LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
Kind of surreal in the last hour to see Bridget Kelly sitting there with you.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Right.
O`DONNELL: Who investigated Bridgegate, better than any of us and more extensively than any of us. It was just remarkable and a remarkable interview.
And I have to tell you, I had this kind of vision into the future where a parade of Trump administration officials come to Rachel Maddow`s desk years after the fact to plead for a new place in history.
MADDOW: Well, the thing that`s going on with Bridget Kelly is fascinating. I mean, first of all, the chance to talk to her about what was going on when this retribution scheme was being meted out by the Christie administration in New Jersey that caused -- I mean, she was right in the middle of it. The chance to talk to her about it, I wasn`t going to pass it up.
But she is now saying, as she`s being sentenced to federal prison, listen, I was the fall guy here. This is Christie. Christie was the only person powerful enough in this administration to pull it off and he got off, and I`m willing to tell you some of the ways he got off. And that`s -- she`s - - I mean, she`s a remarkably specific person in that scandal, but that story she is telling is provocative stuff.
O`DONNELL: It was just riveting to watch because I remember every detail of this. And the way you brought up the specifics of her texts and time for traffic problems in Ft. Lee and the single most memorable line of the whole thing, and her attempt to provide what she considers context to that, I found some of that understandable. I just can`t imagine though being in those jobs and actually participating in something like that. I just can`t imagine what`s going through the minds of people who are doing that.
MADDOW: And, you know, the sentencing judge for the sentencing of Bill Baroni and the sentencing yesterday of Bridget Kelly talked about that. I mean, the judge who over saw the trial was basically what was going on in that administration? What was the ethos of that politician, that office, of that governorship that was the sort of thing you thought you needed to be doing as public servants? It`s pretty brutal.
O`DONNELL: They`re all going to come, Rachel. But the Rachel Maddow confessional, a couple of years from now. There will be a line of them coming in.
MADDOW: Well, it`s going to happen at a trout stream somewhere I`ll tell you. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Elizabeth Drew is going to join us at the end of the hour tonight. Elizabeth Drew for me is the highest authority on matters of impeachment. She`s a Washington reporter who covered two of the three impeachments in American history.
She was there for impeachment processes against Richard Nixon. She wrote a book about it, the definitive book about it. She was also there for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
She is a long time Washington reporter, author, essayist, beautiful prose stylist, brilliant thinker. She has been helping me and correcting me with some of my thinking and some of the things I`ve said about impeachment on this program, very helpful e-mails she sends me.
Elizabeth Drew is going to be joining us at the end of the hour to discuss her latest piece for the "New York Times" which is entitled "The Danger In Not Impeaching Trump." "The Danger In Not Impeaching Trump". Elizabeth Drew is going to discuss that.
And Neal Katyal is going to be with us midway through the show because he`s got some other stuff to do tonight, and other obligations and he`s going to get to us by about 10:30 tonight. And we need him tonight with the new developments that have broken out in the subpoena battles and the wall the president is trying to build around the White House on subpoenas, and other matters involving the Mueller report.
But let`s just begin with today as a news day. There`s so much in it. There are some days when just one story dominates our coverage. One story fills this entire hour like the day the redacted Mueller report is released.
And we will have many more of those days like this year with the investigations, the president. I`m sure we`re going to have a lot of days like that. We might even have a couple of days like that next week when Attorney General William Barr testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and more importantly, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
And I say more importantly because the House Judiciary Committee is controlled by Democrats who are actively seeking the full, unredacted Mueller report and its supporting documents while the Senate Judiciary Committee is controlled by Republicans with Chairman Lindsey Graham doing everything he can to help William Barr contain the release of Robert Mueller`s actual work.
But every day including every day when we become swamped in the coverage of one big story in Washington, remember, that that day is also a presidential campaign day. We`re in the middle of a presidential campaign. Most of the coverage of the presidential campaign is simply coverage of one-half of the presidential campaign, the Democrats who are running pore president. The other half of the presidential campaign is the Republican president running for re-election.
So let`s look at today. Let`s look at today`s developments in the Trump re-election campaign and remember that for an incumbent president, everything that happens in the president`s administration that day is a possible factor in the president`s re-election campaign. So here`s how Donald Trump`s re-election campaign went today.
Voters discovered today through reporting by "The Washington Post" that Donald Trump might have caved to North Korean demands and paid $2 million in ransom to get Kim Jong-un to be release -- to allow for the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korean custody. North Korea participated in a cover-up of this ran some by calling it a hospital bill for Otto Warmbier who was comatose by the time he left North Korea.
There are no hospital bills in North Korea. None. A $2 million hospital bill in a country that doesn`t have hospital bills? North Korea is the most totalitarian communist regime in the history of the world.
The government owns everything. The government runs everything. The government controls everything. No North Korean hospital has the capacity to deliver $2 million worth of health care to anyone.
North Korea at the direction of Kim Jong-un tortured Otto Warmbier. North Korea at the direction of Kim Jong-un murdered Otto Warmbier and sent him home after getting a promise of $2 million from Donald Trump sent him home when he was dying, sent him home when no amount of the best health care in the world could save Otto Warmbier.
You won`t be hearing about that on the presidential campaign trail from Donald Trump. But you will be hearing about it from his Republican challenger Bill Weld. And you will be hearing about it from the Democratic candidates and if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, and if he agrees to debate the Democratic nominee, you are going to hear about Otto Warmbier, and the $2 million ran some that Donald Trump agreed to pay. You`re going to hear about that in a presidential debate.
If Donald Trump agrees to participate in presidential debates which I strongly doubt that heal.
Here is where Donald Trump`s answer to every question about North Korea and Kim Jong-un stands tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then we fell in love. OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they`re great letters. We fell in love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: You`re going to see that in campaign ads against Donald Trump. We fell in love. He fell in love with a murderous dictator.
He fell in love with the man who ordered the torture and murder of Otto Warmbier. He fell in love with him. You`re going to see a lot of that video on the presidential campaign.
And on this day, in the Trump re-election campaign, a giant hole broke open in the Fox wall of defense for the president. Former Judge Andrew Napolitano whose commentary is generally favorable to the president and Republicans but not slavishly so took a giant leap into the unknown for the future of his career at Fox by saying today in no unconcern terms that President Trump is guilty of multiple obstructions of justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS ANALYST: So when the president asked his former adviser and my former colleague at Fox, K.T. McFarland, to write an untruthful letter to the file, knowing the government would subpoena a letter, that`s obstruction of justice. When the president asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager to get Mueller fired, that`s obstruction of justice.
When the president asked his then White House counsel to get Mueller fired and then lie about it, that`s obstruction of justice. When he asked Don McGahn to go back to the special counsel and change his testimony, that`s obstruction of justice. When he will dangled a pardon in front of Michael Cohen in order to keep him from testifying against him, that`s obstruction of justice.
Ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior, that is immoral, that is criminal, that is defenseless, and that is condemnable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: When he gets fired from Fox News, maybe Chairman Jerry Nadler could hire him as one of the counsels to the House Judiciary Committee. Andrew Napolitano, the man you just saw, is someone who President Trump consulted on who he should select for the United States Supreme Court. That`s who turned on Donald Trump today.
Judge Napolitano said he`s very disappointed in Donald Trump because of what he has read in the Mueller report. He`s a personal friend of Trump`s.
Losing Andrew Napolitano today was a very, very bad day in and of itself for the Trump campaign. He is the Fox Network`s highest legal authority.
And on the day that the Judge Napolitano said that Donald Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Vice Chairman Mark Warner, tried to alert the nation and alert voters in an article in "USA Today" that President Trump is, quote, "practically inviting foreign adversaries to interfere in 2020."
We now know that the Russians helped Donald Trump win the Electoral College last time. Donald Trump knows that. Donald Trump knows just how close he came to losing the Electoral College. Donald Trump knows he cannot afford to lose any of those voters who the Russians helped persuade to vote for Donald Trump last time.
The Trump campaign needs them and that`s one of the reasons we have reports today that the last secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, was advised not to tell the president about her worries that the Russians were planning to attack our election again in 2020 and are already at it. This would be like American intelligence discovering that the Soviets had nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States and no one was allowed to tell President Kennedy in 1962 when that actually happened.
Imagine a Trump presidency facing what President Kennedy and no one could tell him. In the most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War, President Kennedy used his intelligence, his experience, his judgment and his trusted advisers to defuse a possible nuclear war with Russia. The Trump re- election campaign is now trying to reelect a president who the Mueller report shows gives illegal orders that are ignored by his staff and who we now know cannot be told anything about what the Russians are planning in their next attack on our next election.
And on this day, in the Trump re-election campaign, the president got a new opponent, former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. And Joe Biden`s video announcement of his campaign, he didn`t focus on the outrage of the week. He didn`t even mention the Mueller report. He focused on the outrage he says started him thinking about trying to take the White House back from Donald Trump.
Joe Biden reached back two years across hundreds of Trump outrages and reminded the country of the one we must never forget, the time Donald Trump said that there were some good people chanting "Jews will not replace us".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And that`s when we heard the words the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were, quote, some very fine people on both sides. Very fine people on both sides?
With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, former Democratic senator from North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp. She`s now a fellow at Harvard`s Institute of Politics and today she launched a new initiative called the One County Project aimed at Democrats winning back rural voters.
Also joining us, Steve Hildebrand, Democratic political strategist and former deputy national campaign manager of President Obama`s 2008 presidential campaign.
And Jason Johnson is with us. He`s the politics editor for theroot.com and professor of politics and media at Morgan State University. He`s also an MSNBC contributor.
An all-star political lineup for the presidential campaign analysis.
Senator Heitkamp, I want to get are your reaction to Joe Biden`s entry into the campaign today and what it might mean for Donald Trump.
FORMER SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP, INSTITUTE OF POLITICS, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: I think Joe Biden answered the question that every politician gets asked. Why are you in this race? I think he did a marvelous job in leading with a values character-based argument for why we need a change. You could only listen to your earlier comments and know that we are in a state where we need to have a change, and we need to broaden the dialogue, and offer a greater range of options for fixing the problems in this country. I think that`s what Joe bide is going to bring to this Democratic primary season.
So, I think it`s what I have been anticipating and have said on your show, I expect Joe would get in. And here he is and I think he`s going to add to the flavor and to the dynamic nature of this primary season.
O`DONNELL: He certainly didn`t have any surprise going for him this morning when he jumped in. Everyone knew it was come.
Steve Hildebrand, I want to go to the Trump campaign. There is a Trump campaign, a Trump re-election campaign that is I think ignored in the way that we cover the news. You`re a veteran of a successful presidential campaign. I want you to imagine yourself in a president`s re-election campaign and you`re watching the incoming every day at the White House because for any president, there`s always incoming at the White House. There`s always something that can affect your presidential re-election campaign as president.
But look at what the Trump White House is both creating by way of its own problems with Congress on subpoenas and other things and what`s happening to it that comes to it from the outside. You have a former cabinet member now recently left the cabinet, homeland security secretary, it becomes revealed she`s not allowed, was never allowed to mention Russia to the president.
It just seems like almost every hour there`s something happening that is another big problem for the Trump re-election campaign.
STEVE HILDEBRAND, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: You know, every day they seem to wake up and create their own worst nightmare. They`ve got a political shield. They`ve got a 30 to 35 percent base that never waivers in support for him.
That being said, I can`t imagine how you can handle the political gunfire that comes at you every single day by your own creation. And that`s what them do, Lawrence. It`s unfathomable in politics. I don`t understand it to be honest with you.
O`DONNELL: Steve, let me stay with you for a expected. As soon as they`re elected and literally on election night in their victory speeches, one of the very first things they do is they reach out to voters who did not vote for them. And they do that in their victory speeches, they then do that in their inauguration address, their inaugural addresses. They do it in their State of the Union addresses.
I haven`t seen Donald Trump once, not once since election night, I have not seen him once try to speak publicly to a voter who did not already vote for him. How do you form a re-election campaign with a candidate who has never once attempted to pick up a new voter?
HILDEBRAND: You know, he seems to only understand that you work to tear people apart, that you work to divide the country. That there`s winners and losers. You know, honestly he seems to be framing himself with the losers, and that small coalition.
I don`t see how -- unless the Democrats really screw this up, how he can get re-elected because as you said, he has never reached across the aisle. And that`s one of Joe Biden`s strengths. He`s going to have capacity to go after voters who felt a little bit disenfranchised in 2008, or 2006 I`m sorry, to bring them back into our fold where they`ve been for a long time.
But they just weren`t courted properly while Trump was really, really going after them.
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, when you look at today, as a day in the Trump re-election campaign, it`s another disastrous campaign day.
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, yes, yes. But here`s the thing, Lawrence. There have been tons of these for Donald Trump. And he is oblivious to how bad he ends up looking.
I think that the idea of a Fox legal analyst basically saying you guys can impeach this guy is one of the worst things that can happen, because, look, objectively speaking, we all know that. We see parts of the Mueller report, we`ve heard the legal analysis.
But what it says there are other people at fox who believe this. I don`t think this guy was going out on a limb. That means there are people within the Trump camp who believe we have a president of the United States who is legitimately impeachable. And that is the most dangerous indicator he could have.
Donald Trump is already -- he`s starting 3 million votes behind. He`s not in a strong position going into 2020. That`s the belief, and if the Democrats can manage this properly and do an impeachment hearing, he`s much weaker than he could have anticipated a couple months ago.
O`DONNELL: Senator Heitkamp no one knows more Trump voters, in this group, no one knows more Trump voters than you do in this group. Your state voted for Donald Trump in a pretty strong way.
Do you sense a loosening of the Trump grip? The next segment we`re going to do is a Republican saying that the Mueller report was the breaking point for him. You just saw Judge Napolitano from Fox saying, yes, this is obstruction of justice.
Is the Trump grip loosening, do you think?
HEITKAMP: I think that Trump sees two other weapons that he has. A good economy and he`ll say it`s about the economy. And fear. And we know how well he plays that card.
And so, in rural America, the economy is not as good as it is in other parts of the country. So, one of the major thrusts for this president in terms of seeking re-election and securing unified base an we`ve been talking about is a good economy. That`s not true in rural America and that`s something we`re going to be talking about in the One Country Project.
You know, we need to hold him accountable. He promised a better economy for our farmers, a better economy for rural America and he`s not delivering. So, I think he`s concerned.
That`s why you see Xi coming to the White House. He`s concerned what the tariffs have done to rural America and to farmers. He`s got to address some of these systemic problems.
But you know, the bottom line is, he would say if he were on this show, look, I have the best economy in the history of this country which we all know is not true. But that is going to be my shield against any of these other things that you all have been talking about. And, you know, that can be a pretty persuasive argument to a lot of people.
I`m probably the minority here. I think Donald Trump could get reelected. And I think he could get re-elected if we do not focus on economic challenges in the parts of the country that he is strong and where is he failing those parts of the country.
O`DONNELL: You are not alone in that opinion because Jason Johnson is nodding here right beside me.
Go ahead, Jason.
JOHNSON: Yes, well, I`ve always assumed that President Trump could get re- elected.
O`DONNELL: Incumbents get reelected.
JOHNSON: Yes, most presidents get reelected in American history. The only thing that works against him is he`s got weak fundamentals, right? He lost by 3 million votes. He`s never at 50 percent approval rating and every single state that he won that made a difference in 2016 flipped blue during the midterms.
At the end of the day, we see weakness in some of the Democrats by Joe Biden`s announcement today. Look, Joe Biden spent most of his announcement, you were Barack Obama`s vice president for eight years, and you spend your announcement talking about Trump.
We need to get a reason to vote for you. Everybody knows why to vote against Donald Trump. And I`ll be honest, if the Democrats can`t figure out how to give you something to vote for as opposed to giving you something to vote against, they won`t win.
I was disappointed in this announcement from Joe Biden. I expected him to be a lot more politically savvy than he was.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to break it -- I wish we could go on with this discussion. We`ve got a lot more coming up in this hour. Obviously, the presidential campaign is not going away. We`re all coming back to the subject.
Senator Heitkamp, thank you for joining us. Steve Hildebrand, Jason Johnson, thank you for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.
And when we come back, Neal Katyal is going to come somewhere around 10:30. He`s got other stuff he`s rushing from to get here. We`re going to get his reaction to where the Trump war with Congress stands on subpoenas. We`re going to get his reaction to what the Mueller report really does say about obstruction of justice.
And you will meet a Republican coming up in our next segment who actually worked on the Trump transition who is now has reached his tipping point, the Mueller report was that tipping point. He believes Donald Trump should be impeached. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: For our next guest, the Mueller report was the tipping point.
J.W. Verret is a professor at the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University and he has a specialty in American politics, presidential transition teams. Even losing presidential campaigns like Mitt Romney`s have presidential transition teams that begin working just in case the candidate wins. You don`t want the day after the election to be the first time you start scrambling to figure out how to begin a transition.
Professor Verret worked on the Trump transition team. It wasn`t a good fit. He decided to leave the Trump transition before the election.
And in a piece in "The Atlantic" this week, he wrote the Mueller report was the tipping point for me and it should be for Republican and independent voters and for Republicans in Congress in the face of a Department of Justice policy that prohibited him from indicting a sitting president, Mueller drafted what any reasonable reader would see as a referral to Congress to commence impeachment hearings.
Joining our discussion now is J.W. Verret, an associate professor of law at the George Mason University. He recently wrote that op-ed piece in "The Atlantic" entitled "The Mueller Report Was My Tipping Point".
Professor, thank you very much for joining us tonight. So you I assume on the day it came out sat with the Mueller report, read it in full, and formed your view of this?
J.W. VERRET, FORMER ECONOMIST & COUNSEL, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FINANCIAL SERVICES: My family was a little bit aggravated with me over the Easter holiday, but yes, I absolutely did.
O`DONNELL: And what -- did you expect as you were watching this investigation unfold that this was what you would end up in the Mueller report? Were you expecting less? Did you have to go through a real decision making process that you didn`t anticipate on this?
VERRET: I had suspicions. I had concerns, but I wanted to wait to see what Robert Mueller said. I trust him. I believe in him. He`s a man who got us through 9/11. I think he`s a solid guy, and I just wanted to see what he came up with, and it was compelling.
And, frankly, it also was clear to me that while there was a clear case for, potentially, 12 counts of obstruction of justice, it`s also clear that he wasn`t able to get to everything he needed. He didn`t have the tools or the resources to get to everything that he needed. There`s the missing Bannon emails. There`s the fact that Don Junior and Donald Trump were not put under oath, all of that, that`s unique for this sort of investigation.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: And what has been the reaction of your Republican friends?
VERRET: I haven`t had a single person I know who`s a Republican who said anything negative. They`ve all called me to say, "We admire what you`re doing. This is a solid thing." I`ve gotten a lot of crazy random emails from people I`ve never heard of, obviously, but the people I know who work on "The Hill," who work in the administration, have all sort of said, "Good for you, man."
O`DONNELL: And you know a lot. You used to work on "The Hill" yourself in the Republicans` side and so you are in a position from professional Republicans in Washington to get a very strong reaction one way or the other, and you`re saying that no one has said anything to you about this in a negative way from the world that is inhabited by Lindsey Graham and all the other defenders of the President?
VERRET: I don`t know Senator Graham or any of his staff. I know the folks in the Financial Services Regulatory world and a lot of folks in the White House as well. I haven`t heard a single negative word from them. I`ve heard a lot of words of encouragement, of sort of, "I can`t speak out, but I`m glad you are," is what they`re saying.
O`DONNELL: What about why can`t they speak out?
VERRET: Well, I mean, when you work in the President`s administration, I mean, you`ve got to realize these folks have families. They have obligations. I understand that not everybody can speak up who`s currently in the administration.
I hope the folks who are out of it will continue to speak up, and I think I`m nobody, but Judge Napolitano, I would agree with you. That is a big voice, and I`m glad I`m not standing alone. I think George Conway`s been a real leader on this, too. I think folks will continue to join in this course as they digest the report.
O`DONNELL: Are you disappointed in elected Republicans in Washington being silent on this or supportive of the President?
VERRET: Well, let me start by saying I am most disappointed in elected Democrats because it is the House`s responsibility to bring impeachment proceedings. And I have to try them on this, that if they`re not willing to do their elected constitutional responsibility on this, they don`t have the moral high ground. If they`re making a political calculation, they don`t have the moral high ground to say, "Hey, Senate Republicans, why aren`t you speaking out? House Republicans?" because they aren`t doing enough either.
O`DONNELL: Well, the Democrats are moving in that direction but, so far, every House Republican is standing in the way of that.
VERRET: Yes, I hope that impeachment proceedings will bring them around as they bring around the nation, but we`ve got to get moving. I`m fine if they want to do some hearings before they get started, but if the house doesn`t bring impeachment proceedings before the end of this Congress, they will do a disservice to history.
O`DONNELL: J.W. Verret, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it. VERRET: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, Neal Katyal will join us on the latest developments with the Mueller report and with the subpoenas to the Trump administration.
O`DONNELL: We are in Day 2 of the new Trump imaginary wall. It is the imaginary wall the President is trying to build around the White House to block every subpoena sent by the House of Representatives. "The Washington Post" reports that with Trump promising to bar all former and current aides from testifying, the House began confronting the possibility if issuing multiple contempt citations and initiating civil litigation to defend its oversight role.
The President refused to be questioned by Robert Mueller about obstruction of justice, but he decided to finally testify today not under oath; on Twitter, of course. The President disputed what former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, is reported to have said under oath in the Mueller report. The President said, "I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn`t need McGahn to do it; I could have done it myself."
Now that the President is publicly contradicting the Mueller report and publicly contradicting the testimony of Don McGahn, does that add even more legal strength to the House Judiciary Committee`s subpoena for Don McGahn`s testimony? To answer that, we are joined now by, Neal Katyal, former Acting U.S. Solicitor General and an MSNBC legal contributor. He wrote "The Justice Department Rules Governing Special Counsel."
Neal, I have to ask you about this tweet by the President where he`s actively now disputing evidence in the Mueller report, disputing Don McGahn`s testimony. Does that add weight to the subpoena for Don McGahn`s testimony by the House?
NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure it does. I think the defining characteristic of the Trump presidency is a relentless of being scared of the truth, relentlessly scared of the truth. And we saw it first with all these obstruction allegations which, now, Mueller has effectively confirmed that Trump was afraid of Mueller finding out about the truth and sought to fire him, and it`s continuing now with what you call this wall of subpoenas, of resistance that`s going out the White House an unprecedented amount and even today, the President`s tweet. Yes.
So, I mean, if the President believed what he said, there`s a real simple way to clear it up. He could have testified under oath. That`s pointedly what he didn`t do so now you`ve got a circumstance in which the President`s own guy, his White House lawyer, is saying the President did these bad things and he`s saying it under oath, and Trump`s just saying it in a tweet. And that`s not, I think, going to be persuasive to the Congress of the United States, and it`s certainly not going to be persuasive to the American people . O`DONNELL: Let me get your reaction to the President`s statement in that tweet that he could have fired Robert Mueller himself without Don McGahn and there would be no problem, no obstruction of justice in that, and let me just add to that because within the last hour, he told Sean Hannity this.
He said, "I could have fired everybody. I could have fired Mueller. I could have fired anybody that I wanted to fire. Article II fired nobody other than Comey and, very interesting, that was early and people don`t talk about that." Your reactions to the President saying not only could he have fired Robert Mueller; he could have fired anybody and that would be totally legal?
KATYAL: Yes, the technical legal term for that, as I`ve said before, is poppycock. I mean, that is such a bad legal argument. I don`t think you got a single serious constitutional scholar to agree with it, and here`s why: Of course, the President has the ability to fire people in his cabinet, yes, just as you and I have the right to throw our laptops away in the garbage, but we don`t have that right if we know the FBI`s about to knock on our door under a warrant and get it.
You can`t go and destroy your laptop and, similarly, you can`t go and fire someone from an improper motive. So, yes, the President generally has that power but, specifically, here, he does not because -- and the Mueller report is devastating on this, page after page, showing he did this to effectively obstruct justice.
He was afraid of the legal proceedings against him, and so it isn`t as if he just thought, "Comey, I don`t really like your performance," or, "Mueller, I don`t like your performance." There was something much more specific, which Trump even admitted was "that Russia thing."
O`DONNELL: We have some breaking news tonight and comments from Rod Rosenstein. He`s giving a speech tonight, and I just want you to listen to this part of it and get your reaction to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I did pledge to do it right and to take it to the appropriate conclusion. I did not promise to report all results to the public because as my fellow U.S. Attorneys would know well, Grand Jury investigations are ex parte proceedings. It`s not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it`s appropriate to file criminal charges. That is our job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Your reaction to that, Neal?
KATYAL: Well, I haven`t heard the whole speech. I sure hope that wasn`t a fully-representative example because I think I heard him say in there that it`s not his job to render factual conclusions, but that`s, of course, exactly what his boss, the Attorney General, did do.
Remember, Mueller did not resolve the obstruction of justice charges; he laid out the evidence in damning detail, but Page 1 of his report and Page 2 said, "Even if there is damning evidence, I`m not going to conclude it`s a crime because that will be unfair to the President because the sitting President can`t be indicted."
So, Mueller didn`t make those conclusions; it was Barr and Rosenstein who I thought sat right behind Barr at the press conference when he said that. So, I can`t make sense of how to reconcile what Barr said last week with what Rosenstein`s saying now. I hope maybe the full speech eliminates it but, if not, I sure hope that Rod Rosenstein isn`t entering the Trump distortion field.
O`DONNELL: Well, his exact lines there were, "It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges."
KATYAL: Yes, but I thought that -- I mean, I think Barr went further than that in his letter and in his press conference, and so that to me is the real problem. Now, maybe there`s some tension between those two and that`s what we`re starting to see tonight.
I don`t know, but I can tell you this: that I think what Barr did will go down in American history as the beginnings of an attempted cover-up and hiding of the truth from the American people, and I think it`s Congress` job to investigate what Barr said and did in addition to all the allegations in the Mueller report.
O`DONNELL: Neal Katyal, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. Always enlightening to have you here. Really appreciate it, Neal. Thank you.
KATYAL: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, the danger of not impeaching Donald Trump. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: There has been much said and written recently about the political risk to Democrats if they pursue impeachment of the President when polls indicate a majority of Americans are not yet in favor of impeachment. Now comes the counterargument from Elizabeth Drew in her "New York Times" article entitled "The Danger in Not Impeaching Trump."
While recognizing the political risks in the impeachment process, Elizabeth Drew writes, "But the Democrats would also run enormous risks if they didn`t hold to account a President who has clearly abused power and the Constitution, who has not honored the oath of office and who has had a wave of campaign and White House aides plead guilty to or be convicted of crimes."
Elizabeth Drew literally wrote the book on impeachment entitled "Washington Journal, Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon`s Downfall," and -- full disclosure -- I have been an avid fan of Elizabeth Drew`s work since I started reading her coverage of the Nixon impeachment process while I was in college.
She is one of the Washington reporters who has covered two of the three Presidential impeachment processes in American history. The Nixon impeachment, which ended with the President`s resignation after the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve three Articles of Impeachment against the President, and Bill Clinton`s impeachment, which went all the way to trial in the United States` Senate where 50 senators voted in favor of removing the President from office, but removal requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate and so the Clinton presidency survived.
What does that impeachment history teach us about the impeachment decisions Democrats and the House of Representatives now face? There is no higher authority on that subject than Elizabeth Drew, and she will join us right after this final break.
O`DONNELL: The last Republican President to face impeachment was a much more careful public speaker than Donald Trump, but he used some of the same defensive tactics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: And I thought, after two years, we`d be finished with it. No, now the House goes and starts subpoenaing. They want to know every deal I`ve ever done.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: After 12 weeks and 2 million words of televised testimony, we have reached a point at which a continued backward-looking obsession with Watergate is causing this nation to neglect matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.
TRUMP: It was the most thorough investigation probably in the history of our country. I think I read where they interviewed 500 people. I say it`s enough. Get back to infrastructure. Get back to cutting taxes. Get back to lowering drug prices. Really, that`s what we -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Washington reporter, author and essayist, Elizabeth Drew. Her latest article is now in "The New York Times" entitled "The Danger in Not Impeaching Trump." Thank you very much for joining us tonight, and give us your case. What is the danger in not impeaching Trump?
ELIZABETH DREW, WASHINGTON REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Lawrence, as you know, an impeachment exercises not just a thing unto itself; it sets a precedent. And I think it will be a terrible, dangerous precedent for the Congress to, in effect, say, "Well, it`s okay that he did these things. There`s no reason to punish him for it."
Of course, the idea of impeachment the founders insisted on was to hold the President accountable between elections. There`s still a long time before an election. And the Republicans know he`s dangerous, and yet they would be protecting him. The other one is the President would feel that his actions had been condoned and he would act on it. And the third is it would certainly, if anything, if possible, enhance his authoritarian instincts.
O`DONNELL: You make a point in the piece about -- you raised the question of, "What if there`s no impeachment and he`s reelected?" You say, "The Democrats who prefer to substitute the 2020 elections for an impeachment fight don`t appear to have considered the implications of Mr. Trump were to win: Would that not condone his constitutional abuses and encourage his authoritarian instincts?" It seems that any House Democratic calculation to not impeach is a calculation that Democrats will win the Presidential election.
DREW: Also, Lawrence, a lot of them are being quite contradictory. They`re saying, "Well, we want to get on with other legislation." In 1974 when Nixon was all but impeached, they did other legislation and then they`re saying, "People don`t want us to be focusing on Trump and his crimes, but we`ll decide that in the elections where we don`t think we should talk about it." You can`t have it both ways. They`re trying, but they can`t.
O`DONNELL: Do you foresee a possibility of some kind of, in effect, compromise with history? Because your argument is you cannot leave this conduct standing unrebuked by Congress. You can`t leave it in history. History`s watching.
Could the House of Representatives bring some kind of censure resolution against the President where they outline all of the elements that would, in effect, be Articles of Impeachment and then just put that into a censure vote in the House of Representatives where the Democrats would clearly win, it would pass and it would live in history as the stated rebuke by the House of Representatives of this President?
DREW: Well, I think two things about that, Lawrence. It`s a bit of a wimp out. The Constitution says impeach. If a President has abused the oath of office, has abused the office itself, has committed no crimes on the books -- that`s what people are getting confused about -- but impeachable offenses are offenses against the Constitution in the Office of the Presidency. So, a censure doesn`t face up to that. The other one is -- do you remember the mess they got into when they were trying to draw up a resolution about Miss Omar? And there were 65 different ideas about what to say. I think it would be equally messy and not really living up to their constitutional responsibilities.
O`DONNELL: Yes, you make a point in this and in other writings that there`s been a lot of confusion about what the elements of impeachment actually need to be, and you just made one reference to one. It doesn`t actually have to be a crime. It doesn`t have to be a violation of a criminal statute, and the notion that the Democrats were always kind of waiting for the smoking gun here was a mistake in their understanding to begin with of what impeachment was about.
DREW: Well, it makes it much easier to explain to constituents that, well, he committed a crime. He did the same thing with Bill Clinton. They were really after him because he had sex with an intern in a room next to the Oval Office, but they didn`t want to say that and he did commit one abuse in one -- Sorry.
O`DONNELL: There was a perjury count in a civil testimony, yes.
DREW: One perjury, but was this enough to remove him from office, which is really what it`s about? Now, that impeachment is considered very controversial. It is said by some because it only went through the House and the Senate didn`t take it up. But it took a chunk out of Clinton. It`s quite clear that Trump does not want to be impeached, and at least you`d have the record that Congress didn`t sit around and do nothing. Then it`s up to Republicans to explain why they are protecting this man in office when he clearly has abused power, which is what impeachment is about. It`s not about the crimes on the books. The Founders made that very clear.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes. It`s not -- impeachment is not just a political risk for Democrats is absolutely a political risk for Republicans in trying to mock that defense.
DREW: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: Elizabeth drew, thank you for joining us and we really appreciate it. Thank you very much.
DREW: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts right now.