AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: I was going to say, for me and you, it feels like morning, night, they`re all just bleeding into each at this point. Ali, thank you.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: I see you on the course tomorrow morning.
MOHYELDIN: Exactly. I`ll bring the clubs.
VELSHI: See you, buddy.
MOHYELDIN: See you, bud.
VELSHI: Hello there, everyone. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin, in for Lawrence O`Donnell tonight.
The first poll conducted post-impeachment shows a 9-point advantage for the Senate convicting and removing Donald Trump from office. We`re going to have the very latest impeachment news in just a moment.
Plus, how divided are evangelicals over Donald Trump? This week, Christmas week, some prominent evangelicals have come out in support of removing Donald Trump from office. We will talk to the author of, believe me, the evangelical road to Donald Trump about how significant this is and what impact it could have on Republican lawmakers and voters going forward.
And at the end of the hour, a Kentucky legal scholar has a warning for Mitch McConnell. He will get tonight`s last word.
But we begin this hour with Donald Trump feeling the pressure of impeachment as his Senate trial remains unsettled. The president used his Christmas holiday to do what else but rant about impeachment on what else, Twitter, blasting Democrats as hypocrites and falsely claiming the process is a scam.
Donald Trump`s Twitter tirade began just hours after calling for greater unity and respect in a Christmas message to Americans. So much for that. Barely lasted a few hours.
The angry tweeting continued today as Donald Trump lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her decision to delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate without any assurances of a fair trial from Majority Leader McConnell.
But it`s not just Democrats that have the president worried. Tonight, there are new signs of a potentially significant crack in Trump`s impeachment wall. In an interview over the holiday, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized Mitch McConnell for vowing to coordinate Trump`s impeachment trial with the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): When I heard that I was disturbed. If we are tasked as the full Senate to do impartial justice under the Constitution and the law, then to me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so I -- I heard what Leader McConnell had said. I happen to think that has further confused the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So Lisa Murkowski is one of a few key Republican senators who could break with her party and actually vote with Democrats to at the very minimum set rules that could lay the ground work for a legitimate and fair trial. Senate Democrats would need only four Republicans to vote with them in order to overrule Mitch McConnell and call witnesses that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed, among them, acting White House Chief of Staff Mulvaney, former national security advisor John Bolton just to name a few.
Now, as "The New York Times" points out, only a handful of defections would force the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to switch course on the upcoming impeachment trial. In the first poll released the day after Trump was impeached by the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress revealed something incredible. Americans support the Senate, convicting Donald Trump and removing him from office by a margin of 9 points. Fifty-one percent say they approve of the Senate convicting and removing Donald Trump. Forty-two percent say they do not approve.
Leading off our discussion tonight is Natasha Bertrand, national security correspondent for "Politico". She`s also an MSNBC contributor.
Ron Klain, former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama. He`s an advisor to Joe Biden`s 2020 presidential campaign.
And Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney.
Ron, let me begin with you if I may and get your take on how significant the comments are that came out from Lisa Murkowski during the holiday break -- the timing of the message in and of itself but also what she had to say.
RON KLAIN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL: You know, the amazing thing isn`t that one Republican has said we ought to follow the Constitution and have a fair trial here. It`s that 53 haven`t yet.
And, you know, this is the obligation of the senators both Democratic and Republican under our Constitution to be sworn in as jurors in a trial of President Trump and to administer fair and impartial justice. And Senator Murkowski deserves credit for being the one first to step up and say, yes, I`m going to be true to my oath. Yes, I`m going to demand that this trial be a real trial, with witnesses and evidence and all the things you need to make an assessment of the president`s guilt, her colleagues now need to step up and follow her and make that promise, that constitutional promise of a fair trial a reality.
MOHYELDIN: Let me play for you guys the sound bite from Mitch McConnell. It was on "Hannity" I believe on December 12th essentially where he talks about coordinating with the White House. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president`s position and our position as to how to handle this. There`s no chance the president`s going to be removed from office. My hope is that there won`t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Joyce, let me get your thoughts on this because not only did he say that, but he`s also on the record saying he`s not an impartial juror, and as a -- as a legal scholar, I`m curious to get your thoughts about you think the framers of our Constitution would be thinking about when they hear the head of the Senate, the majority leader, a coequal branch of government saying that he is working with the president to make sure this is not a fair and impartial process.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, if this was a criminal trial and a juror said that, somebody would be fixing to go to jail. But impeachment is a little bit different. It`s a quasi political process, so that first sentence I think Senator McConnell starts out OK. There does need to be some coordination on dates, on process between the Senate and White House.
But then he takes a sharp left turn and goes completely off the rails when he starts talking about the promise, the commitment that the president won`t be removed from office and that his goal is to make sure there`s not a single defection from the party. What that signifies is that this is process that`s blatantly corrupt, it may result on an acquittal from the president, but it doesn`t result in an exoneration when the process is so blatantly deficient.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, I`m going to ask you about the difference between that based on your op-ed in just a moment.
But, Natasha, let me get your thoughts really quickly about the significance of Lisa Murkowski. I don`t want to say, you know, breaking ranks with the Republicans are going rogue, but are we likely to see a domino effect? Do you think based on the sources you`ve been hearing from or speaking to others now they`ve seen her go first you could get a Mitt Romney, you could get a Susan Collins and begin now with the polling showing, saying that the majority of Americans actually do want to see the president convicted in the Senate, that may bolster their argument for this to be a fair process.
NATASHA BERTRAND, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s certainly going to leave reporters to ask the senators about Lisa Murkowski`s comments and thereby forcing them to respond to them. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana was asked about this earlier today, said each senator is entitled to his or her opinion.
But this does -- this does have the potential to embolden say a Mitt Romney or a Susan Collins. Mitt Romney has already said he has not decided one way or another whether or not he` going to acquit the president, whether or not he`s going to fall in line with a Republican process here, saying they just want to move as quickly as possible throughout this trial and get it over with and move on.
So there could be some pressure there placed on these Republican senators. That doesn`t mean, of course, we`re going to see defections. I think at this point, it`s good politics for these more moderate senators to be saying, I`m going to be an impartial juror, because remember, that is what they were saying, whenever any reporter would go up in the hallway and ask, what they thought about the impeachment process, their line was for a long time I can`t comment because I`m a juror and it would be unfair.
Mitch McConnell went a step further and has essentially forced the Republicans and his party to follow suit with the exception of course of these moderates. So, it will be interesting to see how they react to this.
MOHYELDIN: Ron, how much of this do you think is being driven by the White House? How much of it is being driven by Mitch McConnell? Because I get the sense and I`ve heard Marc Short say this on the record, the president would be open to witnesses. That`s certainly not something Mitch McConnell has said publicly.
So who do you think is in the driver`s seat here and who do you think is looking out for the president more so, the president`s interests more so?
KLAIN: Look, I do take Senator McConnell at his word. His word is he`s doing exactly what the White House wants, he`s lock step with the White House counsel`s office.
As for Mr. Short`s statement, we know the president and his advisers publicly bluff a good game but then privately try to shut the process down. The president at one point said he would testify, he said he would send lawyers, he said he would participate in this process, and then it`s been shut down, shutdown, shutdown. It`s not the conduct of an innocent person, right? It`s the conduct of someone who knows they`ve done something wrong and want to try to curtail this process and minimize this process.
So I assume based on what Senator McConnell has said that he`s doing what the White House wants. And I think the public bravado is not really indicative of their private messaging to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
MOHYELDIN: So if you were back in the Senate what would you be doing right now, if you were working on Capitol Hill with your colleagues as a Democrat, what kind of messaging would you be putting out there? What would you be doing behind the scenes to try to secure those three additional Republican senators?
KLAIN: You know, I think, as Joyce said, it`s a legal process and it`s a political process. I think on the legal side, you`d be emphasizing the constitutional traditions in the traditions of the Senate. The last time a president was impeached, President Clinton, Senator Daschle then worked with Republicans to come with bipartisan Senate procedures. That`s the Senate tradition.
And then I`d be working the politics. You know, that Morning Consult, Politico/Morning Consult poll said a minute ago, not only so that 51 percent of Americans want Trump removed. But amazingly, inside that poll, 12 percent of the people who voted for Trump, one in every 8 Trump voters said he should be removed. That is an amazing turn around among people or even Trump supporters.
So I`d be arguing the law, I`d be arguing politics to try to get those Republicans to put together a fair trial.
MOHYELDIN: Yet it`s remarkable how quickly that shot up just from a week before the holidays.
Joyce, let me go back to what you were talking about, the different between an acquittal and an exoneration. This is a president who, by most accounts, is desperate to be exonerated, not just to go through the motions. But walk us through the difference here. What is the argument you`re making between being acquitted and being exonerated?
VANCE: So if you`re acquitted by a Senate where Mitch McConnell has already promised no matter what happens we won`t remove you, in and of itself that process is suspect. But the real problem for President Trump comes in Article 2 of the articles of impeachment which charges him with obstructing Congress, and that means very simply he`s completely failed to comply with subpoenas for documents.
For instance, e-mails that might shed light on internal deliberations in the White House over the Ukrainian affair. He`s refused to provide key witnesses including as we learned late last Friday night a witness from OMB who reached out to the Pentagon an hour and a half after President Trump had his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky to put the kibosh on any aid going to Ukraine. So there are a lot of unanswered questions, and as Americans we`re used to having those questions answered in a fair trial process where relevant witnesses testify.
If the president keeps that kind of a process from happening in the Senate, then he may well end up acquitted, but it won`t be an exoneration. That doesn`t mean he won`t claim he`s been exonerated. We`ve seen him do that before during the Mueller report, but we need to all be on alert to understand how little this process will mean unless Republicans come to the table like Ron has suggested and agree to fair procedures.
MOHYELDIN: Natasha, all of this is happening against the backdrop of Rudy Giuliani going out in public, giving these interviews, bizarre interviews, still pushing ahead with the investigation in Ukraine that initially got the president in trouble in the first place. Do you think at this point, and I know you`ve covered him extensively and you`ve covered the Ukraine aspect of the impeachment trial extensively, is he a liability for the president with these constant interviews, these constant statements that he keeps giving, that just seems to be muddying the water and making the situation worse, so much so you`ve got people like Lindsey Graham saying he needs to just put up or shut up?
BERTRAND: Absolutely. I mean, if you speak to people close to the president, his aides in the White House, for example, they are horrified broadly by what Rudy Giuliani is doing. They consider him to be a big political liability for the president.
The problem is the president sees Rudy Giuliani as kind of like a safety blanket. He has known him for decades. He feels like he`s someone who has his back no matter what, so he keeps him around. And, of course, Rudy Giuliani has been stroking Trump`s ego and essentially telling him, look, it wasn`t the Russians that interfered, it was the Ukrainians, I`m going to exonerate you et cetera, et cetera, and that, of course, makes Trump feel good.
So, the people around Trump are telling him you need to distance yourself from Giuliani, but it`s just not happening. I mean, Giuliani was at Mar-a- Lago last week, attending events. We don`t know if he meet with the president, but is likely, and he has yet to produce anything by way of evidence of course and from what he`s saying because there really is none.
So there`s no -- there`s no indication that the president is going to severe ties with him even though his closest confidants and aides privately say it needs to be done.
MOHYELDIN: All right. Natasha Bertrand, Ron Klain and Joyce Vance, thank you very much for kicking things off for us tonight. Always appreciate it, guys.
And coming up, judging by his ongoing Twitter rants, Donald Trump might not believe impeachment is helping him. But Attorney General Bill Barr wants impeachment to help President Trump, potentially even break the law. We will look at Bill Barr`s impeachment trick, next.
MOHYELDIN: Attorney General William Barr plays no official role in impeachment but that hasn`t stopped Barr from attempting to help President Trump. In fact, the attorney general would like to see impeachment used as a tool to allow President Trump to potentially break the law.
In a new piece for "The Daily Beast", David Lurie writes that the Department of Justice is arguing that impeachment prevents the courts from ruling on whether any part of Trump`s stonewalling of congressional subpoenas is illegal. Quote: If a president can avoid compliance with his legal obligations by getting impeached, then he would have a strong incentive to solicit impeachment by the House of Representatives in order to gain quite literally a license to break the law without recourse.
David Lurie, an attorney and freelance writer for "Slate" and "The Daily Beast" joins us now.
Also joining us is Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She is an MSNBC legal contributor.
David, great to have you with us here.
Let me begin with the premise of what you are writing about. Because on the one hand you have the case of Don McGahn, the White House -- former White House counsel told to subpoena -- sorry, he was subpoenaed, told to come and give his testimony in the impeachment hearings. He didn`t do so, and now it`s being played out in the courts.
But interestingly, the Department of Justice and the White House are saying the courts should not decide that. Why is that a bad thing?
DAVID LURIE, FREELANCE WRITER: Well, it`s very interesting I would say that Mitch McConnell is arguing that the house should have not only gone to court to get McGahn`s testimony but the testimony of a host of other people.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, John Bolton, you know, Mike Pompeo.
LURIE: Et cetera.
And now, the Department of Justice is arguing the courts should not decide these cases at all and should bar the courthouse door to Congress. And the interesting thing about this is if the courts refused to decide these cases, the Congress would only have one option and that`s to arrest the witnesses themselves and imprison them until they agreed to speak. That`s called inherent contempt and people have rightly argued that`s an extreme, you know, an extraordinary thing for the Congress to even contemplate doing, and they haven`t yet stated they are contemplating doing it.
And yet, if William Barr`s argument is accepted, that will not only be a possible option, it will be the only option. And not just in connection with this dispute, but future disputes of the same sort.
MOHYELDIN: Barbara, let me get your thoughts on this. Is it -- is it unusual the way William Barr is behaving in the impeachment process in the sense that, as we were saying, he doesn`t have an official role, but I think some legal experts, some outside observers would say he`s acting almost and he`s making the Department of Justice almost acts like a law firm on behalf of the president with some of these arguments he`s making.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think one of the most disappointing things about this administration I`ve seen as a 19-year veteran of the Department of Justice is the role of Attorney General William Barr has taken upon himself to serve more as a defense attorney for Donald Trump than as the attorney general for the United States of America and the people.
Yes, I mean, this argument as David points out is really absurd. It says that the court should not get involved in this dispute because it`s too political. Well, if President Trump can stonewall Congress and there`s recourse in the courts, then the president really is above the law, and there is no check on his powers. So that just can`t be the case.
You know, I remember when I first met President Obama as U.S. attorney. With all the U.S. attorneys in the White House and he said to us to always remember that we did not serve him even though he appointed us, we serve the people and the Constitution, and if ever those interests diverge to remember where our loyalties lie. I think William Barr has forgotten where his loyalty is supposed to lie.
MOHYELDIN: Is it uncommon -- let`s just play devil`s advocate for a moment here and take the argument that William Barr is trying to make it as I understand it which these are two coequal branches of government. It`s a fight between Congress and the executive branch. The courts have no role in trying to decide between because they are the third coequal branch of government.
But history has shown courts have decided on disputes in the past between executive and legislative branch of our government.
LURIE: Indeed --
MOHYELDIN: Sorry, one second. Go ahead, Barbara.
MCQUADE: Yes. I mean, some classic examples are the Paula Jones case with Bill Clinton, of course. There`s the Nixon case involving the Watergate tapes.
And so, you know, courts do try to stay out of political questions, and there is something called the negotiation and accommodation process where the branches try to work things out themselves. But when a Mr. President completely stonewalls Congress, there really is no recourse other than for the courts to step in. This is their role, and it`s important they fulfill that role so we can have that tripartite form of government.
MOHYELDIN: And this is what -- David, going to your point -- this is what the House Judiciary Committee told a federal appeals court. They write the House has impeached President Trump and this has not mooted the case, and it has reinforced the committee`s need for the committee`s next for the court`s expeditious resolution of this appeal. The committees wait for McGahn`s testimony should and now.
Why is Don McGahn`s testimony so critical to what Congress is trying to do here?
LURIE: Well, the reason that the McGahn case was important is not solely because of McGahn and his testimony, it`s because it`s a case in which one of the president`s arguments, in fact, his only argument for withholding the testimony of Bolton and Mick Mulvaney from Congress is to be decided.
The president has argued that his close advisers, White House advisers in the legal term is absolutely immune from being called to testify.
MOHYELDIN: Under executive privilege he`s claiming.
LURIE: Well, it`s an argument that goes beyond executive privilege because executive privilege applies to particular statements. This is an argument that the Congress cannot call then for testimony at all.
LURIE: And if the McGahn case is decided by the appeals court and the Supreme Court in the same way it was decided by the district court, that is that court rejected the argument entirely.
LURIE: Then there will be no substantial argument for withholding the testimony of the president`s advisers.
And I agree with Barbara 100 percent. The courts since a decision in 1803 called Marbury versus Madison has played a critical role in our governmental structure. They`re the ones who decide what the law means. And while, as Barbara correctly said, courts don`t like to get involved, courts don`t want to be involved, but when a president declares as you said the White House counsel and Trump himself have declared they would not cooperate at all, period, full stop, there is no other alternative but the courts to stop.
MOHYELDIN: There could be a majority precedent-setting case if in fact, this has happened as you said for all the other witnesses as well.
MOHYELDIN: David Lurie, Barbara McQuade, thank you very much for joining us this evening. Fascinating stuff.
Coming up, are evangelicals becoming divided by Donald Trump? We`re going to look at the fallout after a powerful editorial in an evangelical publication said it is time to call a spade a spade and remove Donald Trump from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The evangelicals were so great to me, and they did. They came out in massive numbers.
With Evangelical Christians, we won so big.
And, by the way, the Evangelical Christians, I have such tremendous support it`s unbelievable.
Evangelicals, I love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: That was in 2016, but now, some prominent writers at evangelical publications are publicly splitting with President Trump.
It started last Thursday when Christianity today published a scathing editorial on the president to be removed from office, writing, quote: Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election, that is matter of prudential judgment. It is time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence.
And just when we think it`s time to push all of our chips to the center of the table, that`s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world`s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern."
Then arrival evangelical publication, The Christian Post published a rebuttal accusing Christianity Today of "a disdainful, dismissive, elitist posture toward their fellow Christians which may well do far more long term damage to American Christianity and its witness than any current prudential support for President Trump will ever cause."
Now that prompted one of their top politics editors to resign this week. Napp Nazworth wrote that the Christian Post has "chosen to represent a narrow and shrinking slice of Christianity. That might be a good business decision short term at least but it`s bad for democracy and bad for the gospel."
He added, "Christians sully the name of Christ in their alliance with Trump." Cue the damage control. On Christmas Eve, the President and First Lady attended an evangelical service at Southern Baptist church in lieu of the Episcopal Church, they have previously attended where they were married and where their son Barron was baptized.
And next week, the President`s holding an Evangelicals for Trump Coalition rally in Miami. Now Donald Trump`s argument for evangelicals is that he has pushed their agenda on issues such as abortion, conservative judges and others. Are these one off defections or will it lead to more evangelicals breaking with Trump?
After the break, we`re going to ask an expert. History professor John Fea, the author of Believe Me: The evangelical road to Donald Trump. About that and much more.
MOHYELDIN: We`re talking about President Trump and evangelicals and one 2016 exit poll number keeps coming up. 80 percent of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump but before a top editor with the Christian Post resigned in protest over a pro-Trump editorial, he wrote that his analysis shows that the Trump evangelical support is actually "about half at best and likely less than half of all evangelicals." And in a Politico Morning Consul poll, just - Consult poll, excuse me, taken just as the White House was voting to impeach, excuse me, rather as the House was voting to impeach President Trump, 43 percent of evangelicals approved of removing President Trump from office.
Joining us now Professor of History at Messiah college, John Fea. He is the author of `Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,` which comes out in paperback early next month. Also with us, CNBC Editor at Large, John Harwood.
Mr. Fea, let me begin with you first of all and summarize for us where you think the evangelical community stands today three years into the Trump presidency and I know it`s not a monolithic community but when you get a sense of what is happening over the last couple of days, what is the bigger discussion taking place within the community?
JOHN FEA, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, MESSIAH COLLEGE: Well, I think evangelicals have for a long time now, really since the late 1970s, early 1980s have only known one way of doing politics. It`s a politics driven by power. Appoint Supreme court justices that are pro-life, defend religious liberty as they understand it.
So it shouldn`t surprise us that 80 percent of them voted for Donald Trump since he took stand, pro-evangelical stands on all of these issues. I think the Christianity Today editorial is very revealing. It shows the diversity of American evangelicals.
I don`t think it`s necessarily going to make a big dent in terms of the support that Donald Trump`s going to receive in 2020 and I think you know if at this point you know, Donald Trump has separated children from their parents, if he has had the Access Hollywood case, you know, the lies and all kinds of you know, paying - political enemies.
Yes, I don`t - I don`t think - I don`t think an editorial in Christianity Today is going to change much.
MOHYELDIN: So to that point, let me - let me play you this sound bite from the former Christian Post editor who`s speaking on CNN today, reacting to some of the rebuttal that have come out against Christianity Today. Listen to would he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAPP NAZWORTH, FMR POLITICS EDITOR, THE CHRISTIAN POST: There`s some odd sort of conspiratorial thinking. They sound sort of like Breitbart in that. We`ve never sounded like that before. It seems like when you read that editorial that you know, they`re talking about this sort of elitism versus populism. You know, I wish that they would just be gospelism, it`s very sort of Marxist, sort of way of thinking about class warfare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So that was Napp Nazworth. He actually resigned his position at, I believe it was the Christian Post, after they put out their rebuttal about the Christianity Today and I`m curious to get your thoughts about the way he described the ongoing warfare, this kind of like class warfare in the way that at least that publication where he used to work sees the evangelical mindset in this country.
FEA: Well, it`s worth noting first that none of the responses to Mark Galli`s Op-Ed in Christianity Today, he was the editor who wrote the Op-Ed really addressed the merits of the case, right?
That they don`t address whether or not what Trump did in Ukraine is an impeachable offense. Most of the attacks are on two fronts. One is Trump has delivered for us on all of these moral issues, especially abortion, Israel, religious liberty and the second approach has been to claim that Christianity Today represents educated evangelicals who kind of look down their nose at ordinary, uneducated working class evangelicals.
I would argue that evangelicals for a long time and I`m not alone in this, have had a long history of anti-intellectualism. Many historians and cultural critics have talked about this so-called scandal of the evangelical mind. So someone like Mark Galli in Christianity Today is trying to put forth a thought full, deeply during by ethics, Christian ethics to try to say you know, why are we supporting a man of such gross immorality to use his term.
And the only thing that many of the not educated evangelicals, those who tend to gravitate to Trump, can offer are what he`s done on all these - all of the social and moral issues which is really again how evangelicals have been trained over the past 40 years to think about politics.
You know the Christian right Jerry Falwell Senior, the moral majority doesn`t get enough attention in our history books. They have done an amazing job at teaching their flocks, my flock, I consider myself an evangelical as well, to think about politics in just one way.
MOHYELDIN: John Harwood, as we said in the beginning of this segment, 80 percent of self-identified white evangelical support the President but the question is can this President - does he have a path to re-election and kind of you know, pushing away some of the pressures of impeachment and the politics of impeachment, if he does not have a solidified evangelical base in his midst?
JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: No, he is absolutely dependent on that. White evangelicals are at the beating heart of President Trump`s base but as the previous discussion has showed us, it`s not about the gospels, it`s not about religious faith, Trump is not a person of faith.
It`s not about the moral character of the President. This is a transactional relationship as Brit Hume, the Fox news commentator said the other day, it`s not complicated for evangelicals. Trump is the enemy of their enemies and he`s willing to fight them. Therefore they embrace him.
Secondly he appoints pro-life judges, people who are against abortion rights. That is the basis of the relationship and the added display of culture war here suggests that this is about evangelicals in the cultural dimension, not in the religious dimension.
We`re talking about a group that is disproportionately in small towns and rural areas, less educated than people who are not evangelical Christians. They`re reacting to changes in their communities caused by immigration over time, the share of white Christians in the American population has shrunk from 80 percent to around 40 percent over the last 50 years or so.
So all of those things are costing those evangelicals to look for Donald Trump as their warrior and he absolutely needs them to be warriors for him if he`s going to win re-election.
MOHYELDIN: All right John Harwood and John Fea, thank you gentlemen both for joining us this evening. And coming up, an important new report on the Trump tax cuts. We didn`t want it to get lost in all the impeachment news. We`re going to tell you about that, next.
MOHYELDIN: We have our first report card on the Trump tax cuts for corporations. Believe it or not, it has been two years since Donald Trump signed the tax cuts passed by the Republican controlled Congress into law, which cut the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
But according to a new report, 379 of America`s Fortune 500 companies actually paid only a federal corporate income tax rate of 11.3 percent and 91 of America`s largest corporations like Amazon and Chevron paid no federal income taxes at all. Zero, zilch.
This is all according to a new report from the institute of taxation and economic policy entitled, `Corporate Tax Avoidance In The First Year Of The Trump Tax Law.` Back with us to discuss this is John Harwood from CNBC and joining us on the phone, David Cay Johnston, former Pulitzer Prize winning tax reporter for The New York Times.
David, let me begin with you if I may. Walk us through how the tax law - the Trump tax law made it possible for at least 91 companies or 91 corporations not to be able to pay a single penny in federal income tax.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FORMER PULITZER PRIZE WINNING TAX REPORTER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the law did a number of things. It cut their tax rate by 40 percent, you and I didn`t get anything close to a 40 percent reduction in our tax rate. It also allowed people - companies to immediately expense that is right off the costs of new capital investment in many cases not everybody, restaurants got lost in the - in the mix.
But overall, you got to quickly write down the costs of new investments and for capital intensive companies, that is companies like oil and manufacturing for buying new capital equipment every year, it creates a much lower tax burden for them in the future and we no longer tax American corporations on the profits they earn overseas.
And because of the way the law was done, it is encouraged companies to build more overseas rather than less if they can find a tax haven to help them have tax free profits overseas.
MOHYELDIN: So to that point John Harwood, has the President been able to sell his economic success or his economic stimulus based on his tax law to the average voter, when you know, they`re not as we just pointed out, corporations are not paying their fair share, they`re not paying any federal income tax and yet somehow he talks that the economy is doing very well.
HARWOOD: Well, the strength of the economy probably helps him somewhat but I don`t think the tax law has added to that. We saw in the 2018 elections that was not a powerful weapon for Republicans to prevent Democrats from taking over the House and the reason is everyone has seen and they see it more now in 2019 than they did in 2018, Donald Trump and his aides made four basic assertions for the tax bill.
One, we had lame 2 percent growth that he was going to make the growth rate go up to 3 percent or more. It wasn`t going to increase the deficit. It`s going to put a lot of money in the hands of the middle class and it wasn`t going to provide a tax cut for the rich. Every one of those things it turned out to be nonsense. The growth rate is now back after a brief period of stimulus in 2018. The growth rate is now back at the 2 percent long term level that he inherited from President Obama. The deficit`s gone up and we`ve seen that corporations have substantially reduced their tax bill.
That doesn`t mean lowering the corporate tax rate may not have been a good idea. We had a high nominal rate compared to the rest of the world but of course they didn`t close loophole sufficient to pay for that finance and that`s why the deficit`s gone up so much.
MOHYELDIN: David, the argument that Republicans in the particular Trump made was that if we reduce the tax burden on some of these companies, these companies are going to come back and invest in America, they`re going to hire more workers, they`re going to manufacture more.
That in turn produces more results for the economy. Have you seen anything to support that or substantiate that?
JOHNSTON: No, it`s not in the data either. A lot of the money companies say was used to buy back stock which increases the value of the remaining shares and increases the value of stock options for executives and Ayman, I don`t think we should talk about this as a tax cut because we`re borrowing the money to pay for the shortfall, this is simply a future tax increase with the interest in the meantime. It`s not a tax cut, it`s a tax increase that`s been disguised to make you think it`s a tax cut.
MOHYELDIN: All right, David Cay Johnston, John Harwood, thank you both for joining us this evening with that fascinating stuff and coming out Mitch McConnell`s on the verge of betraying two constitutional oaths. That`s the subject of a new Op-Ed published today in McConnell`s home state and the author of that Op-Ed will get tonight`s last word.
MOHYELDIN: All right, time for tonight`s last word. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared he will not be an impartial juror in the impeachment of President Trump even going so far as to say that he is working in total coordination with the White House on trial strategy.
Today an Op-Ed in McConnell`s hometown newspaper, the Louisville Courier Journal says, the Majority Leader is about to violate not one but two oaths of office. Kent Greenfield, a law professor in Kentucky native writes, "McConnell`s loyalty to Trump should not overwhelm his loyalty to the constitution. All Senators should take their obligation of faithful impartiality seriously especially McConnell. History is watching and it will be a harsh judge."
Joining us now is Kent Greenfield, the author of that Op-Ed and Professor at Boston College law school. Kent, great to talk to you again. Let me - let me follow up on our conversation earlier but I wanted to get your thoughts about what is the core argument that you`re making here? What are the two oaths of office that you think Mitch McConnell`s going to violate?
KENT GREENFIELD, PROFESSOR, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL: Well, there are only three oaths mentioned in the text of the constitution in all. The first is the Presidential oath and the other two now pertain to Senator McConnell. In Article 6, all federal and state officials are bound by oath, an oath to protect and defend the constitution but there`s a third oath that is - that is very rare, rarely taken, really needed and that`s when the Senators try an impeachment, the constitution says that they will be bound by oath.
And what that means is that they have to take it seriously. They have to be impartial. The words of the oath that every Senator will be held to when the trial begins, is that they will - they swear to be impartial. Now Sen. McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham and others have already said that they have no intention to be impartial.
And that I think is a violation of not only their article 1 oath but now the article 6 oath as well so that`s two oaths.
MOHYELDIN: I was going to say, it seems the authors of the constitution, the founding fathers perhaps never envisioned this. Otherwise they would have probably tried to have an iron clad situation whereby the Senate and the Senate Majority Leader would not be so co-opted by the executive branch that they`d be working as he said, as Mitch McConnell said you know, step - step by step in this.
GREENFIELD: The Senators was always intended to be the grownups in the room. They only get elected every six years. They`re not - they`re supposed to be someone insulated from the political realities of the day. So they can be more distinguished, more thoughtful politicians and public servants.
And so in this case you know, back in the day when the constitution was written, political parties as we now know them did not exist so the thought was that the Congress would be the control, the power that would weigh against the presidency and so they would be the checking - they would provide a checking function of the presidency, especially in those rare circumstances in which the President has abused his power.
And when the President has abused the power of the office, the only legal remedy is impeachment so when Senator McConnell says this is a political act, It`s a political procedure, that`s flat wrong from a constitution perspective. It`s legal and the remedy is impeachment and under the constitution every Senator is required to be impartial and he`s already said that he`s going to violate that oath.
MOHYELDIN: Mitch McConnell enjoys a certain degree of popularity in your home state of Kentucky, I`m curious to get the reaction to how your Op-Ed has landed both in Kentucky and you know, among your legal peers.
GREENFIELD: Right. I`ve gotten a lot of positive responses today. Many more than I thought, than I anticipated I would get. I got some texts from folks from my hometown in western Kentucky that were applauding what I was saying so I`m heartened by this.
I mean, I think Kentuckians take their honesty seriously and my hope is this Op-Ed in the Courier Journal will help people encourage Mitch McConnell to be the impartial judge that - and juror that he`s required to be under the constitution.
MOHYELDIN: At this point in the process, is it all going to come down to the citizens of Kentucky simply picking up the phone, calling Mitch McConnell saying, hey we need you to be fair in this process or is there any other legal recourse that could ensure impartiality?
GREENFIELD: Well, so some have - some have thought that the Chief Justice may weigh in on this. That the Chief Justice who`s - who`s required in the constitution to preside over an impeachment of the President. I don`t think that will happen. I think the remedies here are political and Sen. McConnell is up for re-election.
And if he violates his oath of office then he violates in fact two oaths of office, then the primary remedy is the voters of Kentucky is to voting him out.
MOHYELDIN: What is the - when you look at somebody like Lisa Makowski, Sen. Lisa Makowski. Does that put pressure on Mitch McConnell you think to come forward or is he booed by the fact that it`s just one out of the 53-54 Republicans?
GREENFIELD: Well, who knows? You know, the procedures of the Senate during the - during the impeachment trial are determined at first cut by the Chief Justice but in second cut, anything - any ruling by the Chief Justice can be appealed to the entire body and that takes 51 votes.
So the impeachment takes two-thirds but a debate about, a disagreement about the rules is 51 and so you don`t need very many Republican Senators to peel off from their side in order to make a rules change that would be impactful to the process.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Kent Greenfield, we can only hope that Mitch McConnell has read your Op-Ed at least over the holiday break. Thank you very much for joining us. That`s tonight`s last word. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin. The "11th Hour" starts right now.