Deadline tonight for DOJ. TRANSCRIPT: 5/15/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Madeleine Dean, Lisa Graves, Staci Fox, Richard Clarke

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

And the situation in Alabama is moving quickly.  We`re going to have Joyce Vance join us, since she is a former U.S. attorney from Alabama to tell us what the next legal step is.  This is clearly a law, an abortion ban law that`s not designed to be implemented but designed to go to court. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  And so, we will hear from Joyce what happens next. 

MADDOW:  The great thing about having Joyce on this issue too is Joyce was doing the best national legal analysis about that will bill even before it passed. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  So, when it finally did get passed and signed into law, Joyce has already basically laid the groundwork for how we could understand did.  It`s interesting, I mean, I don`t know if it is a good road test case but that`s what they think it is. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, we`ll see what Joyce says. 

MADDOW:  Yes, thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Well, Elizabeth Warren went to West Virginia to the a place where most of the voters voted for Donald Trump, a county where 60 percent of the voters voted for Donald Trump.  She talked directly to Trump voters. 

And some of those Trump voters actually said she did a good job.  They were impressed with her.  Didn`t say they were going to switch and vote for her necessarily, but at least one of them was thinking about it.  Elizabeth Warren said she really enjoyed talking to those Trump voters and is willing to do it again and is going to do it again anytime and anyplace except on Fox. 

Later in this hour, we will show you Elizabeth Warren`s explanation for her decision in her own words about why she will not participate in any candidate town hall on Fox. 

But first tonight, tonight is the deadline that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff set on his subpoena for Attorney General William Barr to turn over the full, unredacted Mueller report to the committee and the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information collected during Robert Mueller`s investigation. 

This morning, Chairman Schiff said it was too early to say as of this morning whether there had been progress in his talks with the Department of Justice about that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Any progress in your talks with the DOJ? 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  You know, too early for me to say for sure.  But I should know more hopefully later today. 

REPORTER:  Would you consider contempt --  

SCHIFF:  You know, we`re prepared to do whatever`s necessary to make sure they comply. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  And tonight, it is unclear whether the Justice Department has yet responded to Chairman Schiff`s subpoena.  We don`t know any more about that. 

Today, the White House counsel sent a 12-page letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, rejecting all of Chairman Nadler`s requests for documents in the committee`s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.  The White House letter to Chairman Nadler said that the committee`s investigation is, quote, "not to further a legitimate legislative purpose," and is, quote, "outside the constitutional authority of the legislative branch."

Chairman Nadler told reporters his reaction. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  I don`t know whether they`re trying to taunt us toward impeachment or anything else.  All I know is they have made a preposterous claim.  Taking that position that a president cannot be indicted is saying only Congress can hold a president accountable and now they`re saying that Congress can`t, which means nobody can, which means the president is above the law and that is an un-American -- frankly, un- American claim. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Chairman Nadler and other House Democratic leaders are considering whether they should hold administration officials in contempt of Congress to highlight the Trump administration`s unprecedented obstruction of legitimate congressional investigations. 

Today, in what might be the first time since 1934, the concept of inherent contempt was being discussed on Capitol Hill.  1934 was the last time we saw inherent contempt used by Congress.  In 1934, the United States Senate issued subpoenas to a Washington attorney and that Washington attorney refused to comply with those subpoenas whereupon the Senate sergeant-at- arms went out and arrested that private attorney and kept him in custody for inherent contempt of the United States Senate. 

The Supreme Court upheld the Senate`s constitutional power to take such action in that case.  And now, 85 years after that, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was asked today about inherent contempt. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Some of your colleagues want to vote for inherent contempt.  To fine people who are defying subpoenas.  Is that something you`re seriously considering at this point? 

NADLER:  Yes. 

REPORTER:  What do you think about terms of dollar amount or fines? 

NADLER:  I don`t know.  Very large amounts. 

REPORTER:  Would it be for the attorney general? 

NADLER:  It would be for any -- well, it would be for anybody who was held in inherent contempt. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Yesterday, in federal court, a private attorney representing Donald Trump in a lawsuit trying to block a congressional subpoena of Trump financial records from an accounting firm used that very same line of argument that the White House counsel used today in that letter to Jerry Nadler rejecting the document request. 

William Consovoy, the private attorney representing the president, said in court yesterday that the congressional subpoenas seeking Trump financial records did not have a legislative purpose, a legitimate legislative purpose.  The judge was very surprised at that argument since historically, congressional subpoenas have been issued for investigative purposes as well as legislative purposes very broadly defined.  The judge said to the president`s lawyer: So in your view, Congress`s investigations in Whitewater, for example, and Watergate were beyond the scope of its constitutional authority?  To which the president`s lawyer actually said: I`d have to look at what the basis they were providing. 

The judge was stunned as surely everyone in the courtroom was that the president`s lawyer was not sure whether the congressional investigations of President Bill Clinton and President Richard Nixon both of which eventually led to impeachment proceedings were constitutional.  And the judge went back and forth with the lawyer at some length, finally getting the lawyer to admit that the Trump position is the president simply cannot be investigated by Congress.  Here`s the transcript. 

The court: So Congress in your view cannot determine say, for example, a president had a financial interest in a particular piece of legislation that was being considered or an executive action that he was considering in your view, Congress could not investigate whether such a conflict of electrical, whether the president has such a conflict of interest or the conflict of interest might in some way bear on decision making by the president? 

Mr. Consovoy: It would lack legitimate legislative purpose and that is the test. 

Legitimate legislative purpose, that is what that he saying is the reason they`re defying all of this, that the Congress has no legislative purpose. 

The attorney general of the United States is treating the contempt of Congress resolution passed against him by the House Judiciary Committee as a joking matter.  At a ceremonial event today, the attorney general approached House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shook her hand, and said loudly enough for people to hear it: Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs? 

According to "The Washington Post," Pelosi smiled and responded that the House sergeant at arms was present should it be necessary to arrest anyone a person said, adding that Barr chuckled and walked away. 

Leading off our discussion tonight are: Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.  She is a member of the House Judiciary Committee whose subpoenas are being defied by the White House. 

Lisa Graves is with us.  She`s a former Senate Judiciary Committee staff member and a former deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton.

And Chris Lu, former White House cabinet secretary under President Obama and he has also served as the deputy chief counsel of the House Oversight Committee. 

Congresswoman Dean, what is your reaction today to that 12-page letter basically saying that there were just no purposes, no legitimate purposes stated by the Judiciary Committee for obtaining any of this documentation? 

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA):  I think it`s a stunning letter by the White House counsel.  And I think Jerry Nadler, Chairman Nadler`s response was exactly right.  Imagine the letter came to us, to the chairman, suggesting that we had no business continuing with any more oversight as to the Mueller investigation, as to obstruction of justice in light of what the Mueller report says. 

What I am constantly stunned by is members of the Republican Party or this president or the people who work around this president constantly referring to no collusion, no obstruction. 

Of course, if you read the Mueller report, you would find something very, very different.  You`d find more than 160 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia for the benefit of the Trump campaign and they knew it.  That Russia sweepingly and systematically interfered with our elections and yet we have an administration that seems to care little about that was we go into the future and into 2020. 

And then we have volume two which says that this administration, this president showed evidence of obstruction of justice multiple times, as many as at least a dozen times.  And Mueller himself said he is giving it to Congress, that it is up to Congress to go forward.  He wanted to preserve evidence even in the face of the fact that the administration destroyed evidence and there were things that the Mueller investigation couldn`t even get to. 

But it`s just a stunning assertion by this counsel but you saw and you just revealed the stunning ridiculous arguments that were made yesterday before a court.  So the truth bears very little on this administration and their legal arguments. 

O`DONNELL:  Chris Lu, we feel lucky to get you here tonight because you have experience at both ends of these kinds of subpoenas, having worked in the Obama administration, receiving these kinds I have subpoenas from Congress, having worked in the oversight committee in the House sending out subpoenas like this. 

What is your reaction to these developments where the White House is saying under no circumstances will they respond do anything? 

CHRIS LU, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE CABINET SECRETARY:  Yes, you know, I think the White House counsel would be smart to brush up not only on his law but also his history, as well. 

This idea, look, certainly, Congress`s investigative powers are not unlimited.  But the limits are not to be dictated by the executive branch.  And this idea there has to be a legitimate legislative purpose, that`s something that this White House has concocted. 

That being said, any first year law student could come up with a dozen legitimate legislative purposes for every one of these investigations.  So, it`s not only that they`re wrong on the law, they`re also wrong on the history. 

If you go back and look at the investigations they conducted of President Bill Clinton, I was on the House Oversight Committee during that period of time when Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican, did investigations of things like travel gate, file gate, we ended up doing Whitewater before it went to the special counsel.  There was an investigations of President Clinton`s last-minute pardons of Marc Rich, which this White House counsel has said cannot be investigated by Congress. 

So, the history of Republican investigations is completely at odds with the arguments they`re making here.  And it`s important to understand if you take their arguments to their logical extreme, this is a president above the law.  And so, yes, it is odd we`re talking about inherent contempt, something that hasn`t been used since the 1930s.  But that tells you we`re in a little bit of uncharted territory right now. 

O`DONNELL:  Lisa Graves I learned about inherent contempt today.  You could work for several years in the United States Senate as I did and never even hear the phrase come up.  That`s the kind of rare territory we`ve stepped into. 

LISA GRAVES, FORMER STAFF MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, that`s right.  I think that it`s important to understand that those powers go back you know almost two suns basically.  There`s a lot of black letter law about Congress` power.  It`s just in this statutory era, Congress has not used those powers.  It`s been able to get cooperation from presidents and administrations and been able to use referrals to the Justice Department. 

Here you have a situation where the president and his lawyers and interestingly and disturbingly the White House counsel and his private counsel are singing the same tune with this argument that the Congress does not have the these powers, the powers to investigate the president or to seek these documents.  That`s in defiance of black letter law.  These are settled rules that have been settled for many, many years.  And as you point out inherent power has been rarely used because it`s been rarely necessary to be used. 

The fact is the Supreme Court has commented repeatedly on the breadth of congressional investigatory power and the power of Congress to seek material and get material including talking about it being penetrating and far reaching, a far reaching power.  And so, these arguments are really in defiance of the law and in many ways this is like the David Frost, Nixon interview without it being Nixon and David Frost in which, you know, Nixon said infamously if the president does it, it must be legal.  That`s where we are. 

And so, even though there`s no like fire -- physical fire, it`s as if the Constitution is on fire and the article 1 of the Constitution is being blotted out by these guys. 

O`DONNELL:  Congresswoman Dean, we just heard your chairman of your committee, Jerry Nadler, say that it feels like the president is trying to -- is taunting you into impeachment.  Is the president taunting you into impeachment?  And what next? 

DEAN:  I wouldn`t call it taunting.  I would say he may leave us no other alternative.  He certainly has shown evidence of impeachable offenses. 

I`m a lawyer by training.  And I`m a member of this Judiciary Committee.  So I care very much about process and making sure we get the truth before the American public before we do something as grave and as important and possibly very necessary under this administration.  So, the president may just be leaving us know other alternative. 

But something I wanted to make sure I make mention of is the fact that as important as all of this is and as extraordinary as it is that we might be talking about inherent contempt and I too had to brush up on what that meant as a member of Congress, it`s extraordinary we are pushed to that point.  And also, what I hope that your listeners, your viewers want to know is that while we`re doing this, this is a Congress that is both walking, chewing gum and flossing at the same time, is what I like to say. 

We have to do it all.  It is important, it is constitutionally our duty to do oversight on an administration that is the most corrupt, divisive, deceitful, cruel administration that I`ve ever seen in my lifetime.  But we also -- you have noticed, you have seen us.  We`re passing legislation. 

This new majority is passing legislation whether it`s regarding gun violence which the Senate is sitting on their hands.  Whether it`s regarding health care, prescription drug pricing, HR1, which is good governance and anti-corruption, we are doing it all.  And then we`re also working back in our districts and working on issues like in my district, we have an issue of clean water. 

So, this is a Congress prepared to do it all, walk, chew gum and floss at the same time.  But we will not be shirking our duty of oversight on this corrupt administration. 

O`DONNELL:  Chris Lu, if you were still at your old job on the House Oversight Committee, that would you be advising the house to do. 

LU:  Well, I think exactly what they`re doing.  I mean, the House needs to consider every power it has at this point.  It is trying to get both an oversight and judiciary trying to get these documents from other sources.  I`m confident that some of these also prevail. 

Obviously, the court case that was being argued the other day involved the House oversight and financial records.  We also have for instance in the House Ways and Means effort to get the president`s tax returns.  There may be a way to backdoor way to get that through New York. 

So, I think that there are private entities that Congress will be able to get this information through.  But it is important to understand again history in all of this.  If you go back to Watergate, article 3 of the Nixon impeachment was for the president -- for President Nixon willfully disobeying subpoenas of the House Judiciary Committee.  So I don`t know if this is a president who is consciously trying to bait the House into impeachment.  There are certainly grounds for it if we get to that point. 

O`DONNELL:  Lisa Graves, take a quick LAST WORD with your advice as a former Senate staffer to the House.  And I understand that the House doesn`t like to get advice from the Senate but go ahead. 

GRAVES:  I appreciate that.  You know, I think that I have tremendous trust in Congressman Nadler and the other chairmen to really pursue this.  I know they`ve got a great team on board and they`re looking at all options.  And I think they have to act.  They have to act both morally and for the sake of our Constitution.  They have to defend the rule of law in the face of this incredible defiance.  It`s their duty and I know they`re up to the task. 

O`DONNELL:  Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thank you very much for joining us once again tonight. 

DEAN:  My pleasure.

O`DONNELL:  We really appreciate that.

And, Lisa Graves, Chris Lu, thank you both for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, the court challenge to Alabama`s new abortion ban will begin immediately.  Former Alabama U.S. attorney Joyce Vance will join us with what happens next. 

Also tonight, as the Trump research administration ramps up hostilities with Iran, President Trump himself is reportedly in conflict with his advisers over what to do next with Iran. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  Breaking news tonight.  Alabama`s Republican Governor Kay Ivey did sign into law a bill that outlaws abortion except in cases of what the new law calls, quote, a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. 

Cases of rape and incest are not exempt under this bill and doctors who perform an abortion could face up to 99 years in prison.  The governor acknowledged that this bill is designed to get the Supreme Court to reconsider and overturn Roe versus Wade. 

The governor said in a statement, the sponsors of this bill believe that it is time once again for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur. 

Alabama`s abortion ban is not slated to take effect for six months but Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already said they plan to challenge it.  Today, the groups filed a lawsuit to block Ohio`s six-week abortion ban, that doesn`t allow abortions after six weeks, from taking effect in July, arguing that it directly conflicts with the precedent and the rules set in Roe versus Wade. 

Ohio is one of four states just this year to impose some form of a ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy before most women even know that they are pregnant.  Courts have already struck down similar laws passed in Iowa, Kentucky and North Dakota. 

Today, the Democratic presidential candidates reacted to the new Alabama law. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What they did in Alabama, what they did in Georgia is unconstitutional. 

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They`re trying to overturn Roe versus Wade.  That`s wrong and we will fight back. 

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s nothing short of an attack on women`s basic human rights and civil rights.  It`s something that women of America are going to have to fight against with everything they`ve got. 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Women`s health care is under attack and we will not stand for it!  We will not stand for it! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Joining us now is Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. 

Also with us, Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and professor at the University of Alabama School of Law.  She`s an MSNBC legal contributor. 

Joyce Vance, what happens next? 

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, next, we`ll see this Alabama bill begin to face legal challenges.  I suspect we`ll also see an outpouring of protests, certainly in Alabama where those protests have already been scheduled for this Sunday.  But I think also across the country. 

And this Alabama bill which is so draconian may spark nationwide focus on what`s going on in this area. 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s listen to what Pat Robertson had to say today because Stacey Fox, this may be the first time you find yourself agreeing with Pat Robertson, at least in part.  Let`s listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST:  I think Alabama has gone too far.  They`ve passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion.  There`s no exception for rape or incest.  It`s an extreme law and they want to challenge Roe versus Wade, but my humble view is that this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Staci Fox, how did Alabama go farther than Pat Robertson`s willing to go? 

STACI FOX, PLANNED PARENTHOOD SOUTHEAST PRESIDENT & CEO:  Lawrence, I think yesterday, Alabama went so far as to ignore the rape survivors that were standing in the gallery while the Senate was debating this bill.  They clearly stated yesterday that they don`t actually care about the women of Alabama and this is no more than a political game. 

We work across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.  All three states have enacted bans like this and are literally playing games with women`s lives in the South. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Joyce Vance, what do you make of Pat Robertson`s legal scholarship here saying he actually thinks this is a bad case for abortion opponents to bring to the Supreme Court, that Pat Robertson thinks this one will lose. 

VANCE:  Well, if you believe in traditional legal analysis, a precedent like Roe versus Wade which is almost 50 years old and certainly well- established is a precedent that can`t be challenged by any of these cases.  So in that sense, Pat Robertson is absolutely correct. 

The serious prospect that we face here, Lawrence, is watching this effort not just to the erode, not just to chip away at the protections that Roe versus Wade established for women but a full frontal assault designed to eradicate it the in legal precedent.  That`s something that`s not warranted by the Alabama bill or any other bill. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to take a look at "Glamour" magazine cover, this is a nonpolitical magazine to say the least.  They have put up there the will the 25 men who voted for this Alabama bill.  These are the 25 who in particular voted against an amendment that would have allowed an exception for victims of rape or incest. 

And, Staci, talk about what the reaction has been in Alabama where you are in these last 24 hours. 

FOX:  Well, I think Alabamians are horrified, Lawrence.  I mean, just in the hours after the vote in the Senate last night, thousands of Alabamians have signed on to veto petition that we`ve stood up and I think in a state where 51 percent of the population of Alabama are women and where women are dying from cervical cancer, the state said loud and clear they don`t care about women`s health.  They care about their own political gains. 

And, Lawrence, to be honest, you know, who are on my mind today are our patients -- our patients who aren`t following the news really closely.  They`re seeing the headlines and they`re worried that abortion is already illegal in Alabama.  And I want them to know that will abortion is safe and legal and available to them and we will fight this every step of the way. 

O`DONNELL:  Good point.  Joyce Vance, this bill does not take effect for six months.  Can the legal challenge to the bill begin before the bill takes effect? 

VANCE:  You know, it can and this is typically in Alabama how we`ve dealt with unconstitutional state laws like we dealt with the Alabama`s immigration bill in 2011.  The hope here is that folks like the ACLU, whoever else chooses to challenge this bill, will go into court and have it enjoined so it will never go into effect and impact the lives of Alabama women. 

O`DONNELL:  Staci Fox and Joyce Vance, thank you very much for joining us on this important story tonight.  I really appreciate it.

FOX:  Thanks, Lawrence. Thanks, Joyce. 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, the Trump administration is ramping up hostilities with Iran.  President Trump himself is reportedly in arguments with his advisers over this.  Former National Security Council member Richard Clarke will join us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  Big surprise.  Donald Trump is frustrated, "The Washington Post" is reporting is President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars according to several U.S. officials.

Yesterday, we saw something at the Pentagon that we`ve never seen before, a general publicly disagreeing with the president`s position.  This time on Iran.  The general was a British major general who was appearing at the Pentagon on video from Baghdad in his capacity as deputy commander of the American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria which includes British troops.

Well, I guess we don`t have that video.  He came out with a statement that said he did not see any increased threats from Iran in the region.

The day after that British commander said there is no increased Iranian threat in Iraq, the Trump administration announced an evacuation of the American embassy in Baghdad.  The Pentagon disputed the British major general`s comments calling them "counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region."

But "The New York Times" reports that one American official said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was "small stuff" and did not merit the military planning being driven by National Security Adviser John Bolton.  The "Times" also reports that privately several European officials described Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as pushing an unsuspecting Mr. Trump through a series of steps that could put the United States on a course to war before the president realizes it."

Skeptics about the confrontation with Iran include one of the president`s most devoted Senate allies Lindsey Graham who asked the state department to explain why the embassy in Iraq was evacuated and said "I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper."

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi today compared the Trump administration`s handling of Iran to the incident used to justify American involvement in the Vietnam War.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA):  Yes, there are problems in Iraq.  Yes, there are concerns in Iraq.  Do we need an aircraft carrier to deal with those?  Do we need B-52 bombers?  Or do we have the drumbeat of war here?

Are we headed for a Gulf of Tonkin situation?  I believe we may very well be in that situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed by Congress in 1964 to authorize President Lyndon Johnson`s use of force in Vietnam.  After a U.S. Navy confrontation with North Vietnamese forces in the Gulf of Tonkin, the details of that naval encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin were later showed to have been wildly exaggerated and falsely portrayed by the Johnson administration in order to justify what became an out-of-control American war in Vietnam in which the United States lost 58,000 troops and in the end, the United States lost the war.

Next, we`ll be joined by a former national security official who saw the George W. Bush administration`s march to war in the Middle East.  Richard Clarke is a former counterterrorism adviser who became one of the strongest opponents of the Iraq war.  He`ll join us to discuss President Trump, John Bolton, and what happens next with Iran.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  Here is that British major general speaking from Baghdad on video at the Pentagon disagreeing with President Trump yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS GHIKA, DEPUTY COMMANDER, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE:  No, there`s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.  We`re aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them along with a whole range of others.  If the threat level perceives to go up, then we`ll raise our force protection matters accordingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now is Richard Clarke who served three presidents as a senior White House adviser on issues from cybersecurity to counterterrorism.  He is now chairman of the Middle East Institute.

Richard Clarke, you`ve seen all of this before.  You saw the ramp up to war in Iraq.  Does this feel familiar to you and what`s your reaction to that moment yesterday at the Pentagon where a British general is contradicting the Trump administration?

RICHARD CLARKE, CHAIRMAN, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE:  Well, Lawrence, it feels very familiar insofar as the United States government is taking an intentional act, series of intentional acts that will likely provoke conflict.  That`s what happened with Iraq and maybe what`s about to happen with Iran.

We are waging economic warfare on Iran.  We announced last month further economic sanctions on them.  We`re crippling their economy.

They have sent a message, a very clear message to anyone who will listen that they are going to do something.  They can`t take it anymore.

We`re waging economic war on them.  They will have to do something in response.  They have said that.

So there is intelligence that they`re doing things.  They`re telling us through a variety of channels that they intend on doing things.  Including attacking the Saudis and the Emirates.

And then over the weekend, we saw their Houthi allies do precisely that.  But let`s be clear.  We are provoking this Iranian action by the economic sanctions.

O`DONNELL:  The president -- according to "Washington Post," they`re reporting tonight, President Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as war-like planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking on Iran.

One official told "The Washington Post" he is not comfortable with all this regime change talk which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion.  And John Bolton is, of course, one of the people who is known for regime change talk about Iran.

CLARKE:  Well, as much as I`d like to blame all of this on my friend, John Bolton, this administration has been consistent since the day it came in wanting to rip up the nuclear agreement, wanting to impose economic sanctions, talking about regime change.

It`s not just Bolton.  It`s the president is suddenly waking up and realizing what he, the president himself, has been saying and doing for the last two years maybe that`s a good thing.  Maybe it`s not too late.

But we`re getting very close to the edge here.  We`re in a danger zone and we could have an accidental war where U.S. and Iranian ships or aircraft in the Gulf could end up fighting each other and it could get out of hand.

O`DONNELL:  And that sounds like the kind of thing that some were referring to in the "Washington Post" reporting where they`re saying this could move at a pace that Donald Trump himself doesn`t understand.

CLARKE:  Oh, I think that`s absolutely right.  I don`t think he`s ever been briefed on the sort of hyper-war that could occur.  How fast it could involve the Saudis, the Israelis, the Emiratis and us and how major economic effects could occur.

If oil doesn`t get out of the gulf, if natural gas doesn`t get out of the gulf, the world economy will be very badly damaged very quickly.  And that could happen.

O`DONNELL:  So you`re suggesting in a conflict with Iran, it wouldn`t affect just oil supply from Iran.

CLARKE:  Oh, no.  It would stop the flow of natural gas out of Qatar on which Tokyo depends.  There`s a one-day shortage of gas flowing out of Qatar, they`ll probably be brownouts in Japan.  All of the oil and gas that flows out of the gulf from the five or six countries that export through the gulf would be affected.

O`DONNELL:  And Richard Clarke, could you stay with us?  Because I`d like to, after a break here, talk to you about the preparations for cyber defense in our next election which we don`t really seem to be mounting.  If we can squeeze in a quick break, if you could stay, I`d like to talk to you about that.

CLARKE:  Sure.

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to come back right after this break on Richard Clarke`s assessment of the cyber threat in our next presidential election.

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O`DONNELL:  The Mueller report Volume 1, page 51.  In August 2016, Russian officers targeted employees of a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.s. counties to manage voter rolls and installed malware on the company network.  Yesterday, Florida`s governor said that the FBI has told him of two Florida counties where Russian hackers have tapped into their voter file.

Back with us is Richard Clarke, counterterrorism expert.  Richard Clarke, your reaction to both of those things.  First that notation in the Mueller report and then possibly its linkage to what we`re learning in Florida.

CLARKE:  Well, they are linked.  And the remarkable thing about that event yesterday was the governor of Florida is saying he had been forced by the FBI to sign a secrecy oath before they would tell him anything.  And they told him he couldn`t tell the two the counties involved, the citizens of those counties, or the public, what counties had been hacked.  That`s just ridiculous.

The Russians know what they did.  There`s no reason why the American people can`t know.  But the larger issue here, Lawrence, is there are 4,000 counties in the United States.  And they are not equipped to protect themselves against nation-state attacks from Russian GRU hackers.

My day job is cybersecurity.  And I know major corporations can`t figure out when they`ve been hacked, despite a lot of investment.  For these counties to say we know we weren`t hacked, they don`t know.  The FBI doesn`t know.

It`s likely that the Russian hacking was far more extensive than we`re aware of.  If the Russians wanted to hide their tracks, they`re pretty good at doing that.

O`DONNELL:  The administration -- now, the president has issued no orders within the administration to augment our defenses against a Russian attack in 2020.  How much do you expect the bureaucracies within the administration are doing that anyway even without a specific presidential directive?  And what do you expect in 2020?

CLARKE:  Well, I expect the Russians to be more sophisticated next time because we`re on to them.  The bureaucracy is doing what it can but my experience with running bureaucracy is the less the White House is directing it, coordinating it, bringing it all together, that real power of the U.S. government doesn`t get played out.

DHS is doing what they can, FBI, NSA, but it needs White House leadership.  I know Senator Wyden is about to introduce legislation, the Federal Cybersecurity Election Act which will give more authority and more direction but it`s unlikely to get passed.

So we may very well go into the next election without adequate defense against what will be a more sophisticated Russian program.

O`DONNELL:  And if the Russians really are going after voting machines or voter rolls, they would presumably be using the electoral college map to do that.  They wouldn`t waste their time on anything in New York or California or Alabama for example or Utah where those are very heavily either Democrat or Republican states, they couldn`t affect the outcome.

They would no doubt go into those states that swung it for the president, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, places like that?

CLARKE:  Not only that, Lawrence.  They will go into the swing counties and the swing precincts.  And they know where they are.

And I wouldn`t be surprised when we do learn what counties were hacked in Florida if one of them wasn`t Broward.

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

And when we come back, you`ll be able to hear Elizabeth Warren`s reasons for refusing to appear in a town hall on "Fox".  That`s next.

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My name is J.W. and this is my hometown that I love dearly.

ELIZABETH WARREN, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good.  Good to meet you.

And the people are wonderful people.  I think you`re the second -- only the second presidential candidate to ever to come to Mingo County, to Kermit.  Anyway, JFK in 1960 came here.  Thank you for coming.

WARREN:  thank you.

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O`DONNELL:  Both Massachusetts senators and presidential candidates, the Democrats who visited Kermit.  That was Elizabeth Warren in Kermit, West Virginia in a county -- Mingo County, where more than 80 percent of the voters voted for Donald Trump.

According to Politico", one Trump voter said she done good after her appearance at the fire station in Kermit.  That voter did not say he was going to vote for Elizabeth Warren but at least one Trump voter said she was thinking about voting for Elizabeth Warren after listening to her.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is not afraid of talking to Trump voters.  She just doesn`t want to do it on "Fox".

Yesterday, on Twitter, she explained why she will not participate in a town hall on "Fox".

"Fox News" is a hate for profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists.  It`s designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that`s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class.

Hate for-profit works only if there is profit so "Fox News" balances a mix of bigotry, racism, and outright lies with enough legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it`s a reputable news outlet.  It`s all about dragging in ad money, big ad money.

A Democratic town hall gives the "`Fox News" sales team a way to tell potential sponsors it`s safe to buy ads on "Fox".  No harm to their brand or reputation.

Here is one place we can fight back.  I won`t ask millions of Democratic primary voters to tune into an outlet that profits from racism and hate in order to see our candidates especially when "Fox" will make even more money adding our valuable audience to their ratings numbers.

I`m running a campaign to reach all Americans, I take questions from the press and voters everywhere I go.  "Fox News " is welcome to come to my events just like any other outlet, but a "Fox News" town hall adds money to the hate for profit machine to which I say hard pass.

Tommy Christopher in an article on media I said that he has been unsure whether Democrats should participate in town halls on "Fox".  Elizabeth Warren`s tweets won him over.

He wrote any Democrat who agrees to appear at a "Fox News" town hall after Warren`s stand is either saying that they don`t believe "Fox News" is an enterprise fueled by racism and bigotry or that they think there is something more important than denying it aid and comfort.  Neither should be acceptable to Democratic voters.

And today, Yashar Ali says that Senator Kamala Harris has also decided not to appear on "Fox" for a town hall.  Ali reports presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris will not appear on "Fox News" for a moderated town hall according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Harris campaign has not yet informed "Fox News" executives of her decision.  Kamala Harris will appear here on this network for a town hall that I will host at 10 p.m., the day after Memorial Day, Tuesday, May 28th in Spartanburg, South Carolina in a county that voted 63 percent for Donald Trump.

Kamala Harris will go to Trump country to speak to voters there directly in our MSNBC town hall.  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END