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One on one with Pete Buttigieg. TRANSCRIPT: 4/1/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Preet Bharara, Eric Columbus, Neera Tanden, Pete Buttigieg

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Rachel, could you say that one more time because I`m adjusting the volume in my little listening device here. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell. 


O`DONNELL:  You know what this proves, Rachel.  This proves rehearsal doesn`t help.


O`DONNELL:  Because I actually liked the first read better even though it was lower volume. 

MADDOW:  I was trying to -- in case you still couldn`t hear me, I was trying to enunciate clearly so you could read my lips while I said it. 

O`DONNELL:  It was the way people used to talk on long distance phone calls meaning.


O`DONNELL:  So, meaning like from Boston to Springfield, Massachusetts.  They would can you hear me?  Can you hear me?

MADDOW:  Do you still have Pete Buttigieg as your guest this hour? 

O`DONNELL:  You know, guess who is going to teach me how to pronounce his last name. 


O`DONNELL:  That`s who`s going to teach me.  He`s going to join us in this hour. 

I got great questions from Twitter.  I solicited questions on Twitter today.  I now have 100 great questions, Rachel.  I`m going to get, I don`t know what, ten maybe, if I`m lucky. 

MADDOW:  If I get off the air let you do your show, you`ll get in more. 

O`DONNELL:  OK, I`ll give you one more.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Bye, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Well, you know, I`ve never seen a more surprising and sudden rise of a presidential candidate than the candidacy of 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg who has come from really nowhere to be a -- nowhere in politics, that is, to be a powerful new voice in the Democratic presidential campaign. 

We`ve seen surprises before.  We have seen in 1968, for example, Senator Eugene McCarthy challenge the sitting Democratic president in primaries but very slowly build a level of support that became threatening to President Johnson in New Hampshire. 

We saw Senator Bernie Sanders last time start off in single digits in the polls and climb slowly and steadily and strongly to present a very strong challenge to Hillary Clinton.  But Gene McCarthy was not an unknown when he started his presidential campaign.  He was a very well-known United States senator who almost got the nomination for vice president four years earlier. 

Bernie Sanders was a well-known United States senator when he started his presidential campaign.  But most of us didn`t know who Mayor Pete Buttigieg was just last year.  I know I certainly didn`t.  I was still practicing how to say his name a couple of weeks ago when we first mentioned him on the show within the last couple of weeks.  It is the speed, just that stunning speed with which Pete Buttigieg has risen to national prominence in this campaign that we have not seen before. 

So, tonight, we`re very excited to have Mayor Pete as he likes to call himself joining us in tonight`s segment of the contenders for his first interview on THE LAST WORD as a presidential candidate.  And we will, of course, begin by letting the mayor give us his own lesson how to pronounce his last name because I`m not completely confident on my pronunciation yet. 

As I said, I solicited your questions for the mayor today on Twitter.  And you have sent me some really great ones which I will be using including the very last question that I`m going to ask Pete Buttigieg tonight.  It is a question I keep hearing from Democrats.  It`s a question that voters are asking themselves. 

It`s a difficult question.  It`s not an issues question.  But it is a difficult question for the mayor and for some other candidates to answer.  It`s an important question that could determine the voting decision of most Democrats.  And I will read you that question exactly as I found it on Twitter and the voter who sent me that question will get tonight`s LAST WORD with Pete Buttigieg.

  That voter will get the very last question for Mayor Pete later in the hour tonight. 

But we begin our coverage tonight with Congress`s attempts to get a look at the complete Mueller report and our first guest tonight has a history with President Trump. 

Preet Bharara was fired by President Trump from his job as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.  From that point early in his administration, President Trump has made it very clear that he wants federal prosecutors in his Justice Department whom he can control.  The president spent years bitterly complaining about his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because Jeff Sessions did the right thing and recused himself from supervising special prosecutor Robert Mueller`s investigation of the president.  During that frustrating period for the president, Donald Trump said he wanted a Roy Cohn as his attorney general. 

Roy Cohn was the criminal lawyer by which I mean the lawyer who was himself a criminal who represented Donald Trump in his private business dealings for years and no doubt taught Donald Trump his vision of how the law should be bent and twisted and abused in pursuit of whatever Roy Cohn and Donald Trump wanted.  And so, we`re eager to get Preet Bharara`s view of how Donald Trump`s new Attorney General William Barr is handling the Mueller report.  We`re on the eve of the deadline set by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler for the attorney general to turn over the full Mueller report to the chairman and a letter to Mueller on Friday, the attorney general ignored the chairman`s deadline and said we will in a position to release the report by mid-April if not sooner. 

Powerful committee chairmen don`t like having their deadlines ignored.  And so, Jerry Nadler has scheduled a vote in the committee the day after his deadline on Wednesday of this week to, quote, authorize subpoenas for special counsel Robert Mueller`s full and complete report its underlying evidence and related matters.  If the committee votes to authorize those subpoenas, it will be left to Chairman Nadler to decide when to issue those subpoenas. 

In an op-ed from "The New York Times" which will appear in print tomorrow, Chairman Nadler writes: We require the report because Congress, not the attorney general has a duty under the Constitution to determine whether wrong doing has occurred.  Special counsel declined to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment on the question of obstruction. 

But it is not the attorney general`s job to step in and substitute his judgment for the special counsel`s.  The Judiciary Committee will also vote on Wednesday to authorize several other subpoenas for documents from five key witnesses in the committee`s investigation of alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates and members of his administration. 

Those witnesses are former White House counsel Don McGahn, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and Ann Donaldson, who is the former chief of staff to former White House counsel Don McGahn. 

The latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows that President Trump`s attempts to claim he has been completely exonerated by the Mueller report which no one has actually read that those efforts are actually failing, 29 percent say that they believe Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing.  That means not even every Trump supporter believes that Donald Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing.  Forty percent say they don`t believe Trump has been cleared and 31 percent say they`re not sure. 

Eric Columbus, a Justice Department official in the Obama administration, says that the biggest question about the Mueller report is what new facts are in it.  In an op-ed piece for the "Washington Post," Eric Columbus wrote: Whether there is sufficient evidence to meet all the elements of a criminal offense is beside the point.  The key question is whether there is evidence of wrongdoing that would make Americans either at the ballot box or via the impeachment process more inclined to remove the president from office. 

The ultimate jurors are the American people and their elected representatives who for good reason are not limited to the criminal law in deciding whether to remove a president from office. 

Leading off our discussion now is Eric Columbus, former senior counsel to the deputy attorney general under President Obama.  Eric Columbus was also the general counsel in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, has experience dealing with the kind of classified material that Attorney General Barr says he`s redacted from the Mueller report.  So, we`re eager to get Eric Columbus` view of what should and should not be redacted from the Mueller report. 

And we`re especially pleased to have Preet Bharara with us tonight.  He was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2018, for the eight years of the Obama administration.  That position is considered the most important U.S. attorney`s office in the United States and is of particular interest to President Trump since it has geographic jurisdiction over the Trump businesses, the Trump Company located in midtown Manhattan. 

President Trump decided he did not want his New York City businesses subject to any possible investigations supervised by Preet Bharara.  And so, the president fired him, which means Preet Bharara is free to join us tonight and his new book is entitled "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law."

Preet Bharara, what would doing justice mean for the attorney general who now has the Mueller report in hand?

  PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Well, the first thing, the most important thing and the thing everyone is waiting for and all your viewers care about is to get access to the actual Mueller report.  A four-page summary written in 46 or 47 hours after a voluminous report whose length we didn`t understand until the last day or two of almost 400 pages, not including appendices and other attachments.  You can`t do justice to it. 

I have no suggested that Bill Barr has somehow distorted or misled.  He has a couple of sentences or portions of sentences from the Mueller report that are not great for the president including that Mueller didn`t think he was exonerated on the issue of obstruction.  There`s no way you can do justice to a 400-page report that probably will have as Eric Columbus points out in his piece, new information especially about obstruction. 

And so, the most important thing for justice is not only that it be done but seen to be done.  One of the ways it can be seen to be done is providing the information to the public consistent with other obligations possibly but doing that really, really fast. 

O`DONNELL:  What would have done if you were in that position and Robert Mueller handed you that report?  Would you have attempted to write some kind of letter to Congress or would you have found the task of the letter ultimately not worth it because it would inevitably lead to tortured interpretations of it, possible misunderstanding? 

BHARARA:  So, in fairness to Bill Barr, I think he was in a tough spot.  The report gets delivered to the attorney general reportedly at around 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.  The whole world wants to know what`s in it. 


BHARARA:  Presumably, the amount of time it would take to do a redacted report let`s say it would take a week.  I don`t think it should take much more, although now it`s taking many weeks.  I don`t think people would sit comfortably waiting for a week.  Conspiracy theorists would come out of the woodwork. 

So, I think you would have to put something out.  I don`t know that the thing he put is what I wouldn`t put.  I haven`t seen the report so it`s hard to judge.  But I think he had to say something about the principal conclusions. 

But he did it in a way that`s, you know, fairly favorable to the president.  He jumped in and grabbed the punt, even though I don`t know if it`s intended for him.  It seems to have been intended for Congress.  And, you know, by virtue of his power as the recipient of the report which is required set forth in the guideline, and the requirement of confidentiality of the report, he was kind of in a good position, had a lot of leverage in how he was going to play it to the public. 

Again, I don`t necessarily criticize him for putting out a letter.  I`m not sure it`s the right letter and I`m not sure there should be a delay between his summary letter and the time when at least Congress if not the rest of us see the whole thing. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Eric Columbus, Preet Bharara just said that the attorney general grabbed the punt, meaning that he took what he describes in his letter to be the special prosecutor`s inability to reach a final conclusion, legal conclusion of some sort on obstruction of justice and just then declared that there was no obstruction of justice committed or certainly not one that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Was that the right role for the attorney general at that point? 

ERIC COLUMBUS, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, DOJ:  Well, I thought that was somewhat of an odd thing to do in large part because as Bill Barr noted in his letter, the Department of Justice policy is that it would not be comport with the Constitution to indict a sitting president.  Therefore, when we were asking whether President Trump obstructed justice, we are not asking whether he could be convicted, or whether a jury would find he had done so beyond a reasonable doubt or ask him whether he engaged in behavior that is inappropriate for a sitting president and that be worthy of his removal either via the impeachment process or at the ballot box next year. 

O`DONNELL:  Preet, do you believe that what Jerry Nadler is asking for is reasonable, what they`re going to vote for to subpoena which is to say the full report plus underlying investigative documents? 

BHARARA:  Yes, I think -- I mean, I have worked in the Congress like you did and oversaw some investigations myself.  I think it`s reasonable for Oversight Committee chairmen to ask for what they think need. 

As you and I also know, these things end up being accommodated somehow in the future.  The idea that this will be resolved by a court in short order is not likely to happen.  So I think you ask for everything.  And then maybe there`s a negotiated way at the end of the day to get more than what you ask for.  It`s important to lay the groundwork. 

It may be we get a report in mid-April as promised by the attorney general that gives us virtually everything with minor redactions that reasonable people believe have to be made because of classified investigations, ongoing investigations.  We don`t know if that`s going to happen.  I don`t think it makes sense for a committee chairman.  You and I would not advise a committee chairman to wait idly by knowing what the track record is, and see what you get in the mid of April, if it even comes in the middle of April.  I think you`ve got to lay the groundwork now and that`s what he`s doing and I think that`s appropriate. 

O`DONNELL:  I assume what you`re saying, it`s one thing to decide what you show Chairman Nadler and possibly the committee.  There`s a different decision to be made about what would be public. 

BHARARA:  I think so.  You know, bear in mind these issues of classification don`t apply necessarily to certain chairmen and ranking members in the House and Senate. 

O`DONNELL:  Especially not the Intelligence Committee. 

BHARARA:  Certainly.  And I think part of what`s going on here is not just I hope to stick it to the president on the obstruction point which I think is already really significant, but also for members of Congress in their oversight role and also in their legislative capacity to understand what actually happened to the country in connection with the interference in the 2016 election. 

My presumption is there`s going to be new information in there that don`t necessarily mean that folks on the American side committed a crime but would help Congress I think properly and appropriately figure out how to prevent against this in the next election and maybe hold other people accountable not necessarily criminally but in the other ways Congress can do so. 

O`DONNELL:  Eric Columbus, with your experience in dealing with classified material and investigations, what do you think should reasonably be redacted in this report, what kind of things should be redacted?  Either in delivery to Congress or in delivery to the public which are two different standards? 

COLUMBUS:  Well, certainly.  Congress has the right as you know to seek classified information.  A trickier issue may be grand jury materials, most notably testimony of witnesses before the grand jury which the attorney general cannot unilaterally disclose to the public.  The grand jury secrecy rules are kind of tricky.  They`re maybe somewhat uncharted territory.  There are good arguments he can disclose things to Congress which Congress may not be able to disclose directly to the American public. 

There are also other routes which may involve going to the judge who oversaw the Mueller grand jury and asking her to use her authority to release some of the grand jury materials that are quoted in the report.  And now again, we don`t know how much of the report contains grand jury materials because Mueller may have written it in a way to minimize the use of that if he was hoping for wider dissemination. 

O`DONNELL:  And it`s fascinating see Preet Bharara, the other subpoenas that Jerry Nadler wants to issue because presumably, he`s trying to find out elements of the obstruction case.  Of that could have involved the White House counsel and others, White House chief of staff and so forth.  Presumably, Robert Mueller has covered all of that and presumably seen all of those documents and they are presumably all referred to within the Mueller report. 

And so, those subpoenas separately targeted to individuals seem to be either something that wouldn`t be necessary if they had the full Mueller report or is a replacement route to not having the full Mueller report. 

BHARARA:  Yes, I mean, that could be.  I mean, I think what the chairman is doing which I think is appropriate is in advance of knowing what is going to be given and making clear that they`re not going to stand for something minimal, they want something maximal, is they`re laying down the gauntlet and saying in one interview, these people prepared to compel them to come testify if necessary.  And this happens all the time when subpoenas are issued not just in Congress but also in regular litigation as well, you let people know you mean business.

And Jerry Nadler clearly means business.  He issued 81 document requests some weeks ago, you know, at the beginning.  And then if it`s OK and you have satisfaction that you`re getting the information from other sources or it`s coming voluntarily or laid out in the Mueller report and not redacted, then you can say we`ll withdraw the subpoena. 

But until you know that, it`s important to have all guns firing. 

O`DONNELL:  Eric Columbus, do you expect a big court battle over those subpoenas to those veterans of the Trump administration? 

COLUMBUS:  I think it`s likelier than not that they will comply in the end. 

O`DONNELL:  Eric Columbus, we`ll have to leave it right there. 

Eric Columbus and Preet Bharara, thank you both very much for joining us. 

Preet Bharara`s book is "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law."

And when we come back, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will join us.  He`ll be answering your questions and mine.  You sent me great questions from on Twitter today and the very last question he gets tonight toward the end of the hour in the in interview will be one of the questions that you sent on Twitter, one of the important questions. 

Also tonight, before we get to the presidential campaign, President Trump is trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act in court.  And that has Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, very worried and hoping that President Trump will lose in court. 

We`ll be right back with that.


O`DONNELL:  Republicans in the House and Senate have proved many times that they are incapable of passing a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.  And so, it should come as no surprise tonight that "The Hill" is reporting that Senate Republicans are disappointed that President Trump is trying to kill the Affordable Care Act in court because they know they are incapable of legislating any replacement of any kind of the Affordable Care Act and those Republicans do not want to pay the political price for taking health care away from over 20 million people. 

"The Washington Post" reports that according to numerous lawmakers staffers and aides, quote: Republicans have no intention of heeding President Trump`s urgent demands for a new health care plan to replace Affordable Care Act, fearing the potential political damage such a proposal could cause in 2020 and hoping he will soon drop the idea. 

Last week, President Trump said Republican Senators Rick Scott, Bill Cassidy and John Barrasso would, quote, come up with something that`s really spectacular.  Those were Donald Trump`s words. 

But, yesterday, Rick Scott said he has nothing spectacular and is waiting for something spectacular from Donald Trump. 


SEN. RICK SCOTT (D), FLORIDA:  I look forward to you know, to seeing what the president is going to put out being with Nancy Pelosi in the House, it`s going to be tough to get something done.

INTERVIEWER:  Did you just say that you expect the White House to come forward with a proposal first?

SCOTT:  Well, I know in the end, the White House is going to have to have their plan. 


O`DONNELL:  Both of our guests know the policy and politics of the Affordable Care Act and how the act affects the lives of real people. 

Joining us Neera Tanden, veteran of the Obama administration who worked on the Affordable Care Act.  She`s currently the president of the Center for American Progress.

And Maria Teresa Kumar is the president and CEO of Voto Latino, an organization that has worked on outreach to the Latino communities for the Affordable Care Act.  She`s also an MSNBC contributor.

And, Neera, it comes as no surprise to me that "The Hill" is reporting tonight that Republican senators are hoping, hoping that President Trump loses in court in his attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act because they have no idea what to do if they have to replace it. 

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Yes, I think it is a case where fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, three times, four times, five times, shame on you. 

I think the reality here is that the president of the United States has never had a plan on health care.  He campaigned on having something better than the Affordable Care Act.  That never materialized.  He had a plan that went up in flames in a Republican Senate and now we have a Democratic House and there is absolutely no plan, no thought of a plan that would pass the House and the Senate.  And the idea that he`s going to risk 20 million people`s health care on the figment of his imagination is I think what is going to be a very potent issue for Democrats in 2020, just as it was an extremely potent issue in 2018. 

O`DONNELL:  And Chuck Todd had Senator Barrasso on yesterday and asked him about what the Republican plan would be.  Senator Barrasso struggled, said he had been working on one forever but they don`t have one. 

"The Washington Post" reporting a senior White House official directly involved in the discussion said there was no specific proposal.  McConnell also has no plans to put together a working group of Republican lawmakers to draft a health care blueprint as he did in 2017, according to one official familiar with party strategy. 

Senator Grassley said no hearings are planned on replacing Obamacare in his committee.  Senator Lamar Alexander who leads the Senate`s major health panel, said that his focus is working on reducing health care costs and emphasize bipartisan efforts to do so. 

Maria Teresa, if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, 20 million people are absolutely going to lose their health care coverage because there is no legislative plan to replace it. 

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  There is absolutely no plan B and the Republicans have had over six years to come up with a plan B. 

Let`s be clear.  The fact right now there are briefs coming out in support of the Affordable Care Act, yes from the traditional progressive routes, but there are right now two Republican governors asking the judge not to strike it down, making it not unconstitutional, and for the American people, most understand without health care coverage, they and their loved ones may not only lose the ability to be healthy but also the shirts on their back. 

Lawrence, prior to the Affordable Health Care Act, the number one reason Americans were filing for bankruptcy was because they couldn`t pay their medical bills.  This is completely a non sequitur.  This is cruel and it has -- nothing to do but playing politics solely for Trump because the Republicans know it`s a losing issue. 

It`s the reason why they lost the midterm election because they recognized that pulling the literally the rug from under the constituency means not only will people with pre-existing conditions not get coverage but even individuals that are basically on the middle of the road of whether or not they`re going to be able to pay for their pills or not are also going to be incredible vulnerable. 

There`s, for the very first time in American history, we have the majority of Americans who feel that not certain people should have health care coverage but that the majority of everyone should have universal health care coverage. 

O`DONNELL:  And we have a Fox News poll showing just how unpopular the president`s position is.  A Fox News poll showing only 37 percent of a prove of President Trump`s handling of health care, 52 percent disapprove of the president`s handling of health care. 

And, Neera, Republicans in Congress, especially Republican senators, know how to read those polls. 

TANDEN:  Yes, I think this is a real chasm between Republicans who are going to face elections in 2020 and Donald Trump.  You know, the last couple weeks, he started out with an attack on John McCain because of his health care vote.  Then we find out that the White House overruled the view of the attorney general and the HHS secretary in saying that they should overturn basically it`s the Trump administration position that the courts should overturn the ACA. 

And I think what you see is there are Republicans who recognize that Trump has a deep disadvantage on health care and they remember that senators like Josh Holly, right before the election said he was for pre-existing conditions though his record was totally opposed to that. And then a few months later, they turn around and try and get rid of pre-existing conditions for over a hundred million people.  Because let`s remember, pre- existing condition protections are at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

And if you have a pre-existing condition, then when this -- when the ACA goes out or if the ACA is ruled unconstitutional as the Trump administration would like it to be, you lose your pre-existing conditions protections from your insurer, private or in the exchanges.

So I think everyone recognizes, so many Republicans recognize this is a lethal issue for Democrats.  And why they hope that Trump will change his mind.

O`DONNELL:  And Maria Theresa, the -- go ahead.

KUMAR:  And I think -- oh, I`m sorry.  Go ahead.  No, go ahead.

O`DONNELL:  Go ahead, Maria Theresa.

KUMAR:  And something for the most of Americans to realize that under this idea of what is encompassing pre-existing conditions, pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition.

So you`re talking about 35 percent of women who have had children.  All of a sudden, they`re not being able to apply to health care at a very simple level.  I mean this is how in the weeds we have to get for folks to really understand what is at risk.

O`DONNELL:  And Neera, the reason this is such a potent political issue and such a hot political issue and the reason we`re talking about the polling on it is that it affects real people`s lives.  That`s the kind of thing that polls strongly in politics, real issues that really change the quality of people`s lives.

And we`re talking about over 21 million people whose lives would be shockingly changed by a court one day saying the Affordable Care Act is no longer law, including all sorts of provisions that a lot of people forget about like that 22-year-old who can remain on the parents` health insurance policy only, only because of the Affordable Care Act.

KUMAR:  That`s right.

TANDEN:  I mean what`s incredibly ironic about the situation we`re in is that the Conservatives have attacked you know, run away judiciary for overturning the will of the people.  And here we have a situation where the Conservatives tried and failed to overturn the ACA and the Congress and couldn`t get that done and now we`re using the courts.

Now, I think the courts will be a little concerned because they will be responsible for 20 million people losing their health care or a hundred million people losing pre-existing conditions protections or millions of people, 18 to 26 who are on their parents` plan.  Remember, the Affordable Care Act touches so many aspects of the health care system.

And you`re absolutely right, Lawrence.  Health care is different from so many other policies, policies affecting taxes or Wall Street because it relates to the most important decisions we make as really human beings, taking care of our children, et cetera.

So that`s why I think Trump is either giving a great benefit to Democrats or will have to reverse himself.

O`DONNELL:  Neera Tanden and Maria Theresa Kumar, thank you both for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, it is presidential campaign time.  And we have Mayor Pete Buttigieg joining us tonight.  This will be my very first conversation with the mayor and he will be joining us as a presidential candidate.

He is a fascinating person, and he was before he became a politician.  And he is an intriguing politician.  So he is worth an extended interview even if he wasn`t a presidential candidate but is he now the fastest rising presidential candidate we have seen.  He is in the thick of it now and he will join us next.


O`DONNELL:  In 2004, Bernie Sanders was a member of the United States House of Representatives.  Kamala Harris was beginning her first term as district attorney of San Francisco.  Elizabeth Warren was a Harvard Law School professor.

And Pete Buttigieg was on that same campus as Elizabeth Warren as a senior at Harvard College writing a thesis about U.S. foreign policy and on his way to graduating magna cum laude in History and Literature.

And now, they are all top tier contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Anyone could have easily predicted that Senators Warren, Harris, and Sanders would be presidential contenders this year.

But Pete Buttigieg has come from out of nowhere politically to surge in the early and highly unreliable polls and to surge in fundraising.  So quickly that he is the biggest surprise in the campaign so far.

You can actually watch the rise of Pete Buttigieg in this graph that Google released today showing Google searches of presidential candidates this year.  Pete Buttigieg starts at the bottom in January and he ends up in what is essentially a tie up there at the top as of today.

Watch that again.  Watch him just fly up there in Google searches over time, at a speed we haven`t seen before.

And joining us now in his first interview as a contender here at THE LAST WORD is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

Mayor, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  We really appreciate it.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  Good evening.  Glad to be with you.

O`DONNELL:  And how am I doing so far on the pronunciation of your last name?  I`m from Boston so the entire English language is a challenge for me, but how am I doing?

BUTTIGIEG:  You`ve got it.  Buttigieg.  I think it just rolls off the tongue.  It`s a very common name in the country of Malta where my father immigrated from, not so much anywhere else but you got it.

O`DONNELL:  OK.  Roll it off your tongue one more time because I know that T.V. news people around the country are going to rewind this tape a couple of times so they can practice the pronunciation.

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, it`s Buttigieg.  Some people say you just say boot edge edge.  Other people say, say the word Buddha and then the word "judge" and that will get you there.  But either way, three times fast gets you to Buttigieg.

O`DONNELL:  All right, either way.  Thank you very much.  All right.

So I want to get to a bunch of questions that were sent in on Twitter today.  Some of them were really great and some of our own here.

And I want to consider things you would do as president.  So one of them might involve the Mueller report, for example.  So it is possible that Attorney General Barr and the Mueller -- and the Trump administration will in effect hide the full Mueller report for the rest of Donald Trump`s term.

If you become president and the Mueller report has not been released in full, would you order the full release of the Mueller report?

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, I believe the public has a right to know what`s in that report.  I hope that it will be made available long before the new president takes office but certainly, it would be something I would believe in if it hasn`t happened by the time I get there.

O`DONNELL:  The HR-1, the very first bill that the Democrats and the House of Representatives are trying -- first major bill they`re trying to put through contains a provision that requires all presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns.  Do you support that?  Would you sign that into law as president?

BUTTIGIEG:  I do.  You know, this kind of transparency I think should be table stakes especially when we want to know the financial interests of the person we`re putting into the highest office.

The sad thing is it used to be you didn`t need to enforce this by law.  It was just customary and it was understood that if you expected the American people to trust you with that kind of power, you were going to release your tax returns, at least over a reasonable period of time.

Unfortunately, we can no longer take that for granted so it`s going to have become a matter of law.

O`DONNELL:  So will you be releasing 10 years of tax returns?

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes.  It might take a while for me to dig up the last 10 years but it`s not very complicated.  They`re all pretty thin filed.  So I`ll be prepared to do that for sure.

O`DONNELL:  How about is your 2018 tax return?  Will you be ready to file that by April 15 this year?

BUTTIGIEG:  I will be.  I`ve got to admit I haven`t gotten around to putting it in just yet.  But again, I believe in this kind of transparency and obviously, I want to practice what I preach.

O`DONNELL:  OK.  Senator Gillibrand, as you might know, released hers for her 2018 return that she`s filing before April 15.  And so that`s -- she`s the first one in the group to release this year`s return.

As president, on tax policy, would you repeal the Trump tax cuts?

BUTTIGIEG:  Yes, we -- at least the tax cuts on the wealthiest because that has blown a huge hole in the Treasury that my generation is going to be forced to pay.  And we`re going to have to pay for it probably in the form of reduced services if we don`t come up with revenue.

There`s no need for some of these giveaways to the wealthiest people in the country.  But we also need to rethink the way that our revenue is structured right now.

That`s why I think at least three ideas that have been floating out there among many people in the 2020 conversation deserve to be part of a portfolio of revenue for the future.  That would include a wealth tax, some reasonable percentage on those who are sitting on the largest amounts of wealth in this country.

It would mean a financial transactions tax to deal with the fact that people are in some cases making preposterous sums of money off of millisecond transactions that don`t seem to actually contribute very much to the real economy.

If they do fine, but that needs to be shared with the country so that we can have a more robust infrastructure and education and national security and all of the things that make the accumulation of that kind of wealth possible.  And we also need to reconsider the taxes for the income brackets that are making the most.

You know, over the last probably 40 years, Democratic and Republican politicians have accepted what you might call the Reagan consensus.  This idea that the only thing you would ever consider doing to taxes is to cut them and the only arguments over whose taxes to cut.

Obviously, we want to keep taxes low and reasonable especially for working people struggling to get by and members of the middle-class but we also know that some people in this country are not paying their fair share.

And whether it`s individual taxes like some of what I`ve been talking about or making sure we use some kind of instrument like perhaps sales apportionment to get a better share of U.S. corporate taxes that are now being hidden offshore or not appropriately taxed when it comes to global business.  We could be doing a lot better to fill the Treasury before it has to hit the working and middle class.

O`DONNELL:  We have a lot more questions for you.  And so after this break, when we come back, you just mentioned the wealth tax which is Elizabeth Warren`s idea.  When we come back after the break, I`d like to ask you what is the best idea you have heard from one of the other Democratic candidates for president.

We`re going to squeeze in a break here and we`ll come back with that with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.


O`DONNELL:  And we`re back with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.  And so we gave you the commercial break to think about it.  What is the best idea you`ve heard from one of the other Democratic candidates for president?

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I think each of the candidates is offering something really helpful.  We talked about the wealth tax.  I think that`s a good idea.

I think the baby bonds concept or some way to make sure that we are starting early on addressing some of the gaps not just in income but in the accumulation of wealth especially for our most disadvantaged, also a really good idea that`s already been contributed in this debate.

And you know, even some of the ideas that I`m not on board with, I`m glad that we have a bit more range coming from left through the center to kind of stake out where our party ought to be.  And so I don`t think it`s a bad thing for us to have perspectives in this party from ones that are more centrist than I am to folks who are calling themselves Democratic socialists if only to make sure that we remind ourselves that we ought to have as much of a range as the right has.

O`DONNELL:  I want to get to some of the questions we got on Twitter from some of our viewers.  Gina Ingle tweeted what does he intend fend to do about our troops in Afghanistan?

BUTTIGIEG:  We`re leaving Afghanistan.  The only question is whether we do it well or whether we do it poorly.

Doing it well means we do it in a context where we know that the U.S. homeland won`t be attacked because of something that`s happening there.  I think it`s a good sign that there are peace talks going on but I`m a little bit concerned with the progress of those talks and that they seem to involve the Taliban and the U.S. but the democratically elected Afghan government is being left off to the side almost as an afterthought.

I think they`re going to have to be party to any kind of lasting peace.  But the bottom line is we can`t be the guarantors of prosperity and an ideal situation in Afghanistan.

And so we`re going -- look, when I was there five years ago in 2014 as a lieutenant, I thought I was among the last U.S. troops to be there.  And now, we`re in 2019, you can be old enough to enlist and not have been alive when 9/11 happened.

The departure has to be accelerated and we have to do it in a context to make sure that we`re going to be protecting the homeland so that people don`t get sent over there again in the future.

O`DONNELL:  Twitter is allowing us to turn this into a mini town hall of questions from our viewers on Twitter.  And so Christina Myers asked, what is the biggest regret in your professional life, something you wish you could go back and change, your "if I knew then what I know now moment"?

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, early in my professional life I turned down a job offer from the Obama for Senate campaign in 2004 because I had a chance to work for John Kerry and it just didn`t seem like I could pass that up.

Although I can`t say that`s maybe necessarily a regret because if I`ve done that, and of course, I`m a great admirer of President Obama, but I`m not sure I`d be doing what I am today.

You know, at every turn, you go back, you think about things you could have done better.  Certainly, things on each of my campaigns that I would have it done differently and moments in my time as mayor that I would have adjusted course as well.

But I think the most important thing -- and you`re going to make mistakes as you go.  As a friend said to mine, it`s simply more to your credit if you make a different mistake each time.

O`DONNELL:  You worked for the Kerry presidential campaign instead of the Obama Senate campaign.  Let`s squeeze in one more before the commercial break.  This is from a former Republican who tweets as Atticus Finch, which I don`t think is his real name, Atticus Finch.

He says, "I`m a 45-year-old white male southerner.  Until 2016, I always voted GOP.  I`m Conservative but reject the politics of Donald Trump.  I believe in compromise and moderation.  I`d like to vote for a Democrat and will not vote for Trump.  What can Mayor Pete offer a voter like me?"

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, the good news is most Americans agree on a lot of issues that are being presented as divisive.  For example, statistically, the question is probably one of the 80 percent or so of Republicans who believe in universal background checks.

Maybe part of the majority of Americans who believe we ought to raise wages for everybody through an increase in the minimum wage and probably part of the bipartisan majority that believes that comprehensive immigration reform is going to have to include a compromise that creates a pathway to citizenship, something to appropriately take care of dreamers who know this country is their only home, as well as whatever measures are appropriate on border security.

These are all things that -- by that way that was the terms of a bipartisan compromise that made it in the Senate but died in the House.  The astonishing thing to me is that these are subjects of compromise among the American people but can`t be delivered by the American Congress right now because the center of gravity in Washington is so out of whack with the center of gravity of the American people.

We`re even a reasonable idea that among the American people commands some level of support and respect from both sides of the aisle is treated as too far out for Washington to deliver.

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to have to squeeze in one more commercial break.  And when we come back, Mr. Mayor, the final question of the night will be asked by one of our viewers via Twitter.

It`s a difficult question.  It`s not a policy question.  It`s a question about the Democratic field.

We`re going to get to that when we come back from this break.  We`ll be right back with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.


O`DONNELL:  And we`re back with the final question for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.  And Mayor Pete, I just want you to know that my questions are almost always about policy and future-oriented questions about what you will do if you are in the oval office making presidential decisions.

But voters, as you know, have a wider view of what controls their decision and so I`m going to ask you this question that was given to us from Laura Gately on Twitter who tweets as Laura Smately.  And she said, "Why should I vote for him over the well qualified female candidates I`m inclined to support as a woman choosing a president to make a difference for women and overall equality?

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I think you should choose the person you think is going to make the best president.  I am who I am as everybody coming into this process is.

And I`m certainly passionately committed to making sure that the top leadership in this country and in our party just as I`ve worked hard to make sure it is in my administration reflects the full diversity of the people that we serve, including making sure that there are women in the most senior positions, and people of color and everyone else has been underrepresented.

I would also argue that diversity takes many shapes.  And if a millennial son of an immigrant who`s a gay veteran isn`t part of the diversity of our party, then I don`t know what else I can say.

All of us brings the unique experience that we have and I think that informs who we are.  And also hopefully motivates us to stand up for other people who for whatever reasons of their own have been othered or have been disadvantaged so that we`re all helping each other get ahead.

O`DONNELL:  Pete Buttigieg, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it.  You have a standing invitation, open invitation to join us on this program to continue to discuss the issues in the campaign as does every presidential candidate.  We really appreciate you accepting that invitation and joining us tonight. 

BUTTIGIEG:  Sounds good.  Look forward to it. 

Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Pete Buttigieg gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.