, given that a lot of those folks are people of color, are the growing percentage of citizens in this country and are not going to be very happy with a party that has essentially said we`d rather win by preventing you from voting than by getting and winning your vote.

VELSHI:  So, Rick, I mean, I`ve spoken to African-American republicans who say this is their -- probably their biggest frustration with the party right now.

WILSON:  Sure.

VELSHI:  That there is just no way to be on the wrong side of efforts that should be made to get more people out to vote, to stop gerrymandering, to make it easier for people to vote. How do Republicans get on the right side of this issue?

WILSON:  Well, the answer is, Ali, they won`t. For the most part, you know, the do-gooder is in parts of this. The national holiday, they encourage people to vote, the transparency factor of getting the tax returns, et cetera. I think everyone pretty much agrees with those across the board.

The redistricting problem is going to be the biggest nut to crack. And the honest answer is there are an awful lot of Democrats who rely on redistricting processes that would make states like California less Democratic than they are right now.

I`m not sure you`re going to see that actually get through even with Democrat, you know, even Democratic guys in the Senate are going to look at the redistricting equation and say, nonpartisan redistricting, you know, advantages them in a number of states. That`s always a very tricky, you know, and sticky problem for folks.

You know, if you ended up with pure redistricting that wasn`t partisan in any way, you would have fewer African-American members of Congress. You would have fewer hard progressives and fewer hard Republicans, and you would have a much different-looking body there. And so right now, there`s been a lot of political cross pressure on that. So, you know, redistricting is the stickiest part of that. I think the transparency part is all good and meritorious, though.

VELSHI:  Gabe, I want to ask you going back to the White House and the director of communications.

SHERMAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  Eight months is the longest anybody`s been in this job.

SHERMAN:  Yeah, he didn`t pull a mooch (ph). It wasn`t just, you know --

VELSHI:  Eleven days or something, right?

SHERMAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  What`s the problem? This can`t be the worst job in America. Stephanie Ruhle always says that it`s easier to get somebody to clean the toilets in Times Square on New Year`s Eve than it is to get somebody to do the communications job in the White House.

SHERMAN:  Well, I think the reality is, as Rick was pointing out earlier, I think the best course of action going forward for Trump would just not to fill that job.

VELSHI:  Right.

SHERMAN:  There really doesn`t a need to be that job. What there needs to be is someone to just do the nuts and bolts of, you know, planning the press conferences, getting the cameras in the right places.

VELSHI:  Yeah.

SHERMAN:  But the idea that you need a senior strategist mapping out communications is just irrelevant when the president himself --

VELSHI:  Because he doesn`t want to listen to anybody. It`s the chief of staff problem.

SHERMAN:  Exactly.

VELSHI:  It`s the same issue.

WILSON:  It`s all impulsive.

WILEY:  Well, you can, you know --

WILSON:  It`s all impulsive.

VELSHI:  Right. Go ahead, Maya.

WILEY:  Well, I will just say, you know, frankly, he needs someone to help him stop putting himself in legal peril because he can`t control his mouth. The other thing I would say is, you know, the problem with the job is you can make lemonade out of lemons, but if the lemons are rotten, then it doesn`t matter what you do. So, the problem for Donald Trump is, it`s all of his positions because he also wants to be his own chief of staff.

VELSHI:  Right.

WILEY:  You know, fundamentally, he wants to be his own everything and that`s why he`s in legal trouble.

VELSHI:  Thank you to the three of you for kicking us off on a Friday night, Maya Wiley, Gabe Sherman and Rick Wilson.

Coming up, two of the president`s most loyal supporters in Congress are facing new ads -- we were just telling you about that -- that are telling voters in their district that they are choosing the president above congressional responsibility.

Former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is here, and more controversy for Jared Kushner involving another foreign government, reports that Jared Kushner shut the U.S. State Department out of his secretive visit with Saudi Arabia`s crown prince.

And in tonight`s "Last Word," what does America`s mass incarceration problem have to do with Paul Manafort`s sentence?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  There is a new effort underway to bring accountability to some of Donald Trump`s most fervent supporters in Congress. Here is the new ad running this week in two key Republican districts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  When the history of the Trump presidency is written, members of Congress will be sorted into two categories, the ones who let politics scare them out of holding Trump accountable and those who had the courage to stand up and defend our democracy. Republicans in Congress should support impeachment hearings to uncover the truth. But first, they have a choice to make, which side of history do they want to be on?

"Need to Impeach" is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI:  All right. Billionaire Tom Steyer is spending $75,000 to run that ad in districts represented by Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan and North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows. Politico reports that Steyer`s pack, "Need to Impeach," decided to target Jordan and Meadows after their comments at the Michael Cohen hearing.

The effort apparently got the attention of the president who tweeted, "Weirdo Tom Steyer doesn`t have the guts or money to run for president. He`s all talk." Tom Steyer responded with this tweet. "If you have the guts to meet with Mr. Mueller, I will stop running TV ads calling for your impeachment. I don`t think you have the guts to come out from behind your lawyers."

The latest effort raises important questions of how to hold Republicans in Congress accountable for ignoring the accusations of criminality against the president, while Americans demand more investigation. A Quinnipiac poll this week showed 58 percent of voters say Congress should do more to investigate Michael Cohen`s claims about President Trump`s behavior, while just 35 percent say it should not. That 35 percent roughly correlates to Donald Trump`s base of support.

We`re joined now by a former Democratic senator who represented a state where most voters supported Donald Trump for president. Heidi Heitkamp is a former Democratic senator from North Dakota and is now a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics. She was also the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from North Dakota. Senator, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

HEIDI HEITKAMP, FORMER NORTH DAKOTA SENATOR:  Thanks so much for having me on.

VELSHI:  Tom Steyer`s ad is designed, it seems, to target Republicans. It holds up John McCain as the example of somebody who stood up for Congress and for Americans versus those who seemed to, and certainly at the Michael Cohen hearing, seemed to only be defending the president. You come from a state with a lot of Republicans. Does that ad -- is that ad going to appeal to people?

HEITKAMP:  No, in fact, I think the ad will do exactly the opposite. It`s being run in a district that is heavily supportive of Donald Trump. In my race, if that`s any example, I made the argument that North Dakota didn`t want somebody who was 100 percent with the president. They elected somebody who was 100 percent with the president, and I think that that will further embolden two people in pretty safe congressional districts to continue to support the president.

I don`t think the audience is the congressional district. I think the audience is television. I think the audience is the president. And certainly at a $75,000 buy, it`s not going to change any minds.

This is designed to basically have people talk about the complicity that is in the Republican Party on many, many important issues, not just corruption, but when you talk about trade, when you talk about this horrible tax bill, when you talk about fighting to repeal Obamacare in the courts, you know, those are the things that we also need to be talking about that we`re not, Ali.

VELSHI:  So what`s the -- do you -- do you agree with the premise then of the ad, that history will judge senators and members of Congress as being in buckets that either did what they were supposed to do or sided with the president or is the debate more nuanced than that?

HEITKAMP:  I think that people are waiting, and until we know what the results are of these investigations, I think it -- to move too fast towards a process that is reserved for the most serious abuses is premature, but that`s my opinion. And certainly Mr. Steyer is entitled to his opinion and he`s entitled to spend his money under the First Amendment however he wants to spend it.

But my concern in all of this is that we`re not talking about health care the way we need to talk about health care. We`re not talking about trade. You talk a lot about trade because your basis is in economics.

VELSHI:  Right.

HEITKAMP:  You know and I know that this trade war is having a devastating effect --

VELSHI:  Correct.

HEITKAMP:  -- on workers and on farmers. We`re not talking about other things that the Republicans are complicit on that they should not be and they know better, like 232 tariffs. That`s ridiculous --

VELSHI:  Right.

HEITKAMP:  -- to impose them on Canada.

VELSHI:  That`s a national security issue, imposing tariffs because there is some threat to national security. From North Dakota, you know that most Americans in border states don`t think of Canada as a national security problem.

HEITKAMP:  Well, I would hope not. They`re our greatest and best ally, but yet the Congress allows the president to have that power instead of taking it back. They basically have not had any oversight on this horrible tax bill, which has not achieved any result.

We saw only 20,000 new jobs created. Now that could be an anomaly. I don`t know. But certainly if that`s a trend, we`re headed in the wrong direction economically. We should be talking about those issues because that`s where Congress and Republicans in Congress are really failing as well.

VELSHI:  Did you see some hope in the fact that there is some pushback against the president`s emergency declaration amongst Republicans in the senate?

HEITKAMP:  Yeah, I think they`re terrified of the president -- precedent that it`s going to set and they know that for all of the (INAUDIBLE) that they had during the Obama years ago usurping congressional authority, there is no greater step than what`s been taken with this emergency declaration.

They`re hoping the courts bail them out and they`re hoping that they won`t be held accountable, but I think of all the things that are happening right now, this is the piece that has the worst result in terms of history and history looking back and judging that all-important balance of power.

VELSHI:  Senator, I want to just ask you before we say good night. You were in an election that was affected by people`s rights to vote. What do you think of the voting provisions in the -- in HR1, the bill that passed the House that hasn`t gotten to the Senate?

HEITKAMP:  I think it`s terrific and I think these are exactly the issues we should be talking about. We have to get a higher rate of participation in our democracy if we`re actually going to preserve the democracy.  I applaud the House for taking the step.  The Republicans, bring it to a vote, put it on the floor. 

If you`ve got a legitimate argument in the Senate against it, Mr. McConnell, then make that argument, let people vote and let the public see that there is actually a meaningful debate on important issues going on in Washington, D.C. 

VELSHI:  When asked about that by a reporter today, Mitch McConnell -- when asked why it won`t go to a vote, he said, because I get to decide what we vote on. 

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, good to see you.  Thank you. 

HEITKAMP:  Thank you so much. 

VELSHI:  All right.  Coming up, criticism of Jared Kushner`s questionable security clearance is going to get more intense after reports that Kushner shut U.S. government officials out of his secretive meeting with Saudi Arabia`s crown prince. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  It`s been one week since we first learned that President Trump went against the wishes of his own intelligence community to grant his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner security clearances. 

Since those reports first surfaced, the House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings has accused the White House of refusing to cooperate with their investigation of the matter, but today Axios reported that a source within the White House leaked, quote, "documents" related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump`s security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide.  In other words, White House staff have actually gone behind the president`s back in order to help Congress with its investigation. 

Just as that news broke today, we also learned that a group of four Democratic senators have just sent a letter to the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, as well as the intelligence community`s inspector general, requesting that intelligence officials open their own investigation into whether or not the White House is complying with security clearance policies. 

Now this comes just after the "Daily Beast" reported that Kushner shut U.S. embassy officials out of his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week.  Mohammed bin Salman or MBS, as he`s sometimes referred to, is believed by U.S. intelligence to have ordered the killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

But MBS enjoys a close relationship with Kushner.  That relationship, according to the "Daily Beast," has frustrated members of Congress from both parties who are actively trying to learn more about the conversations taking place between the two of them. 

In a hearing to confirm Trump`s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Republican Senator Marco Rubio had this to say about the Saudi crown prince. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA:  He is reckless.  He`s ruthless.  He has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational in his foreign policy approach, and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with, with the United States.  He`s gone full gangster.  And it`s difficult to work with a guy like that no matter how important the relationship is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  What does it mean for someone with access to top-level security information to be meeting with a world leader who`s gone full gangster? 

I`ll ask MSNBC counterterrorism and intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance that question next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO:  Look at what he`s done in the last two years.  It seems like something out of a James Bond movie.  He`s kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon.  Kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon.  He kicked out the ambassador of Canada.  Cancelled flights to Toronto.  Cut off investments.  Recalled all their students in Canada over a tweet or a couple of tweets from the Canadian Foreign minister regarding human rights. 

Now all the evidence I believe strongly indicates he ordered or knew of efforts to murder Jamal Khashoggi and to do so in a third country in a diplomatic facility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  That was Republican Senator Marco Rubio offering a laundry list of malfeasances committed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but none of that, none of that has done anything to lessen the bond formed between the president`s son-in-law and the Saudi leader. 

I`m joined now by MSNBC counterterrorism and intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance. 

Malcolm, you spent 30 years in intelligence.  It seems that Jared Kushner is a guy in the property business who is often in financial trouble or needs a bailout, and he is really enjoying hanging around with rich folks in other countries, including Mohammed bin Salman, who is one of the richest of the folks. 

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST:  Yes.  And this can be problematic when we`re talking about your security clearance.  You know, I not only spent 30 years in intelligence, I spent about 25 of those years in the Middle East.  And working in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and all the rest of those countries. 

There are two classes of people over there.  There is the leadership class who are really billionaires and technically trillionaires, and they have unlimited access to all the resources of the global rich.  This is the class of person that Jared Kushner wants to be associated with, that mesmerized Donald Trump when he went on his first diplomatic trip to Saudi Arabia.  It is almost an unlimited pot of money. 

The relationships that one would have with people who have this level of money and influence can be problematic when you`re talking about the secrets of the United States.  Ivanka Trump on the other hand has licenses in China. 

VELSHI:  Right. 

NANCE:  And just recently in Japan.  So all of these relationships make the people who are doing investigations wonder, why do they really need these security clearances?  Is it to do their job or will they sell their influence? 

VELSHI:  Or is it to do business?  On February 18th, the "Washington Post" published a story in which it says officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways in which they can manipulate Jared Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. 

You know, on a constitutional side from the president`s side, this is his son-in-law, there are emoluments prohibitions because we`re not supposed to be getting money from foreign companies, but this is almost a separate issue.  Jared Kushner has his own separate financial issues from the president of the United States, and it does seem that he is out there possibly -- here`s the danger, he`s possibly promising American support or American willingness to look the other way to what the Saudis do for something else. 

NANCE:  You know, I think it was Joe Scarborough who said that the Trump foreign policy is not the foreign policy of the United States, as it has been run since the founding of the nation.  All you have to do is follow the financial relationships between his organization and Jared Kushner to see how U.S. foreign policy is executed.  And I think that`s right.  Jared Kushner had almost $1 billion of debt on the 666 Fifth Avenue project. 

VELSHI:  Right. 

NANCE:  And just within the last year, the parent company that owns Westinghouse, the nuclear reactor supplier that was supposed to be selling 50 nuclear reactors or so to the Middle East, bought that debt and immediately eliminated that. 

Another thing is, Jared Kushner had access to the very intelligence that would have warned him that he had four nations looking out to influence him.  Access to that information gives him a supreme advantage.  It also helps him hide any of those relationships. 

We`ve seen that the use of classified information is generally kept within the realm of the benefits of the United States, but what I`m afraid of is that this family in particular are trading on the secrets of the United States to enrich themselves.  The emoluments clause really means you cannot enrich yourself at the benefit of the United States.  And they seem to have a tenuous relationship with that. 

VELSHI:  Malcolm, I always love hearing from you, and I know that our viewers do.  So I just want to remind everybody that you and I will be together on Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. to talk about the Trump-Putin relationship. 

Thank you, my friend. 

NANCE:  Yes.  My pleasure. 

VELSHI:  Coming up, America`s sentencing guidelines are broken, according to a former federal judge, but that doesn`t excuse Paul Manafort`s sentence.  That is tonight`s LAST WORD. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  As Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly nears the end of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, MSNBC explores how we got here and what we know about the relationship between President Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.  In a new documentary airing this Sunday night.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  All we hear about is this phony Russia witch hunt. 

VELSHI:  The Mueller Russia report isn`t ready yet. 

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Washington is now in eager anticipation mode. 

VELSHI:  But our report is. 

(On camera):  This is really important. 

(Voice-over):  The unprecedented moments. 

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  Those were lies, and I`m so sorry that the American people were told them. 

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. 

VELSHI:  The infamous meeting. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you tell someone, "We have dirt," once you get a yes, you have hooked your fish. 

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE:  Because they lied, it makes it look more significant than it is. 

VELSHI:  And the aggressive defense. 

TRUMP:  Fake news of the Russian witch hunt. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Donald Trump has done a great job of creating an atmosphere where a third of the country is not going to believe anything that Robert Mueller says. 

VELSHI:  How did we get here? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m very concerned that Donald Trump is behaving like someone who may have been compromised or blackmailed by Russia. 

VELSHI:  And what`s next? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The House Judiciary Committee sent out letters to 81 individuals looking to these things such as Donald Trump`s other business dealings. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s very hard not to imagine the worst thing that ever happened to Donald Trump was being elected president of the United States. 

TRUMP:  Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  You can watch "RUSSIA, IF YOU ARE LISTENING: TRUMP AND PUTIN," hosted by me, Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. 

Coming up in tonight`s LAST WORD, the balance between America`s mass incarceration epidemic and leniency for people like Paul Manafort. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  Time for tonight`s LAST WORD on the big news of the week.  The shocking sentence for Paul Manafort.  The headline today in the "New York Times" is literally "Manafort`s 47 Months."  A sentence that drew gasps from around the country.

  Manafort`s 47-month sentence is drawing comparisons to sentences for crimes that are seemingly not as bad as Manafort`s decade-long multi-million dollar fraud scheme including this one from a Brooklyn public defender who said, "For context on Manafort`s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36 to 72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room." 

Now 47 months in prison is only one of two criminal sentences coming to Manafort.  He will be sentenced in a federal court in D.C. on Wednesday. 

And joining us now on what Paul Manafort could face next week and how to understand the 47 months sentence is former U.S. district judge, Nancy Gerner.  She served 17 years on the federal bench and is currently a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School. 

Nancy, welcome. 

NANCY GERNER, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE, MASSACHUSETTS:  Good to be here. 

VELSHI:  Judge Ellis, TS Ellis, said, quote, "The court must take into account the history and characteristics of a defendant.  The court must consider the entire individual not just the individual and his crime- committing activities." 

Here`s how Judge Ellis expounded on Paul Manafort`s otherwise blameless life.  His words.  This is what he said.  "The defendant has no criminal history.  He`s a graduate of a university and law school.  He`s earned the admiration of a number of people, all of whom have written the court about him.  Mr. Manafort has engaged in lots of good things.  He`s been a good father and husband, and he`s been a good friend to others and a generous person.  Of course that can`t erase his criminal activity but it is, they are factors that count the court must take into account." 

Judge Gerner, what Judge Ellis did was illustrate the life of privilege of a man who has committed a decade`s worth of serious crimes. 

GERNER:  Right.  The comment that he lived an otherwise blameless life is something that could apply to literally every single white-collar defendant that I have ever sentenced, or I would dare say across the country.  In fact one of the reasons why white-collar crimes was dealt more severely in -- you know, in the sentencing guidelines since 1985 was precisely because someone could do very bad things after a very good life. 

I mean, the best example is Ken Lay, who, you know, famously of Enron fraud who basically had buildings throughout Houston named after him.  So a blameless life, while, you know, part of what a judge should consider, is really not dispositive and doesn`t distinguish him from every other white- collar offender.  It also sets up discrimination with poor people.  If you don`t have the money to be generous then you come into court disadvantaged.  And that`s not the way it should be. 

VELSHI:  Or the money to have gone, as the judge said, to a good school and then to a law school.  It does seem the end results looks the same.  Poor people sentence for other things, get longer sentences than rich people who do things that involved moving money around. 

GERNER:  Well, that`s right.  I mean, this is -- this was a, you know, huge financial fraud, a fraud on the banks that took more time, fraud on banks, fraud on the government, taking money out of the coffers of the government.  And what the judge essentially did is to say in effect through his sentence, this was no big deal.  Somehow it would be a bigger deal if Manafort had distributed crack in quantities which of course makes no sense whatsoever. 

VELSHI:  Who fixes that? 

GERNER:  Well, to some degree, it has to be -- the sentencing commission has to fix it to some degree.  Congress has to fix it. 

I think that the guidelines, the sentencing guidelines, even though they are advisory, are completely broken.  I mean, witness this case where essentially no one paid attention to the range.  Sentencing guidelines were at 19 to 20 years. 

VELSHI:  Yes. 

GERNER:  Even the special counsel thought that that was ridiculous.  So that -- 

VELSHI:  And Judge Ellis pointed that out.  I mean, we in the media knew that was the range but Judge Ellis said the government didn`t argue for a guideline sentence which I thought was a good thing, then I would have concluded that it was vindictive, but clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this as the history of sentences in this area show.  His argument is that he has sentenced similar people with similar crimes the same way. 

GERNER:  Right, that`s what he said.  That`s what he said in the transcript and it`s hard to know one way or the other.  I doubt very much if there is a similar crime here to setting up offshore accounts over a period of time and then when you ran out of money to begin to defraud banks over a period of time, and then to fail to cooperate with the special prosecutor, and said, not only that you didn`t cooperate but that you lied. 

I mean, there is a host of conduct here which was unmentioned in the sentencing proceeding.  And he whines up with a sentence that is essentially the same sentence that anyone cooperating like Cohen, Michael Cohen, cooperating would have gotten. 

I am reluctant in general to criticize any judge for sentencing because it`s really, really hard.  And I`m also reluctant to criticize a judge for being more lenient than they usually are.  But the comparison here with Cohen is very, very troubling.  That was the sentence to someone who the government is valuing in some way should have gotten.  . 

VELSHI:  Yes.  Thank you for joining us, for your insights into this. 

Former judge Nancy Gerner gets tonight`s LAST WORD. 

The "11TH HOUR" starts now. 

END