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Ukraine aid freeze TRANSCRIPT: 12/30/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Jesse Drucker, David Frum, David Corn, Lloyd Doggett, Neera Tanden


There is new pressure tonight on Utah`s Republican Senator Mitt Romney from two newspapers, the editorial in "The Salt Lake Tribune" saying Senator Romney must demand that the Senate trial of Donald Trump include witnesses, and a new powerful investigative report in the "New York Times" showing exactly who those witnesses should be, including the three men who stood around the desk in a dramatic scene in the Oval Office, urging Donald Trump to stop blocking military aid to Ukraine. 

It`s a big "New York Times" night here at THE LAST WORD.

We will begin with "The Times" investigative report on how Donald Trump blocked aid to Ukraine until he got publicly caught blocking aid to Ukraine. 

And later in this hour, we will hear from "Times" reporter Jesse Drucker who has co-authored the most valuable reporting yet on the truth about the Trump tax cuts and how the corporate lobbyists pushing for those tax cuts keep pushing even after the law was passed to get the Trump Treasury Department to accept interpretations of the law that reduced corporate taxes even more than the legislation intended to reduce those taxes.

This is the kind of story that has been largely lost in the Trump era because there is so much novel corruption in the Trump administration for journalists to pursue.  But this story about the Trumps` tax cuts and how they`re working is an important story about how it has always worked in government, how this sort of stuff has always worked, how rich corporations never stop trying to turn tax law, especially, in their favor.  This is the dirtiest version of that story that I have ever seen, and I used to work in the United States Senate on tax policy.  And I can tell you, this is not a story of business as usual, this is a story of business out of control in what is a virtual corporate takeover of the Trump Treasury Department. 

We are very fortunate tonight to have "New York Times" reporter Jesse Drucker bringing us that story later in this hour.

We begin with the headline that appeared it on the fold of "The New York Times" today.  Inside the Ukraine aid freeze, the 84-day clash of wills. 

The article chronicles the 84-day drama in meticulous and incriminating detail.  Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and Mark Mazzetti delivered this tour de force of reporting and writing for "The New York Times".  The article is based on, quote, interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony. 

The story unfolds with a suspenseful rhythm of "Seven Days in May", the classic Washington drama of the 1960s written by Rod Sterling as it reveals new scenes in the 84-day drama from when Donald Trump first asked about $400 million in aid to Ukraine, to Donald Trump`s final decision in September to release his hold on that aid to Ukraine because as the very last line of "The New York Times" article says, quote, he got caught. 

People throughout the Trump administration worry that it was illegal to hold up the aid, some of the permanent staff in the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department were almost certain it was illegal, and they did everything they possibly could to force the release of the aid.  The people who were holding it back were all political appointees aligned with the president.  They were all political and governmental incompetence who no other president would put in their positions, including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who sent this email to a Trump appointee at the Office of Management and Budget, saying, I`m just trying to tie up some loose ends.  Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine, whether we can hold it back? 

That was on June 27th.  The person receiving that email was Robert Blair, who said that it would be possible to hold back the aid, but he added, expect Congress to become unhinged.  Of course, Congress did not have to become unhinged to break up that scheme that the then-Trump national security adviser John Bolton was then privately calling a drug deal.  All Congress had to do to unravel the whole thing was to announce in a relatively low volume at the time that it was going to investigate the situation after "Politico" reported at the end of august that the assistance to Ukraine had been frozen. 

That is when Donald Trump got caught publicly, and not long after that, the aid was released.  But Donald Trump had actually been caught a month before that, on August 12th.  And the president and all the president`s men knew that.  Because it was August 12th when a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a report describing in general terms what was going on.  The president was holding up aid to Ukraine while asking Ukraine to conduct an investigation into Joe Biden.  It took 30 days but that whistleblower debate actually forced the president to release the aid. 

In the meantime, a scene occurred in the Oval Office that will be central to the impeachment trial of the president of the United States.  "The Times" described the scene this way: On a sunny, late-August day, national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrayed themselves around the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office to present a united front.  The leaders of the president`s national security team seeking to convince him face to face that freeing up the money or Ukraine was the right thing to do.  One by one they made their case. 

This is in America`s interest, Mr. Bolton agreed, according to one official briefed on the gathering.  This defense relationship, we have gotten some really good benefits from it, Mr. Esper added, noting that most of the money was being spent on military equipment made in the United States.

Ukraine is a corrupt country, the president said.  We are pissing our money away, and the aid remained blocked. 

Tonight, it has obviously become impossible to have anything resembling a fair trial in the United States Senate in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump without the testimony of the president`s men who were standing around the desk in the Oval Office pleading with the president to release military aid to an ally in the middle of combat, and the president refused, refused once again to deliver that aid. 

We all know that Donald Trump is a very talkative man.  In a meeting like that, he wasn`t going to limit himself to just the two short sentences that "New York Times" reporters have managed to extract from their sources about that scene.  What else did Donald Trump say in that room that day, and what else was said to him?  The United States Senate has a sworn duty to find the answers to both of those questions. 

Leading off our discussion tonight are Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas.  He`s a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Chuck Rosenberg is with us.  He`s a former FBI official and former U.S. attorney.  He was the former U.S. counsel to Robert Mueller at the FBI.  He now hosts the MSNBC podcast "The Oath."

And Neera Tanden is with us.  She`s a former senior adviser to President Obama and Hillary Clinton.  She was working in the White House during the Clinton impeachment trial in the United States Senate.  She`s the president and CEO of the Center of American Progress. 

Congressman Doggett, I want to get your reaction to this new information in "The New York Times" tonight obtained in ways that included emails, for example, that you did not get access to in the House of Representatives during the impeachment investigation. 

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX):  Very powerful, Lawrence.  You really get a better understanding of why Donald Trump continually uses that old stylist term about the press being the enemy of the people, because what is really his enemy is truth.  He can`t stand the facts.  Now, the reason he has followed this mafia-like stonewall defense, no witnesses, no people, no documents, is because the truth is powerful here and it shows what a lie he has pursued and the abuse that he`s provided of his office to have a Senate trial without hearing the truth, without hearing the witnesses, it would be the first impeachment proceeding in American history with no witnesses. 

We do need to get to the bottom of this.  If his associates, his chief of staff, his national security adviser at the time, if they had any evidence to show his innocence, he would have been pushing them out long ago.  It`s clear that he has a blockade on the truth.  He does not want any of these people to speak out because they can only further incriminate and elaborate on the wrongdoing that has occurred here. 

Our tax money being used to help Donald Trump win a political campaign, apparently looking back on 2016, he realized how vital foreign interference was to his success then, and he wasn`t confident he could win again without more foreign interference. 

O`DONNELL:  Chuck Rosenberg, please take a look at that scene around the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office where you have the three account-level officials there making their case to the president about releasing this aid to Ukraine.  And clearly we can tell the "New York Times" did a great job of delivering that scene, of reporting that scene.  But it`s really, for example, one line, half a line from John Bolton, half a line from the secretary of defense.  It doesn`t have a single word from the secretary of state who was in that room, in that conversation, and it has just those two lines from Donald Trump. 

We know a lot more was said by everyone in that room, and if this was a trial and you got to have those people on the stand as witnesses, I think we would learn a lot more about what was said in that room. 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Oh, absolutely, Lawrence.  In real trials, and I was a federal prosecutor for a long time, the prosecutors call the witnesses.  And then when the prosecution case is done, the defense attorneys call witnesses if they so choose.  Of course, they don`t have to. 

There is a weird thing here.  In a Senate trial on impeachment, the jurors decide who gets called.  The senators decide who gets called.  And if you were to break that down further, it`s really those senators who control the chamber.  So the Republicans will decide whether or not anybody gets called. 

What kind of trial we see, how long it lasts, what sort of evidence is introduced.  So, you know, it is a trial, but it`s not anything like the types of trials that you see in federal courts around the country every single day.  Or even the trials that you see on television.  This is a political trial, and the jurors run it. 

O`DONNELL:  Chuck, another point here.  The evidence is moving underneath us as this trial approaches.  That in itself is unusual.  I mean, you as a prosecutor and defense lawyers, as you know, you`re heading toward a trial date.  The evidence is pretty much locked in, has normally in most cases been locked in for a number of months before you ever walk into a courtroom and start a trial. 

Here we are crawling up toward a trial, and there is evidence, like today`s "New York Times," that just keeps popping up. 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, another excellent point.  I mean, trials are locked down in the grand jury in the federal system.  Occasionally, you get a new document or a new evidence, or maybe someone changes their story, and as prosecutors you deal with it. 

But the cases are, as you say, largely locked down.  Not only do we see new evidence in the "New York Times" article, I can assure you there is a host of evidence we`re never going to see.  There`s so much of it. 

You know, the federal government can be large and unwieldy.  Sometimes it moves at the speed of a credenza.  But when something happens, the president tries to influence his own election by getting dirt on a political opponent from a foreign country, lots and lots of parts of the government touched that -- Defense Department, State Department, Justice Department, OMB, National Security Council. 

So we know that there has to be lots of people out there who have bits and pieces of the story.  I presume we`re not going to hear from many of them, and perhaps, Lawrence, not from any of them. 

O`DONNELL:  Neera, in the Clinton trial that Mitch McConnell says he`s willing to adopt the rules of the Clinton trial, but as the case developed in the Senate, the Senate decided, yes, they would hear from some witnesses.  They didn`t hear from them actually in the Senate but they kind of did it with a deposition method and that was added to the Senate trial. 

What`s wrong with that approach here? 

TANDEN:  The very, very large difference is that there was this special prosecutor who would form the basis of the case against Bill Clinton and he put an entire report together.  And so, there was a years-long investigation that formed the basis of the inquiry in the house.  Many, many depositions were taken.  In fact, as you know, Bill Clinton himself testified via video link which all of America ended up seeing. 

And so, that`s very different from what we see here.  In fact, when Chuck talks about how we may never see these witnesses, what`s really happening here is the president`s -- the members of the president`s political party are essentially obstructing this investigation themselves by trying to shape a trial that`s not a trial at all.  And I actually think the American people have seen many "Law & Order" episodes, have seen many trials on television and recognize what is a trial and what is a farce. 

And the facts of "The New York Times" story, and obviously, we will likely have more and more facts point to a situation in which Republicans are on a ledge basically trying to cover up the president`s misdeeds by adding to the obstruction, by forming a trial that is not a trial at all.  And the challenge they have is that more facts will come out.  The evidence is coming out as they try to obstruct, and their political cover-up will be more and more clear to the public. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, it`s a big difference.  There was no evidence added to the case, in the Clinton case, after the House impeachment.  This was not new evidence that was added when they took that testimony.  It was from people that already testified in other venues along the way to that spot. 

Congressman Doggett, is it part of Nancy Pelosi`s strategy, was it part of her strategy in holding back the articles of impeachment knowing, for example, that there was a private organization out there with a civil freedom of information act lawsuit out there that was going to force out some of this information that "The New York Times" was using today, like the emails from Mick Mulvaney and others, and that the body of evidence, did Nancy Pelosi know that publicly the body of evidence would expand over time basically every day that she`s holding onto the articles of impeachment? 

DOGGETT:  Well, I can`t say precisely what she knew or didn`t know about this, but I believe her thoughtful approach to not rushing these articles over there, knowing that the house has the sole responsibility here for impeachment under the Constitution, that there is no need to rush it over there if there is only going to be the kind of sham proceeding that Neera just described.  I think in looking at that proceeding, Chuck`s point is really important because it is each member of the Senate who will be held accountable for whether there are any witnesses or not, whether it is a totally sham proceeding.  Mitch McConnell dominates, but he cannot block a senator voicing his or her views on a witness being called the way he has obstructed the many bills that we`ve approved in the House that have ended up in his graveyard from gun safety to election security to prescription drug coverage. 

All those things he`s blocked here, his power is more limited.  And each senator, whether it`s Mitt Romney responding to those editorials you referred to, or Susan Collins, or any other members of the Senate, they have to decide, are they going to be part of a sham trial or will they let the truth come through, whatever its source? 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, and Chuck Rosenberg, this is much more difficult tonight than it was even last week.  For those Republican senators who could be under that kind of pressure, we`re going to see this editorial later in this hour from a Salt Lake newspaper urging Mitt Romney to demand witnesses. 

When you have that scene described by the "New York Times," a scene that we did not know 48 hours ago had happened of Pompeo, secretary of defense, John Bolton standing around the desk in the oval office, pleading with the president to release that aid to Ukraine, this is the heart of the case.  This is the direct heart of the impeachment case right here, every word of that dialogue.  The pressure on a Mitt Romney to come up with an answer as to why he supports or does not support hearing that testimony is only going to get greater with every day. 

ROSENBERG:  I think that`s right, Lawrence. 

You know, we`re at an odd place right now where we are celebrating, where we revel in the fact that one Republican senator, in this case Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has stated publicly that she is going to keep an open mind and is going to abide by her oath to do fair and impartial justice.  I mean, that`s the state of play right now.  Whereas if somebody says they`re going to abide by their oath, that we celebrate that and we talk about.  Every member of the Senate, Republican and Democrat, should abide by that oath and we should hear the evidence. 

By the way, that scene around the Resolute Desk that you described so well in your introduction, those people spoke directly to the president.  And so, to the extent we keep hearing about witnesses who are one or two levels removed, to the extent we keep hearing about hearsay, that`s no longer hearsay.  Those are people who spoke directly to the president on the central issue in the case, and we ought to hear from them in the Senate. 

O`DONNELL:  Chuck Rosenberg, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Neera Tanden, thank you all for starting us off tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

And when we come back, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to Ukraine this week, but first, they had to make sure the ambassador of Ukraine was fired and out of there, yet another ambassador of Ukraine in the way and had to be pushed out.  That`s coming up. 


O`DONNELL:  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to Ukraine on Friday.  In order for Mike Pompeo to make that trip, yet another ambassador of Ukraine had to be fired.  The acting ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, who testified to the impeachment inquiry in defiance of Donald Trump`s and Mike Pompeo`s order not to, had to be removed from that job before Mike Pompeo went to Ukraine because Mike Pompeo reportedly did not want to be photographed with Ambassador Taylor, who is a Vietnam combat veteran, a West Point graduate and a distinguished diplomat. 

Today, a senior State Department spokesman refused to answer a reporter`s question whether Mike Pompeo will be pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, just like his boss did.  Thanks to the Russian government, we now know that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had a telephone call today, and as usual, the Russian government was the first one to reveal that phone call, saying they talked about terrorism, and, quote, arrangement of issues of mutual interest. 

When the Trump White House eventually was forced to issue their own readout of the phone call because Russia already did, it was essentially the same as the Russian summary of the phone call, all of which means, as usual, we have no idea what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin really talked about.  "The Washington Post" report earlier this month gave a possible clue into what Vladimir Putin and Trump talk about.  Quote: One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit in the 2016 election because "Putin told me."

Joining us now, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration.  She is an MSNBC global affairs contributor. 

Ambassador Sherman, your reaction, first of all, to the way we get the news yet again of a Trump-Putin conversation.  It is the Russian government, not the most open government in the world.  It`s the Russian government that lets us know that happened. 

AMB. WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS :  True.  As you opened the show tonight and talked about really a movie script sort of like "The Twilight Zone," all I could keep thinking about was "All the President`s Men".  And in this case, the president is Vladimir Putin, not Donald Trump. 

Putin is aware of all that`s going on here, whether that`s the president holding up money to Ukraine because he wants to self-deal for his political future, whether it is what`s happening with Russia and the United States, whether they`re going to control our next election. 

But the echoes of "All the President`s Men" really was in my head the entire time I was listening to your first segment this evening. 

O`DONNELL:  And here`s the secretary of state on his way to Ukraine, State Department officials speaking to reporters today.  One asked specifically, is Mike Pompeo going to get involved in this demand for an investigation of Joe Biden?  The State Department spokesperson does not say, oh, of course not, absolutely not.  The State Department spokesperson says, I can`t tell you every topic that`s going to come up.  That`s the answer. 

SHERMAN:  Extraordinary answer.  The answer to that question, when the secretary of state of the United States is going ought to be, well, of course not.  He`s not involved in the reelection campaign. 

I hope your viewers understand that traditionally and historically the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury do not campaign -- secretary of defense do not campaign for the president of the United States.  Other cabinet officers might, but the secretary of state in particular does not, because he`s supposed to be concerned about the U.S. national security and be above politics. 

Instead, we have a secretary of state who is deep, deep over his head in politics -- not only the president`s but perhaps his own run for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky.  So, he doesn`t put national security interests first, he`s putting his own interests first.  This isn`t the way it`s supposed to be. 

O`DONNELL:  Mike Pompeo asked William Taylor to go into that job in Ukraine as the acting ambassador after they got rid of the ambassador that Rudy Giuliani wanted them to get rid of.  And then Mike Pompeo apparently has just abandoned what was his own choice for that job. 

SHERMAN:  He has indeed abandoned.  He had his counselor let Ambassador Taylor know he should be gone by the 3rd when Secretary Pompeo is there.  I find it very interesting that it also appears that the president may be holding Evangelicals for Trump Rally in Miami on the 3rd, and the 3rd is the first day the Senate is back in session. 

So, this is going to be quite a consequential day in the lives of where we`re going with our future.  Not only that, it will be very curious, Lawrence.  David Holmes, who is the counselor for political affairs at the embassy in Ukraine who testified about overhearing the conversation that Sondland had -- Ambassador Sondland had with President Trump were indeed, there was a direct conversation about going after Biden in Ukraine, for the president`s own purposes, still remains a political counselor.  And under normal circumstances, he would be very much a part of what`s called the country briefing, bringing the secretary of state up-to-date, getting ready for his meeting with President Zelensky.  It will be very curious to see whether David Holmes is sent to Siberia, no pun intended, as well. 

O`DONNELL:  Former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it. 

SHERMAN:  Thank you. 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, there is more important reporting from the "New York Times," this time about what the Democratic presidential candidates should be campaigning against every day the Trump corporate tax cuts.  We could do the entire hour on this next story when we`ll be joined by "New York Times" reporter Jesse Drucker who has revealed of corporate lobbyists have made the Trump tax cuts work even better for corporations than the Trump people designed them to do.  That`s next. 


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, ANCHOR MSNBC: In high school, most of us are taught how a bill becomes a law, but most of us are never taught what happens to the law after that and who decides how that law will be enforced - how it will be enforced.

As this year comes to a close, "The New York Times" has delivered the most important lesson of the year in what happens after a bill is signed into law by the President. In this case, tax law. The giant Trump tax cuts for corporations have become even more giant after the relentless corporate lobbying about how to enforce that law.

The enforcement of tax law is decided by the United States Treasury and written into formal rules and regulations of enforcement that all of us taxpayers have to live by, but it is a lot easier to live by those rules and regulations if you had a hand in writing them.

As today`s "New York Times" report by Jesse Drucker and Jim Tankersley reveals under the headline, "How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the Trump Administration?" This is the real story of government in action, and as with all important decisions made in government in Washington, C-SPAN cameras are not allowed in the room where that happens.

Joining our discussion now is the co-author of that "New York Times" piece, "New York Times" Reporter Jesse Drucker.

I, for one, cannot thank you enough for this reporting, because as someone who worked in the Senate Finance Committee where we would write these tax laws, we knew we were sending them over to another world that we couldn`t control, which is that rules and regulations world, and it seems more out of control than ever.

JESSE DRUCKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Right. I mean, what we had here in 2017 was we had a very significant tax cuts package that came out of Congress and signed into law by President Trump. But the law was written incredibly quickly and incredibly poorly. And so, from there, it has to go to the Treasury to write a series of regulations to help administer the new law.

And what happened as part of this law is it was a combination of more than $5 trillion in tax cuts and $4 trillion in new taxes. And the most significant new taxes on companies was about a quarter of a trillion dollars on multi-nationals that were supposed to help dissuade them from pushing profits in tax savings overseas.

And what happened is, as soon as that bill was signed into law, several dozen of these companies realized that this was not something they were eager to do. A lot of them were not expecting it, in part because the law was done so quickly, there were no hearings on this. It all took place over seven weeks.

And so what we`ve basically had over the last two years is Treasury kind of pretty much - I wouldn`t say under cover of darkness, but in a process that the public really has very little visibility into, has written a series of very significant regulations that have had the effect of basically rolling back the quarter of a trillion dollars in new taxes on multi-nationals to the tune of tens of billions and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars in tax reductions, if that all make sense.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And this regulation process is, I guess what we could call, a semi-public process, in the sense that there are public notifications that this process is underway, we`re writing the regulation for X law, you are theoretically invited to comment on this, but it`s only people with high-priced lobbyists who even know that that`s happening and know how to comment on it.

DRUCKER: Yes. I mean, there`s kind of a couple stages in this process. For the first year, there isn`t really even anything in the public. In other words, for the first year of the regulatory process, this is basically all private communications going on between lobbyists and staffers of the Treasury Department and officials there. And there`s really no public disclosure of any of that, of who is having the meetings and what they`re seeking.

And then kind of a year into the process, the Treasury Department issues a series of proposed regulations, and at that point, it becomes public. And then there are dozens, if not hundreds of comment letters, that become public about this. But those are things that are really understood.

I mean, if you look at some of the letters, I mean, they`re literally written almost in Esperanto. I mean, you - these are things only understood by literally a few hundred tax attorneys in America. And so now we`ve got is, after a very, very complicated two-year process, we are now seeing how these new taxes are shaking out.

And part of the issue here is that because the law was so poorly written, Treasury Department had an incredible line of latitude or decided that it should exercise a level of latitude to try to make a law that didn`t make a lot of sense in places make some sense.

And in doing so, they`re really only hearing from one side. There is no one out there lobbying the Treasury Department to make the taxes more stringent. 99.99 percent of their meetings are with representatives for companies that are seeking the taxes to be cut.

O`DONNELL: And they all - each company makes the case that, oh, you don`t understand how my company works. Yes, this - that might be OK for some other kind of company, but this particular company, if you tax us this way, it will crush us this way.

DRUCKER: Yes. We`re--

O`DONNELL: And each of them are making that argument all the time.

DRUCKER: Yes, or the intention of Congress was not to tax these types of transactions. These types of transactions aren`t meant to avoid or dodge taxes. These are transactions we have to do in the course of our regular business. They have nothing to do with dodging taxes.

And there may be some legitimacy to those arguments, that maybe they are unfair, maybe they`re poorly conceived. But it isn`t necessarily in the authority of the Treasury Department to decide that Congress has written a law that maybe is unfair or maybe doesn`t make a lot of sense.

And in the case of some of the things we wrote about, for instance, an exemption that Secretary Mnuchin signed off on that essentially exempted giant foreign banks like Credit Suisse and Barclays from one of the major new taxes, there isn`t really - there`s a lot of discussion about whether Treasury had the authority to do that. And staffers at Treasury did raise these objections to the officials at Treasury that were in charge of this and ultimately they did not win the day.

O`DONNELL: Yes, the permanent staff.


O`DONNELL: Yes. The bottom line, as it were, is that as much as we thought the Trump tax cuts cost the Treasury, it cost much more.


O`DONNELL: The deficit is much higher and now CBO is projecting new numbers for where the deficit is going. And the deficit and the debt are going way up higher than they projected, even when they saw what the Congress intended the tax cuts to be.

DRUCKER: Yes. I mean, there`s two things to say about that. For one thing, the deficit doesn`t have to go higher. The alternative is the government can just cut spending. They can continue to cut spending at the EPA and at OSHA and the Department of Education and NASA and - take your pick. They can cut spending and then you don`t have to worry about the deficit getting higher.

Other issue here is that, remember, the reason the Republicans were able to get the law passed so quickly is they did through this process called reconciliation, which basically they promised that the deficit is only going to be above over a certain amount and then they`re going to ram the law through and the Democrats don`t have the ability to filibuster or stop the bill from becoming law.

But what has happened is that number, the number they essentially promised, is really no longer a real number--


DRUCKER: --because the Treasury through the regulatory process has effectively added hundreds of billions of dollars potentially to that deficit.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And as your article so masterfully points out, if they had used what has become the real number, they couldn`t have used reconciliation. They would have--

DRUCKER: Right. Correct.

O`DONNELL: --needed 60 votes. The bill never would have passed.

Jesse Drucker, this is invaluable work.

DRUCKER: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you very much--

DRUCKER: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: --for doing it and joining us tonight.


O`DONNELL: Really appreciate it.

When we come back, the Pelosi strategy of holding back the articles of impeachment. Is it working? That`s next.


O`DONNELL: It was just 12 days ago that the House of Representatives impeached President Trump. And minutes after that historic vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shocked the system, which in this case I guess includes me, when she said this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have legislation approved by the Rules Committee that will enable us to decide how we will send over the articles of impeachment. We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side. So far, we haven`t seen anything that looks fair to us, so hopefully it will be fair.


O`DONNELL: And so she did not send the articles of impeachment to the United States Senate, as expected. And because Nancy Pelosi said that, the news has been focused on what the rules should be for the Senate impeachment trial. And Mitch McConnell made the mistake of saying this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with the White House Counsel. There will be no difference between the President`s position and our position as to how to handle this.


O`DONNELL: And so now Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski and others are trying to distance themselves from McConnell`s position so that they can try to claim to be fair jurors in the impeachment trial.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I think Senator McConnell is entitled to his opinion and his approach. I can only speak for me. I`m going to keep an open mind. I want to be fair to both sides.


O`DONNELL: Nancy Pelosi`s decision to hold the articles of impeachment appears to be holding the focus now on how to achieve a fair trial in the United States Senate.

After this break, we`ll be joined by David Frum and David Corn to consider how Donald Trump and the Republicans are reacting in different ways to Speaker Pelosi`s decision to hold on to those articles of impeachment while demanding that fair trial in the Senate. That`s next.



PELOSI: Our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue President. I don`t think they suspected that we could have a rogue President and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.


O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is David Frum, Senior Editor for "The Atlantic," and David Corn, the Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones and MSNBC Political Analyst.

David Frum, is it working? Holding the articles of impeachment, is it - it seems the Speaker`s intent was to focus on the fairness of the rules of the Senate impeachment trial.

DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC SENIOR EDITOR & FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I want to throw an idea about what`s happening here. It`s not mine. It belongs to Paul Rosenzweig of the R Street Institute, which is a conservative-leaning but non-Trump, a think tank here in town.

And Paul points to this point. February 4th is the State of the Union. If President Trump, if there`s been a trial and there`s been a sham hearing and the Senate has slapped together acquittal, imagine the tone of President Trump on the 4th of February. Triumphal, obnoxious, overbearing, I win, I win, you lose, you lose.

If the impeachment is still pending on the 4th of February, can you imagine how insane that State of the Union is going to be? It`s going to be like the Twitter feed. Like, it`s going to be like the Christmas Twitter feed when the family is all gone. It`s going to be an hour of paranoia and grievance and narcissism of a kind that is going to I think terrify even many - and Paul suggests, terrify even many of his supporters. So, having this not wrapped up by the 4th of February, that could have very dramatic consequences.

O`DONNELL: OK. So that sounds like one vote for it`s working.


O`DONNELL: David Corn - David Corn, look, I was shocked because it was an idea that had just been floating for few days before. It wasn`t being floated by people with real experience in the Congress, but it took hold very much to my surprise.

And from where I`m sitting, it seems to be working. The focus seems to be on the question of fairness in the Senate trial.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF & MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my concern a few weeks ago before they voted for impeachment was that once the Democrats wrapped up the hearings about the Ukrainian extortion play and then voted for impeachment and kicked it over to the Senate, the narrative would be lost.

It would be lost to Mitch McConnell, who would have all these openings to create a new narrative, whether it`s the focus on the Bidens or Ukrainian servers, whatever you wanted to do, or to wrap it up within two days, that basically the story that the public still, as you noted earlier on this show, has not gotten the full account of would be sucked up into whatever narrative McConnell and his Republican comrades would cook up.

So I think Pelosi, whether this was what was the intent, whether it was what David suggested, it was just to figure out how to drive Donald Trump even crazier. In any event, it`s preventing that from happening at least at this point.

O`DONNELL: David, a piece you wrote, you`re talking about Donald Trump.

FRUM: Yes.

O`DONNELL: His gangster mode.

FRUM: Yes.

O`DONNELL: And this holding of the articles seems to have actually brought out even more of that in a kind of wilder range of Trump tweeting.

FRUM: Well, this is something that got lost over Christmas when many people who have families and love them were not on Twitter, but the President was. Donald Trump has been tiptoeing, and his supporters have been tiptoeing to naming the whistleblower. And in his Christmas tweeting, the President re- tweeted two things, one of which had the whistleblower`s name in the headline as a newspaper story and the other of which had the whistleblower or presumed whistleblower`s name in the body of the tweet.

Now, the whistleblower or the presumed whistleblower`s name has been circulating in conservative media for a while. And if this is accurate, it`s not exactly a secret. But for the President to do it is unprecedented.

And the reason this is so important is it`s not actually probably illegal for the President to disclose the whistleblower`s name. The law forbids the Inspector General to whom the complaint was brought to do it, but it`s not clear that anyone else has obligation. What is forbidden is retaliation.

What Donald Trump is doing my sending his - putting - attaching his Twitter feed to a naming is he`s inciting a retaliation on a continental scale. I mean, not just inside the government, but outside. And that is clearly lawless. But the - the President has taken a long time to make up his mind to do it, and he clearly deliberately decided to do it, not once but twice over Christmas.

O`DONNELL: We have proven once again that the only thing better than one David is two Davids, and they`re going to stay with us.

And when we come back, we`re going to discuss Mitt Romney`s local Utah newspaper wanting him to demand witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Senator Mitt Romney is facing new pressure to do the right thing in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. Mitt Romney`s local state newspaper, "The Salt Lake Tribune," published an editorial titled, "Senator Mitt Romney`s Mission: Trial first. Verdict afterwards."

"In the current unpleasantness, Mitt Romney has at least tried to hold himself out as an impartial juror, attempting to not prejudge the matter before the evidence has been heard. It would thus be helpful to his own cause if Romney could muster whatever influence he has to make sure that the Senate does, indeed, hear the evidence."

We`re back with David Frum and David Corn.

David Corn, pressure like that on Mitt Romney and the - As Nancy Pelosi continues to withhold the articles of impeachment, that`s the kind of pressure that could build.

CORN: It could build. And I always believe that if you bet on the Republican hand wringers to not really come through that, you`ll make money. I mean, whether it`s Susan Collins or Mitt Romney, they`re always concerned - Lisa Murkowski. We`ve got to get beyond expressions of concern. And I don`t think - Mitch McConnell has a pretty strong control of the Senate. You`re a veteran of the Senate. You know how that works.

I think the most effective thing Mitt Romney could be doing in that situation would be speaking out publicly. There has been more - the more public attention that`s brought to bear on this, that will have - that`s the only thing that may put an iota of pressure for McConnell to pull back from his ridiculous position of working in lockstep with the White House. So until Mitt Romney says something publicly, until Lisa Murkowski gets beyond being concerned, I think we`re not going to see a lot of action within the Republican caucus.

O`DONNELL: And David Frum, on Christmas Eve, and I missed this, because I was otherwise engaged on Christmas Eve, that`s when Senator Lisa Murkowski said in Alaska to the "NBC" affiliate that she wants to be able to look at both sides of this case and that it has to be taken seriously by the Senate, really distancing herself at least rhetorically from the Mitch McConnell position.

FRUM: Well, how much does Lisa Murkowski owe Mitch McConnell? Remember, she had to run to return to the Senate as an independent. Her own party turned on her. I think all of this happening out of doors. And this conversation we`re having tonight is part of what`s going on.

During the Clinton impeachment, which I think we all remember well and maybe we`re on different sides of it, but the public became an increasingly important factor. There is no point in the year of the Clinton impeachment where President Clinton`s support dipped below 60 percent. It tipped 73 percent on the day the vote was called.

This is different. And that will matter.

O`DONNELL: David Frum, David Corn, thank you both very much for joining us tonight and thank you very much for your contributions to this program throughout this year. Really appreciate it.

CORN: Same to you, and Happy New Year, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Happy New Year to you both.

FRUM: Happy New Year.

O`DONNELL: And tonight, a last word about the K.I.N.D. Fund with all of the crush of impeachment news this Christmas season. We weren`t able to share as many of the stories of what we`re doing at K.I.N.D. Fund as we would have liked.

We`re providing desks to schools in African schools where the kids have never seen desks. We`re providing scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi where the graduation rate from high school for girls is half the graduation rate for boys. We do that with your help and only with your help and only through the contributions that you are inspired to give by seeing their stories at this hour on this program.

Over the course of the holiday, I decided to double my own personal contribution to the K.I.N.D. Fund this year because we haven`t been able to spend as much time with it during the program as I would like. I hope some of you would consider the K.I.N.D. Fund before the year ends.

You can go to at any time of the year and help these girls stay in high school and help improve that classroom environment. The kids there really appreciate everything you do for them. And they thank you for your kindness, and I thank you.