LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, the great Rachel Maddow.
You know, I was just reading a tweet from the historian Kevin Kruse. I actually retweeted this and I would like to read this to you.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": OK.
O'DONNELL: It says. In the last 24 hours, we learned the president is a billion-dollar loser, his biggest evangelical backer covered up an apparent sex scandal, his attorney general is facing a contempt charge in the House, and his son is being subpoenaed by the Senate in the last 24 hours.
Now, I have not been able to cover all of that. But between the two of us, we have.
O'DONNELL: You managed to work the Falwell story last night, and I have to tell you, Rachel, I stared at it, and I tried to figure out how to approach it, and I just -- I couldn't. I thought, you know, I'm going to wait for the second day of the story if there is one. And it turns out it was wiped out by subpoena day and --
MADDOW: Although, I mean, there is sort of a second day because now "The Washington Post" published the actual audio of Cohen describing the terrible photo. I mean, it's like -- you have -- this is our lifestyle. Like, we, instead of sitting down and having a meal every day, we arrive at a buffet table that is 17 miles long. It's like, what are you going to do? Where do you start? How do you prioritize?
I mean, I could do an hour just on the Falwell story tonight, but all that other stuff, too.
O'DONNELL: But this is what I'm counting you for. I look at stories sometimes and I say it's not going to fit. It is not going to fit in this hour. But somehow, it fits in these two hours somewhere. It's in there somewhere.
O'DONNELL: And that's what I'm counting on, Rachel. That's what I'm relying on you for.
MADDOW: We need each other, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: You know what, over the phone we'll fill in the rest of this.
MADDOW: I'll talk to you about it in the morning.
O'DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
She really is the greatest.
Well, we've been showing you video of Lindsey Graham and other Republicans during impeachment of President Bill Clinton. We've showed you extraordinary videos that show you just how much those Republicans have changed on all of the issues they were declaring to be matters of principle to them, back then when they were trying to impeach a Democratic president. And every Republican serving now in the House of Representatives and the Senate who voted to impeach or remove Bill Clinton from office is now using a completely different set of principles today in defending president Trump.
But at the end of this hour tonight, you will meet someone who has remained consistent in his view of obstruction of Justice and crimes by presidents of the United States. One of the prosecutors from the special prosecutor's team that accused Bill Clinton of obstruction of justice now believes President Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. And that prosecutor will join us at the end of this hour.
But first, it was subpoena day on Capitol Hill. Subpoenas issued and one subpoena denied. The subpoena denied by Attorney General William Barr was the subject of votes today in the House Judiciary Committee on holding the attorney general in contempt of congress. But two new subpoenas were issued at the end of the day today, both with bipartisan support, one from the Senate Intelligence Committee and one from the House Intelligence Committee.
The Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to testify to the Intelligence Committee. Yesterday, the Republican leader of the Senate went to the Senate floor and said case closed. And today, the Republican leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr.
It is the first time a member of the Trump family has been subpoenaed in the investigation of the president.
Our first guest tonight, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, with the support of the top Republican on his committee, Devin Nunes, issued, quote, a subpoena to Attorney General William P. Barr for documents and materials related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, including all counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence materials produced during the special counsel's investigation, the full, unredacted report and the underlying evidence.
The showdown on that subpoena is scheduled for one week from today. Wednesday, May 15 is the deadline and Congressman Schiff to Attorney General William Barr.
After the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines in 2016 to hold William Barr in contempt of Congress, no date was set for when the full house vote on that contempt of Congress resolution. We will ask Chairman Schiff if he expects speaker Pelosi to delay the full house vote on contempt of Congress until the Democrats see what the attorney general's response is to the new intelligence committee subpoena.
In a statement announcing that subpoena, Chairman Schiff described, quote, a good faith effort to reach an accommodation with the attorney general. But, quote, the department repeatedly pays lip service to the importance of a meaningful accommodation process but it has only responded to our efforts with silence or outright defiance.
Chairman Jerry Nadler told a similar story about dealing with William Barr and the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The department abruptly announced if we moved forward today, it would ask President Trump to invoke what it refers to as a protective assertion of executive privilege on all of the materials subject to our subpoena. Just minutes ago, it took that dramatic step.
Besides misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege, since the White House waived these privileges long ago, and the department seems open to sharing these materials with us just yesterday, this decision represents a clear escalation and the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress' constitutionally mandated duties. I hope that the department will think better of this last-minute outburst and return to negotiations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: The Republicans spent the first couple of hours in the committee meeting today, relying on the completely false talking point that Chairman Jerry Nadler's subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report would force the attorney general to break the law by releasing grand jury information that has been re redacted and must remain by law.
Chairman Nadler's subpoena was very clear about that point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: All we've ever asked is that the department join us in petitioning the court to determine if it is proper for us to have access to this material
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: That didn't stop every single member of the community leaning on the same falsehood for hours.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're doing here is forcing the attorney general to break the law.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Democrats and Chairman Nadler and this committee are asking the attorney general to break the law. Break the law! By releasing grand jury information to Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To comply with the subpoena, he must break the law. If he obeys the law, he must disobey the subpoena.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: To prove that wasn't true, the Democrats accepted by unanimous voice vote a Republican amendment that clarified that grand jury information won't be subject to the subpoena unless a federal court approves the release of that information. The Republicans on the committee did not seem to feel the historical weight of the moment in the same way that Democrats did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: There can be no higher stakes than this attempt to arrogate all power to the executive branch away from Congress, and more important, away from the American people. We've talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis. We are now in it. We are now in a constitutional crisis.
REP. KELLY ARMSTRONG (R-ND): If we're using phrases, I'll just use cart before the horse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: That is Kelly Armstrong. He is North Dakota's only member of the House of Representatives because while the land mass of North Dakota is bigger than the entire state of New York, the entire population of North Dakota would fit in Jerry Nadler's district on the west side of Manhattan. Jerry Nadler and Kelly Armstrong represent the same number of people but they approach their work very differently.
There is no easier job in American politics than being the Republican member of the House of Representatives from North Dakota, and Kelly Armstrong sure makes it look easy.
Here he is casting his historic vote on holding the attorney general in contempt of congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Reschenthaler votes no.
REP. BEN CLINE (R-VA): No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cline votes no.
REP. KELLY ARMSTRONG (R-ND): No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Armstrong votes no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Hard to see who works harder, Kelly Armstrong or Donald Trump.
Leading our discussion today is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Schiff, your subpoena tonight, that seems to have bipartisan support on your committee with Devin Nunes. How are you achieving a bipartisan approach to a subpoena where the judiciary committee can't?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, this is probably the last venue you thought that would happen, but, look, you know, the ranking member has his own reasons for wanting to get the underlying evidence behind the report. We have our reasons and there is that confluence of interests to make sure that the Justice Department follows the law.
We both understand there is a statutory obligation to provide all foreign intelligence, counter-intelligence. It's not discretionary, and we're insisting on the information. We may have to go down the same road in our committee that the Judiciary Committee did if the Justice Department again stonewalls and makes this overbroad and in support of a claim of executive privilege.
O'DONNELL: Is it your sense that Devin Nunes is hoping to find all these things that he's been suggesting for a while now about the beginn ings of Russian interference in the election, that there could be things in the Mueller report that would be very damaging somehow to the Democrats in this story?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm sure his motivation is not to expose the evidence of the president's obstruction of justice or all of the interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russians and the issue of collusion. I don't think that's where he's coming from.
But look, I'll let him speak for himself. I'm just glad that we've had the support to press the department to comply with the law. And at the end of the day, this is about more than just this president, more than just this investigation. What's at stake is whether Congress can do its job, whether, if an administration is corrupt or malfeasanced or just incompetent, that can be exposed and corrective action can be taken.
If we can't do it vis-a-vis Donald Trump, it means that every president who follows him will be equally above the law.
O'DONNELL: So what does your subpoena mean to the timing of the vote in the full house on the resolution that we just saw today come out of the Judiciary Committee?
SCHIFF: Well, the advantage and the strength of our subpoenas relies on different legal grounds than the judiciary subpoena. So, we have the National Security Act, the Patriot Act and other provisions that require the department to turn these materials over to Congress. We have a separate grand jury exception that applies. We don't have to initiate an impeachment proceeding, nor a plenary to impeachment proceeding. They're required to provide this information.
So, we have an independent case to make, and that gives us, if necessary, an alternate argument to make in court why this material needs to be provided. So, we'll go forward. It's more difficult, I think, for them to write this office and partisan exercise when both the chair and ranking member have demanded that the department --
O'DONNELL: Do you any sense of when the full House will vote on the contempt of Congress of attorney general?
SCHIFF: You know, I think a lot of these issues are coming to a head in the various committees, and I think it would make sense to at least consolidate the date when we take up these contempt resolutions, if there are multiple resolutions, so they can be adjudicated at one time and we don't take up time every week to relitigate this.
But at the end of the day, we're going to use the mechanism necessary to make sure we can do our oversight. We may have to look if the core process takes too long in using Congress' inherent contempt power. We may look at fencing money for these agencies so they can use it until they comply.
We're going to have to use whatever tools we can.
O'DONNELL: What is your sense of what's happening in the Senate Intelligence Committee the day after the Senate majority leader says case closed, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas the president's son?
SCHIFF: Well, look, I think in the Senate Intel Committee, they don't want to be messed with by these witnesses. And when they have someone who is -- where there are questions about truthfulness if that's the issue, or there's additional facts that have come to light that they need to explore and they feel they're getting the runaround, they're going to use compulsion to bring people in. That's as it should be.
You know, we have concerns about Don Jr.'s testimony before our committee, and we've had concerns about others. We may bring back some of the witnesses we had in before. Others like Erik Prince we chose not to bring back, we chose to refer to the Justice Department for potential perjury prosecution, but we're going through those analyses now.
O'DONNELL: So in the case of Erik Prince, you believe just on what you see in the Mueller report, and what you see in your transcripts with him, do you see perjury as you look?
SCHIFF: You know, Prince's testimony was so demonstratively false before our committee that we felt compelled to make the referral and show side by side what he told us and what was revealed in the special counsel's report. How he told us that his meeting with Dmitriev, the Russian state banker, was pure coincidence. That he happened to go halfway around the world and run into the Seychelles and bumped into this guy in a bar, invited to meet him by the crown prince.
The number of his meetings he said he had, the topics he said he had, whether he had advance notice of the meeting, all that stuff, is contradicted by the Mueller report, by witnesses who spoke to Mueller and often by Prince himself. Now, there may be issues about whether they can prosecute that because of the admissibility or the availability of witnesses and testimony, but nonetheless, the testimony was so palpably false, we felt the need to refer it.
O'DONNELL: Do you feel the need to hear from Donald Trump Jr. again? Will you subpoena Donald Trump Jr.?
SCHIFF: We may. We haven't made that decision yet. We're looking through what are the most important witnesses to bring back first, which witnesses can shed additional light? And we've had that dilemma with other witnesses as well where we thought they were less than truthful. Do we bring them back in and give them an opportunity to try to get their story straight, or do we make a referral, or are there other purposes for bringing them back?
O'DONNELL: What's your timetable on those kinds of decisions?
SCHIFF: You know, we're making them an ongoing basis, so we have made outreach to witnesses. We're starting with those that we believe may be cooperative that can shed light on issues. We're dealing with others privately right now who are resisting and we're trying to work out an agreement for them to come in and testify before we have to compel them. So all of that is ongoing and all that for the most part is outside the public eye.
O'DONNELL: On Donald Trump Jr., there are a couple things. One is he had said to Congress that he had very little involvement in the Moscow Trump Tower. Michael Cohen said he was heavily involved and he talked to him at least 10 times and during the campaign. That's one possible change, difference in Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony.
The other is, in the Mueller report, Michael Cohen said he heard Donald Trump Jr. telling his father about the meeting with Russians in Trump Tower before the meeting occurred. That's also in the Mueller report.
That's not something that Donald Trump Jr. said to either committee when he spoke to the committees. Are those the areas that you'd like to clarify with Donald Trump?
SCHIFF: You know, those are certainly some of the areas. One of the issues we had with Don Jr. was his simple refusal to answer whole categories of questions. And this was not the case alone with Don Jr. Steve Bannon did the same thing, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, there were whole sets of questions that these witnesses refused to answer.
And this, again, proves just what a falsehood it is when Bill Barr talks about how cooperative the president has been with the investigations. These witnesses often told us that they would not answer the questions under instructions from the White House. We would ask them, are you asserting some sort of privilege? They would say, no, we've just been asked basically not to cooperate.
So with respect to a number of these areas, we simply got no answers. With respect to others, we got answers that we have serious questions about their veracity.
O'DONNELL: And we should remind viewers that that was when the committee was under Republican control. And the rules of these interactions were being set by the Republican majority on the committee, basically, and that no one was under subpoena. They could all get up and walk out of the room if they wanted to.
SCHIFF: You know, yes. And the most graphic example was actually Steve Bannon who came in -- and when he came in, he was no longer Breitbart, he was no longer in favor in the White House, so the Republicans took umbrage when he refused to answer questions. They felt there were no repercussions for them to look like they were serious about the investigation.
He refused -- they actually subpoenaed him on the spot, but when we tried to get them to enforce the subpoena, hold him in contempt because he refused to answer the questions, that was a bridge too far. And it shows just how willing they were to go through the show of it, the show of an investigation, but not the reality of it when it came to compelling answers to questions.
O'DONNELL: Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Really important night to have you here. Really appreciate it.
And when we come back, they are closing in on Trump's tax returns. "The New York Times" is closing in. The New York state legislature is closing in. And the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is closing in on Donald Trump's taxes. That's next.
O'DONNELL: The day after the "New York Times" revealed that Donald Trump has paid zero in taxes over several years, he complimented his rally tonight in Florida for paying their taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The invisible people, and you know what you are, you're the smartest, you're the hardest working, you pay your taxes, you do all of this stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: And who can forget when Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of not paying taxes and he said that means he's smart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody has ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax. So --
TRUMP: That makes me smart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Donald Trump was not telling the truth tonight when he said that the people who pay their taxes are the smartest people, but the people much smarter than Donald Trump now are closing in on his taxes. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has issued a legal demand for Donald Trump's taxes which the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is uniquely empowered to do by law. He will either get those tax returns either at the end of a long court battle or on the next inauguration day afternoon when a president not named Trump is sworn in on January 20th, 2020, just about a year and a half from now.
And the New York legislature is trying to help Congress bypass by passing a bill today in the New York state senate that mirrors federal law. It says that New York state will provide any New York state tax returns demanded by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, or the chairman of the Joint Tax Committee. That is the exact mirror of the federal law that Chairman Neal has been using to obtain the Trump tax returns.
The state legislature is expected to pass the bill. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign. So New York state tax returns mirror federal tax returns. They contain much of the same information, so Chairman Neal may now be just weeks away from obtaining Donald Trump's New York state tax returns, which will be almost as revealing as his federal tax returns.
In the meantime, "The New York Times" has taken a giant step closer to Donald Trump's tax returns with their blockbuster reporting last night on 10 years of IRS transcripts of Donald Trump's tax information showing that Donald Trump lost over a billion dollars in those 10 years and did not pay taxes in eight of those years. "The Times" article quotes the former director of research, analysis and statistics at the IRS, Mark Mazur, on the accuracy of IRS transcripts. Mark Mazur will join us in just a moment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi commented on the "New York Times" story today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It does tell us, though, that it would be useful to see his tax returns as the law says. The administration shall give -- shall. It doesn't say must, should, could, under certain circumstance. It says shall give those tax returns to the Ways and Means chairman.
Again, all of this is so law and precedent-based to do the right thing as we go forward, and there are several options. One of them is to go directly to court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNEL: Joining us now is Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He's a Democrat from Texas.
Also joining us is Mark Mazur. He's a former director of research, analytics and statistics at the IRS and a former assistant secretary of the treasury for tax policy. He's currently with the Tax Policy Center.
And, Congressman Doggett, I want to start with you. It looks like the New York state legislature may be giving you some help as well as the help you got last night from the "New York Times."
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): Well, of course, the report in the "New York Times" shows what a loser this president is, that he demonstrated in business about the same negotiating skill he's shown recently with the North Koreans, and it points up why we really need these returns, because there's so many lies that are here and so many questions about how Americans can have confidence in the tax system if the president is not doing his part and has not done his part.
As far as the New York action, I think it's important. I'm pleased they're proceeding, but there is other information, the working papers, the auditing, the questions about whether he was even under audit that we need to get directly with Chairman Neal's important request under Article 6103 or Section 6103.
O'DONNELL: Mark, actually, I want to call you Mr. Secretary because the last time we talked, it was in your office at the treasury years ago when you were the assistant secretary for tax policy. So many issues to deal with.
First of all, I learned from you in the "New York Times" reporting that your quotes about what IRS transcripts are. I actually didn't know about these documents that the IRS has. What are -- who gets those documents? The "New York Times" could have obtained those documents from sources other than just the IRS, correct?
MARK MAZUR, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF TAX POLICY, TREASURY: Yes. Those documents are available at the taxpayer's. They can request the summary from the IRS. It's basically a summary of your tax return.
Some people may keep the tax returns and request a transcript. Sometimes lenders will request a transcript. If you get a mortgage, the mortgage company wants to see what your earnings are. They may ask you to get a transcript and give it to them
O'DONNELL: It's kind of a simpler set of documents that can show many more years of tax information than just a single stack of a tax return.
MAZUR: Well, the transcript shows one year a time.
MAZUR: You can get a bunch of them and put them all together.
O'DONNELL: And the accuracy of those transcripts?
MAZUR: So, if you think about the time period in question here, it's the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, many people -- most people filed by paper in those days. The IRS had an army of people at service centers who would transcribe those returns and put them in machine readable form. They were typically keypunched twice, either by the same person or two different people keypunching it. And that helped ensure that they're accurate because they were used through electronic version, all the data on tax base so it was used for every purpose.
O'DONNELL: Congressman Doggett, the deadline has come for Chairman Neal to decide which way to proceed. He has indicated he will decide soon, within the next day or two.
Is it most likely going to be, Chairman Neal, simply suing the treasury secretary for basically violating the law that requires the handing over of the Trump tax returns?
DOGGETT: Well, it's his decision, but I believe that is the most expeditious path. It's a path that you outlined on your program by professor George Yin (ph), an expert in that area, just as Mark is on his, someone we would all turn to for advice on this. That would allow us to move directly, expeditiously without a subpoena.
At a later time it may be, and it's not inconsistent, to go ahead and subpoena them also, and, of course, just as Adam Schiff told you about the work of his committee, there is the matter of inherent contempt power with Congress. If we just have them running out the clock, I think we need to invoke that inherent contempt of power and use it with regard to this issue.
O'DONNELL: And, Mark, you have so much experience in the joint tax committee and as the assistant secretary for tax policy at the IRS. When you look at what the "New York Times" was reporting from those transcripts over those ten years, including this very sudden and mysterious mountain of interest income of $52 million that just kind of -- in tax information terms comes from out of nowhere and disappears. So there is some mountainous asset that's throwing off $50 million in interest that wasn't there before. Wasn't there later? What do you see when you read all that information?
So you look at this and basically, you expect real estate investors to occasionally have losses.
O'DONNELL: Especially on depreciation.
MARK MAZUR, FORMER DIRECTOR, RESEARCH ANALYTICS AND STATISTICS, IRS, Exactly right. Right, exactly. So they depreciate the property. That's part of the investment then you get a loss, you sell the property, you hope to get a gain. What's different here is the string of losses all together. And when debt was forgiven, it is supposed to be income taken into account then that doesn't show up anywhere during this decade.
O'DONNELL: Oh, that's a really important point. So if I owe a million dollars, and at some point, I simply default on the paying of the million dollars, and the creditor or the bank, whoever that is says, "You know what, forget it." That's actually a million dollars of income to me.
MAZUR: Yes, And if you had a student loan, same thing.
O'DONNELL: Yes, and none of that -- so he seems to be having debts forgiven. And none of that's being declared as income.
MAZUR: Right, so I think the story here is really there's a lot more questions than we have answers to. You point to the interest income, which is a question not obvious where it comes from or where it went. But also having all these losses and no corresponding income when debt was forgiven also is another mystery.
O'DONNELL: You both know that I could continue this discussion for the next couple of hours. So we're going to have to do it on another night. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Mark Mazur, thank you both very much for joining us.
I really appreciate it.
MAZUR: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: And when we come back more evidence today that House Democrats could be moving closer to impeachment, whether they want to or not.
O'DONNELL: Nancy Pelosi has been trying to manage the politics of impeachment for over a year. During last year's congressional campaign, she didn't want Democratic candidates talking about impeachment, but reporters kept asking questions about impeachment, which left Speaker Pelosi saying things like, "He's just not worth it," when asked about impeaching President Trump.
But as Speaker Pelosi said today, Donald Trump has kept adding fuel to the impeachment fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I had said the President is goading us into -- wants to goad us into impeachment because that he knows -- that's not a good thing for the country and maybe he knows that. But he knows that I think that, let's put it that way. He knows I think that. The point is, is that every single day, whether it's corruption, obstruction, obstruction, obstruction of having people come to the table with facts of ignoring subpoenas every single day, the President is making a case. He is becoming self-impeachable in terms of some of the things that he --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Speaker Pelosi has not been trying to control the rhetoric or the positions of the Democratic presidential candidates and many of them are now speaking very clearly and forcefully about impeachment, especially Senator Elizabeth Warren, who became the first senator to support the impeachment of President Trump in a speech on the Senate floor actually recorded in the Congressional Record. That was yesterday.
When we come back from this break, Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff to Harry Reid and Jennifer Palmieri, former Hillary Clinton Communications Director will be here to discuss the role of impeachment politics in the Democratic presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution. If any other human being in this country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Our discussion turns to politics now as we're joined by Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House Communications Director for President Obama and former Communications Director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Also with us, Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff to Senator Harry Reid. He is now the Director of Public Affairs for Democracy Forward.
Jennifer, it's been fascinating for me to watch the caution that professional Democrats have used with the word impeachment over the last year and there seems to be less than less caution and more and more passion.
JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly with the 2020 class. And we've talked about this before, I think that the Congress, this is a very serious moment and the Congress has to follow their constitutional responsibilities. I agree with Senator Warren. There's not a politically inconvenient excuse clause to get you out of that.
I do think -- I do still wonder about Speaker Pelosi, I'm not sure that she is -- I think she's playing chess. I don't think she's playing checkers. I think that we've discussed this before.
I think that the presidential candidates leaning to the left of her as it were on impeachment. It's fine for her purposes, she can continue to say, you know, give him more and more rope and say, you know, he's self- impeaching himself. He keeps -- he is like, he wants this. He wants this fight. And then if the fight it does get joined, she's like done what she could just show that it's him playing politics and not the House.
O'DONNELL: Yes, so this is so good, because you teach me how to watch her. So I'm now re-watching her in my head, what she said today, because I looked at that today. And I thought, "Well, wait, Nancy Pelosi, has not wanted impeachment. She hasn't wanted people talking about impeachment." And here she is going kind of on and on about it for her ending with that phrase, self-impeachment. And I don't know what it means.
But you're making me understand what she means. She means Donald Trump is making this inevitable. And she's trying to sound like the reasonable one, which she does sound like.
PALMIERI: Right. Right. He thinks it's in his political interest to do that. So that if the democrats do end up doing this. She has laid down a predicate to get what she can, that this is not in the Democrats' political interests, they're forced into it, because they're the ones that are upholding the Constitution.
O'DONNELL: I would be so much better at this if I just called you every night around seven. Adam -- Adam, but still, there's a lot of discussion about the smart politics of this and the smart politics of impeachment. And there's been a lot of fears that it could be very bad for the Democrats politically. Is there a way of sorting that out? I haven't been able to figure out what is the smart politics of this.
ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF TO SENATOR HARRY REID: Yes, I mean, I think it's hard to tell. I think at some point, you just have to do the right thing and with the power that you have, you know, I mean, we've had two recent impeachment of Presidents in recent decades, one worked out well politically for the party that impeached and one didn't. And you might draw from that the lesson that the public thinks impeachment is a good thing when they think the President deserves it. And don't when they think the President doesn't.
In this case, the crimes at stake are so major that I think there's a good bet the public will think that he does deserve it. But you also just have to start putting one foot in front of the other and using the power that you have to do the right thing.
O'DONNELL: Yes, I mean, there's this old saying that, you know, when in doubt, go with the principle of the thing. And this this could be one of those. I have to say, though, that the thing we've never -- the dynamic we'd never seen here before, in our lifetimes is this is this impeachment talk about a first term President. Nixon was in his second term, Bill Clinton was his second term.
There was no election that it was bumping up against. This President can be gotten rid of within almost the same timeframe of impeachment if you just wait it out to the election.
PALMIERI: Yes. And I do think about that a lot. But I think that this is a time where our democratic institutions are being tested and they all really need to -- and the President breaks norms every day, and so I think it's incumbent upon Congress to be particularly vigilant and upholding its role and, you know, it looks to me as if these -- what's laid out in the report is very serious, and they should pursue with their hearings.
And if they find that if that leads them to impeachment proceedings, they should undertake that without regard to politics, because what happens the next time, right, when the President is literally considered above the law and democracies die when you have somebody who is in an authoritarian position comes to power who breaks norms and the other party and effort to defeat that person does the same thing.
O'DONNELL: And Adam the -- what about the Senate? I mean, we watch a lot this battle for control the House which Nancy Pelosi successfully won. The control of the Senate is a very different game in this next election.
JENTLESON: That's right. But I think you know, and people, one of the reasons people sort of fast forward on the politics of impeachment is they say, okay, even if the House does impeach him, the Senate won't vote to remove and that probably is true.
But people who are up for reelection in the Senate in 2020, people like Cory Gardner, people like Susan Collins, voting against impeachment or against removal from office is not an easy vote for them.
So if Democrats are counting on an anti-Trump feeling to carry them to victory in 2020, having the House impeach, send it over to the Senate, forcing them to take a tough vote is a great way to bring the anti-Trump energy to the Senate as well.
O'DONNELL: You could then conceivably, in that scenario, end up with a majority vote against the President on the side. You need to vote so he wouldn't be removed. But you could end up with 51 or 52, which would be quite a historical statement.
PALMIERI: Yes, you know, and in Watergate, public opinion hung in there with Nixon for a very long time. The Republicans hung in there with Nixon for a very long time. Until, you know, it was not until the summer of '74, that it all started collapsing, he resigns in August.
So again, I think you shouldn't game -- people shouldn't game it out. They should proceed with impeachment if they think that is what is warranted and then let the Senate do their trial. And you know, we might be surprised at what happens.
O'DONNELL: We're going to squeeze in a break here. I'll be calling tomorrow night to find out what I should think. Jennifer Palmieri, Adam Jentleson, thank you both for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.
And when we come back, every Republican serving in Congress now in the House or the Senate, who actually was there when they voted to impeach Bill Clinton is now using a different set of principles today in defending President Trump every one of them. One of Kenneth Starr's prosecutors working in the Special Prosecutor's office at that time is now calling them out for their hypocrisy.
O'DONNELL: It turns out Lindsey Graham didn't mean a word of what you're about to hear him say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So the point I'm trying to make is you don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic. Yet this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Thank God you did that.
Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: That was Lindsey Graham, when he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee serving as one of the prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Lindsey Graham no longer believes anything that he said then about the principles involved in that impeachment. But some of the people on Graham's side of that case against Bill Clinton have remained consistent.
One of the is Paul Rosenzweig,who was one of the prosecutors working under a special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr. Paul Rosenzweig is now one of the 800 former Federal prosecutors who have signed a letter saying that they believe the Mueller report reveals prosecutable case of obstruction of justice against President Trump. Paul Rosenzweig will join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our nation is indeed at a crossroads. Will we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge, we innovate the truth? I am of course referring to the investigation into serious allegations of illegal conduct by the President of the United States that the President has engaged in a persistent pattern and practice of obstruction of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is Paul Rosenzweig. He is the former senior counsel on the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's team who prosecuted President Bill Clinton. He recently wrote that there is ample reason to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. He is currently a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. And, Paul, what is it like when you see people like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, in a video from yesteryear, when you were on the same side? You viewed the impeachment of a President the same way and the investigation of a President the same way? And to see them today with no -- nothing but defensive comments, or more likely nothing to say about what President Trump has done?
PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL KEN STARR INVESTIGATION: Cognitive dissonance. I mean, it's just -- it's very difficult for me to understand how you could have held that view 20 years ago, and yet today be unwilling to follow the logic of your past history. It just -- it's disappointing, you know, in many ways. I thought politics was more about principles than apparently it is.
O'DONNELL: In the piece you wrote, I reviewed that your review of what the obstruction evidence was against Bill Clinton, and it was -- some of it was just a conversation he had with one of the staff members right outside of his office door, where he would say to her, "Well, I didn't do anything with Monica Lewinsky, right?" And he claimed that he was just refreshing his memory with her. He wasn't trying to tell her what to say. The Donald Trump obstruction evidence is much clearer and solid than that, isn't it?
ROSENZWEIG: In my judgment, yes. I mean, if you accept what Don McGahn, the White House counsel has reported to have said, he was actually directed first to fire Mueller, itself, possibly an obstructive act, but then certainly obstructive when he was asked to create a false record of the earlier conversation and falsely deny that it happened.
That's kind of a classic instance of tampering with a witness' memory. And it was much blunter, if you will, much more direct than somewhat subtle efforts of President Clinton.
O'DONNELL: You know, I wasn't any longer working in the Senate during the Clinton impeachment, but I had a lot of contact with Democratic senators. And I remember when they started the process, when they knew "Oh, boy, this impeachment case is coming to the Senate, we're going to be jurors." A bunch of them expected to someday come across that passage somewhere that will explain to them exactly what high crime and misdemeanor was.
And I can remember actually, Senator Moynihan who was in his scholarly way trying to find that one day just saying to me, it turns out it's whatever we say it is, meaning there is no judicial review about it, so it's really kind of up to them. And what his position was and many Democrats was, they weren't contesting the evidence at all. They didn't contest any of the evidence that you presented.
They simply said, we hear you, we hear your case, we don't believe this rises to the level that deserves removal. And so that's not what we get from Republicans. Republicans are saying there's nothing here. Lindsey Graham is saying there's nothing here.
ROSENZWEIG: I think that's right. I mean, it would be more sensible and perhaps consistent to say, I hear you. The evidence is fair. But it doesn't rise to a level of impeachment. We shouldn't put the country through that. There's an election coming up as your last set of guests said that will really decide the issue. So let's leave it to them. Those are all plausible arguments.
But to deny, as Attorney General Barr did the actual import of the facts and to say that this does not constitute obstruction, when on a weaker set of facts 20 years ago, people said, "Oh, that's definitely obstruction of justice," is to blink reality.
O'DONNELL: So there's no question in your mind that the obstruction case against Bill Clinton was -- which you prosecuted -- was weaker than the obstruction case against Donald Trump?
ROSENZWEIG: I thought both were strong, but if you're kind of measuring their meritoriousness, the pervasiveness of the President's activities today, and as we said, the bluntness with which he proceeded, the kind of directive nature of it makes this, in my judgment, certainly an easier case to prove, I'll put it that way.
O'DONNELL: Paul Rosenzweig, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
ROSENZWEIG: Thanks for having me.
O'DONNELL: Paul Rosenzweig gets "Tonight's Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts right now.