LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Nicolle. But I`m not ready because you`ve got to me ten seconds early.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE": Oh, am I early? See, she`s never early.
O`DONNELL: No, the tradition with Rachel is she knows I`m not ready, she gives me usually about 40 seconds to get ready.
WALLACE: I could sing, I could do something.
O`DONNELL: So, Nicolle, I spent the day in Washington where needless to say heads are spinning on the developments of the day. And the feeling here is that impeachment is inevitable. And if something can become more inevitable, it`s Donald Trump, who finds out how to make it more inevitable every day.
WALLACE: The city does feel different. And he does appear, at least today, to be making their jobs a little easier.
O`DONNELL: Yes. He`s doing their work for them. Thank you, Nicolle.
WALLACE: Have a good show.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
Well, another day, another smoking gun. Today, we actually got two more smoking guns if you`re counting, depends on how you`re counting, in the impeachment investigation of president Trump. Three, actually. Maybe it`s three. You`ll decide at the end of this hour.
And we are going to have to spread out these three smoking guns throughout the hour. We have to find room in this hour also to discuss a new whistle- blower emerging at the IRS who may be reporting something about the president`s tax returns.
And at the end of the hour, we`ll take a look at how Vice President Mike Pence`s week is going as he is now sinking deeper and deeper into the mud of the impeachment investigation of his boss.
We begin tonight with the president`s solicitation of re-election campaign help from Ukraine. The smoking guns are really piling up in this case. We already have a smoking gun in the president`s phone call to the president of Ukraine, the rough transcript of that, in which the president solicited Ukraine`s help in his re-election campaign by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
Once again today, again, the president publicly solicited help from Ukraine by publicly asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. So that`s a second smoking gun on the Ukraine case. But each time the president solicits Ukraine for help in his re-election come pain, he is actually committing a new crime. It`s like robbing the same bank again. It`s a stupid thing to do. But most criminals are pretty stupid. That`s why they`re criminals.
Today, the president delivered a new smoking gun himself when yelling to reporters with a helicopter waiting in the background, the president once again asked Ukraine to help in his re-election campaign and for good measure he threw in China too and asked China to help in his re-election campaign by investigating Joe Biden.
The president seems to think that if he is announcing something in public, then it cannot be a crime, cannot be an impeachable offense. It`s like a bank robber thinking if he yells over the sound of his getaway helicopter while he is robbing the bank, then it`s legal. The president obviously watched this program and others last night where we emphasized that he had absolutely no answer, no defense, when he was asked yesterday by White House reporter Jeff Mason what he wanted the president of Ukraine to do on that now-famous phone call.
Donald Trump got completely flustered in the face of that question yesterday, and he no doubt got enraged watching our coverage of his desperately clumsy inability to answer that question, ending with him absurdly asking the reporter, are you talking to me?
So Donald Trump apparently decided overnight to show us just how strong his answer to that question could be. And in the process, he managed to commit a few more crimes.
Here is Donald Trump today in the face of that question deciding to confidently confess to a crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they`d start a major investigation into the Bidens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was criminal enough. That was impeachable enough. He wasn`t finished. He really wanted to show us just how hard he worked on that answer overnight. So he kept going. And he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And, by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened to China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The president went on to lie incessantly about Joe Biden. We will not give him the pleasure of spreading those lies here. And we have so many developments on the Ukraine case today that we won`t even get to that new Trump smoking gun about China until later in the hour.
While the president was committing crimes and impeachable offenses on live TV, Kurt Volker was giving over nine hours of under oath testimony to three House committees working on the impeachment of the president. It was a deposition behind closed doors, but some elements of Kurt Volker`s testimony have found their way into "The New York Times" tonight.
Kurt Volker resigned last week as the State Department`s special envoy to Ukraine. It`s not at all clear why this State Department needed an envoy to Ukraine when we already had an ambassador to Ukraine. But it seems one of Kurt Volker`s missions was to translate Trump to the new Ukrainian president.
That means Kurt Volker was in frequent contact with Bill Taylor, who became in effect the acting ambassador in Ukraine after Donald Trump removed an ambassador who Rudy Giuliani did not find to be cooperative enough in his Ukraine schemes that were designed to force Ukraine to help the Trump campaign by investigating Joe Biden.
"The New York Times" reports this smoking gun in Kurt Volker`s under oath testimony today. He disclosed a set of texts in September in which Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, alluded to Mr. Trump`s decision earlier in the summer to freeze a military aid package to the country. He told Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volcker: I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
That is a very smoky gun, in writing. A member of the Trump administration`s diplomatic corps, the highest-ranking diplomat in Ukraine puts the Trump crime in writing in a text. I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. It`s all there, everything you need is right there in that text.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is blocking Gordon Sondland, who is the other person who was on that text, from testifying to the House. Gordon Sondland is United States ambassador to the European Union. Now we know why Mike Pompeo is blocking his testimony. Sondland is in possession of at least one text in which America`s top diplomat in Ukraine says, I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
It`s all right there in that text. That`s why I`m repeating it. Withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Mike Pompeo didn`t want you to know that those words were ever written by one of the ambassadors in Ukraine. How many more smoking guns are there in the State Department text messages, in their email records and documents that Mike Pompeo is now refusing to hand over to the House of Representatives?
"The New York Times" is reporting tonight that Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland co-wrote a statement for the president of Ukraine to make about investigating Joe Biden. "The Times" reports the statement would have committed Ukraine to investigating the energy company Burisma which had employed Hunter Biden, the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and would have called for the Ukrainian government to look into what Mr. Trump and his allies believe was interference by Ukrainians in the 2016 election in the United States to benefit Hillary Clinton.
The president of Ukraine never delivered that statement that was written for him by the Trump administration.
Leading off our discussion tonight are: Evelyn Farkas, she`s a former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration. She served on the professional staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is now an MSNBC national security analyst.
Also joining us, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He is co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus."
Evelyn, I want to start with you and where we are on this Ukraine case. You know some of the players in this case. You know Kurt Volker.
EVELYN FARKAS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, uh-huh.
O`DONNELL: What do you make of his testimony today? And what more do you think we`re going to be learning about it?
FARKAS: Right, so as you say, I know Ambassador Yovanovitch, who also testified or I guess --
O`DONNELL: She`s the one who is removed by Donald Trump from her position.
FARKAS: Exactly. I know her, I know her deputy. He`s also being held back by Pompeo. I know Kurt Volker.
And I happen to know from a source close to the investigation a bit of what happened today, a bit of the context, I guess. You know, again, this is secondhand, at least.
But essentially it seems that what Volker was trying to do, and I`ve known him a long time so I`m giving him a lot of benefit of the doubt, was to try to maneuver the situation so that he can get President Trump to meet with President Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president. He thought that Giuliani was feeding a bunch of garbage that he had heard from some Ukrainians, one Ukrainian in particular, to President Trump, and that he needed to just get the truth from Zelensky.
The problem here is that Kurt Volker is the envoy, the president`s envoy. The president should be listening to Kurt Volker, who`s a long-time -- never mind he was appointed by Trump, he`s a long-time Foreign Service officer, you know, for many years before he got out and started to work for the McCain Institute.
So, President Trump should have been listening to him, but he was listening to Rudy Giuliani. And so, Kurt`s trying to maneuver it so that he can inoculate Trump and maybe convince Giuliani somewhere along the way that there`s no problem with Ukraine under this new president, and maybe steer him away from the investigation.
Now I can`t speak to what Kurt knew, what these guys knew. Clearly, the new acting ambassador, Bill Taylor, relatively new, we`ll see how long he lasts, I know him as well. You know, he was also pointing out to them what they were doing, and they shouldn`t be doing it. The document that "The New York Times" has is a draft and apparently both Kurt and the Ukrainian go-between, the same guy that Giuliani met with --
O`DONNELL: The statement they wanted the president of Ukraine to make?
O`DONNELL: They have a draft of that.
FARKAS: They agreed to drop it because the Ukrainians got nervous, they didn`t want to mention Biden, I don`t know if they wanted to mention Burisma, the oil company, and ultimately, both Kurt and the Ukrainian decided, let`s drop this.
Kurt didn`t get what he wanted, though, either, because he wanted a separate meeting with President Trump and President Zelensky, not on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting, because it would have been a bigger deal to have it at the White House.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, the --
O`DONNELL: By the way, this is an available reading of the evidence. When you look at all this evidence, you can look at Volker, for example, and say, this is either a guy who, as the text says, is part of this scheme to withhold aid for a political campaign favor. You could see him as part of that.
Or you could see him as someone who is struggling under the burden of that desire created by Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. And he`s trying to get to the right place. He`s trying to get Ukraine to the right place. And he`s saying, look, just say this. Let`s Trump hear you say this then everything will be OK.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don`t want to express lack of interest in that topic. I don`t know Kurt Volker and there`s psychoanalysis involved in that.
I just want to step back to the beginning of what you were saying. What`s happened today, which is the president of the United States went out and has already confessed to this crime, then doubled and tripled down on the crime.
To your point, Lawrence, he does seem to think that -- he understands, I think, now, that there are no facts in contention here. Given that it has been explained to him, since there are no facts in dispute, you can argue process, right? You can say, Democrats are in league with the whistleblowers, somehow Schiff is shifty, you can say all that stuff.
But on the facts of it, the only way out for him now is to basically say, yes, I did this thing, because it`s clear I did, and it`s OK. And to make the point that it`s OK is the best way to do that is do it again, do it as publicly as possible, in the most flaming, gratuitous way that you can.
And watching this happen today, I`ll say I arrived in Washington from the west coast, making "The Circus" this week, and came here looking for a Republican, any Republican, any Republican who would come on camera to talk to me about what`s going on. It`s maybe the worst day in the history of my life trying to book a Republican in Washington to talk about Donald Trump, because there`s no one who wants to get within a mile of a camera on this day.
That`s how bad this day was for Donald Trump. Even his most stalwart defenders are like, no, thank you. That`s how bad what happened this morning for Trump is in the way the politics are shifting.
O`DONNELL: Thank you for refocusing on the smoking guns, because when you have smoking guns, why talk about anything else?
HEILEMANN: They`re sitting there on the table smoking, I have a hard time ignoring them.
O`DONNELL: We`ve got to get this smoke.
So, Evelyn, so I think what we`re seeing in the president`s behavior today is one of the failures of the Mueller report, and I want to make a distinction here between the Mueller investigation, which was comprehensive and professional and discovered all sorts of things we needed to know, then the delivery of the Mueller report, because it`s in the Mueller report where they have the passage about the president saying, Russia, if you`re listening. And the Mueller report basically lets him off the hook in that scene at the end of those paragraphs.
And Donald Trump, he didn`t read it, of course. But he was briefed on it. He said, hey, you got away with the Russia, are you listening, the Mueller report thing, they were afraid to touch you on that. As soon as he learned that, I think that`s what gave him his inspiration for going out there today and doing it again, because what the Mueller report said was there was something in that public moment of Russia, are you listening, that indicated that Donald Trump didn`t really know what he was doing.
In other words, there was something that smells like innocence in Donald Trump`s mind in that passage of the Mueller report.
FARKAS: Yes, I think you`re right, Lawrence. I think he thinks he can get away with somehow being innocent or crazy. I mean, I don`t know what his defense will be ultimately.
And unfortunately a lot of his defenders, they don`t understand the law. So I was on a radio show, somebody asked me, what`s wrong with asking this question? And I answer to the guy, I said, listen, if your Uncle Frank -- if President Trump was saying, did uncle frank did something bad in Ukraine? Maybe that would be OK. It would be weird because the FBI should be looking into what a U.S. citizen is doing in Ukraine.
But the fact that he asked about his opponent in the upcoming election is illegal. And I think a lot of Americans just don`t understand that.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And, John, one of the things, one of the defenses that we`ve heard about Trump from Republicans over the years, oh, that`s just Donald being Donald, Trump being Trump. They`re not even throwing that defense out there right now, but that`s clearly was Trump was going for today with the helicopter behind him yelling these crimes into the microphone was, I want them to do the that`s just Trump being Trump thing.
HEILEMANN: Well, and I think it`s clear that there are multiple layers of potential cover-up involved in this Ukraine scandal, right? But in Trump`s mind, I think he`s ahistorical. He doesn`t know very much. He knows a couple of things about Watergate. He knows, follow America.
Also, the worst crime is not the crime itself, it`s the cover-up. So, if you`re -- if you believe that`s one of the shibboleths from that experience, you kind of making the claim, it can`t be a cover-up if I`m standing in front of you saying it. Somehow confessing to it in that overt way, in Trump`s mind he`s dispelling any sense he`s covering something up, he has nothing to be ashamed of, saying it over and over again.
Obviously, again, there are cover-ups that are involved here, that relate to the super secret server and all the classification issues, but I do think there`s something in Trump`s mind, that you are right. There`s no question that he is the person who when someone gets away with a crime -- two kinds of people, one who gets away with a crime, wow, I barely got away with that I`ll never do that again. There but for the grace of God go I.
And the other person goes, I can do that again. I can do it again, again, and again. Trump is in the latter category.
O`DONNELL: You know what the difference is. One of those is a professional criminal.
O`DONNELL: When you`re a criminal by profession, when you get away with something, that`s a lesson about how to do it next time.
FARKAS: It`s like jumping out of a perfectly good plane, if you do it a couple of times, you`re not afraid anymore.
O`DONNELL: What more should we expect from basically the State Department sources that the house is trying to hear from? Pompeo`s blocking them so far. The only reason we heard from Volker is that he resigned from the State Department last week.
FARKAS: Right, right, exactly. I mean, I think we`ll either get more whistleblowers. I think there`ll be more pressure on Pompeo -- this position can`t hold, it`s untenable.
I understand there are I.G. investigations ongoing. There`s one in DOD that`s been very quiet. I don`t know how it was started. I`m hearing also from other agencies.
All kinds of disgruntled words, they said, Evelyn, we see documents that aren`t accurate all the time, like records of meetings. So it`s really disturbing. But this judge last night, Amy Berman Jackson, who said, hold all the documents. I think we`re going to see a lot more coming out in the form of paper.
O`DONNELL: John, this is a White House that has fought every form of legal process, every subpoena. They`re going to continue to do that, aren`t they?
HEILEMANN: They are.
O`DONNELL: And State Department`s going to continue. Why -- I mean, Evelyn, I understand this point about Pompeo`s going to feel the pressure, really? I mean, that`s what at least half-decent people used to feel in those jobs.
I haven`t noticed a Trump person -- Wilbur Ross doesn`t feel the pressure about the scandals in his department.
HEILEMANN: I don`t think they feel any pressure. I think what ultimately -- what I think people who believe this impeachment inquiry -- the impeachment inquiry and the formal declaration, why that was important, was that it would expedite some of these court processes that have taken a long time to resolve the question of subpoenas before judges, where in the context of a formal impeachment inquiry, those things can be fast tracked, and so, you look back to Nixon and the 14 days or whatever it took to get the court ruling on the smoking gun tape, right?
I think the only pressure they will feel is not a pressure, not more pressure, political pressure, but if there is a genuine expediting of legal processes that bring that kind of pressure to bear that could change their calculus.
FARKAS: Right. Which brings up the contempt of Congress thing. That`s what I meant by eventually you`ll see that pressure.
O`DONNELL: Yes, yes. Evelyn Farkas, John Heilemann, thank you both very much for starting us off.
And when we come back, John Heilemann just told us that he couldn`t get any Republicans to go on camera today. Well, there were some cameras in Washington today trying to get Republicans on camera. We`ll show you what they got.
O`DONNELL: No one blows the whistle on Donald Trump quite like Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And, by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened to China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump`s defense about colluding with foreign governments for his presidential campaign has gone from I didn`t do it to I would do it again to OK, everybody, watch me do it.
After committing that crime on live TV today, Donald Trump told reporters that he had not previously asked President Xi to investigate his political rival, but CNN is reporting tonight that Donald Trump raised the subjects of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren during a phone call with the Chinese president on June 18th. And Donald Trump said in that phone call promised that he would stay quiet on Hong Kong protests for freedom while trade talks continued with China.
According to CNN, the record of that call was also placed in that highly secure server where the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president still sits.
Joining us now is John Harwood, the editor at large for CNBC, and Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst.
And, Joyce, I want to go straight to you for a legal opinion on what Donald Trump did today and what he said.
JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Donald Trump built a very compelling criminal case against himself today confessing on national television to committing campaign finance crimes. But, you know, Lawrence, you make this point and it`s important to remember, Congress doesn`t need an actual violation of federal law or of criminal law. What they`re looking for is a high crime and misdemeanor.
I think it`s just sort of the ultimate nuance from this president who can`t seem to do anything to save himself that he would actually commit crimes in public and appear to be proud of it.
O`DONNELL: John, and now it`s China.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It`s China. And I do think of the two things that happened today, learning that he told Xi that he would keep quiet about Hong Kong during the trade talks is actually more freshly damning than what he said on the White House lawn.
This is open corruption of the presidency of the United States. On the one hand, we have someone who is so focused on himself and his own interests that he solicits assistance on his campaign rivals. But in the case of Hong Kong, he`s essentially selling off the commitment to freedom by the United States in order to get something through this trade deal process.
There is no particular indication that the trade deal that he gets is going to be anything that changes the lives of Americans in a substantial way, but the very idea that he is so focused on his own personal accomplishments that he would sell out the moral commitments of the United States in such a straight forward way is kind of stunning.
O`DONNELL: It`s such an important point that John just made, Joyce. And the other thing I think we know about Donald Trump is he absolutely does not care about the freedom of people in Hong Kong. And so his -- the idea that his would be the voice standing up for them is hard to imagine even if he wasn`t trying to get some kind of trade deal with China, but that makes him the very first president in history who would side with China against protesters like this.
VANCE: Well, this president is no friend to anyone`s civil rights whether it`s domestic or foreign. And to John`s point and your point, this makes it all the more critical that the American public, the congressional investigators have access to full transcripts from these calls. We need to know what our president has been saying. That conduct needs to be assessed.
And it`s so suspicious that these memos of conversation would be filed rather than as they would routinely and normally be filed for the president`s classification system that they have been put on the code word server which is an entirely different sort of process. It`s more like hiding the transcripts than it looks like filing them. And it`s something that we need to have brought to the forefront. Those transcripts will be the best evidence of these conversations.
HARWOOD: And, Lawrence, you talked before the break about Republicans not -- and John Heilemann talked about Republicans not willing to talk. I experienced some of that today.
I had a text exchange with one congressman. I said, can you talk for a minute? He said, what about? I said, Trump and Ukraine. And he ghosted for the rest of the day.
HARWOOD: Talked to another one who said I kind of wish he hadn`t said what he said, poor choice of words, but it`s not a crime, which is the distinction that Joyce referred to a moment ago. Not necessary for impeachment, but that`s the line they`re staying on the other side of.
I think it will be harder for Republican politicians to defend the sacrifice of the interest of people in Hong Kong. That broke late in the day. I bet some Republicans feel obliged.
O`DONNELL: Let`s take a quick look at Joni Ernst. A lot of members are not in Washington right now. Joni Ernst, Senator Joni Ernst in Iowa, reporters didn`t really catch up, but voters did.
Let`s listen to how that went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): Whistleblower should be protected, please let folks out there know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And our president shouldn`t be threatening them and should not be encouraging other countries to investigate his political rivals.
ERNST: I would say to that, corruption no matter where it is should be ferreted out. I don`t care where it is. I don`t care who it is, when it is, corruption is corruption and it should be combated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it`s OK for our president to extort other countries to begin investigations --
ERNST: I -- you know, I -- OK, we`re going to move on to another question. What I would say is we can`t determine that yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So, John, if you want to get a question in, you will have to get out of Washington to find them.
John Harwood, Joyce Vance, thank you both for joining us tonight.
And when we come back, the other whistleblower, the new one. Tonight, we have new details about a whistleblower complaint filed by a career IRS official about possible interference with the standard audit that is always done on the tax returns of the president and the vice president. That`s next.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Washington Post is reporting new details tonight about another whistleblower complaint inside the Trump administration. An Internal Revenue Service official has filed a whistleblower complaint reporting that he was told at least - by at least one Treasury Department political appointee, who attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the President or Vice President`s tax returns, according to multiple people familiar with the document.
Trump administration officials dismissed the whistleblower`s complaint as flimsy, because it is based on conversations with other government officials. But Congressional Democrats were alarmed by the complaint now circulating on Capitol Hill, and flagged it to a federal judge.
They are also discussing whether to make it public. The existence of this whistleblower complaint was first disclosed in August in court filings by the House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who wrote that the complaint reveals "potential inappropriate efforts to influence the mandatory audit program."
Democrats are demanding President Trump`s tax returns be released in accordance with a law that gives the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman access to any tax returns.
After this break, we`ll be joined by John Heilemann once again and Walter Shaub who is the former Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. In other words, Walter Shaub used to be the conscience of the federal government.
Walter Shaub resigned from that job when he realized it was going to be impossible to carry out those duties, with the Trump administration making a mockery of the ethics rules in government. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump has continued to tell the lie that as President he cannot make his tax returns public as long as they are being audited. Every President, since Richard Nixon, has made every one of their tax returns fully public, while those tax returns were automatically being audited by the IRS.
Joining us now is Walter Shaub, he`s the former Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. He resigned in protest of the Trump administration`s failure in the category of ethics. And John Heilemann is back with us.
And Walter, I want to get your reaction to this reporting tonight on the whistleblower now within the IRS, and we seem to be learning more about it, or maybe weeks away from seeing exactly what that is. But it sounds like someone at Treasury, a political appointee, reaching in in some way interfering with what has become the automatic tax audit of both the President and Vice-President`s returns.
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Yes that`s right, the allegation we don`t know the specifics of but the understanding is that somebody may have reached out and tried to influence it.
I think what`s really important to understand is that Treasury Department officials don`t communicate with IRS officials about specific reports, so that`s extraordinary. But the existence of this complaint itself, even if investigation ultimately clears whoever allegedly did this, shows why Congress needs access to these tax returns of the President. And of course we`re only in this position because the President didn`t release his tax returns.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and John, it turns out - I think a lot of us thought that it was just not a law, it was an IRS law, that we had written a law that says that President and Vice-President`s tax returns are automatically audited. We didn`t, it is just a custom, and it was a custom that no President prior to now dared to tamper with.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, MSNBC: Like many of the best things that are in our government, it`s just a norm.
HEILEMANN: And what we have found I think in the course of the Trump administration is that just many of the norms have helped, but some of them have not, and what we found is that the President of United States has no respect for them, is willing to trample over them at any given point.
I`m a little confused by this story, as I - as you read it. I mean Walter I ask you like, what do you think is actually going on in this story, because I`ve read it now three or four times and I still can`t quite get what is being alleged, other than kind of some vague like - there`s a whistleblower, which is interesting in and of itself is a dynamic now, the notion that the whistleblowers are coming forth in Washington is kind of an interesting thing. But what is actually being alleged as having been the wrongdoing here?
SHAUB: So we don`t actually know and there`s a very important reason for that. The law strictly protects access to tax returns and imposes severe penalties, so that`s going to make it a little harder for Congress to be able to release this one than they did the Ukraine whistleblower`s complaint.
But they`re apparently researching that and analyzing whether they can do it. So the only thing we do know is that the complaint involves a potential effort by some political appointee at the Treasury Department level with regard to the tax return of either the President or the Vice President that was being reviewed by IRS officials.
That may pan out to involve no misconduct or it may involve very serious misconduct, because if the allegation is true, that`s really an extraordinary thing. Because again, they don`t communicate about individual complaints and the departmental level officials have no role in the IRS review of the President`s report.
O`DONNELL: Yes, but because this is an arena that no one has tampered with since Nixon, it could actually be a Trump appointee in Treasury, simply calling up the IRS and saying, you know that audit you automatically do of the President`s returns, don`t do it. And I`m not sure that legally there would be anything wrong with that, because there is no law that says that they must do the audit.
HEILEMANN: Right, and I think that again to the point of the - there are some areas that we`re going to learn in the course of these four years with Trump is that, there are some areas where we should codify some things--
HEILEMANN: --that had just been norms and standard practices in the past, because we thought no President would be shameless to ignore - so shameless as to ignore them. But we have to either create an enormous political cost for violating them or a legal prohibition. And I think in Trump`s case, what we`re learning is that there are circumstances where there`s no political price to pay or not one that`s substantial enough, and we need these laws, we need some of these things to actually become statutory.
O`DONNELL: Yes, we`re on the time for this tonight, Walter, but I`m sure your head is now just filled with things that, as some of which are statutory, but they don`t have penalties that force enforcement like Kellyanne Conway`s constantly violating the law and White House property by basically campaigning.
Turns out the penalty for that is administered by your boss, which means there`s no penalty, so maybe we need a codified penalty for that.
SHAUB: Yes, we`re going to need a lot stronger laws that actually come with some teeth. I think one of the most important things the past couple of weeks has taught us is we really need stronger whistleblower protections.
SHAUB: Because for one thing, you can`t have an Inspector General program, you can`t have an ethics program be truly effective if whistleblowers are afraid to come forward with wrongdoing.
O`DONNELL: Yes. John Heilemann, Walter Shaub, thank you both very much for joining me tonight, really appreciate that.
And when we come back, we have breaking news about the nine and a half hour deposition that took place tonight, the Chairmen of the Committees involved have released a statement and information about that deposition.
O`DONNELL: We have breaking news at this hour from the Committees that were - that are doing the impeachment investigation, who conducted the nine and a half hour deposition today with former State Department envoy Kurt Volker.
The Committee Chairmen have released a joint statement saying that today`s hearing and the documents obtained in the hearing, especially the text messages obtained in the hearing, have been very revealing.
They say these text messages reflect serious concerns raised by a State Department official about the detrimental effects of withholding critical military assistance from Ukraine, and the importance of setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian President without further delay.
We quoted you one of those texts that had already leaked earlier in this hour. That was from Bill Taylor - that was Bill Taylor saying in a text, "I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." This document released tonight by the Chairs of the Committees now provides the full context and the full exchange on that text.
Also has a text from Bill Taylor to others involved in the discussions about Ukraine, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigation. That was a text to Gordon Sondland, who said - whose response was, call me.
That is a recurring response from Gordon Sondland. We`ve seen Sondland - we`ve seen in these texts that whenever Bill Taylor goes into the essence of what the Trump administration is up to, linking aid to a criminal investigation of Joe Biden, Gordon Sondland always wants to take that off of a written record and move it on to a verbal phone call.
We are joined now by phone by Congressman Eric Swalwell who was in some of that or most of that, or even all of that deposition today, who knew about this information. Has been unable to comment on it in his previous comments, until it`s been released by the Committee Chairs.
Congressman Swalwell, what else can you tell us about this information that`s now being released?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good evening Lawrence. I was present for the whole interview with the Ambassador. And you first - he corroborated entirely what the whistleblower complaint stated, that there was a shakedown - a shadow shakedown going on by Rudy Giuliani, it looks like ordered by President Trump, and the whistleblower says he was told that there was an effort to have the Ukrainians "play ball."
And so, here`s what the Ukrainians understood as soon as President Zelensky was sworn into office, that there were two asks from the White House. And that, if he wanted a meeting with President Trump, he had to, one, investigate the 2016 election and essentially exonerate Russia, and two, investigate the Bidens and that ask was made throughout the process of him being President, up until that phone call and even beyond.
We have evidence of State Department officials, particularly Bill Taylor, expressing concern even before he came onboard to be the second in command in Ukraine, of the role that Rudy Giuliani was playing. And just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Taylor said he thought it was crazy that security assistance would be tied to the President`s political campaign.
O`DONNELL: This report tonight that Kurt Volker co-wrote a statement that they hoped the President of Ukraine would give and he co-wrote that with Gordon Sondland, was that part of his testimony today?
SWALWELL: Well, I`m going to leave it to the text messages that were released, but you do see in those text messages that there was a concerted effort. It looks like it was being led by the President, carried out by Rudy Giuliani, to make sure that the Ukrainians were expressing to President Trump that they would indeed investigate the 2016 election, as well as this upcoming 2020 election, as it related to a potential 2020 appointee.
So again, that corroborates what the whistleblower says. That also really I would say corroborates the President`s intent on that phone call, and it gives us new witnesses to interview as we go forward.
O`DONNELL: On this lot, this text from Bill Taylor to Gordon Sondland where he says, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting - that means a White House meeting for the President of Ukraine, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations.
Gordon Sondland - his response is just, call me. Do we know what happened when Bill Taylor called him, do we know what was said then?
SWALWELL: No, we don`t and that`s why we have a new witness - a potential witness in Mr. Taylor. But again, when so much of this is taking place on Whatsapp, that`s the form that they are talking, and then it`s moved off of that, again you can conclude I believe that it`s because that Ambassador Sondland does not want to discuss what the President`s true intentions are, and you do see that as you pointed out a number of times.
Mr. Taylor consistently from the time he is placed in charge or is the second in command and then there`s no Ambassador and he`s essentially the de facto Ambassador, he has concerns about Rudy Giuliani`s role. And then you see Ambassador Volker, who I would describe as a serious Ambassador who is running a parallel diplomacy effort, as Rudy Giuliani is truly the one who has the President`s intentions.
Ambassador Volker, I believe, was carrying out the intentions of the United States to deliver security assistance to Ukraine, while Rudy Giuliani was carrying out the ambitions and desires of President Trump, which was to benefit himself in an upcoming election.
O`DONNELL: Did Kurt Volker tell you today under oath why he resigned from the State Department last week?
SWALWELL: He did, and I don`t want to go into that, the transcript is going to be released soon, but we believe the text messages really do speak for themselves. And it is clear that a shadow shakedown was being run by Rudy Giuliani to benefit his client, not the Office of the President, but Donald Trump, an individual who had a vested political interest in the 2020 outcome where he was leveraging US tax dollars to his benefit.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate that.
SWALWELL: My pleasure, thank you.
O`DONNELL: And John Heilemann is back with us, and joining us at the table, David Frum, senior editor for The Atlantic and a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Also with us, Norm Ornstein, he is a Congressional historian, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
And this table is stacked with text messages that you have all been studying as quickly as you can, while the Congressman has been talking. David, go ahead.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR FOR THE ATLANTIC AND FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: I don`t think the serious nature of the conversation he`s had does justice to the rich comedy of these text messages. I mean this is like a high school musical about evil wrongdoers.
I`m looking at one here from July 25 of 2019, a message from Kurt Volker. Good luck, good lunch thanks. Kurt from White House, assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate "get to the bottom of what happened in 2016," we will nail down visit - date for visit to Washington. Good luck, see you tomorrow.
So the visit to the White House, it`s - in a text message is predicated on getting to the bottom of Trump`s crazy fantasy.
O`DONNELL: So there`s China in July in a text message, they`re texting about China investigating the Bidens in July.
FRUM: They`re texting about getting the Ukrainians to endorse this insane theory that Trump`s has that Seth Rich is the person who actually hacked the Democratic--
O`DONNELL: I`m sorry, was that referring to Presidency Xi or was that referring to President Zelensky?
FRUM: I`m sorry, oh Z as in Zelensky.
FRUM: Not Xi. And you go through them again and again and it`s - as I said, there`s - we are talking so gravely and Congressman Swalwell does such a good job, was talking so seriously and with such respect for the institutions. I think you read this and it is a high school musical.
O`DONNELL: Well this - Norm, this is one of the challenges when we`re covering the game, the gang that couldn`t shoot straight, but when they`re trying to destroy the world, when they`re basically shooting against the freedom of protesters in Hong Kong, when they`re shooting against Ukraine trying to maintain its independence from Russia in effect.
I mean that what this crazy gang that isn`t shooting straight is firing bullets around. And so keeping a straight face when we start reading their stuff isn`t that easy.
NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN, AND RESIDENT SCHOLAR AT THE AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I throw up a little in my mouth as I read some of this stuff.
I will tell you Lawrence, I`ve been here for 50 years.
O`DONNELL: You don`t like it.
ORNSTEIN: I know, well I came very young age. I have never seen a level and depth of corruption, traitorous behavior that we have here, and the complicity all across the board. What I find striking about some of these texts is, Bill Taylor trying to do the right thing.
ORNSTEIN: And Gordon`s Sondland, anytime that something comes up that seems a little fishy says, let`s stop texting, call me. Now, what does that mean? It means I`m not going to put on a text that`s going to be released somewhere.
FRUM: It`s kind of late. Please delete this evil confession.
ORNSTEIN: Yes. But the lying here - but the idea that Donald Trump cares about corruption, when he cuddles up to CC (ph), to MBS in Saudi Arabia, to every vicious corrupt dictator in the world, and this is the place where he cares about corruption? Please.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, what`s your favorite?
HEILEMANN: Well, it`s not one particular thing, but I`ll say I`m really struck by the use of exclamation points throughout. There is kind of a high schoolish quality, to go to David`s point. There is lot of it. And you see it particularly in the way Volker communicates with Giuliani, where Giuliani has been citing these things.
Volker was like really, but he was on my side, he`s trying to help me out here. And there is a lot of, hi Mr. Mayor, exclamation point. Thank you, exclamation point. The way - you kind of - it`s like you can sense that he is kind of treating Giuliani like he understands that he`s a crazy person and that he has to be handled with kid gloves. But he is trying to be solicitous towards him, but also kind the way a 15-year-old is solicitous with someone who they recognize as kind of a hot potato.
O`DONNELL: But this makes so clear why Mike Pompeo is blocking the testimony of everyone else that they want to hear from.
ORNSTEIN: And lied about his own being on the phone call too.
FRUM: There may be 25 people in Washington who cared about Ukraine before all this. But those 25 really cared about it and saw Ukraine`s transition to greater success as the crucial work on the European continent for the democratization and liberalization in their time.
And the idea that these 25 people, and Kurt Volker is one of them, who care so much about this project, 50 million people. And in the month of September, by the way, 50 Ukranian - when the arms were delayed, 50 Ukrainian soldiers killed or wounded. This is not abstract. These are lives that are being sacrificed by President Trump`s campaign, and these people have to deal with, as you say, the likes of Rudy Giuliani.
HEILEMANN: And Zelensky is so wounded by this that now he is being pushed to capitulate in the invasion of Crimea and legitimize it. And we shouldn`t forget Mike Pence in all of this before we end. Greg Sargent has a timeline there, the idea that Pence didn`t know any of this that was going on, when it was being shouted from the rooftops by Giuliani and we had all this other stuff going on is ludicrous too.
O`DONNELL: Well, and John, surely as we get more and more of this from inside the State Department, Mike Pence`s name is going to be in some of these things at some point.
HEILEMANN: Yes. It`s clear that Pence is being dragged deeper and deeper into this. And he`s dragged in deeper and deeper both by the facts, by the fact that he is clearly more involved and more implicated than he would like to be or that anybody would like him to be, except for one person, Donald Trump.
Who - part of the reason Pence is going to end up deeper and deeper in this is that Trump wants Mike Pence deeper and deeper into this, because if it gets to a Senate trial, what Donald Trump wants to say to Senate Republicans is, hey you get rid of me, this guy`s just as dirty as I am.
O`DONNELL: And Norm, one of two dozen people who David was referring to who has always professed concern about Ukraine is Lindsey Graham. And we now know he didn`t mean a word of it, and as far as we can tell, he has never meant a word of anything he`s ever said before Donald Trump became President.
ORNSTEIN: I believe that if John McCain were alive today, that he would be shattered at the duplicity and complicity and traitorous behavior by Lindsey Graham. It`s shocking.
O`DONNELL: We`re going have to leave it there. John Heilemann, Norm Ornstein, David Frum, thank you for your speed reading of the text messages. Appreciate it.
That is tonight`s last word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, they`ll have more text messages, starts now.