LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And you know it`s December because in December, they start markups at 7:00 p.m. because they`re watching the calendar tick down to the Christmas recess. And whether it`s legislation or it turns out in this case impeachment, they start processes at 7:00 p.m., and in the normal section of the calendar, they just start in the next day at 10:00 a.m. But this is -- they`re getting a head start on what will become their work also on Thursday.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes, exactly. They set their meeting dates for 7:00 tomorrow night and then 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Now, I don`t know how long they`re going to go tomorrow night, but there might not be all that much time between those two meetings.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and the -- it`s kind of unlimited time when you get into this markup mode normally, and everyone involved sort of has an incentive to get it done as quickly as possible when you go into markup mode. But I don`t know what the Republican incentive is going to be when the Judiciary Committee convenes on this. They`ll apparently have an opportunity to try to amend the articles of impeachment. Their amendments will be strike it, strike the whole thing. And so, maybe it`ll be quick. Who knows?
MADDOW: It`s going to be parliamentary, my friend.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have a member of Congress in our first discussion here tonight to talk about what exactly he expects tomorrow night as the Judiciary Committee goes forward.
MADDOW: Well done. Thanks, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, on the day articles of impeachment were introduced against Donald Trump, he gave Russia`s foreign minister what he continues to refuse to give to the president of Ukraine, an Oval Office meeting. We`ll discuss that meeting at the end of this hour. The former undersecretary of state, Rick Stengel, and John Heilemann.
The last time Donald Trump met with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, it was the day after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. This time, the day after Donald Trump`s meeting with the Russian foreign minister, the House of Representatives is going to be debating articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.
Donald Trump did not quite make it to a thousand days in office before the House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. And now, 1,054 days into the Trump presidency, the House of Representatives has put it in writing, he betrayed the nation. He`s a threat to national security and the Constitution, and he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office. All that appears in writing now on this 1,054th day of the Trump presidency in articles of impeachment.
Most days in the lives of the members of House of Representatives in the United States Senate are a blur of business as usual rushing from one meeting to another, attending hearings not exciting enough for television, squeezing time for campaign fund-raising where they can continue to hold the job where they can only occasionally feel themselves contributing anything that actually helps move the government in a better direction. Most days in the lives of members of Congress won`t make it into their memoirs. But every once in a very great while, sometimes only once in a generation, there comes a day when it`s all about the oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president`s oath of office appears to mean very little to him. But the articles put forward today will give us a chance to show that we will defend the Constitution and that our oath means something to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler signed his name to House Resolution 755 submitted to House Representatives, quote: Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The articles of impeachment summarized the case against President Trump in just over eight pages. There are two articles of impeachment. Article one is abuse of power. Article two is obstruction of Congress.
Article one says Donald J. Trump has abused the powers of the presidency in that using the power of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the nation. He has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit. These actions were consistent with President Trump`s previous invitations of foreign interference in the United States elections.
In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections. President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.
And article 2, obstruction of Congress says: Donald J. Trump has directed the unprecedented categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its sole power of impeachment. President Trump has abused the powers of the presidency in a manner offensive to and subversive of the Constitution, and assumes to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate high crimes and misdemeanors. President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.
And each article of impeachment ends with the same sentence: President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee explained why the House of Representatives has decided not to use the courts to pursue the testimony of Trump administration officials who have defied their subpoenas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Now, some would argue why don`t you just wait? Why don`t you just wait until you get these witnesses the White House refuses to produce? Why don`t you just wait until you get the documents the White House refuses to turn over?
And people should understand what that argument really means. It has taken us eight months to get a lower court ruling that Don McGahn has no absolute right to defy Congress, eight months for one court decision.
If it takes us another eight months to get a second court or maybe a Supreme Court decision, people need to understand that is not the end of the process. It comes back to us, and we ask questions because he no longer has absolute immunity and then he claims something else that his answers are privileged and we have to go back to court for another 8 or 16 months.
The argument why don`t you just wait amounts to this: why don`t you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what that argument amounts to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: As Rachel and I were just discussing, the House Judiciary Committee will begin considering the articles of impeachment at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night and the committee expects to continue debating the articles of impeachment on Thursday before voting on those articles of impeachment.
Leading off our discussion on this important night are Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Eugene Robinson is with us. He`s an associate editor and Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The Washington Post". He`s an MSNBC political analyst.
And John Heilemann is with us. He`s a national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He is the editor in chief of "The Recount".
Congressman Krishnamoorthi, can you tell us how this markup is going to work in the House Judiciary Committee? The audience should understand that the normal process in a markup is kind of open-ended and everyone involved can offer amendments, and this is usually to legislation, offer amendments to legislation. Markups for impeachment might be different in some ways.
What do you know about how this will progress through the committee?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, it should progress in the way that most markups do. And markup is just in my opinion kind of a fancy word for saying this is an amendment process.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: So people on both sides are free to offer amendments, and, you know, my supposition is that folks on the other side of the aisle are going to offer an amendment that will likely strike the entire substance of the articles and perhaps replace it with nothing or something that looks far different than anything that the present article resemble. But the way it works is that they have a chance to offer amendments, make comments in support of their amendment, and then offer it up for a vote. And at that time, folks do a voice vote and then usually a roll call vote where they actually press the buttons or actually say aye or nay, and the roll call is then tallied.
O`DONNELL: Are you aware of any Democratic amendments that might be offered in the committee? Might any Democrat try to offer an amendment to add something, say, from the Mueller report as an additional article of impeachment, or to add something about the president being named as having directed and participated in the crimes of Michael Cohen as an additional article?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I`m not presently aware of such amendments. But the markup process is one that is basically liberal in the sense it allows for people to offer up amendments on both sides.
O`DONNELL: And, Congressman, you mentioned the likelihood of a Republican amendment to simply strike the articles of impeachment. I`m sure that will be offered. I can`t quite imagine what else will be offered. I mean, that amendment will be offered to the committee. It`ll obviously be voted down on a party line basis.
And after that I`m not sure what wording in articles of impeachment Republicans would want to change because that`s really all that`s left available to you is changing the wording within the articles once you`ve already tried to strike them.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, that`s a very good point, Lawrence, because it`s possible although not probable that Republicans might try to alter the wording in other ways, maybe to offer what they believe to be a poison pill or language that might not otherwise sit well with Democrats. But the political problem for them is that in that case, they`d probably defy the will of the president whose as you know doesn`t want to see any this. And so, they might put themselves in the box that way.
All that being said, it`ll be very interesting to see how the Republicans respond. I would not put it past them to make long speeches and generally engage in semantics.
O`DONNELL: And, Eugene Robinson, I think we can guarantee the Republicans will use their time with the microphones as long as possible and absolutely as loud as possible. Loud seems to be the rule for a lot of Republicans in the Judiciary Committee.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, a lot of table pounding I think and shouting and hooting and hollering. But, you know, in the end, as you know, they`re not going to get the amendment that streaks the entire article. And it is unclear what else they would offer.
You know, it`s fascinating. It`s an amazing day and the person who brought us here was not Jerry Nadler or Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi. It was Donald Trump. Really, if you remember, Nancy Pelosi and many of the Democratic caucus had decided that as Pelosi always said, that Trump wasn`t worth this, he had probably done impeachable things but he wasn`t worth putting the country through this.
And then he did the Ukraine scheme, the Ukraine bribery scheme capped by the phone call and then the whistle-blower came forward. And immediately, the whole thing changed. And it became not unlikely there would be impeachment, but really it became inevitable. He forced the hand of the House. And the House had to respond.
O`DONNELL: And, John Heilemann, Nancy Pelosi, back when she was saying Donald Trump wasn`t worth it as an impeachment, which is an odd thing to say about the president and impeachment, she also said something else that sounded strange at the time which was Donald Trump will self-impeach.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes.
O`DONNELL: Now we know what she meant.
HEILEMANN: I mean, look, you think about the behavior that brought us here, as Gene says, it`s not just that he did these things that compelled the House to impeach him, it`s that he got away with the Russia thing, he got through Mueller, you had Mueller on the Hill, and the next day, he picks up the phone and calls Zelensky, it still is the craziest thing that happened in this entire scandal, he was doing the very next day.
I would say, though, it is true, Donald Trump self-impeached, but I also think that what -- if you think about what happened today, that we did not know 24 hours ago was there would only be two articles of impeachment, and that was very much I think tells you a lot about the power of Nancy Pelosi who from the beginning of this scandal when she realized that she was headed down the path to impeachment said to people privately in her caucus -- the congressman will probably affirm this -- said, we`re going to be done by Christmas, the House is not going to be voting on this in an election year and we are going to have this be narrow. We`re not going to let this be sprawling. We are not going to take on Mueller claims.
And there was a lot of debate, fractious debate in the Democratic Caucus over this last weekend about, should we have three, four, five, some people wanted seven or eight articles of impeachment and to go back and bring out those very justified claims of obstruction of justice that Mueller laid out in his report. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff have -- whether they`re proven right or wrong, I do not know, but they have been very clear what they wanted in this and they got it.
O`DONNELL: And, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, what can you tell us about the party`s move to eventually agree on just the two articles? How recently was there still consideration of the possibility of more than just two?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think there`s been a healthy discussion of this, you know, until very recently. And I think that, you know, basically I think there are very good arguments to go both ways. At the end of the day, as you noted -- you know, basically these articles of impeachment are very simple and clear eight pages plus, basically eight pages.
And you can distill very quickly the wrongdoing at issue, and most people understand it. Obviously, if you put other articles, including portions of the Mueller report within this particular framework and add additional articles, it requires a lot more explanation, a lot more witnesses. That`s not to say those pieces of information can`t serve as a backdrop for explaining the pattern of abuse of power or obstruction. But right now, they are not stand alone articles in of and themselves.
O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, in the impeachments we`ve seen in the past, one of the strategic reasons, along with substantive reasons, that a larger number of articles was brought, was to give to the president`s party the members who were going to vote for at least one article, was that -- they actually wanted to give them an opportunity to vote against an article or two, because you only need one to remove the president. And so, they kind of left that in there where, you know, here`s an article you can vote against. And then the Judiciary Committee, there was only one Republican who voted for all the articles of impeachment against President Nixon, for example. And there were several other Republicans who voted for some and not all.
We don`t see that here and maybe that`s because of the assumption at this point there will be no Republican votes.
ROBINSON: Right, and who could argue with that assumption? I mean, the real answer to your question is that was then, this is now. Today is the Republican Party, and it seemed crystal clear it was very unlikely, vanishingly unlikely that were able to get Republican votes for any article of impeachment against Donald Trump.
Now, I mean, look at -- look at the obstruction of Congress article. I mean, there`s nothing in there that that you could even begin to argue with. You couldn`t begin to put up a defense on that. It`s very clear that he`s obstructed Congress in his impeachment inquiry down the line.
Yet, we live in this sort of post-truth Trumpest world in which the Republican Party has to somehow say that`s not all true when in fact it obviously is all true. So, it just wasn`t worth putting in an article just so it could be knocked off by Republicans who then wanted to vote for one or two other articles. That wasn`t going to happen.
HEILEMANN: I`ll just tell you something else super important about having only two articles was that the more articles you have, the longer the Senate trial was going to go.
HEILEMANN: It`s going to be a more complicated trial.
And again Pelosi, Schiff, trying to keep it high on the politics of this, trying to not let this drag out into the election year because they know Democrats are vulnerable on the argument that let this be subtle to the ballot box.
So, one of the things they will try to focus on was for something that all Democrats can agree on, number one. Number two, something that could make the Senate trial as compact as possible, especially if you believe that there will be, and there`s no change Trump will be convicted. There`d be fewer Republican votes. Let`s get it over with I think was the argument that ran the day here.
O`DONNELL: Congressman, before you go, can you confirm that thinking in the caucus?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I wouldn`t necessarily say that was like the uniform thinking. But what I think say is that there`s broad consensus that these two articles are supported by overwhelming evidence. They`re very clear. And for the sake of clarity, I think these articles are written very well. And we`ll see where we go from here.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Eugene Robinson, thank you both for starting us off.
John Heilemann is going to stay with us for more later in the program.
And when we come back, our next guest Ezra Klein, has been writing about impeachment for more than two years now. He will join us on this historic day, next.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is the only president who has created more reasons for impeachment than the Congress knows what to do with. Donald Trump is not being impeached for being identified by federal prosecutors in a criminal case as the person who directed and participated in the crimes that Michael Cohen committed while paying off a porn star to help Donald Trump win the presidency. He`s not getting impeached for that.
Discussions of the possible impeachment of Donald Trump began on this program then first year of the Trump presidency because the president was so manifestly incompetent and in obvious public violation of his oath of office repeatedly. Before the end of Donald Trump`s first year in office, Ezra Klein wrote an important piece entitled "The case for normalizing impeachment. Impeaching an unfit president has consequences but leaving one in office could be worse."
And joining us now is Ezra Klein. He is editor at large at Vox, and host of the podcast "Impeachment Explained".
And, Ezra, since the first year of the Trump presidency, many of us have been contemplating possible articles of impeachment. Now we have them, and there are only two.
Your reaction to today`s articles as published by the House Judiciary Committee.
EZRA KLEIN, VOX EDITOR-AT-LARGE: So what Pelosi is doing -- what the House Judiciary Committees are doing is keeping this pretty narrow. And I don`t politically it`s a bad move.
You mentioned that article I wrote in 2017, the case of normalizing impeachment. The argument there was that impeachment can be a remedy for an executive who`s not fit to carry out the duties of the office, right? You have the 25th Amendment is which is for incapacitation, but when you have somebody writing and composing bizarre tweets early in the morning about getting into a nuclear war with North Korea, somehow you have to wonder, maybe we should fire the crazy guy in charge.
I want to be very clear, that is not what House Democrats are doing. They did not listen to people like me who suggested that possibly this kind of behavior is impeachable. And I`m not saying, by the way, politically, they should have. Very clearly, the polling was not there for that.
But this is not normalized impeachment. This is impeachment for literally exactly what the Founders imagined impeachment would be for. There are debates at the constitutional convention about why we needed impeachment. Some said we didn`t need anything like that, and the argument for it or the one that carried the day at the very least if you didn`t have it, then presidents could use all the powers of their office to do anything they needed to do to get re-elected.
What Donald Trump is doing is exactly why the Founders created this power in the first place -- to not exercise it would be a breach of constitutional authority.
O`DONNELL: And the past impeachments that we`ve seen have been for things that the president has done. No one was suggesting that if you leave Bill Clinton in office, he`ll do these things again and commit perjury again on a civil case that`s about private matters. No one was suggesting that if you live Richard Nixon in office, he`ll order -- they`ll have another break-in of the Democratic campaign headquarters.
But this impeachment, these articles are saying, Donald Trump must be impeached for what he has done, and he must be impeached for what he will obviously continue to do.
KLEIN: I think that`s actually the most important part of the impeachment article. So, as you note, it`s on page five, people should really read this, by the way. It`s nine pages. It`s very clearly written.
On page five, there is a line. And I`m paraphrasing from memory but they say that you need to remove Donald Trump from office. He must be impeached because he`s made clear if he`s not, he will continue to abuse his powers of office in exactly this way.
That impeachment in this construct is not simply a retroactive punishment. It is a preventative measure. You were trying to keep him from doing this again. You`re trying to keep him from distorting elections in this way again.
I think that`s genuinely important. Remember, this all comes after the Mueller report. This all comes after all the activity and breaches of constitutional obligation that were conducted there. Mueller did not find confirmed evidence of collusion. But what he found was a fair amount of obstruction. But even after all of that, even after all that concern about collusion with Russia, afterwards, Donald Trump turned around, having basically left off the hook in the aftermath of the Mueller report, he turned around and did exactly what he was accused of there with Ukraine, right? He moved arguably from collusion all the way up to extortion.
There`s no reason to think given how he`s acted, or how he`s acted for the rest of his career that if you let him off the hook for this, he will not simply double down and double down again. When he gets away with things, he doesn`t say, whew, just like barely escaped that, I`m not going to do that again. He says, great. That means it is a useable strategy and I will try that again.
So, given that what he`s doing is actually distorting the potential to have free and fair American election, given that what he`s doing is undermining our ability to actually make choices of political accountability in this country, he would leave him in there to continue to attack America`s political system given the behavior he`s shown thus far, it is wild. It`s just a wild thing that the Republican Party seems willing to say this is all just completely OK.
O`DONNELL: Just to go to that line on page five, the actual word for word quote of it. President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.
And that, Ezra, gives -- also gives the Democrats that urgency about why are you doing it now when you have a presidential election that`s less than a year away.
KLEIN: I keep saying this, but this almost worked. Arguably to some degree it did work. We are having some of this conversation at least about Joe and Hunter Biden, but it is very easy to imagine him getting away with all of this, right? We already know the Ukrainian president was planning on announcement on CNN that he was opening up these investigations. And the only reason that didn`t happen is the entire scheme began to leak out and it became a liability to make that.
So, it is very easy to imagine a world where we woke up one morning and on page A1 of "The New York Times", it just had the headline, Ukrainian prosecutor opens up investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden for corruption, and Donald Trump would have made -- it would have all worked out for him.
And by the way, if he just had it, if he had just had staff who was maybe a little bit more competent and he and his own discussion with Zelensky had not repeatedly said Joe Biden`s name, had just said that corruption we talked about, you`re going to investigate it, take care of it, right?
Had just allowed it to be just allowed it to be a little bit more wink- wink, nod-nod. The idea that given this clear of a breach we would as a country, as individuals do so little about it is, I don`t know what more you would have to do to throw the door open to the people who will come after Donald Trump, who will look at all this and say, oh there are no consequences so long as I can keep my party behind me.
And that`s an incredibly dangerous prerogative to set, for a President to set in American politics.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Ezra Klein, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
KLEIN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back as bad as the Trump presidency has been, it could have been much worse. Imagine if Bill Barr had been Donald Trump`s first and only Attorney General. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Imagine the alternative Trump history in which Jeff Sessions was not the first United States Senator who endorsed Donald Trump for President and so Jeff Sessions did not become Donald Trump`s first Attorney General and William Barr did.
If that happened, there would have been no Mueller investigation, none because William Barr would not recused himself from anything and when Donald Trump fired James Comey, William Barr would have cheered him on and not appointed Robert Mueller, special counsel as Rod Rosenstein was able to do because Jeff Sessions had recused himself.
Today William Barr cheers on Donald Trump in everything Donald Trump does and says and to do that William Barr has to do what every Republican in Washington has to do. Ignore evidence, distort other evidence and when necessary, lie about the evidence.
Attorney General Barr did all those things today in an exclusive interview with NBC`s Pete Williams. William Barr said, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever "in most campaigns there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in."
That is absolutely not true. That is a lie that the Attorney General told today to try to help Donald Trump. He also said he disagreed with the Justice Department`s Inspector General that there was sufficient evidence for the FBI to start an investigation of the Trump campaign`s possible involvement with Russia`s attack on our election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think when you step back here and say, what was this all based on, it`s not sufficient. Remember, there was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet this campaign and the President`s administration has been dominated by this investigation into it that turns out to be completely baseless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The investigation that the Attorney General now calls baseless, delivered criminal convictions Donald Trump`s first national security adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Trump`s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Paul Manafort`s deputy who was also part of the Trump campaign, Rick Gates.
Trump`s political adviser Roger Stone and others along with a dozen Russian military officers who conducted these cyberattacks on our election act, that is to say indictments of those officers, not convictions because they are of course are being harbored in Russia by Vladimir Putin and will never face those charges.
Attorney General Barr described the Inspector General`s investigation in a way that Attorney General knows is absolutely not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: He starts with limited information. He can only talk to people who are essentially there as employees and he`s limited to the information generally in the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Not true. William Barr knows that the Inspector General spoke to Christopher Steele who is not an employee of the Justice Department or the FBI. When you knowingly say things like that, that are not true, that`s what we all call a lie.
I`m sorry but there`s nothing else to call it. Why did William Barr do that again today for Donald Trump? After this break, I`ll ask Chuck Rosenberg, a former FBI official and Justice Department official and John Heilemann will join our discussion.
O`DONNELL: Here`s what the Attorney General of the United States said today about the Justice Department`s investigation headed by Robert Mueller of Russia`s attack on our election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: I think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think based on a completely bogus narratives, that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press and I think that there were gross abuses of FISA and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior FBI official and a former U.S. attorney. He was the former counsel to Robert Mueller at the FBI when Robert Mueller was FBI director. Chuck now hosts the MSNBC podcast, The Oath.
And John Heilemann is back with us to join this discussion. Chuck, your reaction to what you heard the Attorney General say today in that interview.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: Lawrence, I`m mystified. Let me tell you why. But first, let me back up a bit, let me tell you what the Inspector General found because the top line findings by the Inspector General are really important to understanding what the Attorney General said.
The Inspector General found first, that there was no political bias, no political motive, no improper motive in the FBI`s investigation of Russian interference, nor in their opening of the case and with respect to opening the case, that the predication was proper.
Now predication is sort of a fancy legal word. What it means is basically this. An FBI agent cannot open a case based on a hunch or suspicion or fevered dream or because she doesn`t like her next door neighbor, she needs some quantum of proof, she needs some evidence, a threshold, we call that predication.
And Inspector General found that they had, that they absolutely had predication to open this case. So for the Attorney General to say that that is not true, that the Inspector General was wrong and the FBI acted improperly or didn`t have predication or threshold of evidence, it`s just completely false.
That`s not what the Inspector General found and the Attorney General offered absolutely no evidence other than saying so, to rebut the Inspector General`s findings. It`s really mystifying.
O`DONNELL: What about when he says things like the Inspector General was limited to only talking to people who are employees of the Justice Department and the FBI, when we know in the Inspector General`s report that isn`t true?
How can he say something like that?
ROSENBERG: Yes, it`s absolutely untrue so here`s the difference when I was a federal prosecutor and I was working with the grand jury, I could compel people to appear before the grand jury. The Inspector General doesn`t have that compulsory process but he can ask anybody he wants to come, talk to them and often and in this case, many people from outside the Department of Justice were asked.
Some said yes, some said no but the Inspector General clearly talked to people who were outside of the Department of Justice, outside of the FBI and could approach and ask anybody that they wanted to.
So again I`m mystified. I`m disappointed. I`m just heartened by the things that the Attorney General has said. He has characterized the Mueller work in a way that was untrue and he`s characterizing the Inspector General`s work in a way that`s just simply untrue.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what FBI director, Chris Wray said today about the FBI`s work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you have any evidence that the FBI targeted Trump campaign unfairly?
CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I don`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so John Heilemann, that got him referred to as the current FBI Director in a Donald Trump tweet today where Donald Trump did not like that one bit.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Can I tell you how much I admire and respect and love Chuck Rosenberg?
O`DONNELL: Because of his restraint and the way he handles these questions.
HEILEMANN: I do. I love all those things about him. He`s a brilliant man and he knows more about these things than I ever will. I`m not mystified by them.
O`DONNELL: I knew you would go there.
HEILEMANN: I`m not mystified by it the least. The Attorney General from the moment he walked into this job has behaved in a - as a ruthless relentless political hack and a thug and who has behaved not as the Attorney General of the United States.
You`re only mystified if you think that - if you`re still maintaining the fiction in your mind that we - that he is an Attorney General in the classic mode of what Attorney General`s been in every administration of our lifetimes.
There have been good ones, there have been bad ones. There have been some pretty bad ones but the - what he did with - he mischaracterizing the Mueller report is consistent with what he`s done throughout. He made a travesty of the Mueller report and he continues to lie on Donald Trump`s behalf at every opportunity.
And I think it`s not surprising to me in the least and I think the most terrifying parts about this are not just that he lies so gratuitously when asked whether Ukraine interfered in the election and he says, I don`t know, I haven`t looked into that.
Christopher Wray, the entire consensus of the American Intelligence establishment said in Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, Republicans, everybody was access - who has access and preview too high level confidential, the most top secret intelligence product to the United States which includes Bill Barr knows there is no evidence that Ukraine interfered in this election.
Yet Bill Barr continues to pretend, well, I haven`t looked into it, I don`t really know. He will say that Russia intervened, good for him but he continues to lie about this matter and the most terrifying thing, I want to come back to is this notion that this outside probe that he`s running.
He promised us that we could come to a crescendo of some kind this spring which is telegraphing, given the political intent and the kind of political behavior that we`ve seen from him, that we were going to see Bill Barr trying to interfere in the American election come this spring when he`s going to bring out up a piece of cooked - cooked investigation to try to advance Donald Trump`s political interest.
I would bet every dollar in my bank to see that whenever this report comes out.
O`DONNELL: Yes, Chuck, quick last word about that. That was odd for the Attorney General to offer some timing on - exact timing as he did in that Interview with Pete about when this next report that he has commissioned by another U.S. attorney will come up.
ROSENBERG: Right. Real investigations Lawrence, are done when they`re done, not when someone you know requires them to be done and by the way, I keep Johns point. The reason I`m mystified is because I`ve worked for and under many Attorneys General, from Democratic and Republican administrations and I`ve just never seen this behavior.
There`s probably a better word for it and I`ll leave it to John because he`s a lot smarter than me but it makes me sad.
HEILEMANN: Now we agree.
O`DONNELL: Don`t ever let John Heilemann put words in your mouth. Chuck Rosenberg, who John Heilemann and I, both respect as highly as we possibly could, thank you very much for joining us tonight. John`s going to stick with us.
And when we come back, on the day the House representatives announced Articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, President Trump gave the Russian foreign minister, the White House meeting that the President of Ukraine was so eager to get when he was on the phone with Donald Trump and Donald Trump said to him, I would like you to do us a favor though. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: So who are you going to believe about what happened in the Oval Office today between Donald Trump and the Russian foreign minister. The Trump White House issued a public statement claiming, President Trump warned against any Russian attempts to interfere and United States elections. The Russian foreign minister then said that did not happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The White House just put out a statement about your meeting with President Trump saying that the President did warn about - warn you not to interfere in U.S. elections and also urged you to try and settle your conflict or the situation with Ukraine. I just want to know if you did discuss these two items and if so, can you tell us about the discussion?
SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We haven`t even actually discussed elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now he`s calling Donald Trump a liar. After this break, former Undersecretary of State, Richard Stengel will tell us who to believe about what happened in the Oval office today between Donald Trump and Sergei Lavrov and hint, no one.
O`DONNELL: A senior representative of the government that attacked our last Presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency was welcomed into the Trump White House, today and at the Trump`s state department where he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAVROV(through translator): We have highlighted once again that all speculations about our alleged interference in domestic processes of the United States are baseless. There are no facts that would support that. We did not see these facts. No one has given us this proof because simply it does not exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now Richard Stengel, former Undersecretary of state in the Obama administration and the author of the new book, `Information Wars.` Rick, the part we showed before the commercial where there`s Lavrov saying, he`s told that Donald Trump issued a statement claiming that he talked to him and told him, don`t you dare interfere in our election and Lavrov says, oh no, he didn`t, we never even discussed it.
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE UNDER OBAMA: Lavrov is the pro of pros. By the way if you were writing the screenplay version of the Trump presidency and you said on the day that President Trump was indicted by the House on impeachment charges, on the day that the Inspector General released a report that saying the Russia investigation is fine, that he was meeting with the Russian foreign minister, you`d say, that`s just too unlikely.
It couldn`t possibly happen and the fact is he has no NSC, nobody to say, Sir, I don`t think it`s such a good idea for you to meet with the foreign minister and by the way, why is the head of state meeting with Russian Prime Minister.
Vladimir Putin doesn`t meet with Mike Pompeo when he comes to Moscow so it`s very curious and very strange. Lavrov has played all of these guys. He`s lasted for years and years and they`re sort of toying with Trump. I mean they do not admit under any circumstances that they interfered in the U.S. selection at all. They won`t even go there one inch.
O`DONNELL: But like Pompeo today sitting beside him did say you know, I said don`t interfere in the election. I gave that warning so Lavrov couldn`t stand there and say no, he didn`t say that to me. Lavrov wouldn`t even do Trump the favor of saying yes, he did say that.
STENGEL: You know, they don`t--
O`DONNELL: And by the way, it`s very unlikely Trump said it, right? I mean less than one percent chance that he said it.
STENGEL: Yes, so they don`t want to seem like Trump`s errand boy. The other thing that`s interesting by the way, is Sergei Lavrov is absolutely fluent in English. He speaks better English than the President of the United States.
The fact that he did that news conference in Russian also shows that he wants to distance sums himself from the U.S. a little bit. He wants to seem like he`s Russian rather than a crony of Donald Trump.
O`DONNELL: And when Lavrov and Trump are in that room, what possible agenda could they have today?
STENGEL: You know, it`s so strange and you`d know this of course Lawrence is that a bilateral with a Russian foreign minister and the U.S. President is prepared for months and weeks and you have deliverables and you have all of these things.
I mean Trump is just not prepared for this. He just kind of wings it and brings stuff up, the thing about the Russians is they are ultra-prepared. They know exactly what they want to get out of every meeting and so one reason that it`s scary that we don`t know what happened there is we don`t know what Lavrov extracted from Trump in that meeting.
O`DONNELL: And it`s possible that Trump doesn`t even know what Lavrov extracted from him, right? The way that those exchanges go.
STENGEL: Yes and - and again, I`m not exactly sure what it does for the Russians, it makes Trump still look like a toady like he`s--
O`DONNELL: Well, they love going in that room when they know that the President of Ukraine is not allowed in that room.
STENGEL: Yes exactly, and they love having Trump meeting with the foreign minister. He`s not even opening the word of Putin, he`s foreign minister.
O`DONNELL: And surely Trump doesn`t understand that - that status imbalance that he`s engaging in.
O`DONNELL: Rich Stengel gets tonight`s Last Word and the Eleventh Hour with Brian Williams starts now.