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Iran claims it has arrested 17 CIA spies. TRANSCRIPT: 7/22/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Leonard Pitts, Jr., Wilmot Collins

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  You are very welcome in this hour, Rachel. 

And -- that was really an extraordinary interview.  Such a -- such a strange situation for someone to be in coming on to discuss a family relationship like that. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes, I was talking to Dr. Glosser, as he was wrapping here, talking about how part of (AUDIO GAP) the stump for Trump out on the campaign trail was invoking his family history to talk about his ancestors as if they might have been pro-Trump or they might have been Trump supporters as they were alive now, and that was too much for his -- some of the rest of his family to stomach and they starred telling their story publicly. 

O`DONNELL:  That was really something to watch.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Well, we have breaking news about Robert Mueller`s testimony to the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, and we will get to that in just a moment. 

If you are going to follow next week`s Democratic presidential debates and try to figure out which approach to health care is the best, one of the versions of Medicare for All, or the Biden approach of strengthening the Affordable Care Act, the truth is none of those things are possible if the Democrats don`t have 60 votes in the Senate.  And right now, they are 13 votes shy of 60 votes in the Senate.  And they are four votes shy of knocking Mitch McConnell out of the leader`s position and installing Chuck Schumer as a majority leader.

So, the presidential election is by far the most election coming up, but the second most important elections are the United States Senate elections because if Mitch McConnell continues to control the Senate, he might decide not to confirm a single federal judge or Supreme Court justice nominated by President Sanders or President Warren or President Harris or President Biden or whoever the next Democratic president turns out to be.  And so, if your favorite presidential candidate manages to drive Trump out of the presidency, but Mitch McConnell still controls the Senate, then Trumpism will control the United States Senate. 

So, it`s time for us here to start paying attention to Senate candidate who might, might be able to help push Mitch McConnell into the minority and defeat Trumpism in the United States Senate.  We have an open invitation now to Senate candidates throughout the country, and we will be bringing them to you regularly at this hour. 

Tonight, we will be joined by the mayor of Helena, Montana, who is now challenging Republican incumbent Steve Daines who occupies the Senate seat that was occupied for 36 years by Democrat Max Baucus.  So, Democrats can win in Montana.  We`ll meet one of the Democrats running for the Senate in Montana at end of this hour. 

The breaking news of the night is that the Justice Department is telling Robert Mueller that he is not allowed to answer the questions that Democrats plan to ask him on Monday, especially the question if Donald Trump were not the president of the United States, would you have charged him with obstruction of justice?  Tonight, in a letter to Robert Mueller signed by an associate deputy attorney general, the Justice Department is telling Robert Mueller that he may not make, quote, any comments on the facts developed and legal conclusions by the special counsel`s office with respect to uncharged individuals.  Donald Trump is an uncharged individual. 

The letter also says that Robert Mueller should not testify about the, quote, deliberative process, including any discussions he and his staff had about, quote, investigative steps or decisions made during your investigation.  That means, according to the Justice Department anyway, that Robert Mueller cannot answer the most important questions he will face on Wednesday, including questions like why didn`t you subpoena President Trump to testify to the grand jury? 

It means Robert Mueller will not be able to answer the question, were you or anybody anyone on your team concerned that President Trump would fire you?  That`s a question about Robert Mueller`s deliberative process and the Justice Department tonight is saying that he cannot answer questions like that. 

With Robert Mueller now scheduled to begin his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee at 8:30 on Wednesday, Jerry Nadler is only the third chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in our lifetimes who has ever had to answer a question like this question. 


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Do you believe the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, the marker for impeachment by the House? 

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  I think there is very substantial -- the report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and we have to present or let Mueller presents those facts to the American people, and then see where we go from there, because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law. 


O`DONNELL:  OK.  Here`s how extraordinary that statement is.  When the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over impeachment, says there is very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, that means, that has always meant, that the president is going to be or is currently being impeached.  That`s what it has always meant until now. 

And that`s why no chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has ever said anything like that without them actually voting to impeach the president of the United States.  Here is what the Democratic chairman, Peter Rodino, said when he began the impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon. 


FORMER REP. PETER RODINO (D-NJ):  There have been serious allegations by people of good faith and sound intelligence that the president, Richard M. Nixon, has committed grave and systematic violations of the Constitution.  Impeachment resolutions were introduced by members of the House and referred to our committee by the speaker.

On February 6th, the House of Representatives by a vote of 410-4 authorized and directed the committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist to impeach Richard M. Nixon, president of the United States. 


O`DONNELL:  That was as rhetorically as far as the chairman of the House Judiciary was willing to go when he was beginning impeachment hearings of President Nixon.  Jerry Nadler has gone far beyond that and the House has not decided to have impeachment hearings. 

Chairman Nadler seems to be regarding the hearing with Robert Mueller as the only witness as a preliminary hearing on the way to impeachment hearings. 


NADLER:  I believe that when people hear what was in the Mueller report, then we will be able -- we`ll be in a position to begin holding the president accountable and to make this less of a lawless administration. 

We have never seen a situation where the president and the White House stonewalls Congress on subpoenas.  That was article three of the Nixon impeachment.  They stonewalled subpoenas.  Here the president set out right out loud the stonewalling of subpoenas, and that`s an invasion of the separation of powers and a core function of the duty of Congress to hold the administration accountable to the American people. 


O`DONNELL:  After Robert Mueller testifies to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, he will testify to the House Intelligence chaired by Congressman Adam Schiff. 


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  Most Americans, you know, with our busy lives have not had an opportunity to read that report, and it`s a pretty dry prosecutorial work product, we want Bob Mueller to bring it to life.  Who better to bring them to life than the man who did the investigation himself?  We want the people to hear it from him and not filtered through Bill Barr who had a misleading characterization of it, but from the man who did the work himself. 


O`DONNELL:  As might be obvious to most here is the typical preparation that the committee members engage in as a team for a typical hearing is absolutely nothing.  In a typical congressional hearing, there is usually zero coordination with the members of the committee.  The members prepare alone with their staff, of course.

Not in time. is reporting that the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee actually held a mock Mueller hearing last week.  If that has ever happened before in the history of congressional hearings, I for one am unaware of it in my years as chief of staff in two Senate hearings.  I never heard of such a thing. 

Now that the Democrats discovered that the Republicans had a mock Mueller hearing, the Democrats reportedly plan to hold a two-hour mock Mueller hearing tomorrow and we are fortunate tonight to be joined by someone who will be at that mock hearing tomorrow and the real hearing on Wednesday. 

Leading off our discussion is Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel- Powell of Florida.  She`s a member of the House Judiciary Committee.  Also, joining us is Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour" and an MSNBC political analyst.  And Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Miami Herald" is with us tonight. 

Congresswoman, I never heard of this kind of rehearsal before.  Are your fellow committee members telling me that this is the first time they`ve ever done this? 

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL):  They haven`t, but let me just say that we didn`t decide to get ready tomorrow because the Republicans held a mock hearing.  We had already had discussions about doing that.  We had one opportunity inviting special counsel Mueller and we have to be prepared, we have to be strategic. 

And like you said, usually, we prepare on our own.  We can`t be asking the same questions.  So, I`m actually looking forward to that tomorrow. 

O`DONNELL:  And what are the rules of the hearing as you understand it?  Is it possible that perhaps not every member will get to ask questions? 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  I believe we`re all going to be asking questions.  We will make sure that everybody has enough time.  We have been talking to the chairman and I think we`ll have an opportunity to question the special counsel. 

O`DONNELL:  What we`re hearing from Jerry Nadler sounds like he supports the impeachment and is treating this hearing as a preliminary procedure to getting to impeachment. 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  Without formally calling it an inquiry, I think what we are doing is taking this investigation very seriously.  Like most of the congress members that have spoken about the Mueller report have said, most Americans don`t have the time to read a 448-page report. 

We have found substantial evidence that shows us that the president obstructed justice.  And I think it is critical for the American public to understand that.  And that is why this hearing is going to be very important on Wednesday.  Having said that, we will follow the steps that we need to and we`ll make that decision after the hearing. 

O`DONNELL:  Do you support impeachment hearings? 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  I came out to support impeachment inquiry a few weeks ago.  Now, I was born in Ecuador.  I`m an immigrant and I took an oath when I became citizen.  I took the same oath on January 3rd when I was elected to represent my community, and it`s to defend and protect the Constitution against all foreign and domestic enemies. 

And after seeing the continued obstruction by this president, not allowing us to question fact witnesses, very important witnesses like White House counsel Don McGahn, former White House counsel Don McGahn, and then having different hearings, listening from experts and prosecutors, I realized that my duty was to protect our country, our democracy.  I understand what it is to live under a dictatorship in Latin America.  I understand and recognize the elements of someone that has grabbed on to power that has corruption in his government.  And I am extremely worried that people don`t understand what could happen if we allow this president to get away with corruption, obstructive acts and all the high crimes and misdemeanors that we have in that Mueller report. 

O`DONNELL:  Leonard Pitts, the news of the night, the Justice Department throwing basically roadblocks in front of the committee, saying that Robert Mueller cannot testify about any deliberations and that means if there was a discussion among Robert Mueller and his associates about the possibility of the president firing them all and strategic decisions they might have made because of that, they -- Robert Mueller is not allowed to testify to that according to the Justice Department.  Not clear if Mueller has to follow that. 

LEONARD PITTS, JR., COLUMNIST, MIAMI HERALD:  Well, as has been sadly clear in recent days, many important ways, the United States no longer has a Justice Department.  Donald Trump has a large personal law firm on the mall in Washington.  And I think that that`s sort of emblematic of where we are as a nation. 

We have seen institutions after institutions subverted, institutions that are supposed to serve the needs of we the people.  We have seen institutions after institutions subverted to the personal needs, personal narcissism and personal ego of this one man.  So, the Justice Department becomes just one more to bite the dust. 

O`DONNELL:  Yamiche, one of the things that strike me about the letter to Robert Mueller is it comes at a pretty low level in the Justice Department to go to Robert Mueller, an assistant deputy attorney general, but telling him you literally in every sense cannot say a word that does not already appear in the Mueller report.  You can`t talk about, for example, why -- you can`t say anything more on the question of why didn`t you subpoena President Trump, because that`s a deliberation, that`s a decision.  He is not allowed to explain any decision like that. 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Two of the biggest questions I have heard from Democrats that they want to answer is why didn`t you force Donald Trump to sit for an interview and you yourself talked to him and asked specific questions?  And the second one is, how did you not make a decision on obstruction of justice?  How did you decide that you are going to punt it and where did you want it to go? 

Did you want it to go to Congress or is Bill Barr right and you punted to the attorney general?  So, I think the DOJ is understanding that that`s the two biggest questions and they don`t want him to answer that. 

And I should say, I had a pretty long conversation with spokesperson for Robert Mueller and he told me that Robert Mueller wanted to stay in the four walls of the report and that Robert Mueller doesn`t want to go any further than that.  And he said, look at his press conference about 10 minutes with no questions see an example of what he wants to bring to the House. 

That said, I`ve talked to some Democrats.  They say they`re going to try to go beyond the report because the American people have questions and they want to get those answers from him.  But this is the DOJ, in fact, officially telling Robert Mueller, look, you can`t answer all the questions we want to know. 

O`DONNELL:  One of my favorite questions, if not my favorite question, is why didn`t you subpoena for testimony President Trump? 

Now, the Mueller report addresses this and it addresses it directly and on a footnote later in the report.  And basically they say they were concerned about the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation with resulting delay in finishing our investigation.  There was no time limit on this investigation. 

I don`t understand what the delay is that they are talking about.  What the time pressure is they were talking about.  There is nothing in the report that explains time pleasure. 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  Lawrence, it`s very clear to me having dealt with some of the counsel representing the administration and the executive branch that the reason why the president was not forced to testify in front of Mueller is because they didn`t allow him to.  The counsel representing the executive must have told or Attorney General Barr must have said you are not going to get the president to testify. 

I mean, I -- 

O`DONNELL:  But Mueller did not issue a subpoena, which he could have done.  That`s his decision and that`s not explained in the Mueller report. 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  That is true.  What I can`t say is that we have enough in the Mueller report.  I know that people have a lot of questions outside of that, but we have 448 pages that outlines.  Volume one, the Russia interference, 200 contacts with the Trump campaign, and also, volume two, outlining the 10 different instances of obstruction of justice. 

So, personally, I think if we can get that information out on Wednesday, that`s all we need.  We don`t need to go further than that.  So, I`m confident that we`ll able to do that. 

ALCINDOR:  And Democrats essentially are telling me, no one reads the book, but they watch the movie.  So, the idea is that they want Robert Mueller to just be out there in the public, talking to television so people who maybe have said, OK, that part is over, Bill Barr kind of set the narrative and everyone thinks President Trump is exonerated, they can listen to Robert Mueller`s own words and be moved some way.  That`s what Democrats` hopes are. 

It is though very exciting and Robert Mueller is going to be in an interesting place because there are going to be these questions that go outside of those that are going to be questions that normal people want to know.  People I talked to around the country, especially Democrats who are frustrated by Robert Mueller`s decision not to make a decision on obstruction of justice.  They want to know why didn`t you make those things. 

So, I think it`s going to be an interesting thing whether or not if he doesn`t go any further than the report, if that`s enough for people that are frustrated by it. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, one of the questions is intent on obstruction of justice, and did the president intend to obstruct justice.  The Mueller report says that they know the answer to that question, but they won`t tell us, because it appears in this footnote where Mueller is talking about not subpoenaing Donald Trump and he says we had obtained from other sources and other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent.  So Mueller has a conclusion on the president`s intent, but didn`t put it in writing and now apparently, the Justice Department is saying, you can`t tell us the answer to that question. 

PITTS:  Since when is ignorance an excuse?  You know, maybe I`m missing something.  I don`t have a lawyer degree or anything.  But since when is ignorance of the law an excuse?  That`s one thing.

The other thing is, with all due respect to the Mueller report and the things brought forward there, we have seen the president obstruct justice in real time before our very eyes.  If you don`t have the Mueller report, you have the Lester Holt interview, which to me that`s a clear cut -- again, I`m not a lawyer here, nor do I play one on TV.  But it seemed a clear case of I did this because he was getting too close and I fired James Comey because he was close to things I didn`t want him to be close to. 

What more do we need? 

O`DONNELL:  And the Lester Holt video is quoted in the Mueller report, and it is one of those things that Robert Mueller was referring to when saying we had other sources, but he specifically uses the word intent in the report and he never reveals what that intent is in the report.  One of the many areas Justice Department says you can`t ask him about. 

We`re going to take a break now.  Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell -- we met in Florida when you were running for the campaign and the first time we have seen each other since.  Great to see you in Washington. 

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  That`s right.

O`DONNELL:  Yamiche Alcindor, Leonard Pitts, thank you.  Thank you all for joining us, starting us off tonight. 

And when we come back, volume one.  The House Intelligence Committee believes that volume one of the Mueller report has not received the attention it deserves.  Robert Mueller seems to think that, too.  It will get at least some of that attention on Wednesday. 


O`DONNELL:  Volume one of the Mueller report is about Russia`s attack on our election and volume two is about President Trump`s attempts to obstruct the investigation over Russia`s attack on our election.  On Wednesday, Robert Mueller will testify about the two volumes in reverse order.  Volume two will be the focus of the first hearing, Wednesday on the House Judiciary Committee.  The second hearing will consent concentrate on volume one.  Volume one is where Robert Mueller began his only public statement so far about the report. 


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL:  Let me begin where the appointment order begins and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.  As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.  The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.  They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization, WikiLeaks.  The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. 


O`DONNELL:  The Intelligence Committee will surely try more than one way to explore this statement about volume one by Robert Mueller. 


MUELLER:  The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election.  This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign`s response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. 


O`DONNELL:  And at the end of his only public statement, Robert Mueller came back to the beginning. 


MUELLER:  And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments.  That there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. 

Thank you.  Thank you for being here today. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now is Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News."  He has testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russia`s interference in 2016 election.  He`s also an MSNBC national security analyst. 

And Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama, is with us.  He`s also an MSNBC political analyst.  And Ben Rhodes, it seems that Robert Mueller`s emphasis, he will want the emphasis if he gets the choice to be on volume one because that`s where he seems to see the possibility of recurring threat. 

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, Lawrence.  He`s absolutely right.  Put it this way.  The reason the obstruction of justice matters so much is what Trump was trying to obstruct as he said, this was a systematic effort to intervene in our election, to really challenge the underpinning of our democracy, which is whether we choose our own leaders or not. 

And what we know from volume one is, look, Lawrence, I was on a presidential campaign in 2008, I would never entertain the idea of meeting with the Russians.  If the Russians came to me with damaging material about our opponent, I would have gone right to the FBI. 

What we know from volume one is there was systematic efforts by the Trump campaign to be in touch with the Russians.  We know that there were efforts set up to have meetings to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, including the president`s son.  We know that Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign chairman, was sharing polling data with the Russians about the campaign. 

So, even if Mueller didn`t arrive at the basis for a criminal charge, there is not just smoke, there is fire here, Lawrence.  That not only was the Trump campaign aware of the Russian efforts and did nothing to alert the authorities, but the Trump campaign went out of their way at the highest levels of that campaign to be in touch with the Russians and to try to benefit from their efforts.  That alone, put aside the obstruction of justice, should be enough to concern every American and to raise the prospect of impeachment. 

O`DONNELL:  Clint Watts, how should the Intelligence Committee go after that phrase, insufficient evidence and try to explore what evidence there was and just what level it rose to? 

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Yes, I think it`s critical that they attack in a couple different ways.  They will ask was there any collusion.  That might be a yes or no answer. 

What it really comes down to is anybody in the campaign open to help from a foreign power.  Were they seeking that assistance out?  I`d like to hear the answer of that question. 

Ultimately, the reason this worked is because people were open for business in these campaigns.  They were willing to take support from afar.  If we don`t come to terms in election security, in terms of influence and protection and just looking ahead, we are essentially inviting all foreign actors to create open political warfare in our country, with every campaign going to a foreign benefactor for hacking, for influence, for some sort of social media support. 

So, I think the key point in this is to emphasize this did happen.  Why didn`t you pursue the charges?  If you don`t pursue those charges, what do you see going forward? 

I ultimately think that Robert Mueller really is thinking about policy and protecting Americans.  That`s what he wants to focus on in volume one.  I`m sure he sees volume two about politics and punditry ultimately.  So, I think he wants to stay in that lane, but he has to answer the questions about collusion, why he didn`t pursue it, what about merit collusion, and what about those initial individuals that he started to investigate and why didn`t he pursue that further? 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s listen to what Chairman Adam Schiff said this week, and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, gives us an idea about where he`s going to go with his questioning of Robert Mueller. 


SCHIFF:  A foreign adversary systemically interfered in our election.  This wasn`t reported by the Trump campaign when they made outreach to the campaign.  It was invited.  It was welcomed.  It was made use of.  It was built into the campaign plan and strategy. 

And it was lied about.  Then the investigation into it was obstructed.  That ought to be damning enough.  And that doesn`t require us to go beyond the report. 


O`DONNELL:  Ben Rhodes, I think that tells us where Chairman Schiff is going. 

RHODES:  Yes, absolutely.  And first of all, Lawrence, he said something important about obstruction, which is, look, if the Trump campaign was not worried about their behavior during election, then why did they lie about it?  A lot of the people that Bob Mueller did pursue charges against are people who lied about their conducts with the Russians.  You don`t like about something, unless you`re trying to cover it up.

We know from reporting that President Trump was dictating statements that lied about the meeting that involved his son with the Russians, trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  So, the obstruction is important as far as it indicates that people knew they had done something wrong and didn`t want to be caught doing it. 

And as Clint said, this was really important.  If we don`t show there are consequences for this, if show that people are going to be punished and the president is going to be held to account, we are essentially inviting the intervention of a foreign adversary, meeting with that foreign adversary in order to get dirt on his opponent. 

What does it say about the integrity of our elections going forward? How can Americans possibly have confidence that the Trump campaign or another campaign won`t do that in the future with a Russia or China or an Iran?

This gets to the heart of the security of our democracy and whether we select our own leaders or whether we have foreign powers who are intervening in our elections.

O`DONNELL: So Clint Watts, over the course of the weekend, the last few days, the media and social media has been filled with literally hundreds of excellent questions to Robert Mueller that people are proposing.

And at the end of the day tonight, finally, the Justice Department in what looks like an emergency last minute reaction to all of that has sent this very restrictive letter to Robert Mueller basically saying, you can`t answer any question about your deliberations. Meaning, no questions about what you thought or what anyone on your team thought about what you were dealing with at any point in time.

I mean it`s an incredibly strict and severe set of restrictions. Is Robert Mueller going to comply with those restrictions?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think interesting strategy. Are they trying to box in the Boy Scout or is will they agitate the man who might have his last big public appearance.

I think it`s a fascinating play. I -- they don`t -- they can`t enforce that rule. Who would be crazy and stupid enough to pursue that if he did go outside of those boundaries. And so I hope that former FBI Director Mueller will go and answer those questions the way he sees fit.

And I doubt -- I highly doubt that will influence is thinking. What I think is important for all Americans to understand, though, is Mueller that you saw at the press conference, whenever this ended, is the Mueller you`re probably going to see on Wednesday.

He listens more than he speaks. He`s very careful about his words. He knows what his role is and he doesn`t naturally stray outside those boundaries. So I think it will ultimately come down to some of those final questions and where I would focus on is, "What is the difference between your interpretation from the report and attorney general Barr`s interpretation of your report?"

I think that`s really the key wedge there where Director Mueller -- he can speak about the report that he put up as special counsel and he can answer honestly and truthfully would not be going outside those bounds and that is the key wedge, I think, that people should focus on Wednesday.

O`DONNELL: Clint Watts and Ben Rhodes, thank you for your insight on Volume 1. Really appreciate it.


O`DONNELL: And when we come back, the government of Iran says it arrested 17 CIA spies -- that`s what Iran is calling them. And President Trump says he`s doing absolutely nothing about that, because Iran tells lies.


O`DONNELL: Today Iran claimed that it captured 17 spies working for the CIA and has sentenced some of them to death. President Trump said quote "That`s totally a lie. They put out propaganda. They put out lies." end quote.

The obvious problem is that President Trump puts out more lies per hour than the world can keep up with. Donald Trump`s Secretary of State was not so certain about it he did not confirm or deny the Iranian claim.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian associate about actions that they`ve taken.


O`DONNELL: Few things demonstrate the complete failure of Trump foreign policy better than the current situation with Iran. The Obama administration successfully negotiated a complex deal with Iran that prevented Iran from building nuclear weapons. That deal was joined by other nations and then Donald Trump ripped up that deal.

Now U.S. relations with Iran are at a crisis point once again. On Friday Iranian forces seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation against the United Kingdom for seizing an Iranian oil tanker two weeks earlier.

Here`s an audio recording of an Iranian naval officer communicating with a British naval officer in the region just before the Iranians seized that British ship.


IRANIAN NAVAL OFFICER: No challenge is intended, no challenge is intended. I want to inspect the ship for security reason, over.

BRITISH NAVAL OFFICER: Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena.

IRANIAN NAVAL OFFICER: If you obey you will be safe.


O`DONNELL: Diplomatic vandalism is what one British diplomat has called the Trump approach to Iran. One of the leaked cables from the British Ambassador to the United States described the Trump approach to destroying the Iran deal this way.

"On the substance the administration is set up upon an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons -- it was Obama`s deal." The British Ambassador sent that memo to the then British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is now Donald Trump`s preferred candidate to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The President of the United States publicly expressing a preference in a British political campaign is in and of itself an act of diplomatic vandalism. Here is the diplomatic vandal at work today talking about his policy in Afghanistan, not by saying what his policy is, but only by saying what his policy is not.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it. I could win that war in a week. I just don`t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don`t want to kill 10 million people.

I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone. It would be over in -- literally in 10 days and I don`t want to do that. I don`t want to go that route.


O`DONNELL: So the Trump Afghanistan policy is do not nuke Afghanistan. For more on the diplomatic vandalism of Donald Trump we will turn to Ben Rhodes after this break.


O`DONNELL: Today the President Tweeted, "The report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth." This is the kind of moment when having a zero truth presidency is costly.

Ben Rhodes is back with us. Ben how do we -- how do we make sense of this story today, if we can, of Iran saying they have captured CIA -- what they`re calling CIA spies and maybe sentencing some of them to death.

President Trump says it`s all lies. Mike Pompeo says nothing -- doesn`t say anything one way or the other.

RHODES: Well, first of all, Lawrence, I do think the Iranians have been prone to making all kinds of claims in the past when they want to have a provocative posture towards the United States. It`s quite likely that they are exaggerating or making this up.

I will say, though, what`s important here is, it`s of a pattern of provocative actions that they`ve taken since Trump pulled out of the Iran deal. He said that pulling out of the Iran deal would fix everything. It would fix Iran`s provocative behavior. keep them from getting a nuclear weapon.

The opposite has happened. Iran is preparing to re-accumulate its stockpile of nuclear materials. Iran is seizing tankers. Iran is making announcements about seizing CIA spies. Iran shot down a U.S. drone. The problem is getting worse. Trump has created a crisis. It`s a crisis of his own making with Iran.

The rest of the world does not trust what we say, because we have a President who lies all the time and the rest of the world is incredibly frustrated with us. Because if you`re the Brits, you`re saying our tanker never would have been seized in the first place, if Iran didn`t ratchet up this crisis -- sorry, if Trump didn`t ratchet up this crisis by pulling out of the Iran deal.

So we`re right on the brink of a potential conflict with Iran, seeing provocation after provocation, because of what the President of United States did.

O`DONNELL: And the president says that he`s ready for the absolute worst- case scenario with Iran. The worst-case scenario with a foreign country is always war, so there`s Donald Trump saying he`s absolutely ready to go to war in Iran, in effect, which again is not believable of from Donald Trump.

RHODES: Yes. We`re in the worst of all worlds here Lawrence. Because he set out on this ideological agenda, as the British Ambassador himself said, to tear up Obama`s deal just because Obama negotiated it -- incredibly predictably, the Iranians respond through provocation.

But we also saw Trump get to the brink of launching a military strike on Iran, which would have launched potentially a very significant war in the Middle East, and he blinked and he pulled back. The Iranians saw him blink and pull back and.

So they`re thinking, OK, we`ve got an administration that on the one hand is stealing for conflict led by ideologues like John Bolton in the administration and the President who doesn`t want to have that war.

And so what the Iranians are doing is trying to get the attention of the world to say, "Hey, come make a deal with us, because you don`t want the war that Trump could get you into. But you also don`t want us to get a nuclear weapon."

So here we are with the Iranians pushing the envelope, Trump not wanting to pull the trigger on the war, but not willing to do the diplomacy to avoid it or to avoid a nuclear Iran. It`s a strategically incoherent position.

We`re totally isolated from our allies, particularly in Europe. And this is not where the United States of America should be, nor is it where we need it to be, because we`d solved this problem. We had a nuclear deal that solved the problem and Trump`s the one who tore it up.

O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciated.

RHODES: Thanks Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: When we come back the campaign battle for the United States Senate, winning back the Senate is almost as important as winning back the White House for the Democrats and they know it, that`s next.


O`DONNELL: Mr. Mitch McConnell is the least popular Senator in the country among his constituents according to a new poll. That actually shows Bernie Sanders tied with Angus King with the highest approval rating of a Senator in his home state at 62 percent. Mitch McConnell`s approval rating in Kentucky is only 36%.

If Kentucky voters reject Mitch McConnell`s reelection bid, the Democrats would still need to win three more Senate seats to win back control of the United States Senate.

Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines is running his first reelection campaign in lockstep with Donald Trump. After the President`s racist attack on four women in the House of Representatives last week, Senator Daines said, "I stand with Donald Trump".

Montana`s largest newspaper "The Billings Gazette" published an editorial saying that Senator Daines is out of touch with true Montana values and more interested in being a sycophant rather than a Senator.

After this break, we`ll be joined by the Mayor of Helena, Montana, Mayor Wilmot Collins, a Democrat, who is now running for United States Senate in Montana.


O`DONNELL: A Mayor of Helena, Montana, Mayor Wilmot Collins arrived in the United States in 1994 as a refugee from the Liberian Civil War. He served in the United States Army Reserve for 14 years and then the United States Naval Reserve for eight years.

In 2018, Wilmot Collins was elected Mayor of Helena, Montana and he`s not running statewide for United States Senate. Joining us now is Mayor Wilmot Collins of Helena, Montana. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciated.

MAYOR WILMOT COLLINS, HELENA, MONTANA: Thanks for having me Lawrence. It`s a pleasure to be here.

COLLINS: It is a challenge running as a Democrat in Montana. But when I was on the staff of the United States Senate I watched Max Baucus repeatedly win the state of Montana as a Democrat, so there is a pattern of democratic victories. Especially for the Senate seat you`re going for, Max Baucus held that seat for about 36 years.

What is it that`s different for a Democrat running in Montana? Different than what Democrats in other parts of the country are used to?

COLLINS: See the people of Montana -- the people of Montana are no fools. They know who has the interest at heart. And I know the Senator Daines has the billionaires and the millionaires and the corporate interests. But what we have here, we have the people with us.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Daines said last week.


SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT): This is going to be about those who believe in freedom, the love of this country, law and order or socialism. That is what this election is going to be about.

And what`s happening now with what they called it the AOC + 3, "The Squad", whatever name you want to call, these radicals in Congress, it paints a very clear picture. Anybody who says it really doesn`t matter who goes back to Washington, we`re all the same back there. Just watch what`s going on right now in Congress. You`ve got radical, leftist, anti-Americans in United States House.


O`DONNELL: Mayor Collins it sounds like he wants to run against Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, instead of you.

COLLINS: I think he`s a bit confused. You see the thing about here is, part of the reason I`m running is, because we have only one Senator in the Senate right now as Senator Daines had decided to join the executive branch, so that`s one of the major reason.

Because the people of Montana, they`re looking for someone who`s going to start addressing climate change. They`re looking for who`s going to talk, who is going to try to solve some of the catastrophic wildfire that goes on yearly and yearly, and flooding.

And when he vote -- when he decides to vote against veterans housing and vote against health care and repeal the ACA, those are not Montana`s wishes. They`re not what the people of Montana had -- they are asking for. They`re asking for a real leader. They`re asking for an independent leader and they`re getting -- they`re being shortchanged, Lawrence and it`s sad.

O`DONNELL: What is Jon Tester`s Senate campaign victories in Montana mean when you look at running for Senate in Montana now as a Democrat?

COLLINS: You see, itself it tells me that the people of Montana are no fools. They will vote their heart, they will vote their minds and they would vote what`s right for them and the state. they know Senator Tester has their back. They know Senator Tester cares about Montana, and that`s why they keep voting him back, because he cares.

Unlike what`s going to happen this, now next November -- 2020, we will be voting Senator Daines out of office, because he doesn`t care. We`re not going around the state and talk to Montanans and I ask when was the last time you heard of seeing your Senator, not one hand will go up, because they all -- the same response I get from everybody.

They`ve never met him. They`ve never interacted with him. He does not know Montana values. And so, no, this election is not about socialism. It`s about who cares about the state.

O`DONNELL: Health care seems to be the number one issue in the 2018 congressional midterm races. Is that the number one issue that you`ll be running against Senator Daines on in Montana?

COLLINS: That`s part of it. As you know Montana, per capita, we have the high -- one of the highest veterans` population. And this -- and Senator Daines decided to vote against veterans housing and limit veterans` health care, that`s sad, because that`s a lot of Montanans.

We`re looking at several -- hundred thousands of Montana would be would be left in the cold because of that. So, yes, I`m going to make this an issue.

O`DONNELL: Mayor Wilmot Collins, our first Senate candidate to join us for the 2020 Senate election campaigns, Senator -- Mayor will Wilmot Collins, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciated.

COLLINS: Lawrence, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it too.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.