how: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: September 18, 2019 Guest: Ellen Nakashima, Ned Price, Nicholas Kristof, Ben Rhodes
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And we`re going to be joined by Ellen Nakashima. She`s one of the three "The Washington Post" reporters, as you know, who broke this story tonight. But before you go, I want to read to you the law on the inspector general. You were discussing this in the last hour as the news was breaking during your hour. I managed to get my hands on the law.
It is fascinating. Because there is nothing I see in the law that supports the withholding of this inspector general`s report.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes.
O`DONNELL: It says, on receipt of a transmittal form, the inspector general under sub paragraph B -- so when the inspector general sends this on to the director, the director shall within seven calendar days of such receipt forward such transmittal to the Intelligence Committees together with any comments the director considers appropriate.
It`s very clear there, Rachel. It does not say the director can only forward this if it involves a person under the director`s jurisdiction. And that seems to be the sticking point that the director is clinging to at this point.
MADDOW: Or that the director can only forward this if it doesn`t implicate executive branch privilege in some way, which seems to be the other thing they`re claiming.
O`DONNELL: Not a word about that.
MADDOW: One thing, Lawrence, I would be very interested in figuring out is whether -- remember the way this happened, went from the whistleblower to the inspector general for the intelligence community. The inspector general gave it to the DNI. DNI gave it to congress. Where it got stuck is that last point.
What I want to know is if the inspector general who is going to testifying to the Intelligence Committee tomorrow, can the inspector general hand it over given that the DNI is weirdly defying the law and sitting on it?
O`DONNELL: In my reading of the law, the inspector general cannot but listen to who can. There`s more to this law.
It says: If the inspector general does not transmit or does not transmit in an accurate form the complaint or information described in sub paragraph B, the employee subject to the clause may submit the complaint or information to Congress by contacting either or both of the Intelligence Committees. Directly, the employee may contact the Intelligence Committees directly as described in clause one only if the employee before making such a contact furnishes to the director, through the inspector general, a statement of the employee`s complaint or information and notice of the employee`s intent.
O`DONNELL: To contact the intelligence committees directly. This employee has already fulfilled some of these conditions. The only further condition the employee would need to fulfill is tell the director, I`m going to contact the committees directly.
MADDOW: And it just gives me chills to hear you say that. If you think about this whistle blower, whoever he or she is, they`re in a position right now where they`ve got something that`s incredibly sensitive. They went with it immediately through channels the way they are supposed to. It`s not being handled through channels the way it is supposed to be handled by a DNI who is an acting DNI just appointed by the president who is saying as he is sitting on it, yes, basically I`m doing this to protect the president.
This involves privileged material. This involves somebody outside the intelligence community. He is all but saying I am trying to protect the president.
Now, "The Washington Post" is reporting yes, this is protecting the president. So this person is facing the prospect of having channels not work, the channels that are supposed to protect his or her anonymity. It`s supposed to protect him or her from retribution for having done the right whistleblower thing. Now, they have to think about with the system not working, can I risk going to the committee itself knowing who is on the committee on both sides of that aisle?
O`DONNELL: Let me read you, Rachel, before you go, this preface to the requirements of this law. Written into the law, it says, Congress as a coequal branch of government is empowered by the Constitution to serve as a check on the executive branch. In that capacity, it has a need to know of allegations of wrongdoing within the executive branch, including allegations of wrongdoing in the intelligence community.
This law specifies its purpose very, very clearly. It does not leave any of the exceptions to this law that the director so far seems to be claiming.
MADDOW: Yes, I mean, for the DNI to be consulting with the Justice Department on this. The Department of Justice is completely outside of this process. Apparently, according to Schiff, they are not denying they may have consulted with the White House about this which is, of course, is totally inappropriate, given the potential, given the fact that whistleblowers are supposed to be protected in this kind of circumstance.
I mean, the acting DNI here is somebody who obviously will never be confirmed as the actual DNI. It is somebody who is very much breaking the law or I shouldn`t say breaking the law -- appears to be breaking the law in the way that he is treating this. But I`m just thinking about the personal drama for whoever this whistleblower is for what they`ve been through already and what they`re seeing happening right now with the system that is supposed to protect them and the patriotic confrontation they must be having with their own fear right now in terms of knowing what they`ve got and how important it is. How it`s being mishandled and how much they`re at risk.
O`DONNELL: We`re just going to continue with the breaking news coverage that you started in the last hour.
MADDOW: All right. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you very much, Rachel.
We`re joined by one of the reporters who broke this story for "The Washington Post," Ellen Nakashima, who`s a national security reporter for "The Washington Post."
Ellen, thank you very much for joining us tonight with this breaking news.
The -- one of the things I noticed in the law, is that it says the inspector general has a duty to communicate with the employee. The inspector general has a duty to let the employee know what has happened. So it`s entirely possible that the employee knows what has happened before reading it in your newspaper tonight.
ELLEN NAKASHIMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s possible. We did contact the whistle blower`s attorney who had no comment, you know, on the story so we assume that certainly by now the whistleblower knows.
O`DONNELL: And what is -- what is the reporting that has narrowed this down to the information appears to involve the president of the United States?
NAKASHIMA: Well, first of all, if you take a look at the letters that were exchanged by the office of the director of national intelligence and the general counsel there, Jason Klitenic, and the Hill, as well as letters from Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, back to DNI, Joseph Maguire, it`s quite clear they point the way the letters specify that the -- first of all, the whistleblower was someone -- is someone inside the intelligence community, reporting conduct by someone who is not inside the intelligence community. And that conduct could potentially involve privileged communications.
That narrows it down already, pretty much to there is really only one entity in the U.S. government outside the intelligence community that might have access to such sensitive information and claim privilege over it and that`s the White House. At that point, a limited set of people at the White House.
Then from there, we`ve got sources. We spoke to including two former U.S. officials who confirmed for us that the complaint involved a phone call or involved a communication that Trump had with a foreign leader and a promise of some sort, and one of those former officials said it was a phone call in recent months.
O`DONNELL: And the -- you have reporting in your story that indicates that the acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire is torn, is not pleased with what the Justice Department has done in its intervention in this case and is not pleased with what the White House has done.
NAKASHIMA: Well, what we know, what we`re hearing, first of all, the acting DNI Joseph Maguire is not someone who was angling for this job. He was kind of put into it after DNI Daniel Coats was, you know, basically asked to resign. And then his deputy Sue Gordon was also sort of asked to resign.
And so, there was a vacancy. He got tapped. It wasn`t something he was looking for. He`s not a career intelligence person who came up through the spy ranks, let`s say.
And here he is, new to the job, and he is thrust into this very politically perilous situation, and this is not something -- he`s not a lawyer, very much not familiar with this issue. And we`re told he`s not, you know, he feels sort of caught between his competing instincts.
O`DONNELL: I want to quote your reporting on why he has not complied with what appears to be the requirements of the law. Your reporting says the DNI has asserted that lawyers determined there was no notification requirement because the whistleblower complaint did not constitute an urgent concern that was within the responsibility and authority of Maguire`s office.
Do you have any indication where they got, what was the basis of that legal opinion? Because I can`t find anything in the law that that would point to.
NAKASHIMA: If you look at the statute, there is a line where they define urgent concern, and it, you know, urgent concern involves a flagrant abuse of power, a problem relating to an intelligence activity that is, dot, dot, dot, within the responsibility and authority of the director of national intelligence. And I believe that`s where they got that. However, it seems apparent to me that the I.G., the inspector general for the intelligence community determined that this was an intelligence community activity within the purview of the ODNI and, therefore, this was something that, you know, he could take a look at.
O`DONNELL: Did your sources have any indication of who the president could have been in contact with?
NAKASHIMA: We did not get any indication or confirmation of that and that`s something we`re continuing to report on.
O`DONNELL: Ellen Nakashima, please stay with us.
I want to turn to Ben Rhodes. He`s a former national security adviser to President Obama. And Ned Price is also with us, a former CIA analyst and a former senior director for President Obama`s National Security Council. They`re both MSNBC contributors. Also with us, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times" who has written extensively on foreign affairs.
Ben Rhodes, your reaction to this breaking news?
BEN RHODES, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I mean, it`s astonishing. I`ve never heard of anything like this. And it should be deeply troubling to Americans that essentially somebody in the intelligence community seems to think that the president of the United States is a danger to American national security.
And when I think about what this could be, I mean, the only things I can consider are, one, you had President Trump actually revealing something sensitive about U.S. intelligence collection to a foreign leader, which we know by the way he has done already in a meeting with the Russians early in his administration. Or secondly, he was taking some action that was profoundly not in the interest of the United States, making some promise to act against perhaps the will of legislation or current U.S. foreign policy. Whatever this was, was of such gravity this person felt compelled to come forward.
The other thing I think we have to confront here, Lawrence, is a lot of people in this administration know things that President Trump has done or is doing that are deeply worrying. I`d like to see more of them come forward. We`ve seen people leave and write books and we`ve seen people leave and kind of make vague insinuations that there are troubling things happening at the White House.
This is a matter of national security. This is something that could be putting the interest of the United States gravely at risk. And we see the administration acting in ways that go against the law to try to repress that information.
This is a time to get the sun light on this information so that the American people can make a judgment. And this is why by the way you have intelligence committees. You know this from having worked on the Hill. They were set up precisely so that you had a venue for oversight because in the past when you didn`t have intelligence committees, you had huge abuses of power by the executive branch. This is precisely why you have congressional oversight of intelligence.
O`DONNELL: I want to read that section of the law that Ellen was just talking about, the definition of urgent concern. The employee who filed this, this whistleblower report, had to have what the law calls an urgent concern. The law is very specific that an urgent concern does not mean a difference of opinion about policy.
Here is how the law defines urgent concern. The term urgent concern means, any of the following. One, a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation, or law or executive order or deficiency relating to the funding administration or operations of an intelligence activity involving classified information but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters.
Ned Price, I want your reaction to this story as we know it at this hour.
NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: You know, Lawrence, I think there is a maxim we can attach to this administration. It could always be worse. It could always get worse.
I`m actually not sure that`s true in this case, however. I will be honest that when I started to hear about this story, these rumblings, I had assumed that there was a whistle blower within the intelligence community who was ready to tell superiors about President Trump or someone in his administration, severe mishandling of classified information. After all, this is a president who in recent weeks Ellen has tweeted highly classified satellite imagery, has leaked information to the Russians in the Oval Office, has detailed the locations of nuclear submarines to foreign leaders.
But I certainly don`t think that`s what the case is. That would be recklessness. That would be carelessness. I think this could be something closer to betrayal given what we have learned from "The Washington Post" this evening.
It`s always dangerous to speculate on the origins of potential wrongdoing during this administration because there is so much of it to go around, but let me offer one theory that I think comports with the second line of thought that Ben put forward. I`ve always been curious about a July 31st phone call between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. This is a phone call that President Trump, himself, initiated July 31st, the dog days of summer.
The White House after the Kremlin did put out a read out that said they discussed potential American assistance to ongoing Siberian wildfires. That raised my curiosity even more. President Trump was barely lifting a finger to fight ongoing wildfires in California.
The Kremlin read out, however, added something quite different. It said, quote, that the Russian president viewed Trump`s offer as a sign that fully fledged bilateral relations could be restored in the future. It seemed that the Russians seemed to have an indication that President Trump had pledged or promised a restoration of diplomatic relations, of bilateral relations in a way that the White House certainly didn`t allude to in its read out. This was precisely two weeks before the whistleblower filed this report.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And, Nick, the whistle blower as Ellen reports in "The Washington Post" tonight, the whistleblower`s report was filed on August 12th. And so, Ned Price and others now are staring at everything we can find publicly about Trump communications with foreign leaders in proximity to August 12th, prior to August 12th.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And, indeed, that July 31st phone call with President Putin does stand out for obvious reasons.
Look, the number of people within the intelligence community who would be privy to the contents of that call is fairly limited. These are senior people with presumably good judgment who are not going to risk their careers, make a mountain out of a molehill out of something that indeed does not rise to that.
The inspector general in turn is also not going to elevate something that is not a serious case. And that suggests this does not involve --
O`DONNELL: Stop on that for a second. There are two thresholds. An employee, serious level employee who would have access to this information is seriously troubled, thinks this is an urgent matter as the law refers to it.
An urgent concern. Has an urgent concern. Brings that urgent concern to the inspector general.
The inspector general believes this is an urgent concern. If the inspector general doesn`t think it`s an urgent concern, just thinks it is an opinion matter, the inspector general doesn`t have to do anything. The inspector general brings it to the director because it clears all of those thresholds.
KRISTOF: I mean, you could also argue that the DNI finds it a sufficiently big concern that he doesn`t want to follow the law and share it with the intelligence committee and would not do that for something light. But, I mean, obviously, we are speculating there.
But, yes, this is -- we`re all groping. We don`t know. But there has to be concern about that July 31st call. The notion this conveys a promise of some kind, something that is deeply alarming within, among two key people in the intelligence community, that also raises questions about Putin.
And, you know, I guess more broadly, I mean, like Ben, I think back to the early 1970s when we had this series of scandals involving the White House abuse of the intelligence community and the Frank Church hearings that aired that and led to a restructuring of the intelligence community, professionalization, deep commitment that the intelligence community is not going to be used for political purposes by the White House.
And now, we find that jeopardized both in what the whistleblower reports and secondly in the refusal it seems of the DNI to follow the law and share that information as obliged with Congress with oversight.
O`DONNELL: Ellen, did your reporting indicate where the first break was pumped on the transmittal of this? The employee is working according to the book, going to the inspector general. The inspector general works according to the book, according to exactly what we`re reading in this law and passes it on to the director.
Do we know who, whether the director, himself, the Acting Director Maguire or someone else around the director was the person who said, wait, don`t do what you would routinely do with this particular whistle-blowing report?
NAKASHIMA: We don`t know for sure but we do know is that the ODNI consulted the Justice Department, presumably the office of legal counsel and at some point got, you know, they were -- they got some legal advice that said, that resulted in that interpretation you had read earlier about urgent concern and how the ODNI determined that this complaint did not rise to that level because it was a matter that was outside of his area of responsibility and, as such, was not going to transmit the complaint to Congress. The DNI sent a communication, a letter back to Congress notifying them of that. That was last Friday the 13th.
And at that point, Adam Schiff, who had already sent a letter over saying I`m expecting to get a copy of this complaint said, all right. Enough is enough. And having warned Maguire that he was going to compel this complaint through a subpoena, he issued a subpoena on Friday.
O`DONNELL: Ellen, I just want to offer you that there is a further support for your reporting tonight by NBC News, confirming your reporting. I just want to read to you exactly what NBC News has on this at this hour.
A whistleblower complaint by an intelligence officer that the Trump administration is withholding from Congress involves a phone conversation had by the president, a former U.S. intelligence official familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News tonight. Goes on to say "The Washington Post" citing two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter reported this evening that the complaint was by an intelligence official who was troubled by a promise Trump made in a phone call with a foreign leader.
And so, Ellen, NBC News already confirming portions of your reporting tonight and obviously other news organizations will be working on this.
When we think about former Trump officials, this, your breaking news comes on a day when John Bolton was in New York City at a private luncheon criticizing the president, criticizing the president`s policies with both Iran and North Korea, and that`s just the most recent former official who was it should be noted on the job in August when this happened.
Ellen, is it possible that former officials who were -- who had already left the administration would know about this information even though it was developed after they -- if they left the administration before August when this whistle blower report occurred?
NAKASHIMA: It`s possible, sure.
O`DONNELL: Ben, talk about what the information would be. How likely is it that this whistleblower would actually have heard a presidential phone call?
RHODES: It`s unlikely. There are transcripts made of every presidential phone call. Those are usually disseminated to people in the government who have some need to know. So if they`re very senior people in the intelligence community who work on Russia or the leadership in the intelligence community, they might in some circumstances get transcripts of White House phone calls.
The Trump administration took steps to crack down on the circulation of some of those calls when there were some leaks of some embarrassing phone calls that President Trump had. But it`s still possible that a transcript could have made its way over to the intelligence community or of course without discussing, you know, sources and methods, we should presume that our government also tries to monitor what other governments might be reporting out about certain information. And so, you could presumably get at it that way.
O`DONNELL: There are two different levels here.
Let me go to Ned Price on this.
Ned, let`s go to the level of this could be a person in the administration who`s actually read the transcript of the phone call. How high level a player in the intelligence community does that have to be?
PRICE: Well, Lawrence, that was actually my theory from reading the tea leaves and hearing scuttlebutt, my understanding is that this whistleblower recently left the national security council where he or she was detailed from the intelligence community. So, this person still was an intelligence community employee but was actually resident on the White House complex.
And so, if that is in fact the case, it is quite possible that he or she could have either sat in as a note taker on a phone call or could have seen a transcript. The Trump administration, has been alluded to, did cut down but you still have to have permanent records in order for the read out to be transmitted both within the National Security Council and through the seniors throughout the administration. So, it is possible.
O`DONNELL: Ned, you use the phrase, the term detailee. Just explain to the audience how that works because there are employees in the federal government at various levels including for example in the Agriculture Department, who get detailed to say the Senate Agriculture Committee. And those people have no political loyalty to the politicians who are working on those committees. Their loyalty tends to be to solid information that they`re supposed to be delivering and helping the committee or in this case the White House with.
So this would be an intelligence detailee working on the National Security Council who`s not in a political appointment of, say, John Bolton, or others who would be in that kind of room.
PRICE: That`s right. Let`s stick with the National Security Council staff as the example here. During the final years of the Obama administration, the National Security Council staff had about 180 professionals who were focused on policy areas. Of those 180 individuals, 90 percent of them were so-called detailees.
That is to say they were not employed by the White House. They were not employed by the executive office of the president. They remained employed by the Department of State, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In my case I was the detailee from the Central Intelligence Agency.
So, I was working in the White House day to day. But my performance evaluations were written by the CIA. I was paid by the CIA. And, ultimately, the CIA had say over my professional future.
Now, it is my understanding that this person, and it would certainly make sense, this person did not come into the White House as part of the Trump transition team, was not part of the Trump campaign. By everything we know about this person, he or she went through the proper protocols. This person is doing his or her utmost to protect classified information, hasn`t run to the media.
This person seems to be a true patriot who is trying to play by the rule books and at the same time trying to alert the proper authorities that the house may well be on fire.
O`DONNELL: Ellen Nakashima, the Inspector General Michael Atkinson is testifying to the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow morning 9:00 a.m. closed door session. What do you expect the inspector general to say in that testimony?
NAKASHIMA: Well, I expect he will detail the process he went through to determine that the complaint was credible and, you know, was an intelligence activity of flagrant and serious abuse or problem and that it was of urgent concern and explain the steps he took to raise this issue to the DNI`s attention. And then, of course, when the DNI did not transmit the complaint to Congress within seven days as required by law, he went to Congress and told Congress that he had a whistleblower complaint and it had not been transmitted.
O`DONNELL: What do you expect him to say when he is asked as he will be, what does the complaint say?
NAKASHIMA: I do not know how much he will actually divulge of the complaint, because I do not know whether in fact he will -- he has been ordered not to, you know, to hand over the complaint or divulge its contents. So we`ll have to find out -- we`ll try to find out tomorrow.
O`DONNELL: Ellen Nakashima of "The Washington Post", thank you very much for your important reporting tonight and finding the time to join us. We really appreciate you joining us here on the show.
And we`re going to be right back after a break with more, coming up.
O`DONNELL: We`re back with Ned Price, Ben Rhodes, and Nicholas Kristoff covering the breaking news first from The Washington Post tonight confirmed by NBC news that a whistle blower complaint from the Intelligence community involves President Trump`s communications with a foreign leader.
That is according to The Washington Post reporting and that whistle blower`s complaint is supposed to be forwarded to the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence committee. The Trump administration is refusing to do that. The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff has issued this statement tonight, "The intelligence community Inspector General has agreed to appear before the House Intelligence committee for a briefing on the handling of the whistle blower complaint tomorrow morning September 19 in a close session at 9 AM.
The Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph McGuire has agreed to testify in an open session before the committee next Thursday, September 26 at 9 AM. The Intelligence Community Inspector General determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law.
The committee places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress. Ben Rhodes, the House Intelligence Committee has had many important hearings. It`s hard to think of one more important than tomorrow at 9:00 AM.
BEN RHODES, FMR OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Absolutely. I mean, again, this is their purpose and the reason it`s so important Lawrence is, we have seen this administration already try with this President tried to weaponize the instruments under his control in the U.S. government.
Whether that`s you know, Attorney General Barr seeking to mischaracterized the Mueller report, whether that`s making insinuations that he wants Ukraine to investigate his political opponents and Joe Biden. We`re heading into an election year with a President of United States who appears perfectly willing to weaponize the Department of Justice, the Intelligence Community, any aspect of the federal government in service of his own political interest.
That to me is a serious crisis for our democracy and in that type of circumstance the only check that we have on rampant abuse of power by this President is if there are whistleblowers like this who go through the procedures and stand up and do their patriotic duty and if you have Congress exercise its oversight role.
We also know look, if this was Putin, we are heading into an election year. President Trump wants support from Russia I would presume once again as he benefited from last time. Does that inform why he might have been making certain promises to if it was Vladimir Putin.
So all this begs for aggressive congressional oversight to get to the bottom of this because without that checked, we`re living under a President who does not respect any democratic norms and would do anything to either suppress information from getting out that could be embarrassing to him or damaging to him.
And again could try to use the very powerful instruments of the U.S. government to his own political advantage.
O`DONNELL: This is one of those laws that reads more simply than most. It`s like the law that allows the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to obtain the President`s tax returns or any tax return in fact.
It says - that law says that the IRS shall furnish the tax returns. We have an echo of that here on the whistleblower report that`s sent by the Inspector General to the Director. The law then says the director shall within 7 calendar days of such receipt forward such transmittal to the Intelligence Committees together with any comments the Director considers appropriate.
There`s no buts, there`s no exceptions, there`s no nothing and this - this director decided to check with William Barr`s Justice Department and on the next page of this law, I think we can see what William Barr`s Justice Department has decided here because there`s a very, very important line in this law.
Adam Schiff has indicated they`re willing to sue just as the House and other committees are suing to try to get the law enforced. There`s a problem trying to do that here because this law specifies an action taken by the Director or the Inspector General under this paragraph shall not be subject to judicial review.
Now this is the kind of thing, Ben as you know and Ned, as you know exists - tends to exist in national security law. It tends not to exist elsewhere in the law. This very specifically says you cannot sue. Ned Price, it says Adam Schiff cannot go to court to try to sue to get this and I imagine that when the Barr Justice Department read that line, they took it to mean they could do anything they wanted.
NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, I think that`s right. I think we really have two culprits here unfortunately. One clearly is a Barr Justice Department. It`s Bill Barr at it again. It pains me to say however though that I don`t think the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been operating in good faith here.
I think we have to compare what we learned tonight from this Washington Post report and now NBC news reporting to what we saw the General Counsel of the Director of National Intelligence put out last night. The General Counsel wrote a letter to Adam Schiff saying, they disagreed essentially with the Inspector General`s conclusion that this was a matter of urgent concern.
If what both the Washington Post and NBC news now are reporting is accurate, it is impossible to think that they could be operating in good faith and not believe this is a matter of urgent concern. Look, I think Lawrence, this is bigger than anything the single subpoena fight, it`s bigger than any single whistleblower.
This is really about our democracy and I think as Nick alluded to earlier, we have a secret intelligence apparatus operating within our democratic context under a very clear understanding.
There will be rigorous oversight in return for the extraordinary capabilities and authorities we bestow to that intelligence apparatus. There`s oversight from the executive branch, from the White House, from the DOJ`s supposedly at least. There`s oversight from the Judicial branch, from the foreign intelligence surveillance court and there is oversight from Congress, the most important I think level of oversight from Congress.
But what the Office of the Director of National Intelligence seems to with the support of the Justice Department seems to be doing is to thumb its nose at that oversight. It`s not good for the Intelligence Community. It is not good for Congress and it is corrosive for our democracy.
O`DONNELL: And - it`s a great point that Ned just made Nick, and the law does not provide anywhere for anyone to second guess the Inspector General. There is no one who can enter into the realm of this law and say we disagree with the Inspector General`s evaluation of the urgency of this. There`s no provision for that.
NICHOLAS KRISTOFF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This is fundamentally a bombshell of defiance of oversight and of the law on top of a separate bombshell about an allegation of fundamental and urgent misconduct but you know, in a sense the backdrop of this is the - I mean, I think historians are going to look back and see the Trump administration as a President trying to - President out of control and trying to undermine institutions and norms throughout the government.
And in fact those institutions have often tried to push back whether it`s courts, lawyers and consistently the media and the Intelligence community and you know, I disagree with Dan Coats on many things but when he was DNI, he did attempt to cherish some independence there and I fear that when those historians look back, they will see this as a moment when one crucial institution, one pillar that we need crumbled and did not fulfil its task.
O`DONNELL: This line in the law saying that an action taken by the Director Inspector General under this paragraph shall not be subject to judicial review was not put there so that the administration could think therefore we do not have to obey this law.
It was put there to protect national security interests but with the Trump administration and our Justice Department finding that sentence, I think that explains why we`re here tonight. We have to squeeze in a break here. Ned Price, thank you very much for joining us tonight with your important insights, very helpful. Thank you Ned. Really appreciate it and when we come back, we have a lot more to cover. We will be right back.
O`DONNELL: Here is Donald Trump becoming the first President in history to be asked seriously is he`s going to attack Iran with nuclear weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are many options as you know Feller, there are many options. And there`s the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that. And we`ll see. We are in a very powerful position. Right now we`re in a very, very powerful position.
REPORTER: When you say the ultimate option, are you talking about a nuclear strike?
TRUMP: No, I`d say the ultimate option meaning go in war. No, I`m not talking about - I`m not talking about that ultimate option. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes and Nicholas Kristoff are back with us. So Ben, he has ruled out nuclear war.
RHODES: I see a tiny bit better. Lawrence, yes I mean but look, this whole thing - why are we even talking about whether we go to war on behalf of an attack on Saudi Arabia`s oil infrastructure and the only reason that he seems to care so much about it is as he said, the Saudis pay cash and we also know they paid a lot of cash in the Trump properties.
It would be madness to go to war with Iran right now and set the entire Middle East on fire. It would be totally unnecessary. He is created this crisis by pulling out of Iran nuclear deal, piling on sanctions, threat after threat, giving the Saudis a blank check for their war in Yemen which is causing a famine of catastrophic proportions.
And here we are and he doesn`t have any answers. All he has is bombastic language and threats like that. Meanwhile the actual problem is getting worse. Iran is resuming its nuclear weapons - potential nuclear weapons capability. Iran is being much more emboldened in the region.
All the things he said wouldn`t happen if he pulled out of the Iran deal have now happened and he doesn`t know what to do about it.
O`DONNELL: Nick, your reaction to the President`s handling of the situation so far.
KRISTOFF: Well, there is indeed a real problem both with violation of the nuclear accord with that attacking shipping etcetera but this is as Ben suggests, a problem that the President created by leaving the nuclear accord and my fear is that you know - we are already in bed with Saudi Arabia.
Look, Saudi Arabia has a fighter planes, they have their aircraft. If they want to strike something, they`ve been attacked by Iran you know, they can do it but we should not be - this is not our fight and we should not be - you know, it`s almost a year since they murdered my friend Jamal Khashoggi and I don`t want American troops at risk for the regime that murdered and dismembered a Washington Post columnist.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to take a break here. Ben Rhodes, Nick Kristoff, thank you both very much for joining us during this breaking news. Really appreciate it. When we come back, we have new reporting tonight about what Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to happen to Corey Lewandowski. She thinks he was in contempt of Congress.
O`DONNELL: Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that Corey Lewandowski should be held in contempt of Congress for his testimony. The House Judiciary Committee yesterday according to a report in Politico tonight. Pelosi told Democrats during a private meeting on Wednesday that Democrats should have held Lewandowski in contempt then and there according to multiple sources in the room.
By then and there, the Speaker presumably meant in the middle of the chaos that occurred during Democrats questioning of Lewandowski.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Mr. Chairman, this witness continues to obstruct the work of this committee by refusing to answer questions. He`s been ordered to do so by you. I ask you adjudge him in contempt in these proceedings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: When the committee`s professional counsel Barry Berke took over the question at the end of the hearing, he showed everyone in the room how to keep that hearing under control and expose Corey Lewandowski`s repeated lies. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said Barry Berke should ask all of the questions next time.
Jennifer Rubin and Joyce Vance join us next.
O`DONNELL: Here is but a small sample of Barry Berke, the new counsel for the House Judiciary Committee questioning Corey Lewandowski yesterday.
BARRY BERKE, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE COUNSEL, DEMOCRATS: Did you say that because you wanted to protect the President?
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FMR 2016 CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR TRUMP: Not to the best of my recollection.
BERKE: Sir, did you deny it because you wanted to protect yourself?
LEWANDOWSKI: Not to the best of my recollection, Mr. Berke.
BERKE: Why did you lie on national television Sir about the President giving a message to the Attorney General about the Special Counsel`s investigation.
LEWANDOWSKI: I don`t recall that particular day and my mind set the time so I couldn`t answer that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer for the Washington Post and MSNBC contributor and Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst. And Joyce, because I have enough experience with congressional committees, I was multi-tasking while the members of the committee were asking questions because I knew you could use a very small amount of your brain power to take in that section of it but I was eagerly waiting for the Special Counsel to ask questions and then I was glued to Barry Berke for 30 minutes. What was your reaction?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Exactly the same as yours Lawrence. Lawrence, I think we all were pretty glued because Barry Berke, an experienced lawyer gave a textbook cross examination forcing Corey Lewandowski to acknowledge that he had lied and perhaps more importantly, that the lie was an effort to cover up this incident of obstruction that`s detailed in the Mueller report where Trump asked him to deliver the message to Sessions that the Mueller investigation shouldn`t be permitted to look into, either Russian interference in the 2016 election for the Trump campaign.
You know, but I also thought as I watched it, the substantive testimony was really important. It was also a real punch bag for the rule of law and the rule of law it`s been looking pretty bedraggled lately. Yesterday, it showed people that we can play by the rules, that we can let democracy work the way that it`s supposed to if the Democrats will be smart and deliberate about the process they use so it is a victory on a lot of fronts.
Jennifer Rubin, unfortunately Barry Berke didn`t take over until we had to under 5:00 hours of something that was pretty hard to fall.
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it really is. The 5 minute rule makes it chaotic and of course all of the members feel compelled to make speeches and to not follow up on the others but I think what Barry Berke showed was that this impeachment stuff is not complicated.
In the course of a half hour, he established two grounds for impeachment, two articles. The first at the President directed him not to answer any questions to the committee without any legal basis. He`s never been an employee of the federal government.
There`s no privilege that applies to him. So number one, it`s similar to the Nixon article 3, trying to hinder a Congress and number 2, he confirmed what was in the Mueller report that in fact, the President of United States went to an outside person to tell the Attorney General to stop investigating Trump and his associates.
Those are two perfect grounds for impeachment. They are not complicated. The American people can understand them and if you can do that with one witness, if you can get 3 to 4, I think we will actually make some progress here.
O`DONNELL: And Joyce, to be fair to the members, they do have the 5 minute limit. The witness knows that all they have to do is filibuster their way through the 5 minutes and as soon as they get through that 5 minutes, there will be a very friendly 5 minutes from Republicans and so nothing will ever really get traction and get going.
But I would submit to the members that that`s a reason to let Barry Berke do all the work. He`s the only one who`s given the forum for 30 solid minutes. If that hearing had only been 30 minutes of Barry Berke, that would have been enough.
VANCE: He was effective yesterday. It`s a shame that when folks turned on their televisions yesterday morning that, that wasn`t what they sell out of the box. That`s the kind of information people need about this President`s misconduct and hopefully, many of the members will see it the same way that you did.
O`DONNELL: Jennifer, what are the odds? What are the odds of the elected members of House Judiciary Committee thinking no I`ll let Barry have the limelight?
RUBIN: I think about a 10 percent chance maybe. I`m over estimating them. This is what they live for and in fairness to them, a couple questioners who actually did make some progress so in fairness there are a couple of them.
O`DONNELL: No Jennifer, they tend to be former prosecutors themselves. There are some capable people there.
RUBIN: Yes, they do.
O`DONNELL: That`s true.
RUBIN: So would it be nice if they ceded their time to a couple of the members to ask questions and combine the time and then to Barry, that would be delightful but in all my years in Washington they have never been able to do that with very few exceptions.
And if few exceptions were the ones that were successful in the Watergate hearings and other major scandals in Iran country (ph). And yet the lesson is lost because these people are showboaters. They want to be on television. And it does a huge disservice to the American people. And I really do hope that they will look at this and, as I put it, there was chaos and then there was Barry Berke. And for the sake of the country and their own reputations we have to have less chaos, more Barry Berke.
O`DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin gets tonight`s last word.
Joyce Vance, Jennifer Rubin, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate. 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