Trump's Russia ties TRANSCRIPT: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 12/9/2019

Guests: Mike Quigley, David Cicilline, Mazie Hirono

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

And we`re going to get to the impeachment news.  We have David Cicilline from the Judiciary Committee.  We`ll ask what he knows about articles of impeachment that will be announced tomorrow morning.  We will also get the inspector general`s report. 

But for you, Rachel, for you in particular, we need to report news of Isabel Bueso.  This is very good news.  You helped make this news happen.  Isabel Bueso`s family has issued a statement saying that we are elated to share that on December 6th, our family received official documentation that our deferred action status has been renewed.  The status is good for two years. 

And, of course, Isabel Bueso is a story that you brought to everyone`s attention, that here was this 24-year-old, who`s going to be deported, deported by the Trump administration when she was in this country to receive life-saving treatment.  She would have died if she left this country.  Her doctor was on your show.  The doctor was on my show telling this to the country.  And it was amazing how long it actually took to get a resolution to this. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Yes.  Well, she and her family have been in limbo not knowing whether these deportation order -- whether these deportation proceedings would be brought against them.  That literally would cost her her life.  So many families got brought beyond the brink by what the administration did with this medical did he find action thing.  It`s just -- I mean, I`m very happy that Isabel Bueso has now received notice that she`s going to stay here. 

But what he did to these families is kind of -- what they just put them through is -- it`s enraging. 

O`DONNELL:  She is safe for two years, Rachel, and your coverage is a big part of that. 

MADDOW:  It`s nice         for you to say.  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

O`DONNELL:  Well, we will begin tonight with the breaking news about articles of impeachment and we will later get to the Justice Department inspector general`s report released today which did find political leanings among FBI officials involved in the investigation of the Russian attack on our presidential election.  But the inspector general`s report says that the political opinions of FBI officials did not affect any FBI official`s judgment about the investigation including, including the judgment of the FBI special agent who revealed to the inspector general under oath that he was thrilled that Donald Trump won the presidency because he thought Hillary Clinton was a criminal. 

The inspector general`s report also found a stunning connection between Christopher Steele and someone he used to call a friend, Ivanka Trump.  The breaking news of the night is that specific articles of impeachment might be announced by House leadership tomorrow morning.  The chairs of the four House impeachment inquiry committees had a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight in her office, and when the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair left that meeting, he said there will be an announcement tomorrow morning on impeachment with the relevant committee chairs.  Asked if this announcement would be about articles of impeachment, Chairman Engel said, yes, everything. 

In today`s impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, House Intelligence Committee counsel Daniel Goldman presented the Intelligence Committee`s case against Donald Trump.  And in making that case, Daniel Goldman made a factual statement that every Republican in the room today and every Republican in the House and the Senate has refused to admit.  President Trump got caught. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL GOLDMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL:  By early September, the president`s scheme was unraveling.  On September 9th, the Intelligence Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees announced an investigation into president Trump and Mr. Giuliani`s efforts in Ukraine.  And later that same day, the Intelligence Committee learned that a whistle- blower had filed a complaint nearly a month earlier related to some unknown issue, by which the president and the White House knew was related to Ukraine and had been circulating among them for some time. 

Then, two days later, on September 11th, in the face of growing public and congressional scrutiny, President Trump lifted the hold on security assistance to Ukraine.  As with the implementation of the hold, no reason was provided.  Put simply, President Trump got caught, so he released the aid. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  President Trump got caught, so he released the aid. 

Every Democrat making the case against the president should say that every time.  Not one Republican admits that President Trump got caught.  Every Republican pretends that Donald Trump out of the goodness of his heart decided to release the aid.  That`s how every Republican tells the story.  The Republicans do not rebut the specific evidence against Donald Trump in their defense of Donald Trump.  That`s what they would have to do in a courtroom to win a not guilty for Donald Trump. 

In a courtroom, the Republicans would have to take on every piece of incriminating evidence and at minimum create a released reasonable doubt about that evidence.  No Republican has attempted to do that with the evidence against Donald Trump.  What every Republican does is ignore evidence.  It is impossible for a Republican to tell the story of Donald Trump`s dealings with Ukraine without ignoring the most incriminating evidence, beginning with the White House transcript of the president`s phone call to the president of Ukraine actually says. 

Here is the full Republican defense of Donald Trump in 34 seconds, and it can be recited in 34 seconds, because of all of the important incriminating evidence that the defense of Donald Trump ignores. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN CASTOR, HOUSE INTEL & JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MINORITY COUNSEL:  The transcript is completely inaccurate and shows no quid pro quo, no conditionality.  That`s number one.  Number two, there was no pressure.  Both Zelensky and Trump said that repeatedly.  President Zelensky said that at the United Nations on September 25th.  He said in subsequent news articles. 

On October 6th, 10th, on October 10th, and December 1st.  Number three, the Ukrainians and Zelensky did not know about the pause in aid, at the very least, at the time of the call.  And number four, no investigations were announced.  The aid was released. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Number one, there is evidence in the phone call that the president did make investigating Joe Biden a condition for receiving military aid.  There is much more evidence of that from other witnesses, including Ambassador Gordon Sondland who spoke to President Trump about it and Ambassador William Taylor. 

Number two, there is clear evidence that President Zelensky and officials felt tremendous pressure to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.  Gordon Sondland testified repeatedly to putting that pressure on President Zelensky and President Zelensky`s staff himself for President Trump`s personal benefit. 

Number three, there is very clear evidence that President Zelensky and Ukrainian officials knew that there was a hold on the military aid at the time President Zelensky was on the phone with President Trump.  And number four, President Zelensky planned to announce an investigation of Joe Biden in an interview on CNN which was canceled only after the military aid was released and the military aid was released only after President Trump got caught. 

We want to go straight to our important guest tonight for more on the breaking news about articles of impeachment that the House of Representatives could be revealing articles of impeachment tomorrow morning against pretty much. 

We`re joined now two members of the House of Representatives who are on the verge of casting the most historic votes of their careers, a vote of impeachment of the president. 

Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island.  He`s a member of the House Judiciary Committee and was in today`s hearing. 

And Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois.  He`s a member of the House Intelligence. 

And, Congressman Cicilline, what can you tell us about what`s going to happen tomorrow morning? 

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  Well, Lawrence, we finished the hearing today where we heard in detail the conclusions of the Intelligence Committee investigation where the president clearly put his own personal political interests ahead of the national interest and attempted persuade a foreign leader to interfere in an American president`s election and leverage taxpayer funds that have been appropriated by Congress to accomplish that objective.  We also heard in detail about the president`s effort to prevent the investigation of his misconduct.  And it really strikes at the very heart of our democracy, of the right of people to decide their own future and to select their own political leaders. 

We were here all weekend.  We have been engaged in robust discussions about what the specific articles should look like.  We met today after the hearing as a committee to go over the evidence again that we heard.  We`re going to meet again first thing in the morning and continue our work until we have articles of impeachment ready for consideration by the full committee. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, NBC News is reporting tonight that they have five sources telling them there will be probably two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  The intent is to bring those two articles, but the sources are cautioning us that that could change, that this isn`t absolutely locked in at this point. 

Is that your understanding of where it stands tonight? 

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL):  Look, I can make that case the president subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine, undermined our national security for personal political gain, and then he obstructed it.  As you know, the third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was four counts of obstruction.  I`ve been part of this investigation since day one.  I think the president of the United States, the current president, obstructed this investigation four times in a day.  There are ten witnesses who were not allowed to testify and untold number of documents that we were not allowed to see. 

So I can make the case for two articles, just depends on how they want to present the case. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Congressman Cicilline, I think it`s very clear that all of the Democrats in your committee are prepared to vote for articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee.  Is it the objective of Speaker Pelosi to get all of the Democrats to vote for the articles on the floor?  And does the -- does that objective limit how many articles you can bring and what those articles can say? 

CICILLINE:  I mean, I certainly don`t want to speak for the speaker of the House, but I think there is broad consensus in the caucus that the facts are really uncontested and the evidence is overwhelming of the president`s misconduct.  I expect that the vast majority of the members of the Democratic Caucus will vote to move forward with the articles of impeachment once the Judiciary Committee presents them to the full house.  You know, if you watched today`s hearing, there`s no defense. 

Our Republican colleagues didn`t dispute the facts or evidence against the president and spent virtually all the time talking about processing, complaining about the speed and complaining about their inability to get documents that the president has been responsible for preventing us from getting.  So, you know, I think the reality is there`s a real sequence in our caucus, the evidence is overwhelming that the president used the enormous power of his office to advance his own personal interests, not the public interest. 

This is exactly what the framers talked about when they talked about articles of impeachment.  This was the only remedy available to the Congress for a president who engages in this kind of misconduct and most Democrats understand that.  I hope some of our Republican colleagues will join us in this effort.  It shouldn`t be a Republican or Democratic issue, but so far they have been unwilling to hold this president accountable. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, is it your sense that the Democrats will vote unanimously for articles of impeachment on the House floor? 

QUIGLEY:  Well, I can never tell you for sure what my caucus will do.  It`s a big tent.  There`s a wide range of views.  I think you saw the early vote of procedural vote to move forward on the impeachment investigation and only one Democrat voted against it. 

So I suspect the numbers to be pretty similar.  But anyone who predicts what my party will do exactly is off kilter. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to take a look at something that attorney caster said, the Republican counsel testifying in the hearing today, to show the audience how difficult it is to reach any kind of common understanding about facts with the Republican side.  This is Barry Berke, counsel for the Judiciary Committee, questioning Attorney Castor. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY BERKE, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL:  So President Trump -- President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials look into Vice President Joe Biden, correct?  Is that correct, yes or no? 

CASTOR:  I don`t think the record supports that. 

BERKE:  It doesn`t say can you look into it, President Trump is not asking him --

CASTOR:  I don`t think it supports that.  I think it`s ambiguous. 

BERKE:  Mr. Goldman, you`re an experienced federal prosecutor.  I know that firsthand.  Is this President Trump asking President Zelensky to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden? 

GOLDMAN:  I don`t think there`s any other way to read the words on the page than to conclude that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Cicilline, to have the Republican counsel sit there and say he doesn`t think there was a request made by President Trump about Joe Biden, it`s right here, I`m looking at it, I`m reading it.  Joe Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it -- the president mentions Joe Biden a couple times to the president of Ukraine, and yet even on that you can`t get a Republican to admit that that happened. 

CICILLINE:  Yes.  This was very disappointing.  The president`s own words, in addition to that transcript of the president`s own, there were tapes played of the president`s public statements in which he asked for this investigation.  There was that transcript, of course, and there were 17 witnesses all who confirmed parts of this narrative. 

And it was very disappointing.  Don`t believe your lying eyes, it`s right there in the transcript and shows the gravity of the danger the president presents.  He`s a clear and present danger to our democracy.  He`s willingness to do this -- he made this phone call the day after Robert Mueller testified. 

He sort of thought was close, and then he went out and reached again to ask for foreign assistance in his re-election.  If he`s allowed to do this, it will invite future presidents to do the same thing anytime they face a tough re-election to get on the phone with China or Iran or Russia and we will lose our democracy.  So this is deadly serious. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, 76 days since Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, maybe about 80 days or so since we even discovered this issue with Ukraine.  Are you moving too fast? 

QUIGLEY:  I think it`s on par with previous such investigations.  I think we`ve moved with a deliberate pace.  It`s complicated and nuanced, but it`s hard to argue with 35 fact witnesses, extraordinary number of open hearings for the Democrats and Republicans to both ask questions of all those witnesses.  So, again, the Republicans have attacked the process, but it`s really on par with previous such investigations, and I think the American people know where the facts are. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman David Cicilline and Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you very much for joining us throughout this impeachment inquiry.  Really appreciate your guidance on this. 

QUIGLEY:  Thank you. 

CICILLINE:  Thank you. 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, we`ll get a senator`s reaction to the impeachment developments this week.  Senator Mazie Hirono is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the Justice Department`s inspector general will be testifying Wednesday about his report on the investigation of the investigation.  That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  Here is the essence of the case against President Trump that was presented today to the Judiciary Committee by Daniel Goldman, counsel to the House Intelligence Committee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOLDMAN:  First, that President Trump directed a scheme to pressure Ukraine into opening two investigations that would benefit his 2020 re-election campaign and not the U.S. national interest.  Second, President Trump used his official office and the official tools of U.S. foreign policy the withholding of $391 million in security assistance to pressure Ukraine into meeting his demands.  Third, everyone was in the loop, his chief of staff, the secretary of state, and vice president. 

And fourth, despite the public discovery of this scheme which prompted the president to release the aid, he has not given up.  He and his agents continued to solicit Ukrainian interference in our election, causing an imminent threat to our elections and our national security. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii.  She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

And, Senator, I want to begin where Daniel Goldman left off there.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):  Good evening.

O`DONNELL:  Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine this week publicly now conducting his investigation there.  

HIRONO:  Giuliani is like a total loose cannon and they continue to beat basically a dead horse, and that is that the Ukrainians interfered with our elections.  Nothing can come close to what the Russians did and their systematic and very, very deep interference with our elections. 

But they continue to go there because what do they have?  I suppose they can`t really -- when they cannot justify the fact that the president shook down the president of another country using $400 million and White House meeting as a bribe.  They can`t answer that. 

Or maybe what they are finally going to end up saying is he did it, so what?  I call it the so what defense.  That`s not OK. 

O`DONNELL:  Senator, we probably got a preview today of the Senate impeachment trial in that the Republicans refused to admit -- first of all, that Republican witness refused to admit that Joe Biden was even a presidential candidate at one point and he was testifying under oath.  He also refused to admit that Joe Biden is in the presidential phone call in the transcript with President Trump asking for an investigation of Joe Biden. 

How do you expect to handle that kind of presentation in a Senate trial if the Republicans actually try to say things like that that are provably false by the transcript, for example? 

HIRONO:  They`re so afraid to say anything that somehow is going to get the president upset with them.  What I`m looking for is for the House handlers of the impeachment trial to present the facts and if the president has a defense, that is a time for him to mount a defense.  And I`m looking forward to that happening.  But right now, I don`t see it. 

O`DONNELL:  We saw something we`ve never seen before.  Today, the inspector general of the Justice Department releases an investigation of an investigation.  An investigation about the beginnings of the investigation into Russian interference in the election, the inspector general says that that was conducted very professionally, there were some mistakes made in particular FISA warrant applications, and those mistakes were made repeatedly in FISA warrant application for Carter Page, but that`s about it in terms of errors made.

HIRONO:  That`s right. 

O`DONNELL:  The inspector general says no political opinions by any agents involved affected the investigation, including the agent who said he was thrilled that Donald Trump was elected president because he believed Hillary Clinton is a criminal. 

HIRONO:  Yes.  This is after the inspector general had interviewed 100 witnesses and reviewed something in the order of a million pieces of material and came to the conclusion that this was a duly constituted inquiry, and yet you see the attorney general already coming in, just as he did during the Mueller report, that there`s nothing to see here, folks.  And for the attorney general to say that the investigation into the White House, the Trump campaign`s involvement, the Russian interference, that that investigation was based on the slimmest of assumptions or whatever he said, that is really denigrating his own FBI, his own I.G., but that`s what the attorney general does, his first instinct is to protect the president, not the American people. 

O`DONNELL:  The inspector general is going to be testifying to your committee on Wednesday about this report.  I assume you`ll be asking him about the attorney general calling the evidence insufficient to start that investigation when the inspector general said it absolutely was legally sufficient. 

HIRONO:  That`s right.  So he`ll certainly be asked what do you think about the attorney general weighing in in this way, and also the attorney general`s own investigator who`s going around to show, in fact, Ukraine did something that they didn`t do.  So, it was very unusual for Durham, is it?

O`DONNELL:  Yes.

HIRONO:  For him to even talk about an ongoing investigation that he`s doing is highly inappropriate for an investigator to talk about his own investigation.  But this is, again, on par with what Attorney General Barr, who, again, is certainly not the attorney general for the people of our country.  He`s the attorney general for Trump. 

O`DONNELL:  I assume the next inspector general investigation will be the investigation of the Dunham investigation.  We will see. 

Senator Mazie Hirono --

HIRONO:  Where does it ends? 

O`DONNELL:  -- thank you very much for joining us tonight:  really appreciate it.  Thank you.

HIRONO:  Thank you. 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, today, the report by the Justice Department inspector general contained a stunning revelation of a friendship between Christopher Steele and Ivanka Trump.  That`s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  As we just discussed with Senator Hirono, today, the Justice Department inspector released his report on the FBI`s investigation into the Trump campaign`s possible involvement in Russia`s attack on our presidential election.  The inspector general found that the FBI official who ordered the investigation, the assistant director of counterterrorism had sufficient reason to do so because the information the FBI possessed, quote, reasonably indicated activity tutoring either a federal crime or a threat to national security, or both, may have occurred or may be occurring.  The report found that the Steele dossier played no role in the opening of the investigation and was not even obtained by the FBI until after the investigation was already open. 

The inspector general found that some FBI officials involved in the investigation had strong political sentiment both for and against Donald Trump.  One agent told the inspector general under oath that he was thrilled Donald Trump that he won the presidency because he believes Hillary Clinton is a criminal.  The inspector general said none of that political sentiment affected the judgment of any of the FBI officials involved in the investigation. 

And the one thing nobody could have seen coming in the inspector general`s report is Christopher Steele`s relationship with Ivanka Trump.  Christopher Steele, who cooperated with the inspector general`s investigation, quote, stated that, if anything, he was favorably disposed toward the Trump family before he began his research because he had visited a Trump family member at Trump Tower and been friendly with the family member for some years".

He described their relationship as personal. And said that he once gifted a family tartan from Scotland to the family member and that family member is Ivanka Trump. Joining our discussion is James B. Stewart, "The New York Times" Columnist and CNBC Contributor, he is the author of "Deep State: Trump FBI and the Rule of Law." You covered so much of this ground in your book. Here is the report everyone was waiting for and any reviewer of your book will not be surprised by this review.

JAMES B. STWART, AUTHOR, "DEEP STATE": No, I mean, I`m very gratified that the Inspector General essentially confirmed everything that I found. We all interviewed the same people. And I think what`s really important here is that an Independent Justice Department Watchdog who reports to Barr and who can be fired by the President has now debunked every sensational claim that President Trump has made about a deep state out to get him.

The Russia investigation was legitimate. There was adequate predicate there was no spying on the Trump campaign. None of these preposterous assertions have been borne out.

O`DONNELL: And this was an interesting sequence because the Inspector General`s Report comes out and then the Attorney General makes a statement, as opposed to the Mueller report where the Attorney General got the Mueller report, put out his statement about the Mueller report long before the Mueller report itself came out.

And the Attorney General today seems to be chasing this Inspector General`s Report saying, first of all, thank you, great work, we fully respect you, that`s the first sentence. And then he says that he believes that there was, in fact, insufficient evidence to begin this investigation. He contradicts this report.

STEWART: Well, I think what we`re seeing is that President Trump and his allies, including the Attorney General, are essentially weaponizing what is supposed to be the non-partisan job of the Inspector General as they did with the Mueller report. Mueller they did it before, now they`re doing it after, but Barr is essentially spinning these facts.

He says it was only the thinnest of evidence on which the Russia investigation was begun. That is not what this report says. It lays out all of the facts, the compelling facts that the evidence was there. The United States faced a very grave threat to its national security, and that crimes were possibly being committed.

The job of the FBI, it is essential mission is to investigate claims like that. It had to look into these things. It wasn`t thin evidence. It was really serious evidence that any American citizen would be worried about if they had been confronted with it.

O`DONNELL: And we`ve never seen an Attorney General come out and basically disagree with an Inspector General`s Report.

STEWART: No. This is unprecedented. Not only that, Barr has commissioned yet another major investigation into the origin of the Russia investigation, the so-called Durham investigation.

O`DONNELL: And John Durham put out a statement today saying we disagree with this Inspector General.

STEWART: That is also shocking, that somebody who is still conduct an investigation would rush out and criticize the Inspector General Report. Let me also add the Inspector General said he reviewed over a million documents, interviewed 700 witnesses. How much time - I mean, he has spent months of government employee time.

I can`t even calculate how much of the taxpayer money he has spent on something. And there`s essentially nothing new here. We knew the origins of the Russia investigation. We knew the Steele dossier had nothing to do with it. Yes, he found some irregularities here and there in the FISA application those should be addressed and corrected.

But even he admitted that if all of this were corrected he can`t say the result would be any different. And so now the taxpayers we`re supposed to finance another investigation into the same question? Is this going to go on forever until Trump and Barr get the answer they want?

O`DONNELL: It`s going to go on as long as Donald Trump and Barr can keep it going on. James B. Stewart, thank you very much.

STEWART: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: We really appreciate it. And when we come back we have more breaking news. "POLITICO" now reporting that the House Judiciary Committee plans to vote, actually vote on articles of impeachment on Thursday, history will be made on Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We have breaking news on top of breaking news. In addition to NBC News reporting earlier in this hour about the House of Representatives being ready to unveil two articles of impeachment tomorrow, "POLITICO" is now reporting House Democrats plan to unveil at least two articles of impeachment Tuesday, charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress according to multiple lawmakers and aids.

The Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the articles on Thursday, setting up a vote on the House floor next week to make Trump the third President in history to be impeached. The markup will be the last major step before the House votes to formally impeach Trump.

Joining our discussion now is Benjamin Wittes, Editor-In-Chief of Lawfare a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an MSNBC Legal Analyst, and Norm Orenstein a Congressional Historian and Resident Scholar at The American Enterprise Institute.

Ben, let me start with you. At this point, it seems that the Mueller report findings will not be part of the articles of impeachment. It will - at this point, the preliminary reporting is indicating these two articles of impeachment, your reaction to that?

BENJAMIN WITTES, LAWFARE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Well, I find it a little bit surprising and actually a little bit disappointing. On the one hand, you know, it`s understandable in the sense that a certain number of Democrats were always uncomfortable with the Mueller allegations as a basis for impeachment, and so it`s possible that the Democrats simply don`t have the votes on the floor to pass an article of impeachment based on the obstruction of Justice allegations in Volume II of the Mueller report.

That said, I do think it`s a very odd thing to leave out. If you`re going to impeach Donald Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress, it seems kind of conspicuous to leave out the kind of flamboyant obstructions of Justice that Mueller describes, and I do think that runs two risks.

First of all, while a criminal offense is by no means necessary for an impeachable act, I do think it`s odd to leave out the most flamboyantly criminal behavior and the most clearly criminal behavior that the President has engaged in. I also think it runs some risk of suggesting that Congress kind of doesn`t mind if Presidents obstruct criminal investigations.

So I think it`s an odd thing to do and I think it`s probably not wise on the part of Democrats, at least not to have a vote on it and let people - let their members decline if they want to support the article, but not advancing it at all seems strange to me.

O`DONNELL: Norm, your reaction to this, including the question of does the House have to worry, or do the Democrats have to worry about what precedent they will set by not bringing certain articles of impeachment?

NORM ORESTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: I`m less worried than Ben is. I think there are some compelling reasons as to why Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress are taking this route. And we don`t know for sure whether the abuse of power and obstruction charges will leave out entirely what was in the Mueller report.

But the first point is a critical one. To make this work, knowing that you`re not going to get Republicans because they have decided to ignore the evidence and stick together in opposition. You need to have nearly all of your Democrats. They`ll probably lose one or two, but keeping those Democrats from red districts who signed on after we learned about the Ukrainian situation was a critical element to this. You have to set that marker.

The second is you want to keep this focused on things that make it easy for a public to understand and understand where you`re going. That means you streamline the debate, you focus on things where you have this clear-cut evidence. So I agree with Ben that what was in the Mueller report where he basically said he was - his hands were tied by the OLC ruling, the Office of Legal Counsel ruling that you could not bring criminal charges against a sitting President.

But he made it crystal clear that it was up to Congress through impeachment to carry this forward. But right now the focus has to be on making something happen that gets Democrats down and that the public accepts, at least a large share of the public other than the diehards who are with Trump no matter what.

O`DONNELL: Yes. I think that`s the Speaker`s dilemma, is how broad should these set of articles be versus what can politically be sustained by the Caucus. I have to say, Ben, the first time I seriously discussed impeachment with a member of House of Representatives is when we discovered in the prosecution of Michael Cohen in the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors standing up in court and saying the President of the United States directed this and participated in this crime.

From that point forward, I didn`t see how that could be left out of articles of impeachment. But it seems like Donald Trump has left such a wide record that the Democrats are struggling with what to include?

WITTES: Right. So, I mean, look, I actually don`t disagree with Norm in the sense that - it`s not fatal if you leave it out. It`s not like there`s some hole that you`re in a worse position in the Senate when you have to go try case.

My point is, it`s almost a little bit aesthetic in the sense that I do think when somebody like Bob Mueller with his stature and credibility puts down a record like the one that he put down in the second volume to look at it and say, ah, we care a little bit more about Ukraine, so we`re going to kind of leave it out, does send a signal. And I do worry about that signal.

That said, I`m not the one who has the count votes, you know? And Nancy Pelosi has to keep her Caucus together. There is a kind of least common denominator factor that is operative here and there is a simplicity virtue as well to say we`re going to focus now early on Ukraine. So while, I wouldn`t do it, I wouldn`t describe myself as comfortable with it. I`m not. I`m not shaking with rage about it either.

O`DONNELL: And Norm - go ahead, Norm.

ORENSTEIN: You know, another element to this, which is there are so many scandals and so many potential articles of impeachment that you could stack them as high as the Washington monument. You`ve got all of the corruption and kleptocracy, the degree-degree to which he has violated over and over again the two emoluments clauses, the shocking lack of security down at Mar-a-Lago where Chinese agents and others were roaming freely with a completely unguarded system with an internet that was open to virtually anybody.

You have the President making calls on his unsecured cell phone. You`ve got the kleptocracy and corruption involving all the members of his cabinet, of his family. You have the relationship with MBS and the covering up of the brutal murder and dismemberment of "The Washington Post" journalist.

One of the difficulties here is when you start to move down that road, where do you stop? In some ways, having that narrow focus may make it just a little bit easier to make it stick.

O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein and Benjamin Wittes, thank you for joining us on this very important night. Really appreciate it.

ORESNTEIN: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, today`s impeachment hearing, how it affected the first ever meeting today between Vladimir Putin and President Zelensky of Ukraine. That is next. But first, with just 14 days of Christmas shopping left, we want to remind you about kids in need of desks, the partnership that I created with UNICEF and MSNBC to deliver desks to schools in Malawi where the kids have never seen desks in their schools.

You can go to lastworddesks.msnbc.com and give a desk in the name of anyone on your holiday gift list and UNICEF will send that person a notification of the gift that you have given in their name. You can choose to contribute any amount toward the purchase of a desk or to a scholarship fund for girls to attend high school in Malawi where public high school is not free. No contribution is too small. Thank you for your kindness.

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BARRY BERKE, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL: Ukraine was pressured then and still is pressured. They are desperately in need of the United States` support as they battle the threat of Russia. So of course they have to be careful what they said, but contemporaneous documents, emails, texts from the Ukrainian officials themselves show the pressure they felt, show they knew what President Trump was doing, showed what they had to do.

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O`DONNELL: On the same day that the President of Ukraine was the center of an impeachment investigation on the House of Representatives, he met today for the first time with Vladimir Putin. That meeting took place when the President of the United States was in the center of an impeachment investigation because of his phone call with the President of Ukraine.

The White House says now confirmed that tomorrow possibly at the very same time that the House is revealing articles of impeachment against President Trump, President Trump will be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the White House. The last time that Foreign Minister Lavrov was at the White House was the day after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will join us next to consider what President Trump will be saying to Russia`s Foreign Minister as the House is revealing articles of impeachment against him tomorrow. That`s next.

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REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D-RI) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Am I correct that the witnesses had to appear before your committee confirmed that there was no credible explanation withholding the military aid and that it was the fact against our national security interest to do so?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY: Everyone agreed it was against our national security interest to do so.

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O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, he is an MSNBC National Security Analyst. And Ambassador McFaul, I want to get your reaction to the Russian Foreign Minister meeting tomorrow at the White House in the Oval Office with President Trump. That`s his second time.

President Zelensky still hasn`t gotten that meeting and Donald Trump apparently, apparently may be voted articles of impeachment in committee this week because of his interactions with President Zelensky.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Incredibly shocking, coincidental, but the bottom line is 2 versus 0 that you just pointed out Lawrence. It is customary, I can tell you, because I served at the White House with President Obama to have a courtesy call with the Foreign Minister of Russia in the beginning of a term.

It is highly unusual to have a second return of the Foreign Minister. I think in eight years of the Obama Administration Foreign Minister Lavrov only visited that once, and it underscores the fact that President Zelensky has yet to have an Oval Office visit with the President of the United States with the leader of the free world.

O`DONNELL: Why are they having this meeting tomorrow? What could it possibly be about?

MCFAUL: I think it`s shocking. I sometimes wonder what are they thinking? What is Secretary of State Pompeo thinking? He`s literally flying from Paris, from the meeting that Mr. President Zelensky and President Putin are at. President Zelensky could easily be flying from Paris to have this meeting.

And instead we`ll have the Lavrov readout of the meeting between them. I just think optically it`s bad. In terms of the substance, there`s nothing big going on in U.S./Russia relations right now, so I just think it`s highly inappropriate. Both the substance and the optics I think are bad.

O`DONNELL: Well, what any other President would be doing is pushing the Russians around on the way they`re dealing with Ukraine and this war that they`re conducting with Ukraine, 14,000 Ukrainian casualties already. We know Donald Trump is not going - probably not going to talk about that at all.

MCFAUL: Well, that`s exactly it. If President Trump stood next to Lavrov and said I`m glad you guys made progress yesterday, because they did make a little bit of progress today in their meeting, but I urge you to leave Ukraine and protect and leave the sovereignty of Ukraine, we`re not going to recognize Crimea, all the obvious talking points that every national security expert I know, Democrat or Republican, agrees to, that would be something worthwhile to do, but my suspicion is that`s not the conversation you`re going to have between President Trump and Minister Lavrov.

I just hope they avoid all the happy talking giggling and slapping of the backs that they had at the first meeting, especially given what is going on with respect to our relationship with Ukraine right now. That would be highly inappropriate.

O`DONNELL: Ambassador, I just want you to take a moment to reflect on where we are in history and where we are in the American history with Russia. Here it is, basically a problem that originated with Russia, which is the Russian attack on our election. This has led to what is about to be the impeachment of a President of the United States who became obsessed with trying to shift the blame away from Russia to Ukraine, and at the same time obsessed with trying to get Ukrainian influence in the next election by getting a Ukrainian investigation of Joe Biden announced. The region of the world where you`ve spent your life and your expertise is now bringing this President to the verge of impeachment.

MCFAUL: And all because of what he said and did. What is so amazing about all of this going back to even 2014 to start when there was real confrontation, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea and then the 2016 intervention, it would have been so easy for President-elect Trump or after the inauguration to say the Russians meddled in our affairs and I`m going to make sure it never happens again.

And everybody would have rallied to him. I would have rallied to him and I would have said him that is the appropriate attack. Instead he has time and time again against all facts, let`s just be clear, there`s no facts to support this contention, said that Russia did not meddle in our elections. And then he`s taken it a step further to say that Ukraine did, and I honestly to this day after many times talking to you for years and years watching this story do not understand President Trump`s obsession with protecting Putin when I don`t think it`s even in the President`s own personal interest. And as a result of that, he is now going to likely face articles of impeachment tomorrow.

O`DONNELL: Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MCFAUL: Thank you Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s "Last Word".

 

 

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