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Trump's low approval rating unchanged. TRANSCRIPT: 4/4/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Kristan Peters-Hamlin, John Koskinen

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

And it`s Thursday.  It`s only Thursday, I should say, in what has become leak week.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Oh!

O`DONNELL:  So there could, there could be more leaks about the Mueller investigation that we`re reporting on at this very hour tomorrow night. 

MADDOW:  Though this time last night when you and I were talking what was going on with the "New York Times" story, we were remarking on the fact that we were finally hearing from people in Mueller`s investigation for the first time in 22 months.  After that, "Washington Post" had their own version of the story.  NBC News had their own version of the story.  CNN had their own version of the story. 

That means reporters at all of those news organizations now have sources connected to Mueller`s team who are willing to talk. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, and those stories are all now interacting with Chairman Jerry Nadler`s approach to getting the Mueller report.  We see this letter today where he`s quoting these news articles and putting it to the attorney general that this actually increases his rationale for demanding the full report. 

MADDOW:  A whole new ball is rolling. 

O`DONNELL:  It is. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

Well, on a day when Donald Trump announced that he wants to make Herman Cain, a member of the Federal Reserve board, it seems like a good time to ask, what is the worst Trump appointment?  At the end of this hour, I will show you video of the current front-runner for worst Trump appointment.  He had to testify to a House committee yesterday where Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark asked him if he committed a crime, she asked him if he committed a crime to help a billionaire friend of Donald Trump who is also a sex trafficker and a child rapist. 

Now, you expect his answer to be, of course not, of course not, I absolutely did not commit a crime to help a sex trafficker and child rapist.  But this is the Trump administration we`re talking about, so that wasn`t his answer.  You`re going to want to see every minute of Congresswoman Katherine Clark going in on the person who as of now is the front-runner for worst Donald Trump appointee.  That will be at the end of this hour. 

There`s also going to be a small tax law class a little later in this hour.  I have more important tax law to read to you to add to our coverage from last night about the House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal demanding President Trump`s tax returns.  If President Trump has tried to interfere with that demand, then President Trump could already be guilty of a crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  If President Trump picked up the phone and called the IRS commissioner and said, don`t give them my tax returns, then president Trump committed a federal crime. 

This is an even more obscure law than the not so obscure law that Chairman Richard Neal is using to demand the president`s tax returns.  We will have former commissioner of the IRS joining us who knows these laws. 

But first, the drip, drip, drip of what appear to be leaks from inside the Mueller investigation are now driving Congress`s demands for the Mueller report.  Today, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler sent a letter to the attorney general based entirely on those leaks and used him as further reason to demand the full unredacted release of the Mueller report to the Judiciary Committee. 

There`s something very important that appears in every story that has been written about these leaks by the reporters who have obtained these leaks.  I`m going to ask one of those reporters about this in a moment. 

"The New York Times," "Washington Post," and NBC News all attribute the leaks the same way.  They do not attribute the leaks directly to members of the Mueller investigation team.  They all attribute leaks to people who have spoken to members of the Mueller team.  In some reports, they are identified as associates of the Mueller team. 

Here`s what NBC News reporting added to what has now become the leaks beat.  They added this today. 

According to a senior law enforcement official who has spoken to members of Mueller`s team, Mueller team members say the Mueller report includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russian while Mueller found no coordination or criminal conspiracy the official said, some on the special counsel`s team say his findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.

And so when the full Mueller report comes out, will the Trump defense be no collusion, just manipulation?  Russian manipulation of the Trump campaign. 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler -- his letter to the attorney general today begins this way: I write to you regarding troubling press reports relating to your handling of special counsel Mueller`s report and to your knowledge that you immediately release to the public any summaries contained in the report that may have been prepared by the special counsel.  "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" both report that some in the special counsel`s office have raised concerns about your letter summarizing the results of the special counsel`s investigation.  These reports suggest that the special counsel prepared his own summaries intended for public consumption which you chose to withhold in favor your own. 

In fact, one unnamed U.S. official is quoted as saying that Mueller`s team assumed the information was going to be made available to the public and so they prepared their summaries to be shared in their own words and not in the attorney general`s summary of their work as turned out to be the case. 

The news stories provoked Chairman Nadler to make a new request of the attorney general.  Quote: We also request that you produce to the committee all communications between the special counsel`s office and the department regarding the report, including those regarding the disclosure of the report to Congress, the disclosure of the report to the public and those regarding your March 24th letter that purports to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the special counsel and the results of his investigation.

So, that`s Jerry Nadler saying he now wants to see every memo, every email, every text between the special counsel`s office and the attorney general`s office about the Mueller report and the release of the Mueller report.  Jerry Nadler took note of a Justice Department statement earlier today about the release of the report. 

At the close of his letter, Jerry Nadler said the department`s press statement today noted that you do not believe the report should be released in serial or piecemeal fashion.  Unfortunately, that selective release has in effect already occurred, even though the attorney general himself has now written two public letters in which he described the Mueller report.  He today said he doesn`t believe the report should be released in piecemeal fashion. 

And Jerry Nadler was factually correct to point out the attorney general has already done that himself.  He`s already releasing tiny pieces of the report.  None of them even complete sentences. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had it with the piecemeal release of information about the Mueller report. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Release the Mueller report as soon as possible.  And let me just say, the Mueller report will be released.  It`s just a question of -- to us, it is inevitable.  To them, it is inconceivable.  Shorten the distance between the inevitable and inconceivable. 

Show us the report.  I think they should release the report.  That`s where the evidence is.  The information is.  Let`s see the report. 

If they don`t have anything to hide, they shouldn`t worry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Simple as that. 

We have exactly who we need to sort all of this out.  Joining our discussion now to consider the week of leaks, the possible legal struggle between the attorney general and special prosecutor and the politics of it all. 

Ken Dilanian is joining us.  He`s one of the reporters who broke the NBC News story today reporting on the Mueller team`s reaction to the attorney general`s handling of the Mueller report.  Ken Dilanian is an intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News. 

Former federal prosecutor Kristan Peters-Hamlin is joining us.  She was assistant U.S. attorney when Robert Mueller was the U.S. attorney, and her boss.  She obviously knows the Mueller methods. 

And for a look at the Mueller report`s complicated place in our politics now, there`s no one better to analyze that for us than John Heilemann.  John Heilemann is a national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.  He is co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus."

And, Ken Dilanian, let me start with you and your reporting.  I`m noticing that you don`t see in any of these reports anyone quoting directly, and including your reporting, a member of the Mueller team.  It seems to be people who have spoken with members of the Mueller team. 

Is that an accurate representation of the sourcing? 

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGECE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  It is, Lawrence.  I`ll be honest with you -- it`s not the kind of reporting I normally like to do, quoting anonymous sources speaking to anonymous other people, you know, relating to second hand information.  But in this case, the demand for the information is such and the investigation is sensitive enough, that we were all willing to accept information from trusted sources, people we`ve been dealing with a long time who we know are talking to members of the Mueller team. 

And these are people, by the way, these members of the Mueller team, many of them work for the justice department.  They`re putting their careers at sensitive enough, that we were all willing to accept information from trusted sources, people we`ve been dealing with a long time who we know are talking to members of the Mueller team.  And these are people, these members of the Mueller team, many of them work for the Justice Department.  So, they are putting their careers at risk by discussing out of school information about a sensitive investigation and speaking off the reservation as it were. 

But they are frustrated and want this information out.  They`re talking to friends, talking to associates.  They know -- it`s not a plant.  I mean, they`re not doing it with the purpose of it to be passed on to media.  But I think they know by talking that some of this stuff is going to find its way to the press and it has. 

And, look, I mean, the biggest frustration that I heard was the fact that Barr took it upon himself to clear the president on obstruction.  It`s been a question since the moment he did that.  You know, was that coordinated with the Mueller team?  Did the Mueller team know that was going to happen?

What I was told was at least some faction of the Mueller team believes that was completely inappropriate and not what they envisioned happening.  They wanted to throw that question to Congress.  They presented evidence on both sides of the obstruction question.  It is true Mueller did not reach a legal conclusion as to whether there was a prosecutable case. 

But the idea wasn`t that Barr would pronounce the president clean on obstruction.  Then there are objections to the language he used in his letter where he said there was no criminal intent.  Rod Rosenstein and I looked at this case, and we found that it did not meet the burden of prosecution. 

Well, the Mueller team does not -- or at least some members of the Mueller team does not agree with that.  They think there was evidence that President Trump obstructed justice.  There wasn`t enough that Mueller made the call.  We still don`t know the reason for that. 

And, you know, full disclosure, Lawrence.  We don`t know how many members of the Mueller team feel this way and don`t know whether Bob Mueller himself feels this way and whether he knew that Barr was going to do this.  But we felt it was important enough to pass along to viewers that these concerns exist. 

O`DONNELL:  Kristan, you`re a former colleague of Bob Mueller.  You`re familiar with his methods.  Is what we`re learning as we sits here which is very different what we knew on Monday night about all this, what you would expect from Mueller this notion that his report contains some summary material that was instantly ready to be released to the public because he knew there would be a demand, there might be a need for something to be released instantly?  Are these reports you`re hearing from inside the Mueller investigation, do they make sense to you in terms of what you know about the Mueller method? 

KRISTAN PETERS-HAMLIN, WORKED WITH ROBERT MUELLER 1994-1996:  Mueller is a man of impeccable integrity and he`s incredibly skilled.  I believe that what is really going on here is that Bob Mueller understands that in the rare sort of circumstance where you have the president of the United States, that the prosecutor in those kinds of cases are, is, Congress.  So he will laid out all the evidence and he decided that in this instance, it should be the United States Congress that makes the decision and that`s what Leon Jaworski did, as well. 

And that would have been an appropriate thing to do.  He`s a very by the book person and he`s not at all afraid to make a decision.  He`s a decisive person once he`s gotten all of the evidence and the facts.  I think what we have here is a pass that was thrown to Congress by the Mueller team with adequate evidence for Congress to make the decision on obstruction. 

And there was an interception by Bill Barr and he ran in the exact opposite direction.  I couldn`t agree more with the problems on the obstruction analysis.  There are serious analytical problems with the summary with respect to the findings that he suggested regarding obstruction.  He has very serious analytical problems and there are also process problems with somebody like Rod Rosenstein who said he should be not involved in this.  We need a special prosecutor because he was sort of an accessory after the fact if it was a crime. 

It`s problematic to have him involved along with Barr who basically telegraphed he thinks there`s no such thing as presidential obstruction when he was lobbying for the position. 

O`DONNELL:  John Heilemann, Chuck Grassley tweeted today with no real provocation, I support release of the Mueller report.  He could have easily not put that tweet out today.  He used to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee which would have had direct jurisdiction.  He would have been receiving these letters from Barr. 

So, he`s an important voice among Republicans on this kind of issue. 

JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Yes, look, there are a couple places where angels appear to tread.  One is arguing with you about Congress, which I`m not going to do tonight.  Another is argue with Ken Dilanian about his reporting. 

But I will say this what my sense of this is on the basis of some reporting of my own.  I think Ken is just a little bit off in his assessment of the motivations of the Mueller team.  I don`t think they were thinking that that they told people about this it might get in the press.  They wanted this in the press.  This is a group of people who were buttoned up. 

O`DONNELL:  You`re saying this is a deliberate indirectly. 

HEILEMANN:  This is a deliberate -- yes.

O`DONNELL:  They`ve said it to people who they know are going to say it. 

HEILEMANN:  And probably in some case have given different benediction to people and said, you know, if you`re called by a reporter, I`m happy to have you talk about it, because if you think about, they were so buttoned up for the entirety of this, this entire investigation, nothing leaked, no one spoke. 

To deviate from that, even though the investigation has now formally ended, is such an -- it`s a left turn for them.  And I think it speaks to outrage as what they see having been done by the attorney general.  I think they feel that this -- the notion that they wrote executive summaries intending to get around all of the problems of -- at least in the first instance to get around all the problems of things that couldn`t come out because of grand jury testimony or that couldn`t come out because of classification, that they wanted to speak to the public and put their stamp on it and denied that possibility. 

I think these people who dedicated their lives to this are incredibly pissed off is the right word.  It`s feeding into this political situation that Grassley is part of, which is that the tide is -- Bill Barr was in a very tenuous situation politically when he got this job.  The tide has turned against him, dramatically.  You see that on the Democratic side 100 percent.  No benefit of the doubt for him anymore.  Republicans are starting to feel the same way. 

O`DONNELL:  Ken, I want to get your reaction about the sourcing, because I think we`re going to have more -- my sense is we`ll have more of these stories.  You might have more of these stories tomorrow or the days to come. 

But, Kristan, I want to come back to you for a moment.  You`re nodding when John was talking about the frustrations of the Mueller team.  Talk about the difference of their situation from when they were actually on the job working on this report to the point where they`re now a couple of weeks out of the job.  How does that change things for them?  Why does that make them more willing to talk to their associates who then talked to Ken Dilanian? 

PETERS-HAMLIN:  I don`t think that the reason that they`re talking now is because now they`re out of the position.  I think the reason they`re talking now is the precise reason he just identified.  This is a buttoned up operation.  Bob Mueller is a buttoned up guy.  And the team was buttoned up, as well.  And now they`re whistleblowers. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

PETERS-HAMLIN:  That`s what the issue is.  I mean, their outrage.  I`ve got to tell you the people that appear to be to me to be the most outraged by what`s going on are all the former federal prosecutors with whom I speak because we understand the norms and the guardrails are off. 

I mean, this is not the Department of Justice that I recognize.  This is not a presidency that I recognize.  And I`m a bit of a presidential history buff.  I`ve never seen anything like this.  I can`t even imagine this is my country. 

O`DONNELL:  Let me give Ken Dilanian the last word in this segment on the dynamics of these leaks.  Why they`ve been happening and what your projection is on what you think -- what more you think you might be getting on these kinds of leaks before the Mueller report is released

DILANIAN:  Well, I don`t think you can dismiss what John is saying.  I think part of it is these people have left the Mueller orbit, that tight circle and gone back to their other jobs and they`re clearly more free to talk at least to associates.  Regardless of that, the frustration is that William Barr set a narrative with a cursory brief document that essentially absolved the president legally of crimes. 

But the people who did this investigation for two years know there`s a lot more than that, both on the obstruction issue and on the collusion issue.  As you said, there`s a whole narrative about Russian contacts and the question whether the Trump campaign was manipulated was an unwitting dupe over Russian intelligence operation.  We`ll see more information about that.  A lot depends how quickly William Barr can get this report out. 

And, look, we`re getting signals from the Justice Department the intent is to do that.  He`s going to be grilled about this. 

O`DONNELL:  Let me get a last word from John.  John, it seems and seemed to me at the time that Donald Trump had his very best day with the Mueller report on the Monday coverage after that Sunday night letter from the attorney general where the headlines treated as if the Mueller report had been released.  They didn`t say the Barr better, they said the Mueller report. 

Everything else since then has not been positive for the president. 

HEILEMANN:  Right.  And, look, I think that Barr made a gamble in addition to do this thing that outraged a lot of people and people who thought Bill Barr, their hope was that Barr would be the institutionalist even though he wrote a memo begging for the job, even though he put forward his views on obstruction of justice.  But he made a public releases gamble. 

It was like I`m going to put the most positive spin on this.  We`ll let first impressions sink in that are positive for Trump and then when we get to the bad stuff, where it all comes out, because he must know it`s all going to come out, and Mueller will testify that heal have to testify, that by then, first impressions will be set. 

But that is a dangerous gamble because firsts in there culture, first impressions don`t hold.  First impressions go away.  What happens is the relentless pounding of negative stories that come out later could easily supplant the positive impression from that Monday.  This could make the situation worse politically for Trump rather than better. 

O`DONNELL:  John Heilemann, Kristan Peters-Hamlin and Ken Dilanian, thank you all for starting us of. 

And, Ken Dilanian, I`m going to be here tomorrow night.  So, bring your leaks a little bit earlier. 

DILANIAN:  I`ll give it my best shot. 

O`DONNELL:  Can I get them sooner?  I`ll be here in your here. 

DILANIAN:  Thank you.  You`ll be first to know. 

O`DONNELL:  Really appreciate it.  Thank you. 

And when we come back, former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will join us about Chairman Richie Neal`s demand for the Trump tax returns and the possibility that President Trump has already committed a crime in trying to block the IRS from handing over those tax returns. 

And at the end of the hour, we will take a look at the front-runner, the man who is now the front-runner for worst Trump nominee.  He`s the one who helped a billionaire friend of Donald Trump avoid prison time for sex trafficking and child rape.  You will want to see the video of him being questioned about that in the House of Representatives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  After House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal used his unique and absolute legal power to demand that the IRS commissioner give him six years of Donald Trump`s personal and business tax returns, "The Washington Post" is reporting privately, Trump has told White House advisers that he does not plan to hand over his tax returns to Congress and that he would fight the issue to the Supreme Court hoping to stall it until after the 2020 election, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversation.  Treasury officials will not comply with the request until they are compelled to do so, the officials said. 

Donald Trump has absolutely no legal right to the stop the IRS commissioner from handing over those tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Not only that, it is a crime for Donald Trump specifically to tell the IRS commissioner not to hand over his tax returns which brings us to an even more obscure law than the law chairman kneel used to demand the president`s tax returns. 

Internal Revenue Service code Title 26 Section 7217, prohibition on executive branch influence over taxpayer audits and other investigations.  That phrase "other investigations" applies to the investigation that Chairman Richard Neal is conducting. 

This law uses the phrase applicable person because it`s a law that does not apply to you and me.  It doesn`t apply to everyone.  So, who is an applicable person in for pumps of this section the term applicable person means the president, the vice president, any employee of the executive office of the president and any employee of the executive office of the vice president. 

And here is what the law says about an applicable person meaning the president.  It shall be unlawful for any applicable person to request directly or indirectly any officer or employee of the Internal Revenue Service to conduct or terminate an audit or other investigation of any particular taxpayer with respect to the tax liability of such taxpayer. 

Having written sections of the Tax Code when I was on the staff of the Senate Finance Committee, let me translate that for you.  It says it`s a crime for the president to request that the IRS commissioner or anyone else at the IRS not cooperate with Chairman Richard Neal`s investigation.  And the law doesn`t stop there. 

If the president has made that phone call, if the president has called up the commissioner of the IRS any time in the last few months when they knew this was coming and said, don`t give them my tax returns, the IRS commissioner is under legal obligation to immediately report that phone call to their treasury`s inspector general and if the commissioner doesn`t do that, then the commissioner has himself committed a crime by not reporting the Trump request. 

The penalty in this law for the president or anyone in the Trump White House calling up the IRS commissioner and telling him not to hand over the tax returns is a maximum of five years in prison.  The penalty for the IRS commissioner himself not reporting that someone made that request is the same thing -- maximum of five years in prison. 

So knowing the impulse of Donald Trump as we do, what is the likelihood he has committed that federal crime already?  And knowing the incompetence and legal illiteracy of Trump appointees, what is the likelihood that Donald Trump`s IRS commissioner, Charles Reading, has committed the crime of not reporting the president`s possible crime?  The answer to both questions is we don`t know. 

But we know both things are possible because this is the Trump administration, because we know there is nothing Donald Trump wants to keep secret more than his tax returns.  And Donald Trump saw this coming.  His IRS commissioner saw this coming.  They`ve known for months that Chairman Neal was going to do this, so did Donald Trump at any point say to anyone in the IRS or tell anyone working in the Trump White House, to tell the IRS to never hand over the Trump tax returns?

The law allows one specific person in the executive branch to communicate with the IRS about this.  And that person is the attorney general. 

The law also allows people not working in the executive branch like, for example, President Trump`s personal attorneys to communicate with the IRS about this.  And so, the president seemed very well-rehearsed today when he was asked about this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Are you willing to tell the commissioner of the IRS not to disclose to the House Ways and Means Committee your tax returns? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They`ll speak to my lawyers, they`ll speak to the attorney general. 

REPORTER:  Will you direct the IRS to do that? 

TRUMP:  They`ll speak to my lawyers and they`ll speak to the attorney general. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  My exclusive interview with former IRS commissioner John Koskinen is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE:  There are a series of other options going forward that we will explore.  But we`ve already begun to think about them.

REPORTER:  Are you considering subpoenas?

NEAL:  Well, that`s something that we would have to consider down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  That is the man of few public words.  The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal who has issued his demand for the Trump tax returns.

Our next guest is someone who can give us insight into the real workings of the Internal Revenue Service like no one else can.  John Koskinen served as the IRS commissioner from 2013 to 2017 in the Obama administration.  Commissioner, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  It`s a real honor to speak to you about this.

I first want to get your reading of Section 6103 of the Tax Code which gives the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee the right to demand, not request, demand tax returns of any individual from the IRS commissioner.  Do you see it applying in the way that Chairman Neal has used it?

JOHN KOSKINEN, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER:  Well, the committee has obviously moved thoughtfully and carefully trying to insure that in this situation we don`t set a precedent that comes back to haunt everyone which would be to allow a chairman of committees and the Congress to, for any reasons, start requesting anyone`s tax returns for any purpose, whether it`s harassment or intimidation.

And so it is important while the statute is clear, it says shall, to insure that it`s done in a way that to the extent it`s precedential and it will be going forward, taxpayers are protected from having their information produced for something beyond the legitimate operations of the Congress.

So as I say, the committee has worked to have an overall tax oversight description of what they need the returns for and we`ll see how people respond to that.

O`DONNELL:  And when the Republicans were in control of these committees, you received some demands under Section 6103, didn`t you?

KOSKINEN:  I never received them personally.  Before I got there, there was the issue of whether the IRS was targeting conservative groups.

And so some of the tax returns or applications from those groups were requested and produced to the oversight -- or to the Ways and Means Committee for a review to see what the IRS operations were.  But it never - - none of those situations rose to this kind of an occasion and in none of those situations should the committee vote to make any of that information public as a matter of course.

O`DONNELL:  Are you aware of any case where the IRS commissioner, any of your predecessors, did not comply with the demand from the chairman of Finance or the chairman of Ways and Means like this?

KOSKINEN:  I`m not aware of any situation that had this kind of a controversy associated with it.  And I would say, first, I should remind everybody, I don`t know anything about the president`s taxes.  And if I did, I wouldn`t be able to talk about it.  So this is a general discussion.

But the statute does say the Secretary shall.  And so the statute seems to contemplate that the secretary of the Treasury is going to make this decision, not the IRS commissioner.

Although there are a lot of cases where one says the Treasury secretary, it means the IRS commissioner.  But technically, this is ultimately a decision for the treasury secretary.

O`DONNELL:  And I just want to mention that other law that I was talking about is just a post-Watergate law where they were actually trying to protect the IRS from presidents like Richard Nixon who used to pick up the phone and tell the IRS who he wanted audited this week.

And so they`ve really created a roadblock of any of that kind of communication between the president and the IRS commissioner.  How much communication did you have with President Obama directly when you were IRS commissioner?

KOSKINEN:  I met with him once shortly after I was confirmed in which he thanked me for taking on what appeared at the time to be a thankless job and then never heard from anyone in the White House, never talked to the president after that.

Actually, I never talked to President Trump after his inauguration.  And never actually had anyone from the White House ever and neither -- I served for a year in the Trump administration and no one from the White House ever called about any issue with regard to tax administration.

I always try to make it clear to everyone that the IRS does tax administration independently without outside influence.  Tax policy, on the other hand, tax legislation, other issues are not the domain of the IRS.  They really are the domain of the Treasury secretary and the political arms of the administration.

O`DONNELL:  Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Commissioner.  Really appreciate it.

KOSKINEN:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, President Trump has not gotten a bump in the polls after William Barr`s summary of the Mueller report.  It seems nothing can turn things favorably for the president in the polls.  Jason Johnson will join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  President Trump`s poll numbers did not move at all after Attorney General William Barr wrote a letter that Donald Trump claimed exonerated him in the Mueller investigation.  If the public believed that or even if a tiny fraction of the public believed that, Donald Trump`s poll numbers would have gone up.

They are unchanged.  He`s locked in at a 43 percent approval rating and there is no good news that Donald Trump can look forward to try to change those poll numbers.

Joining us now for the politics of where the president now stands, Jason Johnson.  He`s the politics editor at theroot.com.  He`s an MSNCB contributor.

And Jason, you have this active Democratic presidential field and there`s not much focus on the Republican campaign for the presidency because it is, of course, President Trump.  I`ve never seen a candidate more locked in cement in polling.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM:  Yes, there`s absolutely nothing Donald Trump can do to change anyone`s opinion of him at this point.  Now, if you`re a Republican, you`re enthused, right because you`re like, look, he won with 47 percent last time.  All I need is a four percent bump.  The economy is still going good.

But the other problem is this.  If there is no flexibility, Donald Trump is not running against Hillary Clinton next year.  He`s running against objectively the most qualified field of presidential candidates in about 35 years.

If you look at the experience, if you look at the money raised, if you look at the number of constituents they represent.  If he has no flexibility in his numbers he can`t win.

He`s not running against Hillary.  He`s not running against a hated person.  These numbers are not good when the largest controversy of your presidency ending doesn`t help.

O`DONNELL:  Well, he`s done something that no other first-term president has ever done.  He hasn`t spent one second trying to appeal to a voter who didn`t already vote for him.

JOHNSON:  Well, he`s delusional.  That`s part of it.  He`s delusional.

And he`s being lied to by Kellyanne Conway and everyone else around him who would tell him he is doing better than he is.  He can`t flip anybody.

So this is an administration and this is a Republican Party that knows that their success next year is in voter suppression.  They will not be able to change anyone`s minds.  They will not be able to bring people out.

And the problem is voter suppression only works if there is no enthusiasm on the other side.  If the Democrats pick someone that people are excited about, that will overcome voter I.D., polling issues, et cetera, et cetera.  And I don`t think Trump is really prepared for that right now.

O`DONNELL:  Jason Johnson, thank you very much for joining us tonight on the politics of it all.

And when we come back, President Trump wants Herman Cain to be a member of the Federal Reserve.  But even that might not turn out to be President Trump`s worst appointment.  That`s next.

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HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When they ask me who is the president of Uz-Becky-Becky-Becky-stan-stan, I`m going to say you know, I don`t know.  Do you know?

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O`DONNELL:  I don`t know.  He`s back.  Donald Trump wants to add Herman Cain to his list of worst presidential appointments in history.

Today, the president said he`s going to nominate Herman Cain to be a member of the Federal Reserve.  We already know what Herman Cain thinks interest rates should be.

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CAIN:  Nine, nine, nine.  Nine, nine, nine.  Nine, nine, nine.

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O`DONNELL:  Herman Cain dropped out of the 2012 presidential primary campaign after a brief surge at the top of the Republican primary polls when he was credibly accused of having had a long-term extra-marital affair and credibly accused of sexual harassment.

Those were the days when most Republican primary voters actually cared about things like that.  The only reason to want to nominate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board now is to make the current Trump nominee to the Federal Reserve look better.

The president has already nominated Steven Moore who is on his way to a lot of trouble if he ever makes it to his not yet scheduled Senate confirmation hearing because Steven Moore is not an economist.  He has only a Master`s degree in Economics and you don`t really qualify as a member of the profession without a P.H.D. in Economics.

But now, that his nomination has provoked a closer look at Steven Moore`s background, we now know that court records show that he is a deadbeat dad who failed to pay child support for several months and a tax cheat who, when he did pay child support, deducted it on his tax return which is completely illegal.

Child support is not tax deductible.  Everyone who pays child support knows that.  But Herman Cain and Steven Moore are not Donald Trump`s worst choice for a presidential appointment.

His worst choice is the guy who let a billionaire sex trafficker and child rapist get off the hook with no prison time.  The man who did that is now a Trump cabinet member and he was asked in a hearing of the House of Representatives yesterday if he broke the law to help the billionaire sex trafficker and child rapist.  We`ll show you that video next.

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O`DONNELL:  The Trump Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta is now a front-runner for worst person appointed by President Trump.  He was called to the House of Representatives yesterday to testify on the president`s budget proposal for the Labor Department.

And we knew he was going to be asked about his days as a federal prosecutor in Florida when he made a deal with President Trump`s billionaire friend Jeffrey Epstein who was facing possible charges of possible sex trafficking and child rape.

And knowing that was going to happen, you would think that Alex Acosta would have been a little more careful about the Labor Department`s budget for stopping child labor and human trafficking.

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REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The International Labor Affairs Bureau, ILAB, within the Department of Labor is responsible for combatting exploitive child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking.  Is that correct?

ALEX ACOSTA, SECRETARY OF LABOR:  That is correct.

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O`DONNELL:  So, the smart move for Alex Acosta would have been to increase the Labor Department`s spending on the ILAB piece of their budget.  It`s a relatively small item in the Labor Department budget, so a small increase in a small item in the budget would help the Labor secretary with that little problem of his.

That when he was a prosecutor he made a deal that allowed a billionaire sex trafficker and child rapist to avoid prison.  That would be a smart move, but this is the Trump Labor secretary we`re talking about.

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CLARK:  You`ve also proposed a budget cut of almost 80 percent, 79 percent to ILAB, where this work is done, bringing its budget from $68 million to just $18.5 million.

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O`DONNELL:  Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts was just getting warmed up.  What you`re about to see could only happen in the Trump administration because only Donald Trump would appoint someone like Alex Acosta to his cabinet.  And only the Trump-controlled Republican Senate would vote to confirm someone who now stands accused by a federal judge of breaking the law, breaking the law as a prosecutor to help a billionaire sex trafficker and child rapist.

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CLARK:  When you were the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, your office investigated Jeffrey Epstein and found -- your office found that there had been a sexual abuse pyramid scheme that involved at least 36 underage girls, ranging from age from 14 to 17.

This is horrifying and sick stuff.  Mr. Epstein raped and assaulted these girls.  He recruited them out of shopping malls.  He had employees that helped with this.

And then he invited his friends to do the same.  And there is evidence that he transported these girls among his mansions throughout the United States and abroad.  Epstein and his friends destroyed these girls` lives.

Senator Ben Sasse called Mr. Epstein a monster.  Would you say that`s a fair characterization?

ACOSTA:  He engaged in vile crimes, yes.

CLARK:  You`re a law professor, besides many of your other jobs that you`ve had.  And I`m sure you know there is no such thing as child prostitution under federal law, only child sex trafficking, and each offense under 18USC1591 carries a sentence ranging from 10 years to life in prison.

So logically, Mr. Epstein, with the investigation of the Federal U.S. Attorney`s Office should have been looking at a potential sentence of 360 years, at a minimum, but that`s not what happened because there was a power dynamic here, wasn`t there?

We had teenage girls with no power who were rape and sexual assault victims and we had Mr. Epstein and his friends, extremely powerful, wealthy, and connected people.  And in a ruling on February 21, 2019, Judge Mara found you illegally entered a non-prosecution agreement that allows Mr. Epstein to serve just 13 months in county jail where he received 12 hours a day on work release six days out of the week.

The judge found you broke the law, Secretary Acosta, when you chose not to tell the victims about this deal, and that you gave them the impression that this investigation was ongoing.  And do you disagree with any of the facts that were found in the opinion that Judge Mara issued?

ACOSTA:  Congresswoman, first, let me say that the Southern District of Florida has prosecuted sex trafficking aggressively in the past and it is an incredibly important issue and it`s something that needs to be aggressively pursued.  Turning to the -- turning to --

CLARK:  Do you disagree -- I get to ask the questions here.  Do you disagree with any of the facts as presented in the opinion of Judge Mara?

ACOSTA:  The Department of Justice, I think rightly so for the past 12 years, has defended the action --

CLARK:  That is a yes or no question.  I ask unanimous consent to submit the opinion.

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O`DONNELL:  And Alex Acosta did not disagree with one word of the judge`s opinion that Congresswoman Clark was referring to.  The judge said that Alex Acosta broke the law.  Alex Acosta had a chance to say, no, I did not break the law but he didn`t say that.

But at least he did say that what Jeffrey Epstein did were "vile crimes."  That`s not the way Donald Trump saw his friend, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.  He thinks Jeffrey Epstein`s a terrific guy.  And Donald Trump seems to have had some idea of what Jeffrey Epstein was up to.  He joked about it.

Here`s what Donald Trump said about his friend Jeffrey Epstein in 2002.  Donald Trump said, "I`ve known Jeff for 15 years.  Terrific guy.  He`s a lot of fun to be with.  It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do.  And many of them are on the younger side.  No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

On the younger side.  Terrific guy.  Not a monster.  Donald Trump doesn`t think Jeffrey Epstein is a monster.  Donald Trump still hasn`t said that what Jeffrey Epstein did were vile crimes.

In fact, after everything that has been publicly revealed about Jeffrey Epstein in court, Donald Trump still hasn`t said anything negative about his friend.  We couldn`t find a negative word that Donald Trump has said about Jeffrey Epstein, right up to this date.

And so no matter how bad the Trump appointees get, no matter how far down in the barrel Donald Trump reaches for his next nominee to a federal position , the worst person in the Trump administration is always going to be Donald Trump.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

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