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Manafort sentenced to Additional 43 mnths. TRANSCRIPT: 3/13/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Adam Schiff, Glenn Kirschner, Joe Hagan, Jeff Merkley

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

And the president lost an important vote in the Senate today on that Saudi- led war in Yemen, Senate voting to eliminate support for it basically.  He`s on his way to losing another one tomorrow. 

We have Senator Jeff Merkley joining us tonight on both of those votes and more. 


O`DONNELL:  We also have Chairman Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee here, because there are a few things to talk about tonight, Rachel, in what happened in the courtroom, in what happened with Jerry Nadler in the House of Representatives.  So much. 

MADDOW:  Yes, this is a day when I feel like I`ve just started to sketch out in my mind what I want to talk about on the show because there is so much going on. 


MADDOW:  But, yes, take it.  Go with God (ph). 

O`DONNELL:  Also, Rachel, it was a transcript day for you. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  So, you know, that`s a big hunk.  You have to study every word of it and, you know, that`s a big hunk. 

MADDOW:  And this is one of those judges who speaks in complete sentences and complete paragraphs and said something super news worthy and unexpected that I was waiting to hear from someone.  So, yes, I can only do so much. 

O`DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence.  Good luck. 

O`DONNELL:  Appreciate it. 

Well, Beto O`Rourke is on his way to Iowa tomorrow for an appearance, and he all but announced his candidacy for president in a "Vanity Fair" cover story published tonight in which he says he wants to run and his wife says she thinks he is running.  Joe Hagan, the author of that piece, will join us later in this hour. 

And to fully cover the day of rapid fire developments in Paul Manafort`s legal life, including his federal sentencing in Washington, D.C. and new charges in New York, MSNBC`s legal eagle Ari Melber is going to be joining us.  He`s been writing about the possibility of this kind of New York prosecution for two years now on Paul Manafort.  He`s going to join us along with former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.  We need the legal team tonight. 

But our first discussion tonight will be with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, who will give us his view on all of these developments, including a stunning admission by the former acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, today to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler. 

President Trump`s former campaign manager, as you all by now know, had another 43 months added to the time he is already scheduled to serve in prison today.  The additional sentence for Paul Manafort was the conclusion of his guilty plea to two counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice in special prosecutor Robert Mueller`s investigation.  That means Paul Manafort will now serve a total of 7-1/2 years in prison after the sentence he received last week in federal court in Virginia is added to the one he received today. 

But today might not be the last time Paul Manafort is sentenced.  Immediately after his sentence was publicly announced today, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced a new 16-count indictment against Paul Manafort on charges including mortgage fraud, attempted mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.  The charges in New York state would be beyond the reach of a presidential pardon by Donald Trump, which could only apply to federal cases. 

Today, the president was asked about pardoning Paul Manafort. 


REPORTER:  Will you pardon Paul Manafort? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have not even given it a thought as of this moment.  It`s not something that right now is on my mind.  I do feel badly for Paul Manafort. 

REPORTER:  Right after the sentencing took place here in Washington, D.C., the Manhattan district attorney filed state charges against him, which would seem to be a way to get around the effect of any pardon. 

TRUMP:  I don`t know anything about it.  I haven`t heard that.  I`ll take a look at it. 


O`DONNELL:  In his sentencing hearing, Paul Manafort apologized for his crimes for the first time, telling Judge Amy Berman Jackson, quote, I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today.  I know it was my conduct that brought me here today.  For these mistakes, I am remorseful. 

Judge Jackson was less sympathetic to Manafort than Judge T.S. Ellis was, who gave him what many saw as a lighter sentence last week and praised his, quote, Judge Ellis did praise Manafort`s, quote, otherwise blameless life.  Judge Jackson told Paul Manafort, what you were doing was lying to Congress and the American public.  If the people don`t have the facts, democracy can`t work. 

She added, saying, I`m sorry when you get caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency.  Judge Jackson also criticized the Manafort lawyers, their defense memo about the sentencing today.  She said, the no collusion refrain that runs through the entire defense memo is entirely unrelated to the matters at hand.  That did not stop Paul Manafort`s lawyer from going out on to the courtroom steps and trying to deliver what the judge called the no collusion mantra.  But protesters in the crowd knew better and shouted down what was -- what was clearly going to be a longer and untrue speech. 


KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT`S ATTORNEY:  Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.  So that makes two courts -- two courts have ruled no evidence --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Traitor!  Liar! 

DOWNING:  Part number two --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s not what she said!  That`s not what she said! 


DOWNING:  Very sad, very sad day for such a callous harsh sentence that is totally unnecessary. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You guys are liars, man.  You`re not lawyers, you`re liars. 


O`DONNELL:  And, of course, right on cue today, President Trump repeated the no collusion mantra at the White House.  That`s what he`s doing in that video that you don`t need to hear because it will be the 1,000th time you`ve heard him say it. 

In an extraordinary session today, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, along with the ranking member of the committee, met with former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker privately to discuss what he said publicly under oath to that committee about President Trump interfering with the prosecution of Michael Cohen or other prosecutions. 


MATTHEW WHITAKER, THEN-ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel`s investigation or any other investigation. 


O`DONNELL:  And here is Chairman Jerry Nadler today describing what Matthew Whitaker now says about presidential interference. 


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District.  Two, while he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was directly involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys.  Three, while he was attorney general -- acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was involved in conversations about the scope of the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Berman`s recusal and whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the president was listed as individual number one. 


O`DONNELL:  Leading off our discussion now, the man with the global view of all of this, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.  He`s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. 

And, Chairman Schiff, can we just begin going backwards through this material, through what we just heard from Chairman Nadler?  What is your reaction to what Chairman Nadler is telling us now about what Matthew Whitaker clearly withheld, at minimum, in the public hearing and some would say deliberately misled the committee. 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Well, my reaction is this.  Jeff Sessions was effectively fired because he recused himself, because he followed the advice of ethics lawyers at the Justice Department. 

Matt Whitaker was hired because he talked about how he could privately cripple the Mueller investigation and because I`m sure the president was confident he would not recuse himself.  Now, the ethics lawyers urged him to do so.  He refused. 

Then you have the new attorney general appointed, who refuses to commit to following the advice of ethics lawyers on that same issue, recusal. 

So, is it plausible that the issue of the recusal of the prosecutor in the Southern District of New York came up?  Absolutely.  Is it I think straining credit utility to think that if he did have conversations about that with others or the president that he would have a failure of recollection about it?  That doesn`t strike me as too credible. 

O`DONNELL:  The president`s response today, that he hasn`t even thought about, not even thought about pardoning Paul Manafort. 

SCHIFF:  Not the least bit believable.  What I found really striking about the Manafort sentencing today, and indeed Manafort`s conduct generally during this court process, is Paul Manafort made the calculated decision to lie about providing polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence.  He made the calculated decision to do that and risk getting caught and risk getting a much greater sentence. 

Why would you do that?  You would do that if you felt that if you gave that evidence to someone linked to Russian intelligence.  He made the calculated decision to do that and risk getting caught and risk getting a much greater sentence. 

Why would you do that?  You would do that if you felt that if you gave that evidence that goes right to the issue of collusion, there is no innocent explanation for giving internal polling data, raw data to the Russians or someone linked to Russian intelligence, that it would effectively kill any chance of a pardon.  And so instead of -- instead of revealing this information, he chose to lie about it and then go out on the courthouse steps through his attorney and say no collusion, no collusion, which is effectively the -- akin to saying, Mr. President, please pardon me. 

O`DONNELL:  And then the president echoes exactly what Manafort`s lawyer has said a little bit later. 

SCHIFF:  It was refreshing, too, to hear the judge call him out -- really call out both Manafort and the president.  Call out Manafort by saying, don`t try that no collusion business here.  I know this is a thinly veiled plea for a pardon.  You don`t fool anyone in this courtroom. 

But also when she said that facts matter here, that was a rebuke of the president, as much as it was of Paul Manafort.  And I thought that was very powerful and certainly was a powerful corrective to the otherwise shameless life business we heard from the -- from Judge Ellis. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, you`re a former federal prosecutor.  A federal prosecution comes to a conclusion in Washington, D.C. with the sentencing of a defendant.  Instantaneously in New York City, the Manhattan district attorney, instantaneously comes out with a 16-count indictment. 

In your experience in a situation like that, how much cooperation would there have been between the federal prosecutors getting that guilty plea today and the Manhattan district attorney, if any? 

SCHIFF:  You know, my guess is that the prosecutors have kept an arm`s length distance.  There may have been some deconfliction.  You know, can you hold off in doing this until the sentencing?  My guess, frankly, is that the district attorney`s office decided on their own that they wouldn`t step on the sentencing of Manafort.  They didn`t want to influence the sentencing of Manafort. 

But most people think of a system of checks and balances or when they do they think, OK, you`ve got the house and senate, you`ve got the Congress and the courts, you`ve got the executive and the courts.  These are all part of the checks and balances.  But there is also a check and balance between the federal system and the state system. 

And here that check and balance worked perfectly because you have an unethical president talking about intervening in a case in which he is implicated, dangling a pardon, certainly publicly and maybe privately as well.  And you have the state of New York saying, not so fast, if you`re going to betray the rule of law that way, we are going to make sure the rule of law is enforced in the state of New York. 

O`DONNELL:  The intelligence committee has an eye on almost all of these moving parts.  It`s hard for us to tell because so much of your work is closed and needs to be how much you`re looking at some of these things that some of the other committees are looking at, at the same time. 

Is it your sense that something changed importantly today in what Jerry Nadler learned from the acting FBI director?  Because that`s a new level of detail in the interference level the president is willing to go to.  I think it was reasonable for people who have been watching his external behavior to guess that things like that could happen, but here you have an acting attorney general saying these are the kinds of conversations I had with the president of the United States. 

SCHIFF:  It`s hard for me to evaluate, not having been in the room, whether this was the attorney general, former acting attorney general saying I can`t remember if I discussed this with the president or I`m not going to deny we had these conversations.  I`m not going to deny it.  I don`t know how he characterized this.  I find it, you know, very difficult to believe that if he did discuss this, that he would have some failure of recollection about it.

But also this is a president who has had no compunction about directly interfering in an investigation which he`s implicated.  He does it every day by bashing Mueller, by dangling pardons, by firing the FBI director. 

I think what we saw today, both in the developments in the Cohen side of things and these new e-mails that were publicly disclosed, but as well the conversation that Mr. Nadler had, chairman Nadler had with Matt Whitaker, a growing body of evidence of obstruction of justice.  I think that`s really the significance of what`s come out today. 

O`DONNELL:  And as that body of evidence grows, what is the status of Speaker Pelosi`s statement that came out earlier this week that I`m not for impeachment?  It seems -- she actually gave that interview a week before that quote came out, and as I`ve watched this and as you say the evidence grows, quotes like that mostly have meaning the day they`re said because you don`t know what the ground is going to be under you as investigators the next week. 

SCHIFF:  Well, I mean, here`s the thing.  I was watching one of my intel Republican colleagues today.  One of our intelligence committee colleagues on TV saying -- being asked about this Whitaker interview and saying if the president was talking about this case, the Cohen case with the attorney general, there is nothing wrong with that.  The attorney general works for him. 

Well, if that`s your attitude, then all of the norms that have grown up since Watergate, that you don`t interfere in a case in which you`re implicated, all of the degree to which that should be just repugnant, unethical and perhaps illegal, but if that`s the view of our colleagues in the GOP, getting them behind an obstruction of justice impeachment, you can imagine how difficult that would be.  This is the problem we`ve had with this presidency, which is he has so dumbed down ethical standards, that it`s hard to notice how often they`re trampled. 

I find it absolutely remarkable that the acting attorney general and now the permanent attorney general both refuse to commit to following the advice of ethics lawyers.  The top law enforcement personnel in the country won`t commit to doing that.  I mean, that is just shocking. 

O`DONNELL:  What about the commitment to release the Mueller report?  You don`t have that either. 

SCHIFF:  We don`t have that either.  Now, the attorney general in his confirmation proceedings said that he would release it to a maximum degree he`s allowed to.  Well, he`s allowed to release the whole thing.  We`re going to hold him to that. 

There may be classified portions that need to be redacted, but even there the Justice Department has declassified information like the FISA opinions, at least portions of them. 

O`DONNELL:  For Republicans. 

SCHIFF:  For Republicans.  As of June of last year, the Justice Department turned over 880,000 pages of discovery to the Republicans. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, at the request of the Republican Congress. 

SCHIFF:  At the request -- and bear in mind that went to an investigation in which no one was indicted, in terms of the Clinton e-mail investigation.  So when the Justice Department suggests now, as they are saying anonymously, that -- well, they can`t possibly share evidence in the Mueller investigation that doesn`t result in indictment.  That would be a terrible double standard. 

And I think it would so dramatically undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the Justice Department.  It would be a mistake that would have consequences -- reputations consequences not unlike Bush v. Gore when the suspect abandoned precedent.  That was the beginning of a dramatic change in public perception of the Supreme Court as a partisan body. 

I think if the Justice Department uses a double standard here it will have the same effect of what people think of that department, which I came out of, which I love, which I, you know, venerate and I don`t want to see the department go down that path. 

O`DONNELL:  Are you confident that America will eventually know everything that is in the Mueller report?  That you in Congress either through subpoena power or other methods will be able to get all of that revealed. 

SCHIFF:  I am.  The truth is going to come out.  We are going to use whatever means necessary to compel the Justice Department to be forthcoming.  They`d be much better off not fighting it, not look like they`re trying to cover something up. 

Indeed, the case for providing this information in the Mueller investigation is far stronger than it was in the Clinton investigation.  For this reason, one of the reasons the special counsel regulations were written and the office was created is because it was important that the chief executive not be allowed to cover up a crime. 

In the case of Hillary Clinton, she wasn`t the president.  There wasn`t that danger that she could cover up things because she controlled the Justice Department.  That danger exists here.  That`s a much more powerful reason for transparency and disclosure than it was when they gave 880,000 pages of discovery in the Clinton case to the Congress. 

O`DONNELL:  Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for coming in tonight.  We really appreciate your input.  Invaluable perspective on all of this.  Appreciate it.

And when we come back, we will dig in deeper to the New York state charges against Paul Manafort and how this case means Paul Manafort could spend the rest of his life in New York state prison, beyond the reach of a Donald Trump pardon. 

President Trump lost a big vote in the Senate today and he`s going to lose an even bigger vote, one that`s more important to him in the Senate tomorrow.  Senator Jeff Merkley will join us on both of those votes. 

And Beto O`Rourke is running.  Well, at least he`s running to Iowa tomorrow.  In a "Vanity Fair" cover story out tonight full of breaking news, it certainly sounds like Beto O`Rourke is running for president and his wife says she believes he`s running for president if that article.  We`ll be joined by Joe Hagan, the author of that piece, and see if he knows tomorrow is the day Beto O`Rourke makes it official. 


O`DONNELL:  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was obviously paying very close attention to the Paul Manafort sentencing session today in federal court in Washington, D.C. because the moment that court session was over, District Attorney Vance revealed a 16-count indictment against Paul Manafort, which will now force Paul Manafort to stand trial on fraud charges in New York City, under New York state law, beyond the reach of a presidential pardon, which only applies in federal cases. 

The charges against Paul Manafort include seven counts of mortgage fraud, attempted mortgage fraud and conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud, along with another eight counts of falsifying business records and one count of scheming to defraud New York county.  If convicted, the 69-year-old Paul Manafort could face a maximum of 25 years in New York state prison. 

"The New York Times" reports that Manhattan prosecutors had previously, quote, deferred their inquiry in order not to interfere with Mr. Mueller`s larger investigation, but in recent months prosecutors resumed their inquiry and began presenting evidence to the grand jury. 

Now, let`s go straight to our legal team tonight.  We have on this case of Paul Manafort, we have Glenn Kirschner.  He is a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked with special counsel Robert Mueller. 

And we have Ari Melber, MSNBC`s chief legal correspondent and host of "THE BEAT", weeknights 6:00 p.m. here on MSNBC. 

And, Ari, I want to read you something.  This is the reason I asked Adam Schiff in the previous segment about possible coordination between the district attorney in Manhattan and the special prosecutor. 

I am reading -- it says here: Under the U.S. federal rules of criminal procedure, federal grand jury materials which are secret may be requested by local prosecutors if the evidence shows a violation of state law, and I learned that on August 29th, 2017, in a piece that you wrote, teaching me that, Ari. 

What do you make of the possibility of coordination here? 


As you say, we first broke that story in August 2017 that there were state- level investigations and that they could be pardon-proof, checkmating any interference Donald Trump wants to do.  As you were discussing with Congressman Schiff and reporting tonight, that is exactly what happened. 

So this is significant because it basically means that the overwhelming evidence that was used in the federal cases, a lot of it is available in New York.  There is no pardon power.  There is also no whiff of potential interference, unlike the DOJ where presidents can try to interfere.  They`re not supposed to. 

If Donald Trump or any of his henchmen try to call Cy Vance for any reason, doesn`t matter.  No jurisdiction.  They ignore him.  Nothing in our system requires them to ever talk unless and until the D.A. continues on this case or any others.

And, again, that goes to the other question.  If Paul Manafort, as you`ve discussed, Lawrence, was basically lying and hiding something to protect someone, why was he doing that?  And does he think that there was some reward potentially at the end of the federal road? 

Tonight, he`s got a new road that Donald Trump can`t help him with and that could ultimately lead to new information that even Bob Mueller wouldn`t have because Bob Mueller`s in the federal system. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Glenn, we learned this evening from Chairman Jerry Nadler, Judiciary Committee, that the president of the United States feels free to call up the attorney general, acting attorney general at the time, say what`s going on with this prosecution of Michael Cohen?  What`s going on up there?  What are we going to do about that?  Get a different prosecutor. 

He`s a guy capable of making those calls.  The notion that Ari just delivered to us is so fascinating.  The idea of President Trump picking up the phone and calling the district attorney in Manhattan to have that kind of conversation -- Cy Vance would sit there and take extremely careful notes of every word the president said and see if that was something that might fit into an indictment.  But we would certainly eventually know every word the president would say in a conversation like that. 

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY:  If he would take that call at all. 


KIRCHNER:  If he would engage in one-party consent and record that call.  Who knows?  But what could possibly go wrong with the president reaching out to the district attorney in New York who is now prosecuting Paul Manafort? 

Now, you know, I don`t think it`s beyond the pale.  Perhaps the president is just that reckless.  We have seen him be just that reckless in so many settings.  Maybe he would reach out to the D.A. in New York. 

But, you know, to go to Ari`s point, information sharing, I think is inevitable given a couple of things.  One, Bob Mueller`s mandate, which is not wide open, it is to investigate possible contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. 

And second, anything that arises directly out of that.  But let`s talk about that for a minute because the things that may arise directly out of an investigation into, for example, Paul Manafort`s financial dealings could very well implicate state laws in any number of states.  That`s where the coordination is not only appropriate, it`s necessary because Bob Mueller cannot dig into and bring charges in state cases. 

That`s why I have assumed all along there has been just this kind of coordination between the Mueller team and when they find evidence of state crimes, any number of state jurisdictions implicated. 

O`DONNELL:  Ari, what are the possible double jeopardy cautions that the prosecutors have to pay attention to here? 

MELBER:  That`s a great question, Lawrence.  The caution in New York is that it does have a pretty strong double jeopardy law, which basically means if something is in the strike zone of what you already got in trouble for with the feds, they can`t necessarily charge you here.  Cy Vance looks to have basically thought that through and picked the charges he thinks he can use some evidence on bad for Manafort, but that doesn`t actually run up against double jeopardy.  Good for Cy Vance. 

And I spoke earlier with the Cy Vance`s deputy, the number two in that office for four years.  He says -- it`s one person`s view -- but he says he views the case against Manafort as a slam dunk because of what Manafort has already said and admitted in related materials. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Glenn, the 25 years.  This is a whole new ball game of sentencing in Manhattan.  As Paul Manafort faces the reality of that bearing down on him, if this case develops in a way that his lawyers think is pretty solid, that they`re not going to be able to get past this on double jeopardy or on the evidence and they start talking to him about you`ve got to think about pleading guilty to this. 

At that point, at that point, does there also become a shared interest?  Would you expect the Manhattan district attorney to say what more can you tell us?  What more can you tell us?  What more can you tell us?  What more can you tell us?  In the hope that he`s told something that he should then share with Robert Mueller. 

KIRSCHNER: I will say, everybody that I prosecuted in my 30 years, I looked for possible cooperation from that person.  Now, I think the cooperation train has largely left the station for Manafort when it comes to the Mueller investigation because he has had a federal judge decide and declare Paul Manafort is a great big liar.  And that`s why Bob Mueller was able to get out from under the terms of the plea agreement.

However, you know, the New York authorities may have a whole lot of questions for a Paul Manafort about the New York state crimes he is being accused of.  He might be able to implicate any number of other bad actors in New York or elsewhere.  That could be of some interest to the New York state prosecutors.

But I`ll tell you if ever you had a cooperating witness that you had to corroborate up one side and down the other with documents and texts and e- mails and phone calls, it`s a Paul Manafort.

O`DONNELL:  Glenn Kirschner, Ari Melber, thank you very much for your legal counsel tonight.

MELBER:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  Appreciate it.

And when we come back, Beto O`Rourke is now on the cover of "Vanity Fair" looking very much like a presidential candidate and sounding even more like a presidential candidate in the article.  His wife says she believes he`s running for president.  Is that what he`s going to announce tomorrow in Iowa?

Joe Hagan, the author of that breaking news "Vanity Fair" article will join us next.

And later, Senator Jeff Merkley will join us to discuss the big vote that President Trump lost in the Senate today and the even bigger vote that the president`s going to lose in the Senate tomorrow.


O`DONNELL:  Beto O`Rourke is going to Iowa tomorrow.  And tonight, "Vanity Fair" is out with a cover story to accompany Beto O`Rourke on his first trip to Iowa on what already seems like a presidential campaign.

Author and Reporter Joe Hagan painted this profile of Beto O`Rourke in "Vanity Fair" that covers his life story and his political career and ends with Beto O`Rourke telling Joe Hagan, "You can probably tell that I want to run," he finally confides, smiling, "I do.  I think I`d be good at it."  "This is the fight of our lives," he continues.  "Not the fight of my political life kind of crap, but, like, this is the fight of our lives as Americans and as humans.  I want to be in it," he says, now leaning forward, "Man, I`m just born to be in it and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment."

Joining our discussion now by phone is Joe Hagan, a special correspondent for "Vanity Fair."  He interviewed Beto O`Rourke for the April issue of the magazine that`s out tonight.

Joe, he in your piece says everything but I am a candidate for president of the United States.  What do you think he`s going to say tomorrow?

JOE HAGAN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR (via telephone):  Well, you know, my educated guess, based on all the facts that are coming into this evening and the fact that he did this story, obviously, is that he`s going to run, that he feels compelled to run.

He spent some time in the wilderness, you know, after his loss to Ted Cruz and he gave it a lot of, you know, thought and he confided with his wife and family and came out the other side of that and decided this is it, I got to do this.

O`DONNELL:  Joe, as usual, as I`ve come to expect from you, beautiful writing, important insights that you pick up, your author`s eye picks up, and all the time you clearly spent with Beto O`Rourke and his wife.

And there is a passage in the middle of your piece where they`re on their way back to Texas from taping the Oprah interview and Beto O`Rourke`s wife, Amy, starts to realize that what he did on that show, she believes, is decide right there that he`s going to run.

And at the end of that paragraph, you end it with her saying "she knew he was running."

HAGAN:  That`s right.

O`DONNELL:  That`s pretty powerful stuff.

HAGAN:  Yes.  And, you know, it was only the week before that they had had some kind of breakthrough in their kind of marital conversation in which he -- they decided, OK, we`re going to do this and he kind of stays up half the night thinking about how he`s going to do it.  He can`t sleep.  He gets up the next morning and goes on this run.  And it was just as easy as that.

And I believe the date was February 1st.  And it was right before Oprah but I think that Oprah interview was definitely a sort of like, well, this is real, a catalyzing event.  And in that same moment that you just mentioned, when they`re flying back to El Paso from having spoken with Oprah, two interesting things happened.

One, they learned that Donald Trump was coming to El Paso to do a rally, right?  Who could -- you know, there it is in black and white.  You`re about to be confronted with your extensible opponent.  And then secondly, she was reading Michelle Obama`s memoir about what it was like to run for president and getting pretty nervous about it, frankly, and they were absorbing it right there in real time.

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  In your description of it is much more colorful than that.  There is a little bit of profanity in it, in their discussions with each other about it.  And you also reveal that he told you that in the Oprah interview when he said, which was a month ago, and he said he was going to decide by the end of the month and we`re now about two weeks into overtime.  He said on that interview he would decide before the end of the month.  He told you, "I did not intend to say that."

HAGAN:  That`s right.

O`DONNELL:  He just said it in the interview.  And throughout your piece is a character who is capable of those kinds of moments.  You can see where those kinds of moments come from in the way you`ve reported his life.

HAGAN:  Well, listen, that`s what made him so compelling in his race against Ted Cruz last year, was a sense that you were out on the perimeter with this guy who is making decisions on the fly and has -- he`s a gut player, right?  He`s somebody who kind of acts out of intuition.

And even if at the beginning of the article, you read about how he, you know, in the third stop of his campaign kind of doesn`t even have a speech prepared and feels like he`s just winging it and has this kind of, you know, semi-mystical experience with connecting with an audience.

And I think his ability to connect with people, this kind of pure retail politician that he is, is something that he discovered last year, in the last two years, and that he feels like he has to do something with it.  It`s like a purpose that he seems to have, right?  Now, you know, whether that`s going to hold up in a Democratic primary on a national stage is yet to be seen.

O`DONNELL:  Joe, I was at one of the speeches that you describe in your piece.  And I have to say, this is really beautiful writing and beautifully observed.  And it really makes the reader feel like you were there.  Especially, the way Beto O`Rourke narrates what I was seeing up on the stage and what he was doing up on that stage.

Joe Hagan, thank you very much for joining us tonight with this breaking news report.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, Democratic Strategist Neera Tanden will join us on what appears to be the beginning of the O`Rourke candidacy.  And I will read to you what Beto O`Rourke discussed with Barack Obama when they had that private meeting.  That`s all in Joe Hagan`s reporting.

And later, Senator Jeff Merkley will join us to discuss the two big votes President Trump will lose in the Senate this week.  And one of those votes is the vote to end the Trump emergency declaration to build a wall at the southern border, and no senator has been more focused on the humanitarian crisis created by the Trump policies at the southern border than Senator Jeff Merkley.  He visited the detention facility for children this week and he will tell us what he saw there.



OPRAH:  Did he encourage you to run for president?  What did he say about that?

BETO O`ROURKE:  No, he didn`t.  He didn`t.


O`DONNELL:  We will tell you what President Obama did tell him.  Joining us now is Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.

Neera, I`m going to read to you from the "Vanity Fair" piece what Beto O`Rourke says his conversation with President Obama was about one week after he lost that Senate race in Texas.  He says he He raised with President Obama the possibility of him running for president.  He says, "I raised it with him.  Some people who I really respect have asked me to think about running for president," O`Rourke recalls.

He asked about, what will this do to my family?  Is this the right thing for the country?  Do I see a path to win?  Do I see something that I urgently -- that I uniquely can provide for what the country needs right now?  That does sound like Barack Obama talking about the presidency.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Yes.  And I think, you know, the president -- President Obama recognizes that it`s a two-year campaign.  It takes a big toll.  And at the end of it, you are president of the United States.

It`s not just about running, it`s about being president.  And so I think Beto has had to really deal with that over the last couple of months, and I presume those words rang in his ears a lot.

O`DONNELL:  Joe Hagan`s reporting, more than I think what we`ve known prior to this about what his policy positions would be supports the green new deal, says it`s ambitious, it captures your imagines.  Wants to shore up the Affordable Care Act, improve Medicare, and bring Medicare into the health care marketplace, and eventually move into what we would all call health care for all.  Higher marginal tax rates at the top end.  So there is a platform developing there.

TANDEN:  Absolutely.  And actually, you know, in his Senate race, Beto O`Rourke talked a lot about these ideas.  He had a debate with Ted Cruz.  There was a lot of back and forth in these ideas.

And I think the way he ran his Senate campaign, which was a progressive campaign in Texas, is how he would try to run, I presume, if he announces tomorrow, how he runs a race, which is both substantive but also about ensuring -- having a real vision for the country.

And, you know, he put together a coalition in Texas that Democrats haven`t seen before.  In a very long time, as you know, he got millennials out.  He had strong, strong support from the Latino community.  He put together a diverse coalition to support him and to vote in numbers that haven`t come out in a midterm in Texas for many, many years.

O`DONNELL:  How do you see a run for a Democrat running for a Senate seat statewide in Texas as a rehearsal for a presidential campaign?  Pretty big state.  Lots of different kinds of voters, urban, rural, agricultural, it`s a big range of voter that you have to appeal to there.

TANDEN:  Absolutely.  Texas is a very diverse state and a large state.  And the way Beto ran that campaign, I mean, we have to see how he runs, but it was a very retail-oriented campaign.

One in which he engaged with voters regularly, had town halls regularly, heard from people regularly, and really engaged with them on ideas.  Had an agenda but also had a good give and take.  And a big issue for him was reaching out to Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.

O`DONNELL:  Neera Tanden, presidential campaign veteran, watching the new one possibly entering the race, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, Donald Trump lost in the United States Senate today and he`s going to lose the United States Senate tomorrow.  Senator Jeff Merkley joins us.  Coming up.


O`DONNELL:  Republican senators turned against President Trump today on an important vote in the Senate and they are going to do the same thing tomorrow.  Today, in a vote of 54-46, the Senate voted to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.  Seven Republicans voted against the president on that one today.

Tomorrow, the president is going to lose another vote in the Senate.  Five Republicans have announced they will join Democrats in voting to end the president`s declaration of emergency to build a wall at the southern border.

Senator Jeff Merkley will join us to discuss both of those votes in the Senate.  No senator has been more responsive to the humanitarian crisis at the southern border created by the Trump policies than Senator Merkley has.  A humanitarian crisis has been created there by the policies the president of the United States has instituted.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley appeared on this program in June after being refused entrance to a former Walmart being used to hold children in Brownsville, Texas.


SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON:  I`m Senator Jeff Merkley from Congress.  And I made contact with this facility and asked for permission for me to come and see what is going on inside with these children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, we don`t have any permission on that.  I`m going to have to ask you to please step away, sir.


O`DONNELL:  This week, Senator Merkley visited the detention center for children in Florida.  He was able to speak to some of the children there.  After his visit, he described it as "a chilling prison camp."  Senator Jeff Merkley will join us next.


O`DONNELL:  Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon, joins our discussion now.  And Senator Merkley, the wall gets the media attention and it gets an emergency declaration by the president.  But the real emergency that you`re looking at is the detention of these children.  What did you find when you went to Florida to the detention center there this week?

MERKLEY:  So this is a detention center or really it`s a child prison.  Part of a system that had 15,000 migrant children locked up in December.  The numbers have come down a little bit as the administration released several thousand children who already had sponsors but they were sitting on it.

But here`s the thing.  Why are we locking up thousands of migrant children in prisons?  They belong in homes and schools and playgrounds as they await an asylum hearing.

O`DONNELL:  And what did -- did you get a chance to talk directly to the children?

MERKLEY:  I was able to talk to three boys selected by the administration of the camp.  And the thing that struck me most was that I had heard that one of the ways that they are being kept in line is to threaten them that they will not be sponsored by a family, not be able to leave the camp if they misbehave.

And when I asked the administration about this of the camp, they said absolutely not, we would fire anybody who told the children that.  Then I asked the three boys, has anyone conveyed to you that if you misbehave, you will not be able to go to a home and you`ll be kept here?  And all three said yes, yes.  Absolutely, yes.

And it`s a small piece of the psychological terror these children are living with.  They`re separated from their families.  They have no idea what`s to become of them.

They`re under the complete control in kind of a Kafkaesque way of the U.S. government.  And we`re doing serious, serious damage to these thousands and thousands of children.  It`s just absolutely wrong and it has to change.

O`DONNELL:  Senator, I know there`s a lot of things on the agenda of every member of the United States Senate and it`s very hard to crowd in a new one.  What drew you to these children?  Because no one has gone down there more and no one has gotten closer to them and tried to find out what`s happening to them.  No one in the Senate has done that more than you have.

MERKLEY:  It was Jeff Sessions` speech back in May of last year where he laid out his so-called zero tolerance.  I read it and I said this sounds like zero humanity.  It sounds like they are planning to injure children as a strategy of deterrence.

What a terrible idea, that you`re going to deliberately injure children as a political strategy.  That is not acceptable under any moral code, under any religious tradition, and yet it`s exactly what the administration planned and proceeded to do.  And we have to put an end to it.

O`DONNELL:  What do these children think is going to happen next in their lives?

MERKLEY:  They have such uncertainty.  They`re in limbo.  The average stay there at Homestead is 67 days.  Now, recognize that the Flores settlement that was regard the protecting children said you never lock up a child for more than 20.  It was to be an absolute cap.  And yet here they are not abiding to the principle that at all.

O`DONNELL:  Senator Jeff Merkley, I know the country really appreciates the work you`re doing on this one.

MERKLEY:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  Really appreciate it.  Thank you.

Senator Jeff Merkley gets tonight`s LAST WORD.