LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I saw your interview with Elizabeth Warren which was great, and you know what we know about every single presidential candidate except one?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Hmm?
O`DONNELL: Everyone is going to drop out of the race. Every one except one is at some point going to drop out of the race, and some of them may not drop out until the convention, but they`re all going to do it except one.
O`DONNELL: And they`re all going to endorse that other one eventually and may be making different endorsements along the way. And so, we had Julian Castro`s big endorsement today --
O`DONNELL: -- of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
MADDOW: The timing is fascinating, right, for him to be making this endorsement at this point in the race rather than wait to see who the nominee is going to be, it`s fascinating.
O`DONNELL: Well, so, I think it I -- heard you say that this means he`s not really placing a bet on the possibly of being Joe Biden`s vice presidential pick. I think it actually still works perfectly well for him in the following way. If you`re Joe Biden, you really want to get a vice presidential nominee who represents that side of the party, what we can now call possibly the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and now Julian Castro side of the party. If it`s not Elizabeth Warren, well, how about Julian Castro?
So, I think it can work in a bunch of ways for Julian Castro, including Elizabeth Warren`s possible choice as vice presidential candidate.
MADDOW: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, it`s -- certainly, it`s a boost for her. It`s an interesting calculation on Castro`s point, and you know, things -- I feel like everything is very scrambled right now in Iowa ahead of that impending vote there. But it makes all more exciting (ph).
O`DONNELL: Completely, I find the whole thing completely unpredictable at this stage, but the one thing I was not surprised by was this particular endorsement, because knowing that they are all, except one, eventually going to drop out, and knowing that this is one of the most impressive groups of Democrat presidential candidates I`ve ever seen --
O`DONNELL: My favorite question, actually, for all of them who come on the show, what is the most interesting thing you`ve heard, best thing you`ve heard from one of the other candidates?
MADDOW: That`s very smart.
O`DONNELL: First person I asked, Julian Castro. He said, Elizabeth Warren has some really good ideas. When I asked Elizabeth Warren a few weeks later, she said, Julian Castro has really good ideas about immigration.
I think I`m going to try to squeeze in that video, actually, later in this hour --
MADDOW: Oh, good.
O`DONNELL: -- of showing the two of them answering that question on this show which has now borne this endorsement.
MADDOW: A chronicle foretold --
O`DONNELL: A bet made at some point.
MADDOW: Well done, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
O`DONNELL: Well, President Obama`s national security adviser Susan Rice will join us tonight. She wrote an op-ed piece saying, it`s hard to envision how this ends short of war. Those are very difficult words for her to write, but she means it. She is talking, of course, about Donald Trump`s confrontation with Iran.
We`ll also hear from President Obama`s CIA director, John Brennan, at the end of this hour. We`ll ask John Brennan how we can evaluate the Trump administration`s claims that they killed Iran`s top general to prevent imminent attacks by Iran when the Trump administration cites intelligence that we don`t know whether it`s true or false, and we don`t even know what intelligence they`re claiming to refer to says.
How do we -- how do we evaluate statements like that? We`re going to ask a former CIA director. And we will be joined by the Democratic presidential candidate who has the most military experience and combat experience of any of the Democratic candidates, but he was forced to drop out of the presidential race back when those credentials didn`t seem so important, and he could not get enough polling support to qualify for the debates.
Former presidential candidate, Congressman Seth Moulton, will join us. Seth Moulton said this weekend, we have the most reckless commander-in- chief in American history.
Also in this hour, we`ll be discussing the stunning and I mean stunning switch today by John Bolton, who is now saying, now he is willing to testify in the Senate impeachment trial. John Bolton will definitely be a witness in the Senate impeachment trial now if just 51 senators decide that he should be.
I`ll be learning from all of our guests throughout this hour, and you will, too, on a day where the dynamics of the Senate impeachment trial have now changed dramatically and the likelihood of a possible new war in the Middle East has also changed dramatically. We have woken up to a more dangerous world. That is what a French government official told the "Washington Post" about President Trump`s choice of the most extreme option presented to him to deal with Iran`s aggressions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. That extreme option was, of course, the killing of Iran`s top military commander, General Soleimani, last week.
A team of "New York Times" reporters, using sources inside the Trump administration, reported on the options presented to the president this way. The options included strikes on Iranian ships or missile facilities or against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq. The Pentagon also tacked on the choice of targeting General Soleimani, mainly to make other options seem reasonable.
When Mr. Trump chose the option of killing General Soleimani, top military officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region. "The Times" reports that the execution of the plan to kill the general depended entirely on who might greet the general when he arrived at the Baghdad airport. If General Soleimani had been met by someone else from the United States who was unwilling to kill, General Soleimani would be alive today.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not one of the Trump administration officials who was flabbergasted by the killing of General Soleimani. "The Washington Post" reported Mike Pompeo had been urging the president to kill General Soleimani for months. Secretary Pompeo did a victory lap on Sunday morning television saying, quote, we took a bad guy off the battlefield. We made the right decision. I`m proud of the effort that the president undertook.
Someone else who wasn`t flabbergasted is now Trump`s former national security adviser, John Bolton. He tweeted his congratulations, congratulations on the killing of General Soleimani. But unlike Mike Pompeo, John Bolton refused to name President Trump as a person responsible for the killing.
John Bolton`s tweet simply said, congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. I hope this is the first step in regime change in Tehran.
War hawks like John Bolton frequently tried to avoid the real language of what they advocate, so they like to use words like eliminating when they mean killing, and regime change when they mean all-out war. No one is more aggressive to Iran than John Bolton, and it may be that John Bolton is now so confident that Donald Trump has now put the United States on an irreversible path to all-out war with Iran that John Bolton no longer needs Donald Trump in the White House, especially with the "Washington Post" reporting that Vice President Mike Pence was also urging the killing of General Soleimani along with Secretary of State Pompeo, because today of all days, as the situation got worse and worse for the United States in Iraq with the Iraqi parliament having voted 170 to zero to expel the American military and American government officials from Iraq, today of all days is the day that John Bolton decided to publicly announce in writing on his website that he is ready, willing and able to testify in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the United States Senate.
Quote: I have concluded that if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.
Now, you can believe in coincidence. We`ve all seen instances of it in our own lives. But John Bolton doesn`t do coincidence. John Bolton does calculation. And John Bolton calculated that the worst thing he could possibly do to Donald Trump today is say, I am prepared to testify, and John Bolton did that.
No one has dreamed of war with Iran and regime change in Iran more fervently than John Bolton, and the reward that John Bolton gave the president today who has brought us closer to that war than any previous president was the announcement, I am prepared to testify in the impeachment trial of that president. Does that mean now that war with Iran is simmering, John Bolton wants the steadier hand of Mike Pence at the controls?
John Bolton doesn`t want a rerun of the time when president Trump called off an attack on Iran ten minutes before it was scheduled to take place. John Bolton doesn`t want a president tweeting that he will commit war crimes by bombing non-military sites in Iran, including cultural sites. John Bolton wants war with Iran done right if it`s going to be done. He wants it done Pompeo and Pence style.
In the Obama White House, Susan Rice was the president`s national security adviser, the same job John Bolton had in the Trump White House. In an op- ed piece for "The New York Times," she writes that Donald Trump`s action against Iran, quote, now locks our two countries in a dangerous escalatory cycle that will likely lead to wider warfare.
Americans are not safer. American citizens are at greater risk of attack across a far wider battlefield than before. It`s hard to envision how this ends short of war.
Leading off our discussion tonight is Susan Rice who served as President Obama`s national security adviser after serving as President Obama`s ambassador to the United Nations. She`s the author of "Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting For."
Susan Rice, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
I want to go first of all to this tweet the president put out where he basically said -- basically committed the United States to committing war crimes, attacking cultural sites, saying there are 52 targets, and that number was chosen simply for symbolic purposes, not necessarily military tactical purposes. And Mike Pompeo now trying to walk that back and say, we won`t do that. Administration officials saying we won`t do that, but the commander in chief has said we will.
SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Lawrence, it`s very disconcerting, to say the least. When the president of the United States is publicly and recklessly threatening to commit war crimes. And I should hope that saner heads would prevail, that in the State Department, certainly in the Defense Department, that they understand what the laws of war are, what our domestic law also requires, and would refuse to execute an order that was in stark violation of international and domestic law of war.
So I`m -- as hard as it is to swallow some of the, you know, the rank craziness that comes out of the president`s Titter feed, there at least I think it would be a very difficult thing for the president to execute, assuming that the leadership that is even now in the Pentagon has its own say.
O`DONNELL: What would you be looking for? I know the op-ed piece you wrote is not an optimistic one, but if you were looking for signs that the Trump administration is capable of steering away from war here, what would you need to see them do?
RICE: Well, I think in the first instance, we would need actually to see efforts by the administration to deescalate. You had Mike Pompeo blanket the Sunday shows and claim that this was all about de-escalation, and you had the president earlier saying this was about stopping a war, and in the same moment, the president, you know, issues his extraordinary threat to retaliate against 52 sites, including cultural sites.
He`s now threatened Iraq with sanctions, which is even more mind-boggling in some ways, because the Iraqis are threatening to throw the United States out of Iraqi territory. And so, frankly, you know, it`s very hard to understand what to expect out of this crew.
O`DONNELL: I want to go to the announcement that Iran made about the nuclear deal and what they now intend to do in that arena. It seems a little more complicated than is generally being reported.
I want to read the "Washington Post" text on this. It says, Iran announced over the weekend that it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. The foreign minister said the move was a remedial step but taken within the framework of the nuclear deal, and he said that it could be reversed.
I heard commenters on the BBC today also being more optimistic, British observers more optimistic about the possibility of salvaging the deal, especially, for example, if a new president is inaugurated a year from now.
RICE: Well, I`m not optimistic. I think this really might have been the last blow to the Iran nuclear deal.
But it was an interestingly crafted statement on the part of the Iranians. It said they would no longer be constrained by any of the restrictions that they adhered to in the context of the nuclear program, and that can be interpreted in any number of ways. And they said that were sanctions to be removed and the United States come back into compliance, that they would then be prepared to come back into compliance. So that can be construed as a potential off-ramp.
But given everything else that`s going on, given President Trump`s extraordinary disdain for the nuclear deal, given the critical sanctions that had been imposed, and now this escalation by killing Soleimani, it`s hard to see how that happens in the near term. Of course, it`s very hard, too, in this world, as you know, to have any predictions of where we`ll be a year from now. And so, I`m not -- I`m not going to jump off that cliff.
O`DONNELL: "The New York Times" kind of backstage reporting at the White House indicates that the options that were give to the president in this case included the options of killing the general only to make other options look better and look more reasonable. Did you present options to President Obama that way and include one that you firmly believed should not be an option but did it just to steer him in the other direction?
RICE: No, Lawrence, I didn`t, and I don`t believe the Pentagon did.
You know, there are occasions where, particularly with things like potential troop levels to be deployed in a particular operation, that you might have sort of small, medium and large versions of options. And sometimes the expectation is that there is a compulsion to steer towards the middle option.
In this case when you have a member of the sort when, in fact, that`s the case as "The New York Times" reported, it ranges very far and wide from very limited to very extreme. You don`t give the president of the United States, in particular, this president of the United States who has shown himself to be incredibly unpredictable and impulsive options that you think would be detrimental to the United States national security, which, in my judgment, ultimately as bad as Soleimani was and as much American blood as he had on his hands, I think from a strategic point of view, it was extremely unwise to execute that operation given the likelihood of reprisals, given what we`ve seen in terms of Iran further reneging on the nuclear deal, the Iraqis on the verge of kicking us out of Iraq which would be a huge strategic victory for Iran, and the fight against ISIS being utterly suspended now.
O`DONNELL: Would you -- if the option had been raised or was the option ever raised during the Obama administration of killing the general?
RICE: In my know -- to my knowledge, Lawrence, and certainly while I was national security adviser, we were never presented by the Pentagon or by the intelligence community with an opportunity to consider killing Soleimani. Had we been, we would not have approached it in a slap-dash way, an impulsive way, it would have been a very, very difficult decision with all sorts of careful considerations about the costs and the benefits, and we would have certainly weighed for potential of repercussions of the sort we`re beginning to see now and more to come, undoubtedly.
And we would have taken the time for sure to ensure that American personnel in the region and beyond were well-secured. So this seemed to me to be a rather impulsive decision made in a day or two, if not much more. That`s not the way we would have approached it in the Obama administration.
And there are good reasons to be very skeptical about the benefits of the course that President Trump chose. And I, for one, think that it will prove to have been a strategic blunder.
O`DONNELL: Susan Rice, thank you very much for starting us off tonight. I really appreciate it.
RICE: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, in just one sentence on his website today, John Bolton ruined Donald Trump`s day, ruined Mitch McConnell`s day and made Nancy Pelosi`s day. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: John Bolton stunned, and I mean stunned, Washington today, Republicans and Democrats, when he announced that he is ready suddenly to testify in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump if the Senate subpoenas him. John Bolton decided to make this announcement today on his website.
The big question now is why? Why is someone, who refused to testify to the House impeachment investigation, willing to testify to the Senate trial of the now impeached Donald Trump?
If John Bolton`s testimony could be the smoking gun that removes Donald Trump from office, is John Bolton willing to testify now because he believes Mike Pence would be a better prosecutor of a war for regime change in Iran?
John Bolton has signed the biggest book deal of his life, a multimillion dollar book deal for his story of working in the Trump White House. Has John Bolton`s book publisher gotten nervous about allowing John Bolton to tell his stories in the pages of a book after refusing to tell his story under oath in the constitutional process of impeachment in the Congress? Does John Bolton`s book become worth even more money if John Bolton testifies? Does it increase book sales if he becomes the star witness in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump?
What is John Bolton up to? There are many possible answers to that question.
And for that we turn to Mieke Eoyang and Rick Stengel. Rick Stengel is a former under secretary of state in the Obama administration and an MSNBC political analyst. And Mieke Eoyang is a former staff member of the House Intelligence Committee, and the vice president of the national security program at Third Way. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
We will go by the rank of office, which means the under secretary goes before the House staffer. I know how hard it was for you, Mieke, and it was for me when I was a Senate staffer.
Rick, John Bolton, so many possible motivations for him, including just getting back at Donald Trump for what Donald Trump says was firing him, even though Bolton insists, I quit, I wasn`t fired.
What do you -- what do you see as the possible motivators for Bolton now?
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I hope his principal motivation is patriotism.
O`DONNELL: OK, it`s not that. So, go ahead, I`m sorry.
STENGEL: That he --
O`DONNELL: Where was that in the House of Representatives? I mean, didn`t he eliminate that as a possibility in the House?
STENGEL: Well, I mean, it might be -- he might feel that this is the big ball game in the Senate, and this is the true historic measure, and he didn`t want to be left out. I mean, it might be he just wanted to get in that same soccer game and be a scrum.
You know, one of the things I talk about talking about service in Washington is I brought along the form that you sign when you have to agree to look at classified information and then not reveal it afterwards, and if you`re writing a book, you have to actually then have it vetted by the White House and the State Department. The problem is the people who serve in Washington should not be able to financially benefit from this service if they are asked to testify in a legal hearing and then don`t do it. Their book advance should be garnished.
So I think he might just be recognizing the fact that this would benefit his book, benefit the country and it`s the right thing to do.
O`DONNELL: Mieke, Rick just raised another issue involving a book, which is a book like Bolton has to be cleared. The government has a process for clearing that book to make sure there`s no classified information in it, to say, yes, you can publish this. The government can take just about as long as it wants doing that, and if it`s a Trump government, they`re not going to clear the John Bolton book if it has anything negative to say about Donald Trump.
But if John Bolton has managed to say all that in public in a Senate trial, then the book is, in effect, cleared by the Senate trial.
MIEKE EOYANG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s right. And there are tremendous protections for people who testify in Congress under the switch and bait clause. There are some things that are important because it`s so important to testify before Congress. So, yes, he is avoiding some of the questions of redactions and excuses that you`ve seen in this administration to try and withhold information.
But I also think there is a political motive for Bolton in his refusal to testify to the House and his agreement to testify before the Senate if called, and that`s he`s venue shopping. He knows he has a much more favorable venue in the Senate where he`s likely to have Lindsey Graham or Richard Burr as chairman of the committee, and he did not want to face the questioning of Adam Schiff, who we have seen is a very effective and very thorough prosecutor.
O`DONNELL: But he doesn`t know that he`s not going to face the questioning of Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff could be one of the House managers, Mieke, on the floor prosecuting the case.
EOYANG: That`s right, and this is why it`s so important for Nancy Pelosi to withhold the articles of impeachment and appointment of managers until she knows exactly what the structure is going to be in the Senate, because it will matter a lot to her whether or not she has someone who is going to be able to question witnesses or whether or not they are people who are just going to read statements and give their case to the American people.
O`DONNELL: All right. We`re going to squeeze in a break here. Mieke and Rick, please stay with us. We`re going to get to Nancy Pelosi`s strategy after this break about holding back the articles of impeachment.
And you`ll hear from one Republican senator who said this today about John Bolton. One Republican senator actually said, I`d love to hear what he has to say. We`ll show you that Republican senator after this break.
O`DONNELL: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s decision to hold back House passed articles of impeachment from the Senate was intended to keep the public impeachment focus on the issue of a fair trial in the Senate, which Senate Democrats say must include witnesses. The most important of those witnesses is John Bolton.
And today John Bolton shocked Democrats and Republicans by publicly announcing that now that he`s had time to think about it, time that Nancy Pelosi gave him by holding back the articles of impeachment, John Bolton has decided that he is ready to testify in a Senate trial.
He said, "I have concluded that if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify." We`re back with Mieke Eoyang and Rick Stengel. And here is Senator Mitt Romney`s reaction to John Bolton`s offer to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I`d love to hear what he has to say. He has firsthand information. And assuming that Articles of Impeachment do reach the Senate, why I`d like to hear what he knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Rick, the Democrats need just three more. They need four Republicans to say what Mitt Romney just said, and to then actually vote on it, and create a vote of 51 for a subpoena to John Bolton.
RICHARD STENGEL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, bully for Mitt Romney. He said the right thing. Marco Rubio said the wrong thing today. I don`t know if you saw his quote where he said, basically, we don`t want to start a whole new investigation in the Senate.
O`DONNELL: I want to have a crack (ph) here. Let me - let me give it to the audience. Rubio said the testimony and evidence considered in the Senate impeachment trial should be the same testimony and evidence the house relied upon when they passed the Articles of Impeachment, and that`s where he wants to stand.
STENGEL: It`s a disingenuous thing to say. I mean, there`s actually nothing in the constitution about that. But, if I were Adam Schiff, I would subpoena Mr. Bolton right now, in order to even just disqualify - I mean, Marco Rubio`s argument,
O`DONNELL: Mieke, your reaction to Mitt Romney coming up where 71 percent of the people are "Washington Post" poll says on the question of should Trump allow aids to testify? 71 percent say, yes, they should they should testify.
MIEKE EOYANG, FMR. STAFF MEMBER HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Yes, I think that it`s totally reasonable that Mitt Romney would want to hear from a firsthand witness who was in the room when the President was deliberating about this. Who might have been in the room when the cabinet officials were making a last ditch effort for the President to release the aid.
Who told his own staff that they needed to go talk to lawyers because there was a drug deal that Rudy was cooking up. And this is someone who was very uncomfortable with what was happening at the time. And I think it`s important that Senators hear from this.
The question is how many of them will admit that they also want to and need to hear from Bolton in order to figure out what happened with the President and this Ukraine aid?
O`DONNELL: And Rick Stengel, "The New York Times," not surprisingly, when we all know the drug deal, quote "The New York Times" reporting people close to John Bolton saying his testimony would be harmful to the President.
STENGEL: Yes, I saw that. But I`d also say to the Democrats, be careful what you wish for. I mean, Bolton is a political creature. He wants to have a future in the Republican Party. If there is a Republican Party, he may just try to cut the difference between the two.
O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang, Rick Stengel, thank you both for joining us tonight.
And when we come back, former presidential candidate Congressman Seth Moulton who served four tours of combat duty in Iraq as a marine says that Donald Trump is the worst Commander-in-Chief in history. Congressman Seth Moulton joins us next.
O`DONNELL: Pete Buttigieg is now riding high in the polls and riding high with campaign contributors, to some extent, based on his service in the Navy Reserves, which included seven months of non-combat duty in Afghanistan in 2014.
Military service did not seem to help Congressman Seth Moulton in his campaign. Congressman Moulton was one of the first candidates to drop out of the race last year, even though he served four tours of duty in heavy combat in Iraq and won 20 times more votes in his reelection campaign than Pete Buttigieg won in his mayoral reelection campaign.
After Donald Trump threatened to commit war crimes by tweeting that he will attack cultural sites in Iran, Congressman Seth Moulton wrote, "We have the most reckless Commander-in-Chief in American history."
Joining us now is Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat from Massachusetts and member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Moulton, first of all, I want to get your reaction to what the President has been saying about possibly committing war crimes and saying it on Twitter, and what you think happens next in within this story of our confrontation with Iran?
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Well, what happens next is very frightening. We don`t know, and it`s clear the administration doesn`t have a plan. But if there`s one thing that Iran has said that I actually trust is that they will retaliate.
They get to choose when, how and whom they`ll target, but they will retaliate against the United States. And there`s no question in my mind that Donald Trump has made America less safe. He has weakened our national security by the decision that he made a few days ago.
O`DONNELL: And when you when you consider what the possibilities are going down the road here, in your own military experience, certainly you had decisions to make, you had actual decisions to make in the field.
A decision that could create a certain risk this way a decision that might create a risk from another direction. How do you make those decisions and what is missing in the Trump processing of that kind of decision?
MOULTON: You make them by consulting advisors. You make them by talking to people who are smarter than you. And fundamentally, you make these decisions by putting the country first. Ahead of politics, ahead of trying to be a tough guy, putting the country first.
A decision that Donald Trump made, really out of left field to take out Qasem Soleimani, who by the way, we get it, he`s a terrible evil man. He killed a lot of Americans. I saw friends die from Iranian whack weapons. I faced Iranians on the ground in Iraq in 2004. So I get it, he`s bad.
But the decision that Trump made reminds me of a situation that I was in Najaf 2005, Southern Iraq, where we had a militia controlled city, General Petraeus sent me and a small team of Marines down to try to figure out how to get that city back. And there was an Iranian proxy in place as the governor.
This guy had blood on his hands too. He was an evil man. Trust me, I wanted to kill that Governor. But we made a strategic decision that taking him out would create more problems than it would solve.
And that`s the that`s the calculus you have to make in this kind of war. Are we killing more terrorists than we`re creating by this action? It`s very evident today with the news - it was evident within the first 24 hours, that by taking out Qasem Soleimani, Trump has made the situation worse, and that`s dangerous for our country.
O`DONNELL: What do you think Congress`s role is now in this situation?
MOULTON: Well, it`s about time that Congress stepped up and exercised our constitutional authority to decide when and how America goes to war. And this is a power that we have abrogated for a long time. I have been a consistent advocate in Congress for years now, I`ve only been here five years.
But from the very beginning, I`ve been advocating for having this debate about the authorization to use military force. In the last Defense Bill debate myself and Representative Ro Khanna of California, authored an amendment to say to make it very clear as part of the Defense Bill, that the administration does not have the authority to go to war with Iran.
And folks on both sides of the aisle agreed that that was true. But they said, Oh, it`s too contentious. We shouldn`t debate this now. Well, failing to have that debate then has gotten us that situation that we have today. It`s never too late, though, for Congress to exercise the constitutional responsibility that we have.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Seth Moulton, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
MOULTON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, former CIA Director John Brennan will help us evaluate the Trump administration`s claims that they have intelligence, showing that General Soleimani presented an imminent threat and that is why they killed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: --made the right decision. There`s lots of intelligence. You`ve seen some of its out in the public, right, the death to the American on December 27th. We had intelligence on the go forward basis of risk as well. The President made the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: How are we supposed to evaluate a statement like that. A statement that refers to intelligence that might or might not be in the government`s possession? Fortunately, for us, we have a former CIA Director to help us with that tonight.
Joining us now is John Brennan, former Director of the CIA. He is a Senior National Security and Intelligence Analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.
John Brennan, the audience hears things we`ve heard these kinds of statements in, in my case from in high school from Vietnam forward, where the government is telling us that they know things, they`ve established this information, and that`s why they`ve taken this action.
How should we evaluate statements like that, particularly this one, coming from a Trump administration where we know just about everyone in it, including Mike Pompeo has been caught lying before?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Lawrence, I have no idea what the government currently has in terms of intelligence. But I have no doubt that Qasem Soleimani was involved in planning operations, targeting U.S. presidents inside of Iraq, as he has done for many years.
In fact, the individual who was riding with him when he was killed, and also was killed, was the head of the Iraqi popular militias, which is the Iranian proxy group. But it`s unclear exactly what type of imminent threats may have been taking shape.
And Qasem Soleimani himself was not a terrorist operative. He was not going to strap a explosive device on his body and go after some target. He has been orchestrating these things over the years. So just because he was killed, does not mean that the capability to carry out those attacks in any way has been diminished.
In fact, because of the great anger that the Iranian government has right now against U.S. forces and the United States government, I think it is likely that the Iranians are going to try to orchestrate even more attacks.
So, again, I think it`s imperative that the Congress committees of jurisdiction, get the intelligence briefing that they need from the CIA, from the Office of Director of National Intelligence and others, to find out exactly what Secretary Pompeo and others are referring to when they talk about this imminent threat.
O`DONNELL: Let`s go see what Congressman Elissa Slotkin said this morning on "Morning Joe." I`m sorry, it was not - this is a tweet that was apparently issued today on "Morning Joe."
It says, "If there is an imminent threat, if people were truly at risk in an immediate way, just bring that to us. I`m very open to hearing about that. I`m not trying to be Secretary of State. I`m trying to understand, if we as a nation should be having a conversation. We want to get into another protracted war in the Middle East."
BRENNAN: Well, this is exactly right, because obviously the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an escalation of the interaction between ourselves and Iran at this point. And I agree that we need to do things to deter Iran from carrying out these attacks that kill Americans.
But the question is whether it was a wise decision, and whether or not this is going to help us in terms of deterring the Iranians, or is it just going to reinforce those hardliners within the Iranian government who want to lash out against the United States.
And what I`m concerned about is not just what might be authorized by Khamenei and the other Iranian leaders, what might be undertaken by those proxy groups that really revered a Qasem Soleimani and his acolytes throughout the region. What they might do on their own that is not going to be directed or controlled by Iran. So, again, I don`t think that there was very good thinking that went on before this action was taken.
O`DONNELL: "The New York Times" was reporting that some of the people involved in putting together the options list for the President, including - included the killing of General Soleimani only to make the other options look clearly reasonable to the President, because that one was so unreasonable.
Did you ever participate in any of the presidential administrations that you worked in to, assemble a list that would include something that the President should not do, just to make the things you should do look better?
BRENNAN: No, you try to give it presidents the best options available, which may have a high, medium, low option. And it`s up to the President to decide what is going to be in the best interest the United States. But putting something like that forward, if you really don`t believe it`s in the best interest United States, I think, is wrong.
Also I would question, what is the domestic as well as international legal basis for assassinating a senior government official? I know of no incident in recent memory where the United States has actually targeted an individual working for a sovereign government, outside of the period of active hostilities.
We killed senior Iraqi leaders when we went to war with Iraq, as bad as that war was, at least it was in the context of active hostilities. I know of no other incidents in recent memory at all, where the United States, again, selected an individual working for a sovereign government and decided to assassinate them.
O`DONNELL: Let`s just go to that word assassination, because you seem to have drawn a distinction there that the use of the term assassination applies if we`re not in active hostilities, as you put it.
BRENNAN: Well, I - again, I question the legal basis for this. When Osama bin Laden, and even Baghdadi, when they were killed by U.S. forces, it was the result of a document, "The Authorization for the use of Military Force," against these forces of Al-Qaeda and their associates. That enabled the President to take those actions.
These were terrorist organizations. They`re not national states. Qasem Soleimani was one of the senior most leaders of the Iranian government. And for the United States too, I think, very arbitrarily and on its own, I think it just shows great indifference to international law and the respect for sovereignty of other nations. As bad as Qasem Soleimani was, killing him like this, I think, is not just strategically unwise, but also I think, legally dubious.
O`DONNELL: Former CIA Director John Brennan, thank you very much for your invaluable input tonight. Really appreciate it.
BRENNAN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, it is already Tuesday in Iran, a country that has been transformed from an outbreak of antigovernment protests last month to what appears to be a unity in opposition to Donald Trump`s action, killing Iran`s top general. We have a live report from the region next.
O`DONNELL: Here`s what Iran`s capital city looked like just a couple months ago with antigovernment protests breaking out around the country. Here`s what Tehran looked like today for the funeral of General Soleimani, which appears to have brought her on more unity than we saw last year.
"The Associated Press" estimated at least a million people turned out to mourn and protest, some chanting Death to America. "The New York Times" reports, "The General`s funeral was attended by a broad swath of Iranians, including reformers, who opposed the government of President Hassan Rouhani, but who perceived the killing as an attack on all of Iran."
Joining us now Cal Perry, International Correspondent for MSNBC and NBC News. He joins us now from Doha. Cal, we saw a very different Tehran today than we did during the antigovernment protests.
CAL PERRY, MSNBC INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these were some of the biggest protest that the country has ever seen since 1979. And quite frankly, in his death, General Soleimani has managed to unite the country and really prop up the government even further than it was before.
When you look at sort of the history of General Soleimani, and why he was so important to the Iranian people, it`s all about Iran fighting their enemies outside of Iran. He ran the Quds Force, which operates outside of Iran. It is why he built up Hezbollah, the largest Shia wing of the Iranian power. That is why they fought Israel in 2006 in Lebanon, so they wouldn`t fight them in Iran.
It is why, for example, he partnered with Bashar al-Assad in Syria to fight ISIS in Syria and not in Iran. He was seen as a hero to the country. It`s, frankly, why when you heard there that U.S. troops were targeted - some 600 - 650 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. The idea was to fight the U.S. in Iraq and not Iran.
It`s why this area, the Persian Gulf, is so nervous this morning. It`s why we`re hearing that U.S. diplomats are reaching out to leadership here. We know that Secretary Pompeo has spoken to the leader of Bahrain in the last 12 hours. We know that the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar as well have received phone calls.
And we know that the Iranians war game, the same thing over and over again, and that`s the Strait of Hormuz. It`s the idea of scuttling something in the Strait of Hormuz. That very narrow, 20-mile passage that a quarter of the world`s oil moves through. That`s what their war game. It`s what the U.S. war games.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet based out of Bahrain is always worried about that possibility. I was on the USS Eisenhower years ago, and I asked commanders, what is your biggest nightmare? What is the nightmare scenario of an Iranian attack? And back then it was the same as it is today. That the Iranians can shut down the straits.
And as commanders put it, to me, the Fifth Fleet is then basically trapped on an Iranian lake. Imagine that, a U.S. aircraft carrier unable to make it out to sea, stagnant in those waters. That`s the concern this morning as the region wakes up.
And the general consensus here, Lawrence, is that once General Soleimani is buried this morning - Tuesday morning in his hometown in Iran, that`s at what point the windows opens the possibility that Iran can take the gloves off. Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Cal Perry in Doha where it is already Tuesday morning, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
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