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Trump purges Homeland Security leadership. TRANSCRIPT: 4/8/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Lawrence Summers, Anna Palmer

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

And I believe it`s the next day that William Barr testifies to the Senate Appropriations Committee. 


O`DONNELL:  And there`s a big overlap on Senate Appropriations with Senate Judiciary.  I`m just looking at the list, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein.  There`s more than a few who will have real knowledge about how to question the attorney general about the inner workings of the department on something like you know what do you do when you get a special prosecutor`s report. 

MADDOW:  Right, exactly.  And he was very, very, very slippery on the subject when he was at his confirmation hearing, kept talking about everything as a hypothetical.  Now, they`re asking about a specific matter that is no longer the hypothetical.  Hopefully skilled questioners from either party, from either House of Congress over these next two days of hearings with them will be able to get some explanation. 

His behavior has been very freelance.  He`s been sort of making it up as he goes along for these last two and a half weeks.  Hopefully, they`ll get them to explain what he`s been doing. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, America awaits the Mueller report and the attorney general testifies twice this week.  This is going to be interesting. 

MADDOW:  That`s right.  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

Well, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the law that makes it absolutely mandatory for the IRS to hand over anyone`s tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the tax-writing committees. 

I`ve been reading you that law for the last couple of nights ever since Chairman Richie Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee delivered his demand to the IRS for those tax returns.  But I learned something tonight.  I learned something tonight about that law and I learned it from a former treasury secretary who is in a position to know these things. 

And that is former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.  He`s the Harvard economics professor who was Bill Clinton`s secretary.  He served in the Obama administration also. 

And he has identified an element of precedent in the treasury that makes this a much more interesting situation than even I thought.  And he has words of advice including legal advice for the current treasury secretary about how to handle himself in this situation, because it is much trickier than I realized until Larry Summers wrote about it and Larry Summers will be joining us tonight. 

And also, at the end of the hour, at the end of the hour tonight, what did Barack Obama do when he was being audited by the IRS?  What did he do with his tax returns?  Because Barack Obama was repeatedly audited by the IRS.  And you never heard him talk about it, but he was.  And I`ll tell you, at the end of this hour exactly the way Barack Obama handled his tax returns when he was being audited.

And, of course, we all remember that the big Trump reason for never releasing his tax returns is that he was being audited.  We never knew if that was true during the campaign.  But we do nope exactly what`s happening to Donald Trump`s tax returns right now. 

But the lesson of how Barack Obama handled his tax returns when they were being audited is what we`re going to say for the end of this hour.  It`s an important lesson to consider this week, deadline week for the Trump tax returns.  Measuring the chaos level in the Trump White House has never been an exact science, but it seems that each successive White House chief of staff has made matters worse, much worse. 

John Kelly was brought in as White House chief of staff to control the chaos that exploded under the first White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and now, Mick Mulvaney`s tenure as the third White House chief of staff is reaching new levels of chaos tonight.  President Trump is now on the attack against his own administration, especially anyone involved in the job of controlling the southern border. 

The president got rid of his Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last night.  So far, the president is allowing her to publicly claim that she resigned, but we will surely be seeing the "I fired her" tweets probably by the end of this week because President Trump never lets any of his failed cabinet members leave without some kind of nasty kick as they`re on their bay out the door. 

Kirstjen Nielsen`s last day is supposed to be Wednesday of this week.  We`ll see if she lasts that long. 

Today, the president fired the Secret Service director.  And while he was at it, he fired the Immigration and Customs Enforcement director.  The surprise firing of Kirstjen Nielsen last night came after the president told Fox News on Friday when he visited the border in California, quote, the country is full.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the president repeatedly, quote, "called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to depend that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. 

According to NBC News, President Donald Trump has for months urged his administration to reinstate large scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of meetings an the White House.  NBC News also reports Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating the policy and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separation.  Senior administration officials say that President Trump ordered Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso on March 22nd at 12:00 noon. 

The plan was that in subsequent days, the Trump administration would then shut down other ports, Kirstjen Nielsen then told the president that that would be a bad and even dangerous ideas and proposes an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports.  According to two people in the room, the president said, I don`t care. 

The Trump chaos comes while Congress and the country await Attorney General William Barr`s redacted version of the Mueller report this week.  Attorney General Barr will be forced to testify to the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.  Those hearings are supposed to be about the Justice Department`s budget but you can expect questioning about the Mueller report. 

Joining us now, Joyce Vance, former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and CEO of Voto Latino, and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times".  They`re all MSNBC contributors and all necessary to the moving parts of this discussion. 

Peter Baker, let me start with you.  You`re part of the reporting team that`s delivering us what we think is happening inside this White House.  But this is -- we`ve said this before but with each successive White House chief of staff, this feels like a new layer level of chaos with these multiple firings. 

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  What you`re seeing is a president frustrated after two years in office he hasn`t been able to have the impact on the border he thought he would be able to have.  He hasn`t gotten the wall built, although he went down last week to claim that it`s now under construction.  He hasn`t gotten the numbers, you know, down to zero obviously in fact they`ve been coming up the last couple months.  And he blamed Kirstjen Nielsen for this. 

That`s not the only one who is going to leave as a result.  Our reporting shows a number of top people at the Department of Homeland Security will leave in the coming days probably because he`s trying to clean house and find a new team of people.  That tells you something that two years in, and he hasn`t found a team he thinks can carry out the wishes he has for this.  And sometimes for those reasons, you decide it officials like Secretary Nielsen felt that the things he was asking them to do were not perfectly legal, not appropriate, not effective even.  But rather than accept that, he`s going to find a new team until he finds one that he thinks is going to be more effective at stopping people from coming over the boarder. 

O`DONNELL:  Peter, what do we know about the firing of the head of the Secret Service? 

BAKER:  Yes, that one is not directly related to immigration but it`s part of the overall dissatisfaction with the department.  It`s really a sign that a lot of these departures are connected it seems like to John Kelly.  Kelly, of course, had been the first secretary of homeland security before being White House chief of staff and Tex Alles has been his choice, a former marine general, his choice for Secret Service director. 

Now, the administration will say he didn`t fit in.  He was the first Secret Service director who hadn`t been from the agency more than a century and therefore, didn`t really suit the job.  You hear from his allies in Secret Service.  No, he was well liked in there. 

But in any case, clearly he was associated with General Kelly.  That was a black mark against him with the president. 

O`DONNELL:  Maria Teresa Kumar, the shake-up of homeland security goes to one your areas of expertise.  The current immigration situation and all the reporting seems to indicate that the hand of Steven Miller is in all of this. 

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, VOTO LATINO:  Well, I think it`s become very clear the one running the show inside the White House is Steven Miller.  He`s the last person standing.  He is the one that puts out policy and all of a sudden the people charged to deploy that policy doesn`t quite figure out how to do it so he backs up and points the finger back at them and he`s become Teflon. 

It would be curious if we could do more digging and more profiles in what - - you know, the influence he has with the president because it`s clear that he is the person pulling the strings, that he has become the puppet master, and the more we can better understand his intentions, I think that the more that people could actually do not only better reporting but have better negotiations with the president himself.  But this idea that the reason that they`re reshuffling Homeland Security at a time the president claims we are under attack that our border is incredibly weak really should give us all pause. 

I`m just going to take a moment and redo all the folks that are missing right now at homeland security, not only do we not have a cabinet member with Secretary Nielsen resigning, but we don`t have, you know, the Secret Service, we don`t have head of FEMA, we don`t have head of ICE, we don`t have inspector general, we don`t have someone leading public policy on behalf of the department, and now, we don`t have a custom control commissioner. 

So, basically, as the president claims that there is a huge national security issue, all those people that could advise him and actually direct policy and prevent anything from happening are missing. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to read a report from the "Washington Post" indicating one way that Kirstjen Nielsen apparently saved her job according to this reporting earlier in her tenure.  It says she appeared to regain her footing after U.S. border patrol agents used tear gas to repel a large crowd attempting to break through a border fence, the kind of tough action Trump said he wanted in a DHS secretary. 

And so, Maria Teresa, yet another possible reason we saw that tear gassing. 

KUMAR:  Unfortunately, I think Secretary Nielsen right now is trying to basically wipe herself off and say I couldn`t do anymore for this president.  But the fact that she under her supervision (INAUDIBLE) thousands of children being separated from their families, we are now learning from the Trump administration and from judges that many of these children that are still lost in the system may not be reunited with their families for the next two years, demonstrates a lot of these decisions lie squarely on her.  And that is I think one of the things we have to insure that there actually are at the end of the day certain types of repercussions when people decide to basically stand by a president doing things morally wrong and in many cases it seems like that are legally ambiguous. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Joyce, no legal ambiguity in some of the background reporting about what was going on in the Oval Office.  We just read reporting that the president when he would hear things like the family separation trying to do that again violates your own executive order and also violates a court order you can`t do that, the president says I don`t care. 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  That`s his reaction to everything here.  We see that playing out in this massacre at DHS.  These are people who didn`t hesitate to carry out the president`s agenda.  They separated kids from their parents.  They made it virtually impossible for people lawfully trying to seek asylum to do that.

  They did everything he wanted them to do.  Apparently, the only line was when he tried to push them over into outright illegality.  And the only thing we conclude from that is the president now seeks new leadership that is willing to violate the law.  Otherwise, why get rid of this team that did so much for him to carry his water forward. 

O`DONNELL:  Peter, you`ve done so much reporting about the inside of the Trump White House and about the various outbreaks of chaos that we get to see publicly.  The books that come out about inside the White House seem to add to that with revelations of day to day chaos that never quite make it into the news cycle. 

What is your judgment about where we sit tonight in the chaos rhythms of the Trump White House?  Is this worse than it has been in the past? 

BAKER:  Yes, that`s a good question.  You know, the one thing you`ll hear if you talk to White House officials is this resentment that we say they are in chaos.  They say, well, this is not chaos.  Everything is running perfectly smoothly and Mick Mulvaney, the new acting at least chief of staff, has tried to stabilize things and feels like things are going better. 

And yet, this is a presidency that lives on what the outside world anyway would consider to be a certain degree of chaos or a certain degree of unpredictability at the very least.  And I think that`s just the way they roll and it`s not going to change.  It`s not something -- they`re not looking for a different way. 

In fact, I think they`ve come to understand that the president is the president.  He`s not going to change.  He`s 72 years old.  This is the way he likes to operate.

It`s how he operated in business.  It`s how he operated in entertainment.  He`s not going to suddenly become a different person. 

And for their point of view, it`s fine.  It works for him.  It`s works in the way he wants it to work.  So we`re not going to try to stop him anymore. 

That`s what you hear from people around him.  They`re going to try to manage it.  They`re going to keep it from falling off the rails, bus in the end, there`s going to be a certain degree of, you know, volatility in this White House until the day it`s done. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Maria Teresa, the spinoff is that they have created chaos in thousands of families that were separated at that border, some remain separated.  Estimates saying it might take two years to be able to put some families back together, because the approach they brought to this never included even a plan for putting families back together. 

KUMAR:  They had absolutely no plan when they did family separations that they were going to track the children and the parents for reunification.  That just speaks to the amorality of this, the fact that they were basically going doing deterrence at an all costs.  It`s cruel but it`s also a reminder for those who cross the border and seek asylum, that`s perfectly legal.  The fact the president is trying to circumvent the law and trying to prevent people from even crossing over to Mexico and trying to put the burden on Mexico, a judge today basically said that that`s illegal.  And that`s where we have to make sure we`re continuously doing due diligence. 

Right now, the Tornillo facility that turned a lot of these unaccompanied minors have shut down and they`ve basically doing a whack-a-mole, Lawrence.  They are now opened up homestead in Florida and housing over 3,200 children as we speak.  So, we have to make sure we are diligent.  That we have the same level of outrage as we had before to ensure not only that these facilities are closes down and the families are reunited. 

O`DONNELL:  Joyce Vance, it`s another week in which Robert Mueller will be in the headlines but in the person of Attorney General Barr testifying two days in a row to a House committee and then a Senate committee about the budget of the Justice Department.  It`s that time of year when the heads of departments have to do that. 

But obviously, the attorney general is going to get some real questions about the Mueller report.  Will he be able to in these appropriations hearings dodge those questions do you think or will he have to add something to our public understanding of where we are? 

VANCE:  You know, you know this so much better than I do, but no attorney general looks forward to going up to Capitol Hill to talk about the budget, right?  It`s never a good day. 

This is so much worse.  And really the smart thing for Barr to do would be to release at least the summaries that we know the Mueller team prepared to put those out there as a show of good faith to try to re-establish some of the credibility that he has lost so much of ever since this report came out.  We`ve seen no indication at this late date that that`s going to come.  So, apparently, this attorney general will go up on Capitol Hill and spend the next two days trying to duck the only quell that at least the Democrats care about, what`s really in the Mueller report. 

You know, the country`s entitled to know.  And I think that there are some folks who know what they`re doing, some former prosecutors, people who are unafraid to speak truth to power and I think that the attorney general will -- there will at least be an effort to hold him accountable.  How he`ll respond is still up in the air. 

O`DONNELL:  Just the people we need to start us off tonight on those subjects, Joyce Vance, Maria Teresa Kumar, and Peter Baker, thank you all for starting us off.  Really appreciate it. 

And when we come back, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers actually has taught me something tonight about the law that governs the mandatory handover of tax returns to the chairs of the tax writing committees by the IRS.  Larry Summers will join us, next.  You`re going to want to be taking notes. 

And at the end of this hour, we will consider how Barack Obama handled himself and his tax returns when his tax returns were being audited. 


O`DONNELL:  The president`s lawyers have one other full day to try to figure out how to defy a very clear and simple law that no one has ever defied.  It is the law that empowers the chairs of the House and Senate tax writing committees to demand, not request, demand from the IRS any tax return that they want to see.  The law does not put any limitations on that power. 

I`ve known about that law since I worked on the staff of the Senate Finance Committee in the 1990s and I thought I knew everything about that law until Harvard economics professor Lawrence Summers` new op-ed piece in the "Washington Post" that has just put online tonight.

Professor Summers was the head of the National Economic Council for President Obama and he served as treasury secretary under President Clinton.  And he has something very important to teach us about this law and as I`ve mentioned before, the law was written in 1924 and it says that when the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee demands a tax return from the IRS, quote: The secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.

The law was written to apply to the treasury secretary since the Internal Revenue Service is part of the Treasury Department. 

But in his op-ed piece, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says the treasury secretary should have absolutely nothing to do with Chairman Richie Neal`s demand for the Trump tax returns because the treasury secretary years ago specifically delegated this responsibility directly to the commissioner of the IRS. 

Larry Summers writes: the appropriate response of the treasury secretary is very clear.  Under a long-standing delegation order, the secretary does not get involved in taxpayer specific matters and has delegated to the IRS commissioners as follows, quote, the commissioner of internal revenue shall be responsible for the administration and enforcement of the internal revenue laws, end quote. 

Moreover, this is not a delegation that is readily revocable.  Federal law provides that if the secretary determines not to delegate a power such determination may not take effect until 30 days after the secretary notifies the tax writing and other specified committees.  So, for the secretary to seek to decide whether to pass on the president`s tax return to Congress would surely be inappropriate and probably illegal.  Probably illegal. 

I would truly not have done it.  Rather, I would have indicated to the IRS commissioner I expected the IRS to comply with the law as always. 

And joining us now for an exclusive interview, Lawrence Summers, the former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama.  Currently, he serves as economics professor at Harvard University. 

Professor Summers, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.  You have taught me something once again.  I`m used to taking notes when you speak. 

But I did not know that the delegation from the treasury secretary to the IRS commissioner on matters of tax issues like this was actually in writing and that it`s a formal delegation and there`s a formal process for revoking that delegation. 

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY:  That`s right.  You know, it`s the first one of the first things my general counsel told me when I became treasury secretary was any individual tax matter affecting any individual taxpayer, you are under no circumstances going to be anywhere near.  And that applies to a request of this kind and for good reason. 

It`s the essence of the integrity of the tax system that politically appointed officials not be involved in these matters and that`s why there is a delegation to the head of the IRS and it wouldn`t have ever occurred to me and wouldn`t have occurred to the treasury secretaries who I served under or the treasury secretary I served with to become involved in an individual taxpayer matter, much less an individual taxpayer matter involving the president of the United States. 

O`DONNELL:  And so -- and the part that I didn`t realize is that this is actually written and in effect codified within the Treasury Department.  And so, what you`re telling us is, if Secretary Mnuchin does want to be the one who decide what to do about the Trump tax returns, he has to file a notice with the Senate Finance Committee and with the House Ways and Means Committee right now, saying that 30 days from now, he will revoke -- he will resume or take back the power away from the IRS commissioner to deal with these tax returns. 

SUMMERS:  That is the understanding that I have of the law confirmed by legal officials who have served in the relevant tax positions in the past. 

O`DONNELL:  And --

SUMMERS:  I do not think -- I do not think it would be appropriate for a secretary of the treasury to become involved in the resolution of a matter of this kind. 

O`DONNELL:  And knowing the way the Treasury Department works, there`s a council but there already also some people working as I understand it kind of in the mid level of an office like that who have been there for years through different administrations who really have institutional expertise about this.  Would you expect what you`re telling us now has already found its way to Secretary Mnuchin, that he should have been made aware of what you know about this even before your op-ed piece came out? 

SUMMERS:  I can`t know that for sure.  I imagine different secretaries operate differently.  Certainly on matters of this kind, we would always have been very careful to seek the guidance of and presumptively to follow the guidance of career officials.  And certainly, career officials are familiar with the long history of the concept of independence of Main Treasury from individual taxpayer matters. 

O`DONNELL:  And you make the point that while you were treasury secretary, you never had to worry about or think about something like this.  And you explain in your piece why.  Could you remind the audience why you as Bill Clinton`s treasury secretary never had to think about it? 


SUMMERS:  Sure, President Clinton made all his tax returns publicly available.  All the presidents for the last 50 years have made all their tax returns publicly available.  So, this kind of issue would have been -- couldn`t possibly have arisen.  It`s only arisen because this president has chosen not to make his tax returns publicly available, which was his prerogative. 

But it is also the prerogative of the Congress as part of their oversight function and one of their oversight functions is making sure that presidential tax returns are adequately monitored and audited especially in light of the fact that there were failures in that area during the Nixon administration, for which reason they have requested access to the president`s tax return. 

By the way, this is -- this is something that`s been considered extensively.  This isn`t something new.  The relevant statute 6103 dates from 1924, Congress during the time I was in the Treasury Department in the `90s, passed the IRS restructuring act and as part of that IRS Restructuring Act, they made clear that any employee of the IRS who failed to comply with this law it was what was colloquially referred to as the ten deadly sins, would be subject to being immediately fired. 

So, this is not something that Congress has failed to consider carefully.  This is not something -- these are not provisions that have never been used before. For example, they were used in the investigations of bias against what was felt to be biases conservative groups during the Obama administration by the then-Republican Ways and Means Committee.  So these are long established provisions.

O`DONNELL:  Lawrence Summers, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

SUMMERS:  Thank you.

And when we come back, so what will Steve Mnuchin do about Chairman Neal`s demand for the tax returns?  We will consider that next with two reporters who`ve written an important new book that portrays Steve Mnuchin as the class clown of tax policy in the Trump administration.


O`DONNELL:  There`s a new book out tonight with more inside reporting from inside the Trump administration and insights about how the Trump administration operates, including -- it might -- some book that might be able to help us with the question of will Donald Trump`s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, what will he do on Wednesday when the deadline arrives for the IRS to turn over Trump`s tax returns to Chairman Richard Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee.

We don`t know what he`ll do but in a new book, Steve Mnuchin is portrayed as the class clown of economic policy and tax policy in the Trump administration.  The book is called "The Hill to Die On by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer.

It chronicles the first two years of Trump`s struggles with Congress and it contains this report of how congressional leaders and everyone else involved regarding Steve Mnuchin`s input when they were trying to pass the Trump tax cuts.

"Most everyone discounted Mnuchin.  Much like Trump, Mnuchin seemed to latch onto the last concept he heard.  For example, the Treasury secretary wanted to craft rules that would in effect allow earnings up to $1 million to be taxed at 20 percent.  This could allow a lobbyist making $900,000 to pay a lower effective tax rate than a teacher.

Some involved in the negotiation preferred that Mnuchin stay far away.  One day in November, Mnuchin was at an event in Los Angeles and a White House aide joked that he was going to find more events thousands of miles away from Washington for Mnuchin to attend."

We don`t know how Steve Mnuchin will handle Chairman Neal`s demand for the Trump tax returns by Wednesday but it seems very clear that the Trump administration is not going to leave that decision up to Steve Mnuchin.

Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer will join us next with their insights on how the Trump administration will rely to Chairman Neal`s demands for the Trump tax returns and what their reporting tells them about the new levels of chaos we`re seeing in the Trump White House tonight.

And we will review the book`s description of one of those rare moments when President Trump surprised everyone in the room by studiously taking notes.  Well, they thought he was taking notes.  Until they saw what was really on that piece of paper.  That`s next.


O`DONNELL:  President Trump does not take notes in meetings.  According to all accounts, the president barely listens to what people are talking about in meetings.  And so there was real surprise one day at Camp David when the president was busily taking notes.

Here was the scene as reported by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer in their new book, The Hill to Die On.  Trump was nodding his head taking what appeared to be furious notes on a note card in front of him.  People in the room were impressed that Trump who cared little about policy particulars, seemed to be so engaged in Gary Cohn`s proposal.  The notes had nothing to do with infrastructure.  Sloppy Steve, Trump had scrawled on the top of the card in black marker.

As Cohen had detailed his plans to rebuild America`s roads, the president was writing down how he wanted to trash Steve Bannon the next time someone asked him about it.

Joining our discussion now Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, co-authors of the new book "The Hill to Die On, the Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump`s America."  They are co-authors of the "Politico" playbook.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate this in your first MSNBC primetime interview about the book.

ANNA PALMER, CO-AUTHOR, THE HILL TO DIE ON: Thanks for having us.3


O`DONNELL:  We`ll sell as many as we can.  So many things about the furious taking of notes and it turns out to be Sloppy Steve.

He does rehearse the nicknames.  He doesn`t just rehearse them, he writes them, he sits down and he thinks about them really hard.

SHERMAN:  I think the president is something that came up time and time again in this book and I think in multiple instances throughout the book is the president really does have a vision for Hollywood flair, right?

I mean he -- in another incident in the book talked about how a meeting he got, he told Paul Ryan, "A meeting got good ratings."  Paul Ryan turned to him and said, "What ratings are you talking about?"  He goes, "Everything has ratings.  This is why I was so good at The Apprentice."

So that`s the way he thinks about governing is through a lens of a Hollywood and Hollywood flair which is something we haven`t really seen in, especially, in the context of Donald Trump.

O`DONNELL:  So Anna, I think the way we read these books is the books are always about something that`s happened.  You try to get them to press as fast as possible.  But you are always dealing with something that`s a minimum of 90-days-old and sometimes a year or two old.

But we`re always reading them today, in today`s news environment.  So we are reading about this chaos in the Trump administration and basically cleaning out the Homeland Security Department in 24 hours.  And what did you find in your reporting that gives you a way of looking at today`s chaos news?

PALMER:  Yes.  I mean I think what you see today happened in the last 18 months, it`s kinds of stunning, you forget there`s so much news happening, a deluge of people being fired, people coming in as acting different secretaries that you kind of look back from election day.

And you look at this kind of political novices who came into Washington, Jared Kushner thinking that he was going to upend the entire wait government operated and you see them still having a lot of the same mistakes which is pretty surprising.

O`DONNELL:  And you mentioned that there is a passage in the book that includes Senator McCain.  He`s talking to the president and Jared Kushner weighs in and Jared Kushner says, "We`re going to change the way the entire government works," Kushner said without a hint of irony in the book.  McCain says "Good luck with that, son."

It seems to me that good luck with that son is actually too subtle for the Jared Kushner who is portrayed in this book because Kushner would think, o, well, McCain is wishing me luck.  I can get this done.

SHERMAN:  Well, I think the entire Trump administration came to Washington which is a town as you know well is not really into change, is not into upending structures that have been around for a hundred years.  And Jared Kushner is somebody who fancies himself a dealmaker, who fancies himself somebody who could tear apart the government and rebid it in his liking.

It does get to the point frankly what you were talking about before about cleaning out the Department of Homeland Security.  The president likes that.  The president likes people who are going to try to complete his missions, try to do things in his image.

And I think Kushner was trying to do that there.  He`s trying to, in front of the president, say we`re going to remake this whole government.  Donald Trump got elected and that`s what we got an office to do.

O`DONNELL: There are so many things in here that stun me.  During the presidential campaign when I didn`t think Donald Trump was going to win, I would sometimes think, if he ever was president, he would discover that speaker of the House is way more powerful than he is on most things not involving foreign policy.  Turns out I was completely wrong.

Paul Ryan turned out to be the weakest speaker of the House I`ve ever seen in my lifetime.  I have never been able to be explain how Paul Ryan and these Republicans who sounded like they meant half of what they were saying at least which is kind of the normal political level of Washington, how they gave up on all of that on any concern for the deficit, any concern for the debt, when Trump came in and seemed to hypnotized them.

PALMER:  I mean think what you really saw is pretty stunning when you look at Paul Ryan for 20 years, deficit hawk.  You look where he was on immigration trying to cut deals with Republicans, really almost seeming like a dove on that issue.  And when the president came into office, he really fell in line behind all of his --


PALMER:  I think he would say now in the book when you talk about this is that he felt like the bigger things that they were able to get done in particular tax reform for him which was really his hill to die on and I would say as a member of Congress was able to get done.

O`DONNELL:  But Jake, they did what they call tax reform.  This was not tax reform.  It was a cut.

Under Ronald Reagan, they actually did do both tax cuts and tax reform and they didn`t sacrifice Republican principles along the way.

SHERMAN:  Well, what happened in 1986 was very different from what happened in 2017 or `18, whenever that happened.  The Donald Trump Tax Reform, Donald Trump, and Republicans were dishonest about this.

They said that Democrats, they tried to get Democrats involved and they just couldn`t get them involved.  That was not true.  They designed this process to go around Democrats.

And on the Paul Ryan point, I just want to add one thing.  And we get into a lot of Paul Ryan in this book.  I think a lot of people close to him would say that his takeaway was he trashed Donald Trump throughout the entire 2016 campaign.

You remember, he didn`t endorse him.  He was very fervently against Trump.  We have a chapter there called "Not a Trump Guy" about Paul Ryan.

But then Donald Trump won and Paul Ryan felt like he had two choices.  There was a fork in the road.  He could either concede that he lost the argument and stay in government and do what he could -- what he thought was keep the government on the rails.

That`s what he thought.  He said he didn`t want to just never Trump and take his toys home or he could leave.  And he chose to stay in government.

O`DONNELL:  But ended up driving the Republicans into a defeat in the House of Representatives.  We could go on and on about this.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer.  The book is "The Hill to Die On."

When we come back, Donald Trump says he can`t release his tax returns.  He`s always said he can`t release them because they`re under audit.

So what did Barack Obama do when he was being audited by the IRS repeatedly as he was?  When we come back, we`ll tell you all about it.


O`DONNELL:  It is the standing policy of the IRS to routinely audit tax returns filed by the president of the United States.  There`s no law that requires the president`s tax returns to be audited, but that is something that the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal is actually considering, passing a law that would require the IRS to audit presidential tax returns.

That is one of the reasons that Chairman Neal has demanded President Trump`s tax returns from the IRS as the law allows him to do.  The reason this has never come up before, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee demanding to see the president`s tax returns is because all past presidents since Richard Nixon have publicly voluntarily released their tax returns but not Donald Trump.

And so here we are facing a deadline, the day after tomorrow.  The deadline that Chairman Neal gave the commissioner of the IRS to turn over the Trump tax returns.

We`ll show you how Barack Obama and other presidents and vice presidents handled their tax returns after this final break.  And we`ll remind you of the story that some of you might remember of the time the vice president`s tax returns showed very little charitable giving which created headlines in some newspapers calling him the "Cheap veep".  Who was the cheap veep?  The answer is next.


O`DONNELL:  When Barack Obama was president, he publicly released his tax returns every year by April 15.  As soon as President Obama filed his tax returns, and he always filed them on time, he released them publicly.

And that wasn`t Barack Obama`s idea.  Presidents and vice presidents had been doing that for decades.  President Bush and Dick Cheney publicly released tax returns or partial tax returns every year they were in office.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore released their tax returns every year they were in office.  And since Bill Clinton filed jointly with Hillary Clinton, that means Hillary Clinton was also releasing her tax returns every year she was first lady.

None of the presidential tax returns that were released particularly controversial.  The release of the presidential tax return and vice presidential tax return was a routine news story every April, right around April 15.

And the only tax return release that I for one can remember being even slightly controversial was one very peculiar year in which Vice President Al Gore gave only about $350 to charity from an income of about $200,000.  Al Gore gave more to charity the year before and the year after.

This looked like the kind of slip-up that sometimes happens when people delay their charitable giving until December and then miss the December 31 deadline to get their charitable giving included in that year`s tax return.

But that tiny amount of charitable giving for Vice President Al Gore got Al Gore the headline, "Cheap Veep".  And that is the only thing that I can remember from presidential and vice presidential publicly released tax returns that was controversial.

Al Gore was probably horrified when he discovered he had only given $353 to charity that year, but there was nothing he could do about it.  It was out of the question for him to decide not to release his tax returns because it contained an embarrassing item like that.

The next year, Al Gore`s charitable donations were $15,197 which is as far as we know much more than Donald Trump gave to charity that year or any other year.

Here are the dates in which President Obama and Vice President Biden both simultaneously publicly released their tax returns after filing them with the IRS.  Four times the president did it on the last day, April 15.  The earliest he did it was April 10.  And most presidents use the filing of their tax returns to make a public statement about tax policy.

In his last year as president when he released his taxes on April 15 to prove to the country that he was doing his part in paying his taxes on time, President Obama said "While we`ve made progress toward ensuring that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, there is more work to do.  We need to close special tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires and invest in the middle-class."

That was a typical statement from a democratic president on April 15 when he was filing and releasing his tax returns.  Donald Trump has no message for the American taxpayer on April 15.  Donald Trump makes no attempt to show them that he is paying his fair share and paying it on time.

Donald Trump simply tells the lie that he cannot publicly release his tax returns because they`re being audited.  Well, that is finally true.  The tax returns that Donald Trump has filed while he is president have been audited automatically because it is the IRS` policy to automatically audit presidential tax returns unless President Trump has ordered them to stop that policy.

But that also means that all of Donald Trump`s predecessors since Richard Nixon have been publicly releasing their tax returns while their tax returns are being audited by the IRS.  Every single time, President Obama publicly released a tax return, that tax return on that very same day was under audit by the IRS.  And we know that because it`s IRS policy to audit presidential tax returns.

And not one president has thought that`s a reason not to release tax returns.  Not one.  President Bush, President Clinton, President Reagan, President Carter, none of them said, "I can`t release my tax returns because I`m being audited."  They all released their tax returns and they were all being audited at the same time.

What message for taxpayers will President Trump have on April 15?  I hope you get away with as much in your tax returns as I get away within mine?

Chairman Richard Neal is going to get Donald Trump`s tax returns.  The law is very clear about that.  It might take several months in court to enforce that law, but that law will be enforced.  But as we approach April 15, Donald Trump continues to undermine tax law in America by defying the presidential tradition of publicly releasing tax returns and in effect encouraging taxpayers to try to get away with whatever they can on their tax returns, the Trump method.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.