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John Kerry on Trump and Iran. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: John Kerry

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

And we have the person who I`ve been hoping to speak to about this situation with Iran since these hostilities broke out, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who`s going to join us. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Oh, great.  Excellent. 

O`DONNELL:  No one knows more about how we got to here since he finished negotiating that Iran deal which President Trump decided he was going to rip up. 

MADDOW:  Excellent.  Get to it, my friend. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, we`ve had exactly one secretary of state who began his public life as a war protester.  After serving combat in Vietnam, John Kerry returned to the United States to try to stop the war in Vietnam.  He asked the question that haunted a nation. 


JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?  How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?  But we`re trying to do that, and we`re doing it with thousands of rationalizations. 


O`DONNELL:  John Kerry saved American lives in Vietnam, but he saved more American lives by joining the peace movement that forced an end to the war in Vietnam.  He served 28 years in the United States Senate before President Barack Obama appointed him secretary of state.  In that job, John Kerry took on one of the most difficult challenges any secretary of state has ever faced, negotiating an agreement with Iran that prevented Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  It is one of the most important accomplishments of any secretary of state in the nuclear age. 

Today, Donald Trump publicly all but begged Iran to negotiate a new nuclear agreement after Donald Trump ripped up the agreement John Kerry negotiated at the direction of President Obama.  Since this latest round of hostilities broke out with Iran, there is no one I`ve been wanting to talk with more than the secretary of state who negotiated that nuclear deal with Iran. 

And so, we`re lucky to have John Kerry as our first guest tonight. 

And later in this hour, we will get to the impeachment trial of Donald Trump as the Senate seems increasingly ready to begin that trial, although Nancy Pelosi is still holding on to those articles of impeachment.  We`ll hear from former Solicitor General Neal Katyal whose "New York Times" op-ed piece is titled: Why is Mitch McConnell so afraid of John Bolton. 

And Joy Reid will join our impeachment discussion later in the hour. 

More than 12 hours after tweeting "all is well" last night, the president of the United States finally addressed the nation and said this before even saying good morning. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As long as I`m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. 

Good morning. 


O`DONNELL:  The president seemed to be, first, reaching for credit for something that every president before him has accomplished, keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranian government.  No president did more to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons than President Barack Obama who reached an agreement with Iran joined by the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China in which Iran agreed not to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. 

The structure of that deal remains in place with those other countries, even though the United States has withdrawn from it. 

And today, President Trump said we all must work together to try to make that same deal again. 


TRUMP:  The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality.  They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA, and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place. 


O`DONNELL:  That is exactly what the Iran deal did, made the world a safer and more peaceful place.  That is why the world`s leading nuclear powers all joined it.  They all participated in the negotiations.  They all supported the deal. 

President Trump`s almost ten-minute speech was written for him and he read it word for word from teleprompters.  There were no Trump improvisations.  There were no Trump half sentences crashing into other half sentences that didn`t add up to a real sentence. 

Every sentence was clear, but not every sentence was true.  And there were passages of the speech that Donald Trump has already made clear, do not actually reflect his real thinking about Iran, like when he said Iran can be a great country. 


TRUMP:  We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.  Iran can be a great country.


O`DONNELL:  The president closed his speech by directly addressing the people and leaders of Iran.  He did not repeat his threat to target cultural sites and civilians from military attack.  Instead, he said something that not one person in Iran could possibly believe. 


TRUMP:  Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve -- one of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world.  The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it. 


O`DONNELL:  We`re going to be leading up our discussion with John Kerry, former secretary of state, right now.  He`s joining us from Iowa, but we have lost that connection to his position in Iowa.  We will restore it as soon as we can. 

And the control room tells us that we have him. 

Joining us now is former secretary of state, former Senator John Kerry. 

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  We really appreciate it. 

I want to go to that last line in the president`s statement today.  I want to begin there.  He said that last line, he said the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it, and he was speaking directly to Iran then. 

Isn`t that what Iran was seeking in their negotiations with you when they eventually signed a deal saying they would not develop nuclear weapons? 

KERRY:  Well, Lawrence, first of all, the president`s opening comment in his speech was about as fatuous and unnecessary a comment as any that I`ve ever heard a president make because the policy of every president previously, including President Obama, was to make certain Iran could not have a nuclear weapon, and, in fact, President Obama succeeded in preventing Iran from having any capacity to build a nuclear weapon without our knowing it. 

The Iran nuclear agreement is simply the most exhaustive, verifiable, and transparent nuclear agreement on the face of the planet, which provided us lifetime access to challenge any building we thought Iran might be messing around in and inspect it if we thought it was necessary.  And we had the absolute ability with France, Germany, Britain on our side to be able to have a vote that was unimpeachable by China, by Russia, or anybody else to prevent us from doing so. 

So what the president has done, Lawrence, is create this crisis.  There were no missiles coming at our facilities before he pulled out of this agreement.  There were no ships being detained in the Gulf.  There was no protester at the gates of the Baghdad embassy.  There were no ships being taken hostage. 

We were welcomed in Iraq.  We were fighting ISIS jointly.  We had a foothold in other countries in the region, where now people are voting to say we have to go home. 

We`re now -- we`re at risk.  We`re now -- our diplomats anywhere in that region are at greater risk, and any American citizen I would proffer in that region is at risk.  There is no way at all that the world is safer, that the United States is safer, that the region is safer with the steps this president has taken to create a crisis that didn`t have to happen. 

There are countless ways he could have gone to the British, the French, the Germans, the Chinese, the Russians, all of whom stayed in this agreement after he pulled out because they understood the strength of it.  But on the contrary, there was no way he could have not gone to them and said, you have to join me now in working on the agreement to deal with Yemen, to deal with the missile crisis, to deal with their support of Hezbollah, to deal with their interference in Iraq, to deal with their threats to Israel.  All of that was on the table when we handed over the keys to the president. 

But the president is so fixated on undoing anything Barack Obama did, that he was willing to run the risk of outright war in the effort to fulfill his fantasy about this region and about his presidency.  It`s the most dangerous thing I`ve seen since the war I fought in, which was lied about and presented such a crisis to our nation.

And I think Americans need to stop and consider the recklessness and impulsiveness of the decision that he made. 

O`DONNELL:  I want to take a look at another thing the president said about the Iran nuclear deal.  He said and we`ll hear him say it, but he said, hostilities increased after the Iran nuclear deal.  And he didn`t stop there.  Let`s listen to this. 


TRUMP:  Iran`s hostility substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013.  And they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. 


O`DONNELL:  Your reaction to that, Secretary Kerry? 

KERRY:  It is an outright lie, an outright lie by the president of the United States that they were given $150 billion.  They were not.  And the money that they did receive was their money because they sued the United States of America and won in court and were being paid interest. 

So, American citizens were paying interest every single day that was accruing, more and more billions of dollars that were going to go to Iran.  We cut that short.  We negotiated a deal that greatly reduced the amount of money they were, in fact, supposed to receive under court order, and they would have received it eventually.  And we transferred that to them, most of which they owed to other countries and other people in a massive debt that Iran had accrued. 

So the fact is that he has lied about that.  And also the budget of the IRGC was well taken care of by Iranians, by the regime, which we didn`t like.  Nobody likes what they`ve been doing in the region. 

And even during our negotiations on this agreement, we raised sanctions against Iran, sanctions on human rights, sanctions for its transfer of weapons to Yemen, sanctions for its support of Hezbollah, sanctions for its behavior in its missile program.  We raised those sanctions and we constantly said to people, the first challenge is take the nuclear weapon off the table. 

And then you have an ability to be able to negotiate with Iran on all of the other issues that consider all of us, that no one who still ever turned a blind eye to Iran`s behavior in the region, but there`s a better way to go at it.  And the best way to go at it is with the ability to have France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia all on our side holding Iran accountable for that behavior and using the United Nations Security Council to be able to hold them accountable. 

Now this president has isolated the United States of America.  The president has gotten Iraq parliament to vote that we have to leave Iraq.  The president has actually opened the door for people to question our credibility and our capacity in the region. 

The United States has been weakened by the steps this president has taken in a sort of shotgun, impulsive, reckless way, without a process that involves State Department, military, all the people who are part of a very significant process of evaluating these kinds of decisions.  And moreover, the president stood besides Putin in Helsinki and threw the entire intelligence community of our nation under the bus and chose to believe Putin over our own intelligence community. 

So there are people reeling all over the world wondering about the steadiness and capacity of the president of the United States and this administration.  And we are not safer because this president has been willing to personally invoke his anti-Obamaism to such a degree that he`s run the risk of war. 

That response by Iran could have been significantly different.  And it is not right for the president of the United States to put the United States in a position where we are dependent on a regime that we don`t like to somehow behave in a way that saves this president from himself. 

O`DONNELL:  What is -- Secretary Kerry, knowing the Iranian military and the Iranian regime as you do, what is your interpretation of the nature of their response and the fact that were no American casualties, there were casualties involved?  Do you think that that was a response that Iran was carefully measuring and that was actually their intent? 

KERRY:  Well, I can`t define what the intent was or what choice they made or whether it was debated or how it was debated.  I do know this.  In their attack against Aramco in Saudi Arabia, I think they fired about 20 missiles.  And it`s my understanding that 17 of the 20 missiles landed within one meter of their bull`s-eye. 

So make your own judgment about Iran`s capacity.  My judgment is that, in fact, this -- you know, is a process that is unfolding in the most dangerous way for our country and for the region.  The fact is that we would be better off to have had the agreement in place which actually restrained their ability to be able to get a nuclear weapon without our knowing it. 

I`m not vouching for Iran.  I can`t and never have in any of the testimony when we passed this, we never said Iran will never do this.  What we said is we`ve put in place a verification mechanism by which we have television cameras.  We destroyed certain facilities.  They agreed to destroy certain facilities. 

We`re in those facilities every day inspecting.  We know what they`re doing.  If they jot up their enrichment, we will no it.  If they begin to change their production, we will know it. 

And every military option that is available to us will be available to us in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years.  We would have that.

But what we`ve lost is the support of the other people who were involved in negotiating this agreement and signing this agreement and backing this agreement and wanting it to work. 

And very important to this, General Soleimani opposed this agreement.  He did not want the ayatollah to negotiate this agreement.  The entire IRGC constantly made life miserable for President Rouhani and for Foreign Minister Zarif.  And they were constantly under pressure about what they could and couldn`t do in order to live up to what we demanded they do in order to be able to have an agreement that was airtight to know what they`re doing. 

So, some people have complained that in 15 years, if they live by the agreement, they would have a right to increase some enrichment, yes, they would.  There are 14 countries in the world that actually have lived by the nonproliferation retreat, and they do increased enrichment.  But the point is, because of the presence of the International Atomic Energy Agency, because of our presence, because of sealed radio transmitters that are on these centrifuges, because of our television cameras in their facilities, because of our cradle-to-grave tracking of every ounce of uranium that they produce, we would know what they are doing.  And we had the right to challenge them. 

So, President Trump has taken a situation where the world got a nuclear weapon off the table, and where we actually had the verification capacity to make sure it stayed off the table or else.  That was there.  And we had the support of the world in doing that. 

Now, President Trump has taken steps to get out of the agreement, to have America invited out of Iraq, to have our embassies being attacked, to open up the prospect of the nuclear deal, you know, totally being shredded ultimately.  And I think what he`s also guaranteed is -- I will be amazed if this Iranian regime will negotiate with Donald Trump. 

They found out he`s not trustworthy.  They`ve seen his lies as we have seen his lies, and that is not the basis on which to invite people to a table.  Nor is it possible to squeeze and force them to that table. 

If we learned anything in our negotiation with Iran, they pride themselves in a more than 5,000-year history as a nation state, as a culture, as a presence.  And I think this president just doesn`t stop to understand those kinds of things, let alone an awful lot of other things that are important to the presidency of the United States. 

O`DONNELL:  Was President Obama ever presented the option of killing General Soleimani? 

KERRY:  It was always an option.  It`s been an option through several administrations.  But people made a judgment that the cost of doing so was not going to change the dynamic sufficiently that it was worth that cost because of the simple reason that we`ve already seen.  Within 24 hours, a new general is appointed.  And I assure at you new general is as committed to the track that General Soleimani was on as he was. 

And so, has the threat been taken away?  No.  Has the threat perhaps even been increased?  Very possibly.  And our intelligence community is obviously going to monitor that very, very closely.  And we got a president that actually believed what the intelligence community tells him. 

O`DONNELL:  Secretary Kerry, it seems for the speech the president read today in his teleprompter, that speech agrees with the Obama/Kerry approach because that speech called for -- the president said he wanted to ask NATO to become more involved.  He also specified all of the countries that were involved in the Iran nuclear agreement, saying they all have to get together. That is the Kerry/Obama approach that was advocated by that speech today. 

But what I want to ask you about as a final point here is, what does this confrontation, what does this situation where the president of the United States is in a confrontation with Iraq, simultaneously a confrontation with Iran, the Iraqi parliament saying we don`t want you here anymore because of the way you`re confronting Iran on our territory.  What is Vladimir Putin and Russia`s reaction to this dynamic tonight? 

KERRY:  Well, Russia has to be delighted by the way in which the United States has been con founded in the region.  That is clearly part of the loss of what President Trump has brought about in his extraordinary attitude towards President Putin and Russia itself, as we`ve seen evidenced on so much occasions. 

Russia is thrilled by this.  Russia is visible, shaking hands and hugging Assad.  Russia is visible visiting the region.  Bashar (ph) is in the region.

And, you know, I think that the president`s speech today obviously contemplates something different in terms of the actual outcome of a new negotiation, even though he talks about it in the context he did.  But the fact remains, the nuclear weapon that he now says they will never get, they were never going to get because it was already off the table. 

And what was awaiting this president and others was the negotiation on the follow-on agreement to make peace in Yemen, to bring to a halt Iran`s involvement in uranium.  I agree with the Saudis that Iran has no business being there and bringing rockets there that threaten Saudi Arabia.  We didn`t want that any more than they wanted it today. 

But how do you get to that?  You have to have a negotiation.  And what the president did by just unilaterally pulling out of the agreement and simultaneously declaring effective economic war against Iran was to say to them, I`m abrogating the agreement, you can`t trust me, you can`t negotiate with me because I`m going to get what I want. 

And the result of that, they have hardened down Iran.  The IRGC never wanted Iran`s nuclear ambitions curbed.  The IRGC constantly has been the really aggressive arm of the Iranian regime.  And if you have a chance of moving in a different direction and creating a longer-term stability in the region which is so critical to everybody, it can only come through negotiation. 

To date, there has been little indication that this administration has really been serious about that negotiation. 

O`DONNELL:  Former Secretary of State John Kerry, cannot thank you enough for joining us tonight.  Mr. Secretary, your insight on this has been invaluable.  Your experience, the country needed to hear from you about this and I really appreciate you joining us. 

KERRY:  Glad to be with you.  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you.

And when we come back, the current secretary of state`s briefing to the United States Senate today could not have been worse.  One senator said it was absolutely insane, and that senator is a Republican. 


O`DONNELL:  Absolutely insane.  That`s not the kind of review you hear often about secret Senate briefings by the CIA director, the defense secretary, and the secretary of state.  But that`s how one senator described what he heard from the Trump team today when they came to explain why the president killed Iran`s top general. 

And the senator who said that is a Republican. 


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  Briefing, which I would add was probably the worst briefing I`ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I`ve served in the United States senate.  They had to leave after 75 minutes, while they`re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public.  I find that absolutely insane. 


O`DONNELL:  Senator Mike Lee said he went into the briefing undecided about how to vote on a War Powers Resolution that Democratic Senator Tim Kaine introduced that would prevent military action against Iran.  But the briefing helped Mike Lee make up his mind. 


LEE:  I can say that after that briefing, that briefing is what changed my mind.  That briefing is what brought me on board together with the amendments Senator Kaine has agreed to make.  I`m now going to support it.


O`DONNELL:  Republican Senator Rand Paul who was with Mike Lee in that press conference there also announced that he would support the Democrats` War Powers Resolution restricting military action against Iran. 

That provoked Senator Lindsey Graham to publicly say that he liked what he heard in the briefing and he does not like what he`s hearing from Mike Lee and Rand Paul. 


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I think they`re overreacting quite frankly.  Go debate all you want to.  I`m going to debate you.  Trust me, I`m going to -- I`m going to let people know that at this moment in time to play this game with the War Powers Act, which is unconstitutional, whether you mean to or not, you`re empowering the enemy. 


O`DONNELL:  Empowering the enemy.  That was the last thing that Lindsey Graham said about Mike Lee and Rand Paul. 

Here`s Rand Paul`s reaction to Lindsey Graham accusing him of empowering the enemy. 


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  He insults the Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism.  I think that`s a low-gutter type of response. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion, Joy Reid, MSNBC national correspondent and the host of "A.M. JOY".  She`s the author of the book, "The Man Who Sold America."

And Ned Price is with us.  She`s a former CIA analyst and former senior director and spokesperson with the National Security Council in the Obama administration. He`s an MSNBC National Security Contributor.

Joy, it got really hot with the Republican reaction to that briefing today. I can`t think of the last time, I`ve seen one of these briefings happen and a senator walks out and said, OK, that one made up my mind and it made up my mind, I`m voting against my party.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, AM JOY: Yes. Well, first of all, before I answer your question, I will respond to you. I have to congratulate you on that interview with Former Secretary of State John Kerry.

O`DONNELL: I just listened.

REID: It was a great interview and I`m just warning you now, I will be stealing huge chunks of it for my show.


REID: But yes--

O`DONNELL: He did say a lot of important things, we should be repurposing a lot of that video.

REID: Absolutely. But as far as Lindsey Graham, I`d like to introduce him to the Tea Party. I don`t know, he remembers 2010, but people like Mike Lee, people like Rand Paul, people like in the House, Justin Amash, ran for office saying that they were constitutional conservatives first, Republican second. They in the beginning became a huge amount of trouble for the regular order warmongering Republicans like Lindsey Graham and the other sort of pretending to be Tea Party, but really just sycophants like Marco Rubio, the party men.

They became a lot of problems for them. They were a lot of problems for poor John Boehner in the House. They are very difficult to control when they`re on an issue that they really care about. Now, they were fine to take the need because it`s Donald Trump who`s President. He`s a Republican, so we`re going to - yes, sir, yes, sir him all the way through tax cuts, all that stuff is fine. But war is one of those issues that they actually have opinions on. So, good luck trying to make them be good boys. They`re not going to be.

O`DONNELL: And Ned Price, what we were hearing about from and we - by the way, all of our information about what happened there is coming from these Republican senators, Democratic senators were very reluctant to make any reference to what happened there. They did say they weren`t really satisfied with what they were hearing.

But what the picture you were getting especially from Mike Lee is, Mike Pompeo comes in there and the Defense Secretary comes in there, CIA Director comes in there and says, don`t dare debate this. Do not debate this. You will be empowering the enemy if you debate this. I mean, Lindsey Graham was just echoing them.

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Yes, you know, Lawrence we`ve seen something incredibly disquieting over the past couple of days. This administration has been more than happy to spike the football to thump their chests in the wake of General Soleimani`s killing, even going so far as to send fundraising emails based on the operation to President Trump`s political base.

But at the same time, they haven`t been willing to explain the basis for the operation, it`s predication or their strategy going forward to the American people. They actually went to an extraordinary length the other day. They submitted as required by law, a War Powers notification consistent with the 1973 law to Congress but did so in a completely classified form.

I had previously never heard of a War Powers notification being classified in full. But I think the answer is starting to come into focus, and the answer may well be that this administration doesn`t have answers. They don`t have answers as to the basis for the strike or at least they don`t have good answers. They don`t have answers for their strategy going forward. And you know, I was listening to some of the reactions from these senators and we actually have heard something somewhat similar to this in the past and you won`t be surprised to hear it, it came from a Trump administration briefing just late last year when the Trump administration was trying to convince the Senate not to limit its involvement in the war in Yemen.

They sent Secretary Pompeo and others up to the Hill and the response out of that briefing was not quite as abysmal, but nearly as abysmal as what we heard today. It seems that they would be better suited, that they would be better placed if they just kept their mouths shut. But of course, they can`t help themselves.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Tim Kaine said about the briefing.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): It is a far cry from meeting a standard of imminent threat. They had to leave pretty quickly. So, about 10 of the attending senators, 10 to 15 got to ask questions and many others did not get to ask questions. But at least based on the presentation that was made, it does not mean what I consider to be an imminent threat.


O`DONNELL: Yes, Joy, no one has come out saying, yes, they established the imminent threat that made it absolutely necessary to kill the General.

REID: Right. I think Andrea Mitchell said this was the worst national security team that she`s ever observed in a presidential administration. Look, it would have been a lot more honest if the national security team had come out and said, look, let`s just be honest. Donald Trump everyday wakes up, thinks about every signal moment of Barack Obama`s presidency.

You know the people cheering outside the White House when he got Osama bin Laden, when our military got Osama bin Laden. People loving him throughout Europe, him getting a Nobel Peace Prize. He looks at all those signal moments and he says, how can I get one of those from me. If the black guy had one, I`ve got to have one, I`ve got to have one that`s better.

So, he tore up the Iran deal for no other reason than what the British Ambassador to the U.S. at the time said, because Obama`s name was on it. He tore it up for no good reason. We found ourselves in a spot. Iran started to act out because they had been pushed out by the United States. And when Donald Trump was watching TV, he saw images on TV that reminded him vaguely of Benghazi. He got mad and that`s what he did. That would have been more honest.

The problem is that would not have accrued to the War Powers Resolution that they`ve got to do. The law says, the President just can`t decide to kill a member of a foreign government because he`s mad, or because there`s something on TV that bothers him. But that is who we have for President and he doesn`t have anyone around him at this point that has the experience, the know-how, the intel, the ability to do anything to explain it or to make it legal.

And so, what they have to do is come up with excuses. Sure, Lindsey Graham, who`s prime directive is to be Donald Trump`s best friend. Sure, he can explain it, because it`s good enough for him if he has no explanation, not good enough for Congress. Donald Trump has a problem.

O`DONNELL: We have to take a break here. Ned Price, thank you very much for joining us. Joy Reid is going to stay with us. And when we come back, Speaker Pelosi is still not ready to send those articles of impeachment to the Senate. Neal Katyal has written a new op ed piece about the Senate impeachment trial of the President. Neal Katyal will join us.


O`DONNELL: At least one Republican senator is publicly in favor of hearing from witnesses at these Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The Clinton impeachment process allowed for witnesses to be determined after the opening arguments. I`m comfortable with that process. At this stage, I`d like to hear from John Bolton, another witness with direct information. But that process will accommodate that.


O`DONNELL: Mitch McConnell says he has 51 votes to begin the Senate trial using the same rules that were used to begin the Bill Clinton Senate impeachment trial. That means Mitch McConnell has the votes to start the trial without agreeing to any witnesses ahead of time. Senator Chuck Schumer has vowed to repeatedly force votes on calling witnesses.

Neal Katyal`s new op ed piece co-authored with George Conway, the husband of Kellyanne Conway is entitled, Why is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton. Neal Katyal will join us next to answer that question and more about the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of the President of the United States.


O`DONNELL: Here`s Kasie Hunt asking Senator Mitt Romney yesterday about witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.


KASIE HUNT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Do you think it`s realistic that for Republican senators would vote to call John Bolton.

ROMNEY: I can`t begin to predict what other senators will do. I know that I would want to hear from witnesses and - unless there`s some surprise along the way we learn something that clarifies it and does not require witnesses. But certainly, I`d like to see a process that allows us to call for witnesses.


O`DONNELL: Joining our impeachment discussion now is Neal Katyal, Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General and an MSNBC Legal Contributor. He`s the author of Impeach, The Case Against Donald Trump. He co-authored the opinion piece, Why is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton.

So, Neal, I have a question for you. Why is Mitch McConnell so afraid of John Bolton?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: So, well, Lawrence you know we`re just 48 hours after this bombshell that John Bolton said, he is willing to testify. And already Mitch McConnell has put the squelch on it, which is really quite remarkable, and it says a lot about where the Republican Senate is.

I mean you just played a clip from Rand Paul saying you know how are people insulting the founders and insulting the Constitution when it comes to War Powers. I think the same question can be asked here.

McConnell is trying to proceed without even a guarantee that any witness, even John Bolton will be called to testify. And I can`t think of something more kind of antithetical to the founder`s idea. After all, the Constitution requires them to try an impeachment case and I`ve never heard of a trial without witnesses. I don`t know what`s next for McConnell, is he going to be like a Supreme Court confirmation hearing shouldn`t have a nominee or something like that. I don`t know.

I mean it`s we`re getting to the point of the absurd and I`m glad to see Mitt Romney say, there should be witnesses. But it is a really striking thing and to get to your question, why? I think there`s only one reason. I mean we know that John Bolton from - to his Deputy Dr. Fiona Hill said that this was a drug deal, the suspension of Ukraine aid and was incredibly opposed to it.

We know that John Bolton gave a speech a couple of months ago, a private speech in which he said, President Trump put his personal interest over those of the American people when it came to foreign policy. This is Trump`s guy. This is the Trump`s National Security Adviser saying that. So, why are they afraid of him? Because he`s got some bad stuff on the President and they`re trying to hide the truth. They know the President is guilty.

O`DONNELL: Well, Chuck Schumer guarantees us there will be multiple votes in the trial on the question of witnesses. Mitt Romney has made it very clear; he will vote for John Bolton as a witness and he uses the word witnesses, plural. There are others that he is willing to vote for. We`re not sure exactly which ones, but definitely Bolton. And so, on Bolton now, we just need - you need a few more Republicans to get to 51 to have John Bolton as a witness.

KATYAL: Yes. And I suspect that they`re going to get that with Bolton and with many other witnesses including Pompeo and indeed perhaps even the President himself, President Trump who after all is the central figure in this.

And you know look, this is a Senate controlled by Republicans. I can`t think of any reason why the President should be afraid to testify in a Senate that his own party controls, except one, which is, he knows he`s guilty.

And you know it is a pretty remarkable thing to start this trial without the guarantee of witnesses and Senator McConnell has said, oh, that`s what happened in Clinton. There was a big difference in Clinton. President Clinton didn`t try and gag all those same witnesses in the House. Here, President Trump did that. No president has ever done that in our history and said, every witness, every document has to be gagged and can`t appear in the House.

So, it`s a little rich to say now, oh, well, Bolton didn`t testify in the House, so therefore he can`t testify in the Senate. The reason he didn`t testify in the House is because the President blocked him. And so, these kinds of inane shell games are being played by the President, by Senator McConnell and I think the American people just have to ask one simple question, why? Why would they go through all this effort to try and hide the truth from the American people? And I think the question answers itself.

O`DONNELL: Always clarifying, listening to Neal Katyal. Neal, thank you very much for joining us and I really appreciate it.

KATYAL: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And when we come back, Joy Reid and Jonathan Alter will join us to consider Speaker Pelosi`s strategy of continuing to hold the articles of impeachment. We`ll show you what the Speaker said about that today as she was hustling through the corridors there, right in that video.


O`DONNELL: Here`s what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to say tonight about sending articles of impeachment to the Senate.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When we saw what the arena is that we would be sending them was in, then we would send over the articles. We haven`t seen that. So I don`t know how many more times I have to say that or how many times you want to ask it, but when we see the arena in which this will happen, we will then be prepared to send articles, the pay fors, and the managers.


O`DONNELL: And back with us Joy Reid, MSNBC National Correspondent and host of AM JOY. She`s author of the book, The Man Who Sold America, which I loved reading. And joining us now, Jonathan Alter, Columnist for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC Political Analyst and the author of many books that I have loved reading.

Jonathan can someone here explain to me what Nancy Pelosi is doing with the Articles of Impeachment. We now have about eight Democratic senators saying, we`d like to see them, you can send them over now.

JONATHAN ALTER, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST: She doesn`t have to listen to them.

O`DONNELL: No, she`s not.

ALTER: She`s the Speaker of the House. So, the arena, she used that word the arena, a couple of times, not just Theodore Roosevelt, the man in the arena. What she`s talking about is, she needs to know whether this will be a real trial or a fake trial, one or the other. A trial without witnesses is not a trial. It`s a fake proceeding and a cover up, as Chuck Schumer said.

And even if you look at some of the practical things, she has to do like decide who the House managers will be, the prosecutors in this case. If it`s just opening and closing statements, she wants orators. If it`s witnesses, she wants litigators, people who are really good at questioning witnesses. Those are two, sometimes different kinds of people, maybe Adam Schiff is both. But she needs to think about what her strategy is.

And also, this strategy is working for her. It`s very possible that this will get delayed all the way until February 4th, when the State of the Union takes place. What I think Democrats are hoping is that Donald Trump is not allowed to get up there and say from the House of Representatives, in front of the whole country. I`ve been vindicated. It was a witch hunt.

If the trial hasn`t yet been resolved, he`s under more of a cloud like Bill Clinton when he gave his State of the Union during the Lewinsky scandal. That`s not as good for him politically. So, Pelosi is still holding cards here.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And Joy, this timing issue I think is probably the most important of all about how does this interact with the State of the Union and all that. But I think we now see how this is going to go, because Mitch McConnell is not going to agree, not going to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi, not going to agree to that. I think not negotiate with Schumer. He`s got the votes. He has Mitt Romney`s vote to proceed under the Bill Clinton rules.

And Mitt Romney has said, the Bill Clinton rules include the option to call for witnesses during the trial. And Mitt Romney is going to vote for witnesses. He`s going to vote specifically for John Bolton and possibly more witnesses. And who knows how many other Republicans are going to vote for it.

REID: But that`s the question, who knows how many others. And I think that - I think Jonathan is exactly right. It is in the Speaker`s - to the Speaker`s benefit to wait, to see where Cory Gardner is going to go, where Martha McSally is going to go, where Joni Ernst - the vulnerable senators who are up for reelection need to make decisions because you`re not really going to get re-elected in Colorado, rubber stamping a fake trial. Some of these guys are in a tougher position than others.

The other thing that a card that Speaker Pelosi has not played that she could, and that Adam Schiff could play is to say, OK, we`re going to go ahead and we`re going to do what your counsel said for us to do. We`re going to reopen hearings and we are going to call John Bolton. John Bolton has said he wants to testify. There`s no difference testifying to the House than to the Senate, come testify here, if you`re just going to stipulate to what the House found. So, what Mitch McConnell, he thinks he`s quite wise, but he`s really quite foolish because Speaker Pelosi holds all the cards.

If they want to reopen hearings on Donald Trump and call those same witnesses and say stipulate to that.

O`DONNELL: So, Nancy Pelosi needs reporters in Maine (ph) to be asking Senator Susan Collins.

REID: Yes.

O`DONNELL: Are you for witnesses, are you for witnesses.

REID: That`s right.

O`DONNELL: And she needs time for that to write.

ALTER: Not just for witnesses, are you for a real trial or fake trial.

REID: Yes.

ALTER: Because if you`re not for witnesses, you`re basically saying Senator, this is the way Sam Donaldson used to ask the question. You`re saying Senator that you`re not for a real trial.

I think a lot of reporters now they ask the questions in kind of a passive way. This is one where they can frame it very squarely for these Republicans. One other thing that`s not getting enough attention that Walter Dellinger said on this network earlier tonight, not four votes, three votes for witnesses. Because if there is a tie, a 50-50 tie, it`s not the Vice President who breaks the tie, it`s Chief Justice Roberts.

O`DONNELL: No, no, that`s not going to happen. The Chief Justice would never cast a deciding vote in this situation. And isn`t really authorized.

ALTER: So, then he would just do what?

O`DONNELL: It`s a 50-50 tie that you can have--

ALTER: So, what happens then.

O`DONNELL: You don`t get the witnesses. I mean he`s a Rehnquist clerk, Rehnquist deferred to the Senate on everything. Rehnquist didn`t even rule himself. Whenever a question came up during the Clinton impeachment trial, he just handed it to the Senate for a vote. And so, there`s no provision for the Chief Justice to be casting the deciding--

ALTER: OK, so four, they--

O`DONNELL: They`ve been aiming for the four.

ALTER: They`ve got Romney and--

O`DONNELL: Bill Kristol says today, Bill Kristol, who used to have his finger on the pulse of Republicans in Washington, I mean he really did. He really knew. Now, he`s a little on the oust with them. But he believes you`re going to get 12 Republicans to vote for Bolton to testify.

REID: I think that`s possible, because again, if you`re Cory Gardner, if you`re Martha McSally, let`s just face it, the appointed Senator usually loses when it comes to the real election. She`s not in a great place. These guys need to vote for a real trial. Being a rubber stamp for Donald Trump works for Lindsey Graham possibly, didn`t work for her. Doesn`t work for Ernst. It doesn`t work for the ones who are vulnerable.

ALTER: And they also don`t get a primary challenge just because they vote for witnesses. It`s hard to imagine a conservative Republican saying, I am running against this incumbent in this primary, because he or she voted for witnesses.


O`DONNELL: Bring out a vote for four witnesses and it might be that a Senator decides. I`m only going to vote for one.

REID: That`s right.

O`DONNELL: But if that one is Bolton, that might be enough.

REID: And remember, Jonathan Turley--

O`DONNELL: It`s 11:00.  Sorry.  It`s Brian`s turn.  It`s Brian`s turn to work.  Joy Reid and Jonathan Alter, thank you.  Joy Reid sort of gets the last word.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.