LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Twenty years. That`s fantastic.
O`DONNELL: Go home right now. Don`t waste another second.
O`DONNELL: There she goes.
Well, Attorney General William Barr showed once again today that he is the most reckless public speaker in the attorney general`s job since Jeff Sessions. We will get to that in a moment.
At the end of this hour, at the end of this hour, we are going to consider what will happen if Donald Trump is not inaugurated a second time on the next inauguration day, if a Democrat is inaugurated on the next inauguration day, why that will be the worst day in Donald Trump`s life. The things that Donald Trump now has stacked up that can fall on him, the day he is no longer president. That`s what we`ll considerate the end of this hour. And there are a bunch of those things now.
But today, William Barr came into his second tour of duty as a Republican attorney general with a relatively solid reputation in the legal community, especially the Republican legal community in Washington, D.C. The image packagers of William Barr were telling the world that they would now see a more scholarly approach to the work of the attorney general than we saw under one of the worst and least qualified attorneys general in history, Jeff Sessions.
But as of tonight, William Barr is seeming at least as Trumpian as Jeff Sessions if not more so. And the reviews from legal scholars are condemning. The distinguished Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe tweeted today: Barr has no shame. He`s become a caricature of a lawyer and a miserable excuse for a public servant. A pathetic porcine puppet for a puerile president.
Professor Tribe tweeted that after the attorney general with absolutely no justification used the word "spying" in the today`s hearing. Spying is not a legal term. It`s a Hollywood term. It`s a word for screen writers, not attorneys general.
It`s a word for wise guy, know it alls, having a beer with their friends, and not being specially precise about their language. In this case, it`s a word that the attorney general threw into the Trump propaganda machine where "Fox & Friends" will now be saying forever that the attorney general says that the federal government was spying on the Trump campaign. When the attorney general was pressed on the use of that word, he admitted that he had absolutely no evidence at all to support that statement. None whatsoever. None.
And that is why Professor Tribe said that Barr has no shame. That among other things is why Professor Tribe says that the attorney general has become a caricature of a lawyer. Once again today, the attorney general refused to say if anyone in the White House has seen the Mueller report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Who if anyone outside the Justice Department has seen portions or all of the special counsel`s report? Has anyone in the White House seen any of the report?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m going to get -- as I say, I`m landing the plane right now. And you know, I`ve been willing to discuss my letters and the process going forward. But the report`s going to be out next week. I`m just not going to get into the details of the process until the plane`s on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: More than once today, he said he would be delivering the Mueller report to Congress next week. The attorney general knows Congress will be in recess next week. So, that might mute congress`s immediate response to the report.
And once again today, one of the most revealing comments the attorney general made had nothing to do with the Mueller report and everything to do with William Barr sounding like the most Trumpian Republican member of Congress.
Yesterday, the attorney general`s most shocking moment, his most non-legal comment came when he was asked about his leadership of a change of legal position by the Justice Department so that the Attorney General Barr is now using all of the force and might of the Justice Department to try to destroy the Affordable Care Act in a lawsuit. We`re going to take a look at some of that exchange yesterday one more time because it shows the attorney general giving a non-legal response to the question, a purely political response, a response that has nothing to do with the litigation that he was asked about that he is now leading against the Affordable Care Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): If you`re successful in this lawsuit that you`re supporting and the entire patient protection in the Affordable Care Act is struck down, millions of Americans who currently receive health insurance coverage under the law are at risk of losing that coverage. Am I correct in that?
BARR: I think the president has made clear that he favors not only pre- existing conditions but would like action on a broad health plan. So he is proposing a substitute for Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That is an utterly disgraceful answer by an attorney general. The answer to the congressman`s question was one word, yes. If William Barr is successful in destroying the Affordable Care Act in court, millions of Americans will lose coverage. That is an undeniable fact and an undeniable legal outcome of the case if William Barr is successful.
Not only did William Barr refuse to answer that question, the words that he put in the place where the real answer would go are worse than childish. He tried to suggest to adults in Congress that is President Trump would immediately get a replacement for Obamacare passed through the Congress. When? That same day that William Barr wins in court?
No one will lose health insurance because Trump will rush through Congress in one afternoon, the replacement of Obamacare that will take effect the same day? That was an offensive Trumpian answer that the attorney gave.
And today, it was about the wall. The attorney general of the United States once again became a Trump cheerleader in a congressional hearing and this time, it was about building the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: We have to stop the flow of drugs from Mexico or make a much bigger dent in it. That`s one of the reasons that I do think that a wall a Barrier system across the southern border is an important part of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Every expert on the subject reports that most of the illegal drugs that come into this country from Mexico come through the legal ports of entry. They are smuggled through in trucks and other vehicles coming through the legal ports of entry, but the question wasn`t even about that. The question was about the opioid crisis in America. That`s what the attorney general was asked about. That`s why he wants a wall.
His answer was build the wall, build the wall for opioids. Opioids are made in America. They are legally sold in America and the opioids that are imported into this country come in as regular legal shipments of freight through our legal ports of entry and those opioids kill people.
And this attorney general`s answer to a Republican senator from Arkansas who expressed concern about what opioids are doing to his constituents in Arkansas is build the wall. William Barr knows there is never going to be a wall. And William Barr should know that will a wall would do nothing about the opioid crisis in America and what Barr`s answer means today is that William Barr doesn`t care about the opioid crisis or at least wouldn`t find any words towards express his real concern about the crisis. Instead it was build the wall.
William Barr has no idea what to do about the opioid crisis if you judge by his testimony today. He`s not one bit smarter than Donald Trump about the opioid crisis. He wasn`t today.
Once again today, the attorney general indicated that after he delivers his version of the Mueller report, that he considers suitable for release to the public, he will continue to confer with the chairman of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to see if there is any way to release to the committees more information from the Mueller report that the committees might want. Republican Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seems barely interested in seeing the redacted version of the Mueller report and we`ll ask for nothing more. But the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has already been granted subpoena power by the committee to the subpoena the full unredacted Mueller report and said today that the attorney general still needs to release the full Mueller report.
We have just are the experts we need to consider the attorney general`s testimony today. Neal Katyal was acting solicitor general of the United States in the Obama administration. He also served in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration. And as many of you know, Neal Katyal wrote the Justice Department rules governing the Mueller report.
Emily Bazelon has been writing about the Supreme Court and the Justice Department most of her career and now with the "New York Times" magazine. Her new book is "Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration."
And for the political dynamics of what we witnessed today and what is to come when William Barr`s edition of the Mueller report is released, we have John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s co- host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus."
And, Neal, let me go straight to you with your review of the attorney general`s testimony today.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, I think the one success he had is that he made Matt Whitaker look pretty good by comparison. I mean, I had the privilege of teaching at Georgetown. One of the things you have to do before you enter law school is you have to take an LSAT with analogies.
I think the analogy after today is the president is to Trump as the attorney generalship is to Barr. That is we have, as you just said, a Trumpian attorney general. And I never thought I`d say those words about Barr, but we`re really at that point unfortunately now.
I`d isolate three things all of which you`ve kind of hit on. Number one, his views on the Mueller report, really the hiding of it from the American people. He`s willing to redact here and there. He`s not even willing to go and seek a court order to lift grand jury material.
Number two, he in his gutting of the Affordable Care Act. This is a real, real problem. The Justice Department always takes the view that if there`s a reasonable argument to defend a statute, you do so. You don`t kind of waltz into court and attack the statute and try and gut it.
That`s what he`s done here. And he completely switched today the standard for defense because he said -- well, as long as there`s some plausible argument to abandon defense, that`s enough. That has never been the standard.
And we`re seeing the fruits of this even this afternoon because now it`s not just the Affordable Care Act. He sent a letter, the Justice Department, to Congress late this afternoon saying, now, I`m not going to defend a statute that prevents female genital mutation. He`s calling that unconstitutional. So, I have no idea what`s next after this.
And then you know, there`s number three, the -- he`s joined the tin foil hat group with this whole thing about spying and the FBI in 2016 being against Trump and the like. I mean, there`s an ongoing investigation about that as far as I this everyone knows, this investigation is going nowhere. And he even admitted that later on.
So, this is a really -- this isn`t acting like the attorney general of the United States. This is acting as Nancy Pelosi said tonight, like the attorney general of Donald Trump.
O`DONNELL: Emily, we just heard Neal Katyal say he never expected himself to be saying that Attorney General William Barr is acting in a Trumpian way. Did you ever can expect to hear Neal Katyal to say he was acting in a Donald Trumpian way?
And let me just -- I just want to, and Neal remember this, when Neal and I first talked about the attorney general`s first letter about the Mueller report, we did it with some hope, we did it as optimistic -- we greeted as optimistically as we could. We gave an optimistic reading. We`ve been struggling to find any since then.
EMILY BAZELON, TRUMAN CAPOTE FELLOW, YALE LAW SCHOOL: You know, if you go back further in William Barr`s history when he was in the George H.W. Bush administration, he pushed for a very broad theory of executive power, including granting pardons to more people under Iran-Contra. So, I think that this faith that Barr maybe because he was associated with H.W. was going to be the sort of moderate force, it`s proved to be misguided.
I think if you go back and look at his previous writings, including the memo he wrote last summer, they just look like they`re setting up more of the kind of rhetoric you see today than the kind of longed for figure, the grown-up figure that people imagined.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Adam Schiff said about this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It was deeply disturbing to see the attorney general make such a cavalier suggestion that there was spying on the Trump campaign. That may be pleasing to the president who has been pushing this idea that deep state coup. But it was a deep disservice to the men and women of the FBI and the intelligence community.
It was yet another indication that the attorney general feels that it`s his job to do the president`s bidding. That`s not his job. We are certainly going to want to get to the bottom of what he is referring to, what he was talking about, whether there`s anything more to this than simply speaking words the president wanted to hear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, it seems every time the attorney general speaks or now writes something, he gives something to the Fox propaganda machine, the Trump propaganda machine that they will use.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, well, I think, look, it`s easy and often correct to mock congressional hearings for their futility, their uselessness, their posturing, their superficiality. These two days with Barr have been incredibly edifying and clarifying for everyone paying attention. If you`re a Democrat in Congress, it is now clear despite all the questions around Barr that we`ve alluded to here that a lot of legal scholars some even on the left are said he`s going to be fine.
What we`ve discovered in the last two days, there`s no ambiguity any longer. He`s a political hack. And that clarifies the battle lines I think in a useful way for Democrats going forward. Ambiguous attorney general who seems to me like he`s trying to play the traditional role of attorney general, try be to be true of the institution, try to be true of the rule of laws, instead of serving a political function, that`s a complicated guy to deal with. It`s much simpler once the veils have been lifted, and once the scales have fallen from people`s eyes and say, OK, here`s what we`re dealing with, an explicitly political attorney general, who as Neal suggested worse than Matt Whitaker, but he`s the same as Matt Whitaker in that he was a purely political instrument.
I think that will set the terms if Democrats are now clear about that. That leads them to certain kinds of tactical and strategic choices that they make going forward knowing that I think is helpful in that regard.
O`DONNELL: Neal, the attorney general said today, he said once again today he`s just using the rules that you wrote for him.
KATYAL: Yes, no, I mean absolutely not. He`s totally distorting those rules to try and serve his ends of trying to hide information from the American people. I mean, he said that the rules require Mueller`s report to be confidential. That`s only when Mueller gives the report to the attorney general. It says nothing about when the attorney general gives did the report to Congress or the American people and indeed part of the regulations provide for a mechanism for public release of this information.
I think John is right to say you know, the politics of this are clarifying. But I guess to me the big issue isn`t politics. It`s something about the soul of the country, the soul of the Justice Department. I mean, when I work there had in two different celebration administrations, attorneys general did stuff that was against their political instincts. I remember almost throwing up when we had to defend the "don`t ask, don`t tell" policy, for example. But we did it because we felt it was our duty.
The Constitution requires the president to faithfully execute the laws. Not to the gut them. And this attorney general is just wantonly gutting laws like the Affordable Care Act and female genital mutilation act. And that is the most antithetical thing to the rule of law imaginable. The attorney general is trying to tear down law instead of trying to protect it.
O`DONNELL: This is what Nancy Pelosi said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today. He is attorney general of the United States of America, not the attorney general of Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Emily, that`s what I thought that William Barr would want to avoid that he would do -- you don`t have to do that much to avoid that kind of comment. You just have to speak much more carefully. He could even hold to the positions that he`s currently holding to if he would speak more carefully, more precisely, more legally and not throw around build the wall and spying and then pretend that when he, if he successfully strikes down Obamacare in the courts, pretend that no one will lose health insurance.
I mean, these are -- these are wild things for an attorney general to say.
BAZELON: So, I have a couple questions. One is, what is the longer play here in terms of the FBI in terms of law enforcement officials? When you throw around terms like spying which the Justice Department had previous said was not the case, what does that do to the people who are doing this work and trying to do it conscientiously?
And you`re supposed to be the leader of that agency? What dos position does that leave new vis-a-vis all these folks. You know, we`re used to thinking of Republicans as the people who are more reflective about defending the work of law enforcement investigations. And now, we`re all switching sides in this conversation. I wonder what the consequences are for Barr in the longer term.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, who made the strongest contribution to the Trump campaign today? Donald Trump or William Barr?
HEILEMANN: Boy, good question. I mean, I think -- I`m not sure that in the end we`ve talked about this on the show before. If we think that this is a fool strategy, even if you take the position of what would be the best way to play this game, to fight this battle from their point of view, if you think it was foolish for him to do what he`s done all along, these are all short sighted misguided, not just in terms of his long-term standing at the Justice Department, but for winning this particular fight over the Mueller report, then all of this is not making any kind of a contribution to him.
He`s trying to make a contribution to the Trump campaign. I`m not sure he`s doing it very effectively. And I will say, to what Neal said, obviously, you can`t but be disheartened bid all this. There are larger issues at stake.
But what is coming is a war. This is still this Mueller report every day the stakes of it are rising now rather than having the air let out of the balloon as people thought for a brief moment when it first was reported out. This is a war we`re going to be in the middle of right now. I understand it`s dismaying but if I`m fighting that battle on the Democratic side, I want to understand my enemy and the kind of what the play is and what the kinds of mistakes they`re likely to make.
I think Barr revealed a lot about himself, the weaknesses of himself as a political player over the course of the last two days. In that sense it`s heartening for Democrats because this is a guy who can be had.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have to break there. Neal Katyal, Emily Bazelon, John Heilemann, thank you all for starting us out tonight. I really appreciate it.
And when we come back, we have the reply, we got it right here, the reply from the Trump administration to Chairman Richard Neal`s demand that Donald Trump turn over his tax returns and the tax returns are not attached to this reply. Not yet anyway.
We will have a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee joining us next, someone demanding these tax returns for longer than just this year.
And at the end of this hour tonight, we`re going to consider what happens if Donald Trump leaves office on the next inauguration day. There are so many things that will immediately hit Donald Trump on that day that it could be the worst day of Donald Trump`s life. That`s when we come back.
O`DONNELL: Breaking news tonight. The Trump administration replied to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal`s demand for Donald Trump`s tax returns. And, of course, the Trump administration replied at the last minute. We got the reply tonight at 7:00 p.m. on the day that Chairman Neal set as the deadline for the IRS commissioner to reply to the demand for Donald Trump`s tax returns, the demand from the Ways and Means Committee chairman.
These demands are made under a 1924 law that allows the chairman and only the chairman of the tax writing committees in Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to see any tax returns they choose to examine at anytime. That law is absolute. That law is simple. That law has never been challenged.
But tonight, instead of the IRS commissioner handing over tax returns, Chairman Neal got a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and the letter underneath a bit of political rhetoric asks for more time. Secretary Mnuchin`s letter said: Given the seriousness of these issues which bear no connection to ordinary tax administration, we have begun consultations with the department of justice to ensure that our response is fully consistent with the law and the Constitution.
Secretary Mnuchin explained why he is responding to a letter that wasn`t sent to him that was sent to the IRS commissioner. Secretary said: I intend to supervise the department`s review of the committee`s request to ensure that taxpayer protections and applicable laws are scrupulously observed consistent with my statutory responsibilities.
Chairman Neal issued a statement tonight saying, quote: I will consult with the counsel and determine the appropriate response to the commissioner in the coming days.
Chairman Neal is not doing it interviews on this subject. And so, we are fortunate tonight to have a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee who knows Chairman Neil`s thinking. We are joined by Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a long-time member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
And, Congressman Doggett, you had been moving -- trying to get the committee to move to get the president`s tax returns back when it was under Republican control, which was one of the great Don Quixote exercises I`ve seen in the House of Representatives. But here we are finally with this response which you and I have had trouble imagining what the response could be other than handing over the tax returns because there`s never been a response like this to any demand by either the chairman of the finance or chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to see tax returns.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): Well, Lawrence, that`s exactly right. And I really viewed the letter that we got tonight as kind of a fancy repackaging of the arguments the Republicans made over the last two years in blocking my six motions, and particularly of the comments that Secretary Mnuchin made in responding to my questions last month in committee.
You know, I thought you once again broke importance news with your interview of former Secretary Larry Summers. The real question as to why Secretary Mnuchin was sending any letter at all because he wasn`t asked on this. The Internal Revenue Service commissioner according to Secretary Summers` long-standing delegation where we don`t have the political official at the top of the Treasury Department dealing with these individual tax matters.
And so, I see Secretary Mnuchin`s letter as a justification for his interfering with the important work of the IRS commissioner just as Donald Trump seems to be interfering. We`ve got his lawyers at the White House, his personal lawyers, the attorney general, the Justice Department, the IRS lawyers, the treasury lawyers, more lawyers than you can possibly count all to advise on whether shall still means shall.
O`DONNELL: Yes, it`s a simple one-sentence piece of the tax code. It`s one of the -- I mean, Congressman Doggett, you and I have read and you`ve written a lot of this tax code. Much of it is unintelligible to civilians.
This is not one of those. It simply says that the Section 6103 simply says that this information shall be furnished to the chairman -- any information about tax returns and underlying documents involving tax returns to the chairman`s demands. Go ahead.
DOGGETT: Well, exactly. You`ve noted the well-reasoned, well-crafted letter that Chairman Neal sent. And I think the fact that all these lawyers are involved and all this delay and dithering that is occurring raises questions as to why -- and if President Trump is being audited, whether his lawyers are trying to intimidate the Internal Revenue Service into not doing its job, whether the Internal Revenue Service has in mind a blessing to Trump of the type decades ago was given to Richard Nixon and then when the audit actually occurred, it turned out he owed half a million dollars in additional taxes.
We need as a part of our responsibility to the people of the United States that our tax system is being administered fairly for all, including the most powerful person in the country to be able to examine that audit, how it`s being done and we need those tax returns to effectively do our job of accountability.
O`DONNELL: The IRS commissioner was testifying to the Senate Finance Committee today where ranking member Ron Wyden asked him about this situation. And he is aware -- he referred to what we call the delegation order, that is what I learned Monday night from former Treasury Secretary Summers, it`s a formal written delegation in the Treasury Department that delegates all of this to the IRS commissioner.
Let`s listen to Senator Wyden`s exchange with the IRS commissioner today about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): So, you do agree with me that it is your job and yours alone to respond to Chairman Neal`s request?
CHARLES RETTIG, IRS COMMISSIONER: I`m aware of the delegation order as is Treasury, but you must be aware that we`re a Bureau of Treasury. And the Treasury supervises us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yes, we know all that. But you could see there clearly, Congressman, that Commissioner Rettig doesn`t know what to say about this delegation order.
DOGGETT: Well, that`s right. Senator Wyden did a very effective job of examining him today. I think the commissioner knows it`s his responsibility but he has people who are already interfering in that work and the biggest interference appears to be coming directly from the White House.
The president views all these lawyers who have a responsibility to address the public trust as his personal lawyers combined with the personal lawyers influencing this. It`s all about delaying, obstructing as much as possible.
I think this is just another example of President Trump never feeling that he is up to the law the way the rest of us are when his chief of staff said never, yes, never means never. And for Donald Trump, that`s really the watchword of his administration, never accountable, never willing to comply with the law the way other people do.
O`DONNELL: And Congressman, we`ve never been in this posture before. We`ve never seen this law defied or obstructed in any kind of way so --
O`DONNELL: So Chairman Neal`s statement tonight was very careful. Obviously, I don`t imagine you know what Chairman Neal`s next step is.
DOGGETT: No, I think he has a number of paths that he can follow. I`m sure that he will take a reasoned approach trying to dot every I, cross every T, comply fully so that there is no question when this actually goes to court if the IRS does not comply with the law, that we`re entitled to get that information.
And as we`ve talked, Lawrence, previously, once we get it, it`s not a matter of being able to display it on your program or in the news media. It is a matter of careful examination by the Joint Tax Committee on which I serve and by the experts there to look at the returns and see what`s there and whether any of this information should be disclosed publicly.
In the meantime, it will be private and everyone looking at it will be subject to criminal penalties were it to be disclosed.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Lloyd Doggett --
DOGGETT: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: -- senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Congressman Doggett. Really appreciate it.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, a new report about federal investigators talking to two people close to Donald Trump. Keith Schiller, his former bodyguard and his former campaign aide and White House aide Hope Hicks. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: There`s more troubling news for the president tonight in "The Wall Street Journal" report that the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan has "gathered more evidence than previously known in this criminal investigation of hush payments to two women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump including from members of the president`s inner circle.
The report says prosecutors interviewed former Trump campaign aide and White House communications director Hope Hicks and former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller. Investigators were reportedly interested in Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller`s communications with David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Incorporated which has admitted to paying hush money to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Donald Trump -- on Donald Trump`s behalf.
According to the report, prosecutors also asked at least one other witness whether Ms. Hicks had coordinated with anyone at American Media concerning a Journal article on November 4, 2016, that revealed American Media had paid a $150,000 for the rights to Karen McDougal`s story of an alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
"The Wall Street Journal" also says investigators possess a recorded phone call between former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. This investigation was begun by Robert Mueller so much of it will -- so how much of it will be in the Mueller report?
And will there be any comment in the Mueller report about why the president was not indicted for according to federal prosecutors committing the same campaign finance crimes that Michael Cohen was charged with?
After a break, we`ll consider how the Trump investigations will apparently continue to leak troubling information throughout the presidential campaign about the president. We`ll consider that with Jason Johnson and John Heilemann who has had some professional dealings with Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump has never claimed that he was exonerated in the Michael Cohen case in the Southern District of New York where Donald Trump himself was accused by federal prosecutors of committing exactly the same campaign finance crimes that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to and is going to prison for. Here`s the president today showing just how much he really doesn`t want to talk about that investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Southern District has spoken to Keith Schiller, Hope Hicks --
TRUMP: I have no idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Jason Johnson, politics editor at "Theroot.com" and a professor of politics and media at Morgan State University. He`s also an MSNBC contributor. And back with us is John Heilemann.
And Jason, the president rarely walks away that fast when they ask him anything. He always tends to hang in there and throw around as many words as he can come up with to kind of deflect. But he didn`t even attempt a deflection when you mention the Southern District and Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Well, yes. That`s because Donald Trump is actually shook when it comes to these issues. These are people in his very close orbit. These are people who he not only had personal relationships with but people who he probably spoke to in very casual ways.
But Lawrence, this is the important thing to remember why this is so key. One, the president knows that it`s his business dealings in New York that might ultimately bring him down. He also knows that Hope Hicks has already agreed and had turned over documentation to the House Judiciary Committee.
He knows that there could probably potentially be investigations into Schiller`s consulting for the RNC that nobody`s been able to explain, $250,000 to a former security chief who hasn`t been in the White House since 2017. So he knows that all of this different sort of New York associated issues and these people in his close orbit might be the most dangerous people to his future next to Michael Cohen who is already going to jail,
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, when I would see you on your Circus show on Showtime in the New Hampshire primary for example or other places, get the microphone to Donald Trump, Keith Schiller was always there. He`s always standing there.
O`DONNELL: You always had to deal with Keith Schiller on the campaign trail if you`re trying to get your microphone near the president. You also had to deal with --
HEILEMANN: And Hope Hicks.
O`DONNELL: With Hope Hicks a great deal. Talk about how close these two people are to the president or were.
HEILEMANN: Were were. Extraordinarily close. If you think about even at the time when Trump first entered the race and you talk about the New Hampshire primary, that`s relatively late in the evolutionary. We`re talking about in the period of time when Donald Trump was really a one-man band with a couple of -- with a very small retinue around him, these were the core of it.
And so you had Cory Lewandowski and Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller. This was a very small nucleus around Trump with getting around the presidential campaign at the beginning. Turned out obviously to be a successful strategy in the sense of winning the Republic nomination and winning the presidency.
Now, these were people who -- you know, Lawrence, like the proximity to the principal, is confers power. It also confers knowledge. You spend enough time in the proximity with a candidate, you get to find out all the dirty laundry. Sometimes, the laundry is very dirty. Sometimes, the laundry is not so dirty but you find out exactly how dirty it is.
And those people, including Michael Cohen who sat near Trump, who were near his office, who were on the bus with him, on the plane with him, everywhere he went, they saw a lot of stuff. And some of it has been reported and much of it has not.
And I think you`re going to talk at the end of the show about why Donald Trump might have a very bad day on the day if he doesn`t get an (INAUDIBLE) on the day when he leaves office if he leaves office in 2021. These people are the core to why that day might be so bad and I don`t want to firm on your secretary but they`re at the core of it.
O`DONNELL: No. And Jason, this is obviously one of the problems the president has the minute he leaves office. It just may be that the only reason he hasn`t been indicted is that he`s president of the United States in the New York case. That statute of limitations runs beyond his first term as president.
So if he doesn`t win re-election, he could be greeted by this case in a very formal legal way on his first day as a private citizen.
JOHNSON: Yes, yes. For President Trump, the light at the end of the tunnel might actually be a police car coming towards his house. Because he`s clearly -- there are people who are going to be lined up to hit this guy with lawsuits the moment that he leaves.
And the problem is, it`s not just behavior, Lawrence that the president may have engaged in before he got into office. It`s also behavior that he is very likely and possibly his family has engaged in while he`s been in office.
So this is part of sort of the larger problem that we`ve had with this sort of administration from the beginning. It seems like they are constantly mired in corrupt behavior.
And I will say this about these two people who are close to them. They seem so far. When you look at so many people in Trump`s orbit who have already got in trouble, who may be facing jail time, they have been relatively unscathed.
So we don`t know if that`s because they have been cooperating with authorities as we hear in this report from the "Wall Street Journal" or if it`s because they think he`s going to protect them one day.
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson and John Heilemann, thank you both for joining us in this discussion.
HEILEMANN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, I will explain why it`s all going to come out. It is all going to come out in what might be the poetic justice of the end of the Trump presidency.
O`DONNELL: Six hundred fifty days. That`s how many days are left in the Trump administration. The next presidential inauguration is 651 days from now. So there are only 650 full days left in Donald Trump`s presidency if he does not win re-election. A year and a half, that`s it.
We`re well past the halfway mark in the Trump presidency. Only a year and a half left. If the president doesn`t win re-election, and polling indicates his re-election prospects are not good, he has converted no new voters to Trumpism since the night he won the electoral college.
No president has ever had such consistently bad approval ratings. Most of the country doesn`t approve of anything about Donald Trump. And so what happens if Donald Trump loses the electoral college this time? If Donald Trump becomes a private citizen on January 20, 2021, will the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York have an indictment ready to go with Donald Trump`s name on it?
And that`s not all Donald Trump has to fear if he loses the election. And there is a new attorney general and a new Treasury secretary and a new commissioner of the IRS. No one to protect Donald Trump in those jobs.
President Trump`s first day as a former president could be the worst day of his life. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: On the day President Bill Clinton was inaugurated, some of his cabinet members were sworn into office on that same day. They already had Senate confirmation hearings and so the full Senate voted on inauguration day to confirm a new Secretary of State, a new Secretary of the Treasury.
That`s how fast the transition of power can happen. And just think about what`s going to happen if we get a new administration, a new cabinet on or shortly after the next inauguration day. The new attorney general of the United States is going to give Congress the full unredacted Mueller report.
A year and a half from now, Congress is going to have the full unredacted Mueller report if they don`t get it before that. Even if House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler uses his subpoena power for the Mueller report, fighting that out in court where Attorney General Barr could take a year and a half, but that fight would be academic by then if there is a new attorney general.
Jerry Nadler would be handed the full unredacted Mueller report on day one. So Congress is going to get the full unredacted Mueller report. The only question is will Donald Trump still be president when they get it.
Same thing with Donald Trump`s tax returns. If we have a new administration a year and a half from now, the new secretary of the Treasury and the new commissioner of the IRS will immediately agree to hand over Donald Trump`s tax returns to Chairman Rich Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee. Chairman Neal is going to get those tax returns.
If Attorney General Barr starts a legal fight over the very clear and simple law that allows the Ways and Means Committee chairman to get anyone`s tax returns, it`s possible that the legal fight could take a year and a half and then it won`t matter if a new president is sworn in a year and a half from now.
So the stakes for Donald Trump`s re-election are much higher for Donald Trump than his first presidential campaign. The stakes for Donald Trump include staying out of prison, possibly, because with a new administration, it`s all going to come out. Every bit of the Trump dirt is going to come out. The Mueller report, the tax returns, and most importantly, that case in the Southern District of New York in which federal prosecutors say that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit campaign finance crimes in the final weeks of the presidential campaign so that Donald Trump could defraud the American voters and win the American presidency.
The federal prosecutors in New York say that was a conspiracy against the United States of America. And the criminals engaged in that conspiracy were Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.
And Donald Trump has not been indicted for it simply because of his current job. But when he no longer has that job, an indictment of Donald Trump should be ready to go in the Southern District of New York where prosecutors say he committed exactly the same campaign finance crimes that Michael Cohen did.
You can be sure that a new president`s first U.S. attorney appointment will be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. A new president would want to have her own or his own U.S. attorney in that job as fast as possible to decide what to do about the United States of America versus Donald J. Trump.
That`s what the case would be called. The same case against Michael Cohen is the United States of America versus Michael Cohen.
The phrase poetic justice has never had more meaning than it would have if, after the voters of the United States of America reject President Trump`s re-election, the first thing that happens to him as a private citizen is that he is criminally charged in a case entitled the United States of America versus Donald J. Trump.
But this is the one thing that we can be virtually certain won`t happen if Donald Trump becomes a private citizen again on the afternoon of January 20, 2021. And the reason it won`t happen is that on the morning of January 20 or late at night on January 19, Donald Trump will become the first president of the United States to pardon himself.
The president`s pardon power is absolute. Donald Trump was thrilled when he discovered that. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the president cannot pardon himself and so along with pardoning Trump associates or family members who he feels like pardoning, before he leaves office, Donald Trump would very specifically pardon himself for the crimes that the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York say Donald Trump committed to win the presidency.
And history would read Donald Trump`s pardon of himself for what it would be, a confession, an admission of guilt. The Supreme Court has actually held that the acceptance of a pardon is an admission of guilt.
And so President Trump`s pardon of himself on his final day in office would actually be his confession. And that would be as close as we would come to poetic justice.
That`s tonight`s last word.