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Rep Escobar: "I'm Ready to Impeach". TRANSCRIPT: 9/23/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Debbie Dingell, Bill Foster, Bill Weld, Jennifer Rubin, RickWilson, Jennifer Palmieri

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Rachel.  You have a good evening. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Indeed.  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  All right.  The breaking news of the hour you just heard on Rachel`s show, another House Democrat announcing she is now in favor of moving forward with the impeachment of President Trump.  Elaine Luria is part of a group of seven Democrats with backgrounds in national security who just released an op-ed in the "Washington Post" saying this latest Trump scandal is a threat they are sworn to protect against. 

One of those seven, Abigail Spanberger, will be speaking with Lawrence at this hour tomorrow night.  But coming up in a moment, we`ll talk to two members of the Democratic Caucus in the House about that growing tide for impeachment. 

Mitt Romney tweeted his concerns about what the president is accused of doing and tonight Romney spoke on camera.  And another Republican senator expressed concerns too this evening. 

Plus, former Governor Bill Weld, Rick Wilson and Jen Rubin will be here to discuss the muted reaction from the GOP. 

And at the end of the show, the rise of Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic Party.  Her momentum continues in the latest polls and this weekend both she and Joe Biden took to the picket lines with striking UAW members. 

But tonight, we start with growing calls for an impeachment inquiry to president Trump, calls that are being driven by a presidential admission for the record books.  The president of the United States appeared to suggest that he spoke with a foreign leader about a political opponent and implied that he wanted that leader, the president of Ukraine, to investigate that political opponent.  It`s a conversation that sits at the center of a whistleblower`s complaint about alleged abuse of power within the White House. 

Now, we know that Lawrence typically doesn`t play a lot of sound from President Trump at this hour, but this is a remarkable notion, that a sitting president would push a foreign government to investigate a domestic political rival.  It`s a piece of tape that you do actually have to see to believe. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don`t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine. 


VELSHI:  All right.  Trump and his allies spent days denying that there was any "there" there, and then Trump seemed to admit on camera that he had raised the issue in a call with the Ukrainian president.  And while we`re at it, we should note that numerous fact checkers have not found any evidence of the corruption that Donald Trump claims exists. 

Trump said at the United Nations, quote: it was a perfect phone call.  And this morning, the president took things a step further.  He suggested a link between his administration`s review of military aid to Ukraine and his efforts to persuade the Ukrainian president to pursue damaging material about a political rival. 


TRUMP:  It`s very important to talk about corruption.  If you don`t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?  One of the reasons the new president got elected is he was going to stop corruption.  So, it`s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.  Very important. 


VELSHI:  OK.  The president later denied promising aid in exchange for an investigation.  But even if there was no promise of quid pro quo, it`s hard to see how Trump isn`t abusing the office of the president to further his own political future. 

One more note about the controversial phone call in question.  It happened just one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

Here`s how former Secretary of State John Kerry described the president`s actions on "MORNING JOE".


JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  My reaction is one of absolute shock and amazement that apparently within hours of the -- or days of the Mueller testimony the president is on the telephone putting American foreign policy ad hoc while he extorts the leader of another country to Russia`s advantage, I might add.  I mean, there`s another instance of the president putting the heat on saying to the country we`re trying to help, resist Russia, and he turns around and says, I`m going to take your aid away unless you become the opposition research center for my campaign for president of the United States.  That is a fundamental profound abuse of power. 


VELSHI:  All right.  Tonight, NBC News is reporting that House Democratic leaders have called a members-only caucus meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss both the impeachment inquiry and congressional investigations into Trump ahead of Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire`s appearance in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday -- on Thursday. 

Now, that meeting was announced as more Democrats have come out in support of an impeachment inquiry against president Trump in the wake of these revelations about his conversation with the president of Ukraine. 

Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan.  She`s a member of the House Democratic leadership. 

And Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois.  He`s a member of the Financial Services Committee, and he does support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. 

Welcome to both of you.  Thank you for joining us tonight. 

Congresswoman Dingell, good to see you again.  Thank you for being with us. 

You have been -- you`ve been cautious about talking about impeachment.  You are one of those people who has believed that, look, maybe your constituents and their particular needs in Michigan are not met by an impeachment inquiry.  Now there`s more to talk about on that front. 

Does that have any influence on your thinking? 

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI):  What`s happened in the last week greatly disturbs me.  I`d said yesterday and I`m just going to be very frank tonight, we are a divided country and that scares me.  But we cannot be divided on following the rule of law.  And what we have heard in the last week is deeply disturbing. 

As members of Congress, we have a fundamental responsibility to protect our national security and to protect the Constitution.  We have no choice now but to launch an investigation that is going to give us the facts.  That is our moral responsibility. 

So I guess I`m joining with many of my other colleagues.  And I hope my Republican colleagues will think about this because they too need to be concerned about rule of the law. 

VELSHI:  When you say this to your Republican colleagues, what`s the thing about this that pushes you into that camp that says we need to begin an inquiry?  What`s different about this?  What is it that you want Republicans who have until now not budged on this with the exception of one member of Congress, what is it about this particular revelation that makes it so much more serious for you and others? 

DINGELL:  So I remember a long time ago -- not that long ago, but I worked for Senator Bob Griffin.  And I was a senior in high school, actually, but at the time, the Watergate investigation was going on, and I flew back with him from Michigan to Washington the day he announced that he thought that Richard Nixon should resign.  And he had a long talk with me that day about honesty and integrity. 

But after, when people heard those Watergate tapes and saw the facts, Republicans, there hadn`t been a single Republican in that direction.  They heard the tapes and Richard Nixon resigned in 17 days. 

We are being given facts now.  We are being told that our president is talking to a leader of another country, taking dollars that have been appropriate bid the United States Congress to protect us militarily and part of the whole foreign policy and is using them to blackmail a president of another country.  That`s simply not OK. 

VELSHI:  Congresswoman, you are now saying that you do favor an investigation.  What does that mean technically for you?  Do you tell -- you`re a member of leadership.  What does that mean? 

You`re having this meeting with caucus members tomorrow.  Do you do something ahead of that?  Do you tell somebody? 

DINGELL:  I told leadership tonight that I was going to be talking about this tonight.  And, you know, if you read "The New York Times," you heard I was going in that direction. 

But I probably talked to 30 or 40 members in the last 48 hours.  There are a lot of members that are deeply disturbed about what is happening.  And by the way, we stilt have to make sure.  Richard Nixon created the EPA.  He went to China, Title IX.  He did a lot of things as this investigation was going on. 

We still have the responsibility to lower drug prices for our constituents, to get a trade deal that`s going to help the striking UAW workers.  But we have a moral responsibility to protect our Constitution.  And our job is to protect our national security. 

VELSHI:  And when you call for an investigation, in your mind is that the same as an impeachment investigation? 

DINGELL:  It`s the same thing, yes. 


Representative Foster, thank you for joining us. 

REP. BILL FOSTER (D-IL):  Happy to be here. 

VELSHI:  You had been in favor of an impeachment inquiry or impeachment investigation until now.  Tell me what you make of what you have learned. 

FOSTER:  Well, I think for most members it`s not an issue really just of criminality.  After all, you know, Michael Cohen is in jail today for things he did at the direction of President Trump. 

But the way our system works is that it is a political decision jointly held between the Senate and the house.  And we have to have both branches of the legislature come together with an agreement that the criminality exists and is of a high enough level that the person should be removed from office so that he can stand trial in the normal criminal courts. 

And that is the tough part of this I think for many members of Congress because there`s frankly a political danger here.  If we vote articles of impeachment in the house and then the Senate doesn`t accept them, then there`s a danger that we will have established the de facto precedent, that it is OK to do this as long as you can intimidate 51 members of the Senate into ignoring the problem. 

VELSHI:  Let me just bring you up to speed on more breaking news we have on this story.  "The Washington Post" is now reporting Trump ordered a hold on military aid days before calling Ukrainian president.  That`s according to officials.  This is just being reported by "The Washington Post." it says that -- Congresswoman Dingell, it says President Trump told his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back nearly $400 million to Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials. 

This is the kind of thing that has got people turning their heads, that there may have been a fairly absolute and clear quid pro quo implied by the president if there was aid going to a country that the United States and the Congress had decided that it was supporting, particularly in some of its efforts to stand up against Russian expansionism. 

And then this was held off and then a request goes to the president of that country.  It`s sort of unheard of in American democracy. 

DINGELL:  Absolutely.

FOSTER:  That`s why we have to see the complaint.  We have to see the whistleblower`s complaint.  We have to see the details.  And we have to see the potentially multiple actions that the president has taken which have been alluded to in some of the press coverage here. 

VELSHI:  Congresswoman Dingell? 

DINGELL:  You know, what people have read that may not understand is that the inspector general listened to this whistleblower`s case, was so concerned, reported to the Congress that there was a threat to our national security and the administration blocked, sending what they found to the country. 

What is this administration hiding?  If there`s nothing to hide, they should have sent that last week.  We`ll see what happens on Thursday.  But this is just very deeply disturbing.  And no, none of us that have been sworn to protect this United States of America should be able to turn a blind eye to what`s happening here. 

VELSHI:  Congressman Adam Schiff said yesterday that this becomes a different conversation, this is not just about the president seeking help in diminishing a political opponent, but it also has to do with the idea that we are doing exactly the very specific thing that this whole Russia investigation, the whole Mueller investigation was about. 

Are we actually inviting a foreign government to interfere in our conversations, in our national dialogue, Congressman Foster? 

FOSTER:  Well, I think that a lot of this depends on the details of exactly what was asked.  And I think, again, we just need to get -- we need to get more of the details on what was requested.  I`m also very concerned about what Giuliani has apparently done in acting as the president`s lawyer and directly contacting the Ukrainian officials. 

VELSHI:  Right, which is a little unusual, right?  Because Rudy Giuliani, Congresswoman Dingell, is the president`s personal lawyer and a lot of the appearances we`ve seen from him on TV have been related to what the president did as president or not in an official capacity or at least that`s been his argument. 

There could be no argument about a phone call that occurred in the middle of 2019 about whether this is President Donald -- Donald Trump as citizen or Donald Trump as president. 

DINGELL:  No, there can`t.  You know what really worries me, if you read the Mueller report, and very few people talk about this, is that Russia is trying to divide us as a country.  We are more divided than I`ve certainly seen in my lifetime.  And I -- we`ve got a -- a foreign government`s trying to do this to us.  This is a very concerning time. 

And we are really protecting who we are as Americans and the future of our democracy. 

VELSHI:  Congresswoman -- Representative Debbie Dingell who has now said on this show that you will be supporting an impeachment inquiry.  Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois -- thank you both for joining us tonight. 

DINGELL:  Thank you. 

FOSTER:  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  Joining us now is Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination against President Trump.  Governor Weld is also the former U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts and the former U.S. attorney -- assistant attorney general for the criminal division.  He began his legal career as counsel with the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. 

Governor, good to see you again.  Thanks for being here.

BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Ali, always a pleasure.  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  This is new territory.  You`ve been involved for a long time.  And as Congresswoman Dingell said, you know, she learned some of her lessons about the role of honesty in politics from Watergate. 

This is -- 

WELD:  So did I, by the way. 

VELSHI:  I know.  This is where I was going with this.  This is different territory.  This is -- I mean, do you have examples of this, a president asking a foreign leader --


WELD:  No, no.  I`ve never seen anything like this.  I`ve never seen such clear and convincing evidence of obstruction of justice as I did in the Mueller report, the ten instances that they put in that report, that President Trump committed trying to kill the Mueller investigation. 

This stuff, calling up the president of Ukraine days after suspending $250 million or $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which is engaged in hot war, conflict with our enemy, Russia, we`re supporting Ukraine, Russia`s on the other side with firepower.  Russia is an enemy of the United States.  The president is giving aid and comfort to our enemy Russia by trying to pressure another foreign leader to corruptly deliver the U.S. election in a case where he himself is a candidate by trashing his opponent. 

I mean, there couldn`t be a clearer example of the sort of behavior that the impeachment clause in the Constitution is aimed at.  If we sit still for this, and he`s daring us to stop him -- let`s be honest.  If we sit still for this and say what lovely new clothes the emperor has, we may as well tear up the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance with the claim that we`re all indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 

That`s not what he wants.  He doesn`t want a country that`s indivisible.  He wants a country that`s divided.  And if we put our necks to the yoke here, shame on us. 

VELSHI:  You were referring moments ago to new reporting in "The Washington Post" that Donald Trump has -- had ordered a hold on military aid about a week before this phone call with the president of the Ukraine, of Ukraine.  President Trump told his -- I`m reading from "The Washington Post."  Told his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials. 

Not only have we taken a position in Ukraine to help them fend off the expansionist tendencies of Russia, but they`re not in a position to say no to a request made by the president of the United States. 

WELD:  Yes.  No, I get it.  And President Trump is like every dumb criminal defendant I`ve ever prosecuted.  They all think, oh, if it`s not in writing, they can`t prove anything. 

That`s not true.  Circumstantial evidence is more powerful than eyewitness testimony.  Any prosecutor will tell you that.  And the president thinks, well, I suspend this aid and then -- it`s days later.  Not an hour but days later that I call and pressure the president to get dirt on Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, who I President Trump think is my opponent. 

What are we, fools, deaf dumb and blind?  I mean, the president`s in a world of his own here, as is so often the case. 

VELSHI:  So we`ve seen an increase in the number of Republicans -- sorry, Democrats who have come out and said they`ll support impeachment inquiry.  Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan has just said that this has changed her mind on the matter and that she is going to be supporting an impeachment inquiry. 

We`re not seeing that kind of movement from Republicans. 

WELD:  Well, you know, Liz Holtzman, who is a congresswoman on the committee when I worked for it on the Nixon impeachment, had it absolutely right.  At the beginning, there was a trickle.  I think at the time the first vote was taken there were maybe seven Republican votes for impeachment but not a majority. 

And then when the tapes came out and it showed that Nixon had been lying, that Barry Goldwater and Carl Curtis went to the White House and Barry Goldwater said Mr. President, you`ve lied to me for the last time.  Your support in the Senate is zero. 

And until that point, there was a clear Republican majority prepared to hang out to dry for Richard Nixon.  Of course, they all lost in next year`s election -- 

VELSHI:  Right.

WELD:  -- which is what`s going to happen to these Republicans if they don`t change their tune. 

But I agree with Congressman Holtzman.  It may not be a torrent at first but some are going to come and as the facts come out assuming the House does proceed with an inquiry, which is all the House Judiciary Committee did with Nixon, they`re just in the middle of an inquiry --

VELSHI:  Liz made that point another day, that that`s what it was. 

WELD:  There was no point in the House to impeach the president but they unearthed enough facts so nobody could deny it. 

VELSHI:  So, the interesting thing in this case -- 

WELD:  And that`s what`s going to happen to Trump. 

VELSHI:  As a former governor, as a former prosecutor, the interesting thing in this case is not just that it may have happened.  It`s the efforts that the White House and the Department of Justice are going to to ensure that Congress doesn`t find out the information it needs.  That`s -- that`s fishy unto itself. 

WELD:  Well, that was also the case in Watergate.  You know, we subpoenaed all kinds of documents from the White House and we`d get six copies.  Three of them would have damning information.  The other three it would have been whited out. 

So, we knew they were trying to, you know, stop the investigation by corrupt means.  But the idea that Mr. Trump doing this to favor his own prospects in the election is anything other than totally corrupt is ludicrous.  It`s the definition of corruption. 

VELSHI:  Does this -- how -- what influence do you have on this?  Does this work for you?  Are you able to go out there?  Do more Republicans say to you maybe not out loud but maybe they whisper in your ear that this is getting nuts? 

WELD:  Oh, everyone says to me in private this is nuts, what are we going to do.  And sometimes I say you might stand up and be counted.  And they just say I can`t go there, it`s too great a risk for me.  That`s not a profile in courage. 

VELSHI:  It is not.  Stand by, Governor. 

I want to just go to the "Washington Post" reporting that President Trump told his acting chief of staff, as I mentioned, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of a political opponent.  That`s according to three senior officials from the administration. 

Joining me by phone now is Carol Leonnig, national investigative reporter for "The Washington Post."

Carol, the reporting coming out of "The Post" tonight is fast and furious on this.  Congratulations to you and your team for doing it.  But it seems that someone`s talking about the fact that yes, not only did the president do this but there`s context around it that should make it yet more worrying to Americans. 

CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone):  I think -- thank you, Ali.  I think what we`re learning is in dribs and drabs what I assume must be painful for some people in the White House and the Justice Department, we`re learning day by day more information about the nature of the president`s interest in Ukraine and his personal effort to reach down into State and Department of Defense funding and hold it back from the Ukraine while he was, you know, days away from talking to the president and according to our sources pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden`s son. 

VELSHI:  You know, I read to my audience the key paragraph in this story a couple of times, but I want to go a couple paragraphs lower where it says: administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of a, quote, interagency process but to give them no additional information, a pattern that continued for nearly two months until the White House released the funds on the night of September 11th, 2019.

Now, Carol, this is reporting.  So you`re not making -- you`re not drawing conclusions as to what that means. 

But that is another layer of this story that is interesting, that it`s not just that it was delayed.  It`s that there was some sort of message crafted for lawmakers who might wonder why this aid to an ally, particularly an ally that is fighting off Russian expansionism, was delayed.  They would have legitimate questions about that and it seems not only was the money delayed but there was a response crafted that might have been less than truthful. 

LEONNIG:  Well, we don`t know what the truth is yet.  We don`t know the full truth yet.  We`ve had some administration officials, senior ones, tonight tell us that basically Trump`s goals were to focus on corruption.  That he was worried whether or not the Ukrainian government was going to spend the money properly, that it had nothing to do with Zelensky. 

The issue, Ali, is really the timing.  While on September 9th, the whistleblower`s complaint is -- the Congress is alerted to that complaint.  On the 10th, my understanding is, that Congress is starting to get upset about why they don`t have the complaint, the nature of it from the director of national intelligence and the inspector general.  And then on the night of the 11th, our understanding is the aid is released. 

It`s just an odd series of dates.  It doesn`t -- we don`t know exactly what happened.  It`s just interesting. 

VELSHI:  What`s also interesting is the reporting a little later in the story that says former National Security Adviser John Bolton wanted to release the money to Ukraine because he thought it would help the country while curtailing Russian aggression.  But Trump said, as you just mentioned, he was primarily concerned with corruption.  That theme occurs throughout the story, and it has occurred today several times when Donald Trump has spoken to media at the United Nations, where he said this is all about corruption. 

He doesn`t seem to have a valid explanation as to why Joe Biden and his son were brought into the discussion with the Ukrainian president. 

LEONNIG:  You know, I think in the long run, and I don`t know that this will answer your question, but in the long run there are a lot of things that we aren`t fully knowledgeable about yet about this story, and it seems interesting to me that Biden isn`t particularly thrilled, a candidate for the Democratic nomination, is not particularly thrilled about discussing this either and sharing information about what happened with his son, who didn`t seem to have any real experience in this field and yet was serving on the board, making a lot of money for a Ukrainian natural gas company.  There`s something that`s not fully transparent about that either. 

So, we have to figure out all of those pieces and it`s going to take a little while for us to get there.  What Congress is trying to figure out now is what was the president`s goal in pressing a Ukrainian president to investigate Biden at the same time he was pressing his own government to withhold funding to the Ukraine? 

VELSHI:  Carol, thank you.  Carol Leonnig of "The Washington Post" on a breaking story that continues to be updated with new information that Donald Trump ordered a hold on military aid days before calling the Ukrainian president in this phone call that we`re focused on that is the subject of so much attention. 

Former Massachusetts governor and 2020 presidential candidate Bill Weld joins me now.  We`re going to continue our conversation.  Rejoins me I should say. 

Given this new information, this new reporting from the "Washington Post," Carol Leonnig said what a number of members of Congress have said today.  This could be sorted out with the proper information.  If the White House were to actually hand over the information necessary --

WELD:  No, but the cover stories that the White House trotted out to try to conceal the corrupt intent of Mr. Trump are ludicrous.  He was worried about the end of the fiscal year on September 30th in July? 

VELSHI:  Yes. 

WELD:  He was worried about corruption in a foreign government?  Gag me with a spoon.  You know, I pointed out earlier today that treason and bribery are serious measures and they`re both in the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.  This is the kind of conduct, selling out the United States and our election, the cornerstone of our democracy, it`s even well beyond anything the framers of the impeachment clause conceived of --

VELSHI:  And there`s no particular history or background with Donald Trump that this has been an area of his in global concern. 

WELD:  Foreign corruption? 

VELSHI:  Right. 

WELD:  The more the better.  The more the better.  It`s completely ludicrous. 

And I pointed out today that treason is serious business.  It`s -- the penalty for it under criminal code in a garden variety prosecution is death.  It`s serious business. 

That doesn`t mean I`m saying the president should be, you know, beheaded like Madame Defarge, but it`s serious stuff.  And it`s quintessentially the type of thing the impeachment clause is aimed at.  And the only penalty there is removal. 

But as I said earlier today the time has come when we have to remove this fellow from office just to save the rest of us.  If -- he`s daring us to stop him now.


WELD:  If we don`t stop him now, we might as well tear up the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and submit ourselves to the yoke because that`s what he has in mind. 

He doesn`t want an election.  That`s why he`s canceling his primaries.  He says Xi Jinping, no election.  What a great --

VELSHI:  That`s a good point.  You were a victim.  They have cancelled -- the Republican Party has gone in with the president. 

WELD:  That`s a small thing. 


WELD:  Him being totally corrupt and trying to sell our election and rig it for his own benefit -- and you know if he loses that election he`s going to say it was rigged against him and try to bring out the military to install him.  He`s all but said that. 

He talks about his third term.  He knows that`s unconstitutional.  He`s just kind of giving us a tickle there, hoping we look the other way. 

VELSHI:  Yes, you`re right.  Bill Weld, good to see you as always, sir.  Thank you for joining me. 

WELD:  Thank you, Ali.

All right.  We`ve got much more on the breaking news ahead.  When we come back we`ll discuss if President Trump finally crossed the Rubicon with Republicans.  I`m going to ask Rick Wilson and Jennifer Rubin, next. 


VELSHI: We`re now entering the second week of news about the allegations that President Trump may have pressured a foreign government to go after one of his political rivals and Republicans in Congress continue to remain largely silent about it. One of a few exceptions came from Utah Senator Mitt Romney who said this to NBC News` Garrett Haake earlier today.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The allegations that were made in the - in the press are quite serious and the question now is what exactly did happen.

GEOFF BENNETT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Do you need the transcript because the President has already admitted that he did have this conversation with Ukrainians leader and that he did talk about the Bidens and that he did in effect ask this foreign power to investigate one of his political opponents?

ROMNEY: He said he spoke - mentioned Vice President Biden`s name but did not ask for an investigation, he did not say that. He may have, by the way, I just don`t know whether that was in fact said by the President or not.


VELSHI: That was Mitt Romney talking to NBC`s Geoff Bennett, not Garrett Haake. Senator Lisa Murkowski was similarly cautious today, telling Alaska public media that if the President used his influence to pressure Ukraine, it would be "very concerning." Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke his silence on the issue, accusing Democrats of politicizing the whistleblower process in their attempts to shed light on the allegations.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It is regrettable that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff and Senator Schumer have chosen to politicize the issue, circumventing the established procedures and protocols that exist, so the committees can pursue sensitive matters in the appropriate, deliberate, bipartisan manner.


VELSHI: All right. When we come back, I`m going to ask conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin and Republican strategist Rick Wilson what it means for the Republican Party to remain silent on this issue and how long they`ll be able to keep it up.


VELSHI: Today, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that America will be blown away by Donald Trump`s transparency about his phone call with the Ukrainian President, where President Trump allegedly pressured the foreign leader to investigate one of his political rivals.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I would just urge the president you know he`s talking openly about the conversation to release as much as possible. I believe that President Trump is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and be transparent about this phone call because I think he did nothing wrong and he has nothing to hide. Get ready for some disclosures from the President that I think will exceed every expectation.


VELSHI: Getting ready for disclosures from the President that are going to exceed every expectation, our conservative writer Jennifer Rubin, an opinion writer at the Washington Post and an MSNBC contributor, also getting ready to be blown away as Rick Wilson, Republican strategist and a contributor to The Daily Beast. He`s the author of Everything Trump Touches Dies.

Jennifer Rubin, I mean that was - I`m just going to leave you to assess what Lindsey Graham just said. We`re going to be blown away by the President`s transparency and all the detail, and it`s going to exceed expectation. That would be new.

JENNIFER RUBIN, CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC: Right. And then he`s going to show that he really was concerned about criminality in other countries and he really is a do-gooder and on and on and on. This is nonsense, of course. Listen, one point that I think has to be stressed again and again, of course, they were talking about Trump`s political opponent because if they were talking about the general interests of the United States, they would have sent the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, someone who worked for the government.

Trump sent his private attorney to do private business for him and this was it. Now that we have the other half of it, I think we`re going to have a daily stream of leaks. I don`t expect many, if any, Republicans to come out at this stage, but as we get the drip, drip, drip and as we get through the house process, you`re going to see I think some very nervous Republicans, because I think what this newest revelation does is it shifts the political calculus.

It is now much easier for the Democrats in 2020 to accuse Susan Collins, for example, of being a toady for a lawless president than it is for her to defend Trump as the victim of some kind of smear campaign. The same is true of Thom Tillis; the same is true of Cory Gardner. So the political incentive now for Republicans to flee is beginning to equalize their aversion to fleeing before.

So, I wouldn`t be surprised if you start seeing more and more little cracks. We saw a little tiny crack with Mitt Romney, but--

VELSHI: Little tiny? There was a lot of qualification there. There was a lot of if-ing, if it happened; Lisa Murkowski, if it happened, if it`s true.

RUBIN: Right. But, you know, let him put out the transcript.


RUBIN: But more importantly, let them put out the complaint - the whistleblower complaint


RUBIN: Because that has more information arguably than just this one phone conversation. It apparently describes a whole pattern of behavior.

VELSHI: Rick Wilson, I called you a Republican strategist. Are you still a Republican strategist?

RICK WILSON, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Not anymore. I mean look, there`s no Republican Party left; there`s only Donald Trump`s party and it`s a party today that has a bunch of people who used to be Republicans, who are now having a competition to see which one can lick Donald`s boots and give them the highest shine every day. But, I think what we`re really looking at here, I think Jennifer is right, there is some nervousness building now and there are guys who are actually cracking the old Wikipedia and looking back at what happened during Watergate.

1973, the Republican Party was screaming that it was a fake news conspiracy by the liberal media against Richard Nixon. 1974, 49 House members and eight Senate members lost their seats. So, I think they`re starting to realize that maybe this guy, who was a reckless day-trading, showed (ph) finally, like - I got out over his skis to the point where it`s going to drag a lot more of them down with him.

VELSHI: So the reason I asked you the question is because on Meet the Press, we`ve got a lot of information about what happened. I fully agree that one doesn`t want to make decisions based on half the information and it would be very simple, Rick, for the White House or the Justice Department to not prevent Congress from getting the necessary information and as Jennifer says, the whistleblower complaint.


VELSHI: But, Chuck Todd was talking to Pennsylvania Senator Republican Pat Toomey. Let`s just listen to what his response was.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): I don`t know what the conversation was.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, NBC: I just told you. He said he did bring up corruption in Biden.

TOOMEY: It could be spun that way.

TODD: I mean was that appropriate in any level?

TOOMEY: Yes, and again, I don`t know the context; I don`t know what was said. Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country. That`s not appropriate. But, I don`t know that that`s what happened here.


VELSHI: How long does that go on for and how well does that work, Rick?

WILSON: Ali, I mean the big thing here is these guys are a whole bunch of profiles in Chicken Blank right now because all of them are terrified that Donald Trump is going to tweet at them. They`re terrified he`s going to send up a mean video, like he did with Mitt Romney tonight, a man who is demonstrably his better in every possible respect, and they`re still living in fear of this guy and they`re willing to sacrifice their integrity and their political lives in order to not have him be mad at them.

This is a cult that is governed by terror. So, it`s going to last until they start seeing their numbers take big hits. It`s going to last until they start seeing that their polling is influenced by him. They should have known already. They lost 42 House members last time. They beat themselves on the chest saying, "We kept the Senate." Well, big deal; you lost 42 House members, about 350 other elected officials around the country. Donald Trump is a political cancer who is going to devour all of them.

VELSHI: Jennifer Rubin from an entirely different perspective, there are a lot of Republicans, particularly men of a certain age like Lindsey Graham, who should perhaps be more concerned with the fact that we were dangling taking away military aid from a country that is the front line in a battle with a Russia that is looking to spread itself as far as it will go. There`s a military, NATO, world peace component to this.

RUBIN: Right, the old Lindsey Graham who was a friend of the dear late John McCain would have been outraged by this.


RUBIN: Because, as you say, Ukraine is on the front lines. They`re already being occupied in part by Russia. They are an ally of ours. This whole hullabaloo with Ukraine started when the West was attempting simply to establish trade and economic relations with Ukraine, which the Russians wanted no part of.

So yes, this has put our national security interests behind, "Oh, wow, again Donald Trump`s personal interests," and when you pile this on top of all the other instances in which he has put his personal interests ahead of public interest, whether it`s escorting people to his hotels so he can advertise them, or whether it`s some other act of public policy, this is a guy who is going to look after himself. We thought he was somehow in Putin`s debt. No, he`s willing to switch sides. He`s not even loyal to Putin anymore. He`ll take any help from anybody he can get.

So, I think the Republicans are going to start running out of excuses as more and more of this comes out. What happens to Pat Toomey when the transcript comes out, when this whistleblower complaint comes out? Are they still going to stand behind him? Are they going to say, "Well, it doesn`t say quid pro quo or it doesn`t say specifically Biden`s name." There`s going to be very little running room for these people to use and eventually it`s going to be closing in on them. And you know who else it is closing in on, Mr. Pence, Mr. Pompeo, anyone who is in his circle in foreign policy, anyone who met with the Ukrainian President recently.


RUBIN: What about the Head of OMB, Mick Mulvaney.

VELSHI: Mick Mulvaney, who is the one who`ve sent the message.

RUBIN: He apparently carried the message, the message about holding back the--

VELSHI: Yes, the money and not being forthcoming perhaps with lawmakers about why the money was being withheld--

RUBIN: Correct. So, all of these people--

VELSHI: --using the excuse that it was about foreign corruption.

WILSON: Yes, I think that - I think that nudges us quite a bit more into sort of a conspiracy frame where you`ve got a very loyal hatchet man--


WILSON: --of Donald Trump who is willing to do something the State Department didn`t want to do and DoD didn`t want to do. But, Mick Mulvaney went and found a shortcut through OMB, so that Donald Trump would have the predicate in his extortion call to the Ukrainians.


WILSON: The money is on hold, too bad.

VELSHI: Mick Mulvaney was a tea party Republican who was all about accountability, who was all about Washington being run by a bunch of people who didn`t under - who did not have--

WILSON: Of course.

VELSHI: Who did not believe in Congress`s authority to go to suggest that you`ll lie to Congress, you`ll lie to Congress members to do someone`s bidding because Donald Trump, your boss, is somehow very, very concerned with corruption in the developed - in developing world or in the - in Ukraine.


VELSHI: That one`s interesting to me.

WILSON: Oh, yes. The transformation of Mick Mulvaney is one of the people that is the most marked in this entire process. He was a guy who went from being a constitutional conservative--


WILSON: --to being Mr. Trump, does your car have a high enough wax shine on it this morning. So, it`s a real disappointment to watch what has happened to him, but it`s going to get worse before it gets better.

VELSHI: Jennifer Rubin, Rick Wilson, thanks for joining me tonight.

More breaking news as the tide continues to turn on impeachment. The count of Democrats who are now for impeachment is growing, seems with every hour. That`s next.


VELSHI: Yet more breaking news tonight. Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas has just announced her support for impeachment. She had previously said that she`d support an impeachment inquiry, now she has moved a step further in light of the new reporting from the Washington Post that President Trump reportedly ordered a hold on military aid just days before calling the President of Ukraine.

Congresswoman Escobar tweeted "The corruption of this administration has no bottom. From using the Oval Office for self-enrichment to welcoming foreign interference in our elections twice, the level of lawlessness is staggering. Our democracy needs defending now more than ever. I am ready to impeach." Congresswoman Escobar is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. When we come back, I`ll talk to a former top Democratic aid about the state of impeachment tonight and what might come out of the House Democratic caucus meeting tomorrow.


VELSHI: Joining us now, Jennifer Palmieri, former White House communications director for President Obama, former communications director for Hillary Clinton`s Presidential campaign. Jennifer, we booked you to talk a little while ago but more has happened since.

The flurry of Democrats who are calling now for an impeachment inquiry or, in the case of Veronica Escobar of Texas, impeachment itself. This new reporting from the Washington Post that seems to bring a whole lot more people into this web of whatever happened between President Trump and the President of Ukraine. What is your take on it at this hour?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: It seems to be a watershed moment and I think for a few reasons. Prior to this, anything having to do with the Mueller Report because it was grounded in the 2016 campaign, I think that it came with some political discounting. But this is something very different and this is worse than Watergate. In Watergate, the RNC had some folks break into the Democratic Party headquarters to spy on them.

This is taking - this is thwarting the will of Congress. This is taking $400 million that was appropriated by the Congress to be used to aid Ukraine and trying to leverage that for Donald Trump`s personal political gain and doing that in real time. So, I think that is why it is a very grave situation. It doesn`t have anything to do with 2016. And it is - just feels like a very different moment.

I`ve talked to a lot of folks on the Hill today and I know you`ve seen some people come out--


PALMIERI: --now that are going to support impeachment. They have their meeting tomorrow.


PALMIERI: I think Thursday is going to be a big day where they - when the DNI comes up to testify and you may see more happen, more members jump to that line - to the impeachment line up.

VELSHI: Well, that is an interesting point. So, the acting DNI Maguire and the Inspector General where this complaint - this whistleblower complaint was lodged will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee now behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon. They are also going to appear before the House Intelligence Committee for an open hearing earlier that day.

I just spoke to Debbie Dingell a few minutes ago from Michigan and she said - announced on this show that she is now - she said, we have no choice but to launch an investigation that is going to give us the facts. And I asked for clarity on that and she did say that means an impeachment investigation. But, everybody like Debbie Dingell who remembers Watergate, like Bill Weld who was on with me who remembers Watergate, like Elizabeth Holtzman, they all say the same thing that the impeachment inquiry is what did it in Watergate. It wasn`t a House vote. But they - people needed to hear the story. They needed to hear the evidence.


VELSHI: They needed to hear what actually happened. And it changed things.

PALMIERI: It does. Once you lay that all, once you start to lay it all out in the form of a hearing in front of the Congress and the public can hear all of the evidence that`s mounted, it has an impact. And that is why I think the House should move forward with this and why I discount the view that it would be a mistake for the House to impeach the President because we all believe--


PALMIERI: --that the Senate won`t act on it or that the Senate won`t quit him. We have no idea what the Senate willing to do.

VELSHI: Right.

PALMIERI: We don`t know what they will do once these facts are put into public record, once the House votes on it.

VELSHI: Right.

PALMIERI: You just can`t guess at that.


VELSHI: This becomes a hard thing to not take seriously and explain that to your constituents. Jennifer, thank you for being with us, Jennifer Palmieri. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams begins now.