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Parnas: "Trump Knew.." TRANSCRIPT: 1/15/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Neal Katyal, Ben Rhodes, Ron Klain, Dana Shell Smith

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

Really an extraordinary hour. I think a lot of us as we were watching had one fundamental question. Why is he doing this? Why has he decided to basically turn on his friends in the conspiracy and talk about the conspiracy?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  So what seemed to emerge today when I was talking with him during the course of the interview and talking to him about the fact that he was going to do the interview is that he really believes that the more he makes public about what he saw and what he knows and what he can document, the safer he is. He`s, I think, worried that if this -- if the information that he`s got is only inside his own head or in his own, you know, electronic devices and things like that that that`s too easy -- it`s too easy to make that go away, and that to the extent that the things that he knows can be made public and checked out and verified and documented and investigated, he feels like, A, the truth will become known and he will be safer.

O`DONNELL:  And does he -- does he expect this to help him in the criminal case where he is now a defendant?

MADDOW:  I think that`s implicit. I mean, I think that he is facing very serious charges in the Southern District of New York. His lawyer has made clear that he wants to cooperate. He wants to testify with congressional investigators in the impeachment investigation, implicit in that is the idea that maybe I think it would help him in his criminal case.

But obviously nothing that he`s saying today is going to help him directly in his criminal case, and the decision that congressional investigators have to make about whether or not they`re gong to talk to him I think is going to be independent of whether or not they think it would help him in his criminal case. So, I mean, his aims and their likely outcomes may diverge, but he was willing to have this conversation today.

I was -- I will tell you, Lawrence, I was convinced until the moment I was sitting there talking to him that it was going to be canceled.

O`DONNELL:  OK, which brings me to another question. What can you tell us about how long this has been in the works and how it came about?

MADDOW:  It`s been a long time.


MADDOW:  It has been months that we have been trying to make this happen. And so, again, we didn`t expect it when it finally came through, it came through very quickly.


MADDOW:  We had been working on this the way you work on lots of things that you think won`t pay off for a very long time, but when it came together, it actually came together very, very quickly, and right at the top of the interview, Mr. Parnas and his lawyer basically explained, like, once the material that we`d given to the Intelligence Committee was, A, safely in their hands and, B, we knew it was going to be conveyed to the Senate and part of this trial, we felt like, OK, we can talk. They didn`t want to do anything that would jeopardize that.

And then, so, it came together very quickly. I was up all night.

O`DONNELL:  OK, not surprising.

So, you said the magic word there, trial. Neal Katyal is going to join us in this hour. His latest "Washington Post" piece is entitled: Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani have demolished Trump`s claims of innocence. Does Lev Parnas expect or is he anticipating having a role in the Senate trial?

MADDOW:  I think he`s realistic enough to know that it`s not up to him, and there`s no reason -- I mean, certainly he wants to testify. That`s clear. His lawyer`s been publicly clear about that from the very beginning.

But I think that they`re realists in knowing that it`s not up to them the and if it happens it happens, and if it doesn`t, there`s nothing they can do to make -- to force it. But making all this information available and being willing to comment in a public forum on what it means is them, you know, getting as close as they can in the public eye to testifying, whether or not they end up actually in the trial or in a deposition with one of the -- one of the investigating committees in the House.

O`DONNELL:  And in this story, individual-1 from the Michael Cohen prosecution here in New York is labeled in their communications number one. They keep saying you`re going to tell number one, and Lev Parnas has that story we heard in the investigation in the House of Representatives of the president speaking on the phone so loudly that if you are standing near the person he is speaking to, you can hear him, in this case, it`s Lev Parnas listening to, as he put it to you the president screaming at Rudy Giuliani at one point.

MADDOW:  Yes. And so that corroborates the testimony that we heard during the impeachment inquiry about bystanders and people at the same lunch table being able to hear clearly that it was the president`s voice on a phone call even when it wasn`t on speakerphone. That`s just corroborating information which I thought was interesting.

But that`s also in the context of him saying, listen, I know that, you know, I was in constant contact with Rudy Giuliani about all of this, and Mr. Giuliani was in constant contact with the president about this. He said that he met the president a number of times. He was aware of the sort of loop of information here.

And part of what he`s able to describe as a witness is Mr. Giuliani and president Trump talking about the Ukraine scheme in detail on multiple occasions, including when Mr. Parnas could clearly overhear the president`s distinctive voice on the phone.

O`DONNELL:  What do you think is the most damning thing or the most difficult information for Donald Trump tonight? Is it the involvement as we heard in the unfolding of this of his Attorney General William Barr? Is it the involvement as we heard from Lev Parnas of Vice President Mike Pence? Is it Lev Parnas simply saying Donald Trump wasn`t telling the truth, Donald Trump was lying when he said he doesn`t know me?

MADDOW:  I mean, I think it is stark and difficult for the White House to have Mr. Parnas who was so plainly involved in every aspect of this bluntly and directly and without equivocation say the president was directing this. The president was involved in every step of this. The president knew everything that we were doing, and we were doing it on his behalf, and we did nothing without hiss express approval.

I mean, that is -- you know, that`s sort of chapter and verse of the scandal in terms of presidential culpability. I actually think that for me, the headline out of this interview is very serious questions being raised about vice president Mike Pence. So, Mr. Parnas is saying that we -- that there`s two interactions between Vice President Mike Pence and the Ukrainian government that are very important here and that Mike Pence appears to have been very much in the loop for.

And one of them was the cancellation of his planned trip to go to the Zelensky inauguration. He tells a very vivid story on a very tight, very specific timeline with lots of very specific logistical details about how he, Lev Parnas, was in Ukraine, making a one last chance demand of the Ukrainian government, announced those investigations or Pence isn`t coming to your inauguration. He does that on the 12th, and on the 13th, in fact, Pence cancels his trip to the inauguration.

That`s this very important moment to Mr. Parnas because it`s very legitimizing for him as he continues to do this work that the Ukrainian government knows he`s got the juice, knows that he can actually deliver in terms of the vice president`s whereabouts.

Now, Mr. Parnas is saying that it`s inconceivable that Vice Presidents Pence didn`t know that trip to his inauguration was contingent on those investigations being agreed to or announced before he went. In addition, he says that Mike Pence was absolutely the person from the Trump administration who was supposed to go over to Poland to meet Zelensky on September 1st and get those investigations announced. And he knew it, and that was his job, and that`s why the Defense Department and those e-mails that we`ve seen was able to say we expect this issue, this standoff with Ukraine will be resolved once Vice President Pence is over there.

That really puts the spotlight on Vice President Pence. It also very much begs for John Bolton`s testimony because John Bolton could testify to that both in terms of the factual accuracy of what Mr. Parnas is saying and to the vice president`s culpability in this scandal, and if the president and the vice president are both culpable in this scandal, if they were both carrying out this scheme personally, that makes impeachment a different thing than it was before.

O`DONNELL:  It certainly does, and there`s that moment in that dramatic revealing of it the way Lev Parnas does of when the Ukrainians did not do - - in fact, the guy who was communicating deleted him -- 

MADDOW:  Blocked him, yes, deleted him off WhatsApp.

O`DONNELL:  Blocked him on the phone, and he reports that to Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani`s line is, OK, they`ll see.

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

O`DONNELL:  They`ll see.

MADDOW:  And in fact, they do.

O`DONNELL:  And the next day, they see. Mike Pence isn`t coming.

Rachel, I could go on and on with you. I could keep you for the hour, but I must not. Thank you for staying up all night, and thank you for delivering us that extraordinary hour. We`re going to spend an hour on what you just delivered.

MADDOW:  I appreciate it, my friend, and we will have part two tomorrow night.

O`DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel. Really appreciate it. There will be part two tomorrow night.

There is much to cover here. We`re going to get to it as quickly as we can. We`re going to be joined by former Ambassador Dana Shell Smith, who has been tweeting some of the most important points about what has happened within the State Department since Lev Parnas` information came out, since it emerged last night what appeared to be a threat, possibly even a deadly threat to the former ambassador to Ukraine.

And not one word, not one word from the State Department from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about this in now over 24 hours. Ambassador Smith is not the only member, former member of the Diplomatic Corps who is outraged about this, but it will be her voice that will be brought to this program tonight to speak for them and to speak for the shock being felt by the Diplomatic Corps about what they learned about these possible threats through text that were revealed last night -- threats to the ambassador of Ukraine.

Rachel has a lot on that in her interview with Lev Parnas. It becomes a very different story in Lev Parnas` telling. We will get to that in this hour.

To begin, we`re going to be joined by Barbara McQuade. She`s a former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC legal contributor. And David Corn is a Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst.

David has two reports out today about Robert Hyde, who is one of the characters in the texts that were very threatening to the ambassador to Ukraine.

I want to start with you, Barbara, just from a legal perspective based on everything that you`ve heard in the last hour in this extraordinary interview with Lev Parnas, what do you think its impact is now on this impeachment trial?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, we heard some extraordinary things, but like all cooperators, I think it`s useful to have a healthy dose of skepticism when you listen to someone like Lev Parnas, much of what he said was not corroborated. But I think the big picture take away here is it behooves us to get to the bottom of what he has to say, to try to get to the truth, to probe and try to corroborate some of what he said.

And the way to do that is by talking to other witnesses and looking for documents. He may not have firsthand information, which means I`m not sure I can believe it and take it to the bank. So you talk to the people who do have the firsthand information, people like Rudy Giuliani or John Bolton or others who were actually there and participated in these conversations.

So I think my big takeaway is, he has put up a lot of smoke, and I really want to know if there`s some fire there.

O`DONNELL:  And, David, I know you have the reporting on Mr. Hyde today. You heard what Parnas said about that. He said he took the threatening texts to be a joke. He said the guy is drunk all the time, didn`t take him seriously. Hyde himself did an interview on right wing television outlet, saying the same thing, saying he was drunk a lot in those days, saying they were just having fun.

We`re going to show that later in the hour, but I just want to get your reaction to their latest version of it, the two people who were in that -- those text exchange. If that was a conspiracy, they`re denying it both -- both of them saying it was basically a joke.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Yes, I`ve been following Hyde for well over a year now, long before he got involved in this, and he did strike me as a wannabe player, operator who was unreliable. The piece we put out in "Mother Jones" late last night showed that he had been taken into police custody at one of Trump`s resorts Florida when he had this sort of paranoid event and claimed that hit men and the Secret Service were out to get him.

I haven`t seen any capability on his part to run sort of any operation in Ukraine where he could actually infiltrate the security detail of the ambassador.

That said, I mean, it seemed -- one thing that I would have, you know, liked to see Lev Parnas pressed upon is why did he continue to engage in those conversations or those text messages with Hyde. But it gives you a flavor of kind of what we`re dealing with.

Where did they meet? They met at the Trump hotel bar, which is a lot like that bar in the original Star Wars, where all these unsavory characters all trying to get a piece of the president, leverage something, make a donation, get something in return. It`s kind of how Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman got involved in the first instance here with Rudy Giuliani.

So Giuliani is putting together a team of offbeat oddball outliers to do stuff, which is not -- it may not be -- whether it`s illegal or not, it`s certainly not proper, and so then, you know, Robert Hyde gets drawn into this as well. I mean, this is a little bit like what we saw with the Iran Contra days with freebooters doing things the president wanted but that he wasn`t willing to do officially.

O`DONNELL:  All right. Let`s take a look at what Rachel said she thinks is possibly the most important point revealed in her interview so far, and that is Vice President Mike Pence`s involvement and what Lev Parnas has to say. Let`s watch.

I can read it if we don`t have it in the control room. I guess we do have it.


LEV PARNAS, RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE:  Basically next day, Pence to my awareness Trump called up and said to make sure Pence doesn`t go there.

MADDOW:  So you believe that Mr. Pence`s trip to the inauguration was canceled because they didn`t agree?

PARNAS:  Oh, I know 100 percent.

MADDOW:  To announce the investigations into Biden?


O`DONNELL:  Barbara, your reaction to that?

MCQUADE:  Well, again, I think it raises the question. If that is true, then I agree with Rachel that that is an incredibly significant event because it brings Mike Pence into this scheme, but I`d want to know a little more about it. Number one, did Mike Pence know that that was the reason his trip was canceled? Is that in fact the reason his trip was canceled? If so, it is very significant.

But I think that, again, what it demonstrates is it behooves the Senate to make this a real trial, to call witnesses, to try to get to the bottom of what was really going on here. In fact, it could even tee up a House investigation of Mike Pence for an impeachment of him.

O`DONNELL:  The witness that Mitt Romney says he wants to hear from is John Bolton. He doesn`t specify others, but he sounds like he`s willing to hear from others also. There seems to be the most pressure on John Bolton as a possible witness that enough Republicans might agree to hear.

Let`s listen to what Lev Parnas said tonight about John Bolton, and as we listen to this, let`s consider how much this might add to Republican willingness to hear from John Bolton as a witness in the Senate trial. Let`s listen to this.


PARNAS:  I don`t know exactly what Mr. Bolton knew, but I know Mr. Bolton was definitely involved in the loop because of the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, also his interactions with Rudy Giuliani. They started butting heads, and he was not agreeing -- I mean, from Venezuela to Ukraine, Bolton didn`t agree with Rudy -- with Giuliani on the way of dealing with it, so there was tension there. There was -- there was definitely tension.

MADDOW:  But you believe he knows what the administration was pressuring Ukraine to do?

PARNAS:  Bolton, 100 percent. He knows what happened there.


O`DONNELL:  David Corn, it seems like the Bolton testimony just became just a little bit more important?

CORN:  As if -- as if it could. Remember, you know, John Bolton has been secondhand quoted saying that this was a drug deal, you know, the whole business with extorting Ukraine to get Joe Biden investigation.

And so, now, we saw, I think, this evening Lev Parnas describing what can only be compared to a mob operation. You had this great quote that Giuliani said, OK, they`ll see if they don`t give in to this. And, you know, what happens, Trump tells Giuliani, and then Giuliani tells these button men, you know, basically they`re hit men, Lev Parnas to get out there and make this stuff happen, and they put the squeeze on Ukraine.

So, Bolton can really get to that point directly. What do you mean by calling this a drug deal? What did you think was really going on?

But remember, John Bolton has said he will testify if subpoenaed. What are the House -- excuse me, what are the Senate rules going to be about issuing subpoenas? And who`s going to go along with that?

And to Barbara`s point, you know, having witnesses testify will be great. I think Lev Parnas should testify, but you got to have investigation to go with those witnesses, and that`s something that is really not a part of the Senate trial procedures. It`s something the house could do or the Southern District of New York, but there`s a lot here that the impeachment trial will not dig into.

O`DONNELL:  David Corn, Barbara McQuade, thank you for starting off our discussion tonight.

CORN:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, Neal Katyal will join us on what this new evidence revealed tonight could mean in the Senate impeachment trial.


O`DONNELL:  Here`s Rudy Giuliani calling his good friend Lev Parnas.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP PRESONAL LAWYER:  Hi, Lev. It`s Rudy. When you get a chance, give me a call and bring me up to days, OK? I got a couple of things to tell you, too. Thanks, Lev, bye.


O`DONNELL:  I don`t think he`s going to be giving him a call. After that voice mail and other documents released by the House Intelligence Committee and after Lev Parnas` interview with Rachel tonight, I don`t think Rudy Giuliani`s going to be getting that call anymore.

Neil Katyal`s new piece in "The Washington Post" is: Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani have demolished Trump`s claims of innocence.

And joining us now is Neal Katyal. He`s a former acting U.S. solicitor general and he`s now an MSNBC legal contributor. The title of his new piece is as I said, "Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani have demolished Trump`s claims of innocence."

Your reaction -- I just want to give you a wide open field here, Neal, and your reaction to what you heard in the last hour and Rachel`s interview?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, what an extraordinary hour of television, and Rachel really deserves a lot of commendation for bringing that out, as does the House Intelligence Committee for getting those documents yesterday because I think taken together, all of it is really damning for President Trump. And it`s not just the existence of the documents or what he -- what he said Mr. Parnas said tonight to Rachel. It`s more than that.

It`s the trajectory here. It`s the fact that every month, every week, new documents come out, new witnesses come forward and increasingly point the finger at Trump, call him a liar, call him the centerpiece of this orchestrated scheme and the like, and you know, that`s why I think we`ve seen Trump do something no president in history has ever done, a complete gag on all witnesses and all documents, and you know, even Nixon didn`t do that.

So there`s something -- we now know why. I mean, I think the trajectory, the documents what Parnas said tonight reveals one thing, which is the president is trying to hide the truth from coming out, and if there`s one thing I want to leave your viewers with tonight, Lawrence, it`s this. That trajectory is the reason why you need to have a real trial in the senate. In one way, shape, or form, the documents have to come out. The witnesses have to come out, and they have to testify.

And perhaps the best reason is that there are a lot of Americans who think this is all political and all made up and stuff like that, and the Supreme Court has said, you know, live testimony is the greatest engine for truth that the world has ever known.

So let`s have live testimony. Let`s bring it out there and show everyone, you know, if this is a politically trumped up thing, fine, but boy, it sure doesn`t look that way when witness after witness, even though they were attempted to be gagged by the Trump administration have come forward and pointed the finger at the president, and now you`ve got this guy who`s facing jail tonight doing the same thing.

O`DONNELL:  And one of the big headlines coming out of this interview involves Attorney General Barr. Let`s listen to what Lev Parnas said about him.


MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he`d spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani, I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was -- Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.


O`DONNELL:  And, Neal, let me just give you one more piece of the interview about Attorney General Barr before your comment on it. Let`s listen to this one extra piece, which is even more specific.


MADDOW:  Do you know if Mr. Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

PARNAS:  Oh, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Barr knew about that?

PARNAS:  Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it`s impossible.


O`DONNELL:  Your reaction to that, Neal?

KATYAL:  Well, I want to, you know, pause and wait and see the corroboration as was just said by one of your guests earlier tonight. I mean, we want to see exactly what Parnas knew, when he was in the room and the like before that.

Obviously, if Barr was directly involved, it could be explosive. It depends on what the degree of involvement was and the like. But, you know, the whole thing here has been so unusual. The president has claimed this is about fighting corruption. If it`s about fighting corruption, the last person you task to fight corruption is your own personal private attorney, particularly when that guy is Rudy Giuliani of all people.

And so, I think there`s always been more than a fishiness to this entire explanation, but it`s really falling apart. One document last night was really revealing, Lawrence. It was a document from Giuliani basically saying, I am acting not as the president`s lawyer -- president`s representative, but at his personal representative, not as the representative of the president of the United States. And that, I think, puts the lie -- and this is what my Washington piece went into today -- puts the lie to the idea that the president was out there trying to fight corruption.

That`s an official task of the president of the United States, and you send official people to do that. You don`t send your private attorney and your private attorney who warns everyone, oh, I`m not acting on behalf of the president as the president but on behalf of his personal interests.

The whole thing stinks. It`s exactly why you need to have live witnesses and a real trial, and if you`re a Senate Republican right now, I don`t care how conservative you are, I mean, how much you love this president, you`ve got to love this country more. The truth has to come out. That`s what the American way is.

If you want to, you know, say at the end of this, we still want this guy to be president despite all this, you know, vote that way, but let the truth come out. Let the people decide. Don`t gag it.

O`DONNELL:  And, Neal, you were just citing the letter Rudy Giuliani wrote to the president of Ukraine saying he represents the president of the United States in a personal capacity. "The New York Daily News" last night got a comment out of Rudy Giuliani on that that they published in this morning`s edition. It was the only comment anyone was able to get out of Rudy Giuliani until Rachel got a comment out of him tonight.

Here`s what Rudy Giuliani said to the daily news defending that letter. Let me see if you can make sense of it because he uses some legal words here. I`m not sure if they belong here.

He says: It is a very helpful letter. It proves I was seeking information as a private counsel seeking exculpatory evidence for his client.

Neal, doesn`t there have to be a case in which you`re seeking evidence?

KATYAL:  Well, I do think that this is helpful in a way. It`s helpful to Rudy Giuliani because, you know, one of the things I think that Giuliani has to fear is the president is going to say, oh, Giuliani was a rogue actor doing this all on his own, and what I think Mr. Giuliani is saying there is, oh, no, I was doing this at the direction of the president, which is very good for Rudy Giuliani, very, very bad if you`re Donald Trump because it`s now undercutting that basis for a possible defense that you were going to make.

And we heard Mr. Parnas tonight say something similar to Rachel. He said that the biggest lie and the reason why he was coming forward was Trump`s claim that he didn`t know. He said Parnas said, quote, Trump knew exactly what was going on.

And I think Giuliani`s defense this morning in paper is of a similar here. It`s basically to say, oh, no, I`m not doing this as a rogue agent. I`m doing this at the direction of Donald Trump, and if you`re Trump tonight, I think you`ve got to worry that things are starting to circle in on you.

There`s person after person who`s looking out for themselves and looking out to tell the truth and that`s not a good place if you`re Donald Trump.

O`DONNELL: Neal Katyal, thank you for your invaluable perspective on all of this tonight. We really enjoyed having you with us. Thank you.

And when we come back, it has been an historic day in the impeachment of Donald Trump and what is about to be the impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the United States Senate. That would have been what we would have been leading with tonight were it not for this extraordinary interview that Rachel managed to deliver tonight. We will have the impeachment trial of Donald Trump coming up in this hour and more on Rachel`s interview, and you will see more of Rachel`s interview in this hour.



LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: That the President didn`t know what was going on, President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements. He - I wouldn`t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the President. I have no intent I have no reason to speak to any of these officials. I mean, they have more reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelensky`s inner circle or Minister would I go for all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me.


O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now Ben Rhodes, he is a Form Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. He`s also an MSNBC Political Analyst and Ron Klain is with us Former Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and was a senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden, and President Obama. He`s now an outside adviser to Joe Biden`s 2020 Presidential Campaign.

Ben, I want to get your reaction to what you have learned in this hour, Rachel`s extraordinary first hour interview there will be more tomorrow night with Lev Parnas.

BEN RHODES, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, Lawrence, it just kind of confirms the fact pattern and really builds on it, and spotlights the incredible abnormal corruption of this administration. You know, a couple things stand out to me, Lawrence.

First of all, just stepping back, why was this person Lev Parnas involved in our Ukraine policy at all in the first place? You know, we kind of take this all for granted, but who is this character who`s delivering messages on behalf of the President of the United States to a foreign government that has been invaded by Russia to try to get an investigation of President Trump`s political opponent?

Just the character of Lev Parnas is unthinkable in any other administration, and that alone is kind of staggering to see him talk about these messages he`s delivering on behalf of the President of the United States. The one other thing I want to say, Lawrence, is the idea that Mike Pence wouldn`t know why his trip to the Ukrainian inauguration was canceled.

I think is also laughable, and Ron knows this from being Chief of Staff for a Vice President, but this is a big deal to travel all the way to Ukraine for the inauguration of an ally that is besieged by Russia. If the rug is pulled out from under that trip, you would have to know why, so I think this does point a very big finger at Mike Pence in this scheme as well.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Lev Parnas said about corruption. He said it was not ever about corruption. It was always about Joe Biden. Let`s listen to this.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: The President was aware that you and Mr. Giuliani were working on this effort in Ukraine to basically try to hurt Joe Biden`s political career? He knows about that.

PARNAS: Yes, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff, the black ledger, and that was another thing that they were looking into. But it was never about corruption. It was never - it was strictly about the Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.


O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, it was never about corruption.

RON KLAIN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL: Yes, it`s clear the President used the lowest of criminals to commit the highest of crimes. This is part of a pattern of getting foreign governments, trying to extort, bribe, foreign governments to participate in our elections.

This wasn`t about corruption at all. This wasn`t about anything on the merit level. It was 100 percent about him trying to dig up dirt on a political opponent and pressure a foreign government, bribe a foreign government to manufacture dirt about a political opponent.

As Ben said, you know, this was not a small stakes situation. Ukraine had been invaded by Russia, national security was on the line, and the President put all that on hold, hired these low level thugs to go try to shake down a foreign government to help him in a campaign. It is the most serious betrayal of his oath of office, and he used crazy thugs to do it.

O`DONNELL: And Ben, Lev Parnas went on about the specific way he communicated, some of his communication was more angry and forceful than others with the Ukrainian government, but he makes it very clear what`s necessary in order to have good relations with President Trump, to have any kind of relations with President Trump, anything involving the military aid or anything else.

And as much as we can wonder about the credibility of this witness who we`ve never heard speak before, everything he said tonight syncs up with other testimony that`s already been presented under oath in the investigation. I didn`t hear anything that didn`t fit with a puzzle part that we already had.

RHODES: That`s right, and it`s amazing to think, you know, months ago we were debating whether it would be confirmed in some way that there was a quid pro quo. Now every witness we`ve heard from in formal testimony and now in interviews like this confirm that they were leveraging Pence`s trip to get this investigation into the Bidens. They were leveraging military aid to get the investigation into the Bidens.

Each witness has added that fact pattern, and that says two things to me. One, you cannot possibly have a Senate trial without wanting to hear from people who can fill in more of this picture because everybody who we hear from provides more information, and we know Lev Parnas has documents. It`s all going to come out anyway. It should come out in this trial.

And the other thing is what do we not know about what Trump is doing in his foreign policy? Can you imagine? This investigation, the impeachment, the highest course of action that the House can take has yielded and squeezed out this information. What are we not seeing in Trump`s relationships with foreign governments?

What level of corruption and personal interest might be there in a relationship with Russia or China, or Saudi Arabia in addition to Ukraine? I think that should be - put the onus further on Congress to investigate not just this but what exactly is happening in this White House?

O`DONNELL: One of the other things he said tonight that syncs up with pre- existing reality is that Rudy Giuliani has said some pretty crazy things on TV and not so surprisingly, according to Lev Parnas Donald Trump has been very angry about some of those things, and he talked about during the Mueller investigation hearing President Trump on the phone screaming at Rudy Giuliani about something he`d said on TV. Let`s listen to that.


PARNAS: I remembered during the Mueller times where Rudy I remember said something that he didn`t appreciate or was taken out of context, and he was screaming at him so loud. That`s when I watched the impeachment and I saw the testimony about - that I understand that you could hear President Trump talking, like I heard him several times when he was with Rudy.

MADDOW: Because he speaks loudly on the phone.

PARNAS: Very loudly, yes.


O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, he - President Trump does not apparently know how to have a conversation one on one that stays one on one?

KLAIN: Yes, the worst client in the world has the worst lawyer in the world, and it`s a match that really they deserve one another apparently. But as Mr. Parnas said, this kind of also corroborates Ambassador Sondland`s testimony in the House before where he said that everyone could hear Trump talking to him, yelling at him on the phone and Trump said, oh, you know, Trump at that time said no one ever overhears me on these phone calls and now we have more corroboration of this.

It is a pattern. It was basically a mob protection racket to try to extort help from a foreign government in a political campaign. It`s one of the worst crimes we`ve seen in American history, and every piece of evidence fits together and makes clear that`s what was going on here.

O`DONNELL: Ron Klain and Ben Rhodes, we really appreciate having your perspectives, having worked for Vice President and the President and being inside a White House, but you`re hearing tonight about nothing like anything you`ve ever experienced inside the White House and apparently no one`s ever experienced inside the White House. Really appreciate having you.

And when we come back, where is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with all of this information coming out about possible surveillance and alleged possible threats of a U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine? Where is the Secretary of State who was supposed to protect those Ambassadors? Mike Pompeo as a member of Congress was outraged endlessly about what happened to our Ambassador at Benghazi, but he has nothing to say, nothing to say in these last 24 hours



MADDOW: Do you believe that part of a motivation to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch to get her out of post was because she was in the way of this effort to get the government of Ukraine to announce investigations of Joe Biden?

PARNAS: That was the only motivation.

MADDOW: That was the only motivation.

PARNAS: There was no other motivation.


O`DONNELL: Donald Trump told the President of Ukraine in the phone call that got the President of the United States impeached that the American Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who Donald Trump had just removed was, "Was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that. She`s going to go through some things".

Did Donald Trump have Ambassador Yovanovitch under surveillance through Rudy Giuliani and his associates including Lev Parnas? The evidence Lev Parnas handed over to the House Intelligence Committee includes texts from Trump contributor Robert Hyde to Lev Parnas that indicated Mr. Hyde had the Ambassador under surveillance. Rachel asked Lev Parnas about hat repeatedly.


RACHEL: He appears to be giving you very specific information about the Ambassador`s movements, about her location, about her security situation, calls her the "B" word over and over again, very hostile to her and seems to be monitoring her whereabouts. What - why did those exchanges happen? What was he trying to tell you?

PARNAS: Well, I don`t believe it`s true. I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was. So I didn`t take it seriously, and I was trying to - as you see, I didn`t even respond to him most of the time, and if I did, it was something like lol, or okay, or great or, you know, something like that just because I wouldn`t respond for a long time, and then I didn`t want him to get rowdy if I saw him next time and say why didn`t you type a response.


O`DONNELL: Those texts were taken very seriously last night when they were released last night by the diplomatic corps of the United States all over the world. Dana Shell Smith is a Former Career Foreign Service Officer who served as Ambassador to Qatar in the Obama Administration. She held several positions in the State Department with tours of duty and posts around the world.

She speaks Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Hebrew. She knows the kind of risks our Ambassadors face including threats that she herself faced when serving as Ambassador. After the news broke last night of the threatening language used in these newly revealed texts about Ambassador Yovanovitch, Dana Shell Smith tweeted, many Ambassadors are used to hearing about threats and various malign actors surveilling us. It`s the fact that it was Americans plotting, associates of the President that takes this just beyond.

Joining our discussion now is Former Ambassador Dana Shell Smith. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, and I want to get your reaction to the new evidence entering into this picture tonight of Lev Parnas saying, oh, don`t worry about it. That was all just a joke. Mr. Hyde is just a drunk, and I didn`t take him seriously. Mr. Hyde himself appeared on another network saying, yes, I was drunk. That was all a joke. What is your reaction to that it was all a joke defense?

DANA SHELL SMITH, FORMER SENIOR FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER: Well, thanks for having me, Lawrence. I mean, my reaction is that it needs to be investigated. I hope it was just a joke. I hope a landscaper in Connecticut who was drunk just happened to be texting about an Ambassador to Ukraine, with very specific things like what her electronic devices were doing and the layout of the embassy building.

So yes, I hope that was a joke, but it really just does need to be investigated. If we take it and think of it in a different context maybe from regions where I`ve served, if you knew a group wanted you out of the way and then you saw that sort of text exchange, I don`t think anybody would be very relaxed about it.

O`DONNELL: Can you imagine in any previous administration a Secretary of State being absolutely silent after the revelation of evidence like this?

SMITH: Lawrence, I joined the Foreign Service when I was 21 years old. I worked for eight Secretaries of State, five Presidents, I`ve seen leadership. This is - it`s unbelievable. No I cannot imagine any Secretary having been just absent every hour that Secretary Pompeo is silent or tweeting about other things is just - it`s more unconscionable and a complete abdication of his leadership role.

O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at Rachel going at this issue again. As I said, she questioned him about this repeatedly. Let`s listen to more of her questions about this, questions about this.


RACHEL: Well, the texts where he was supposedly reporting on the whereabouts of the Ambassador went on for a week. I mean, it wasn`t like one drunk night. This went for seven days. He couldn`t have been drunk the whole time.

PARNAS: No, he was drunk the whole time. He wakes up and he`s drunk. He starts at 6:00 - I mean, I`ve never seen him not drunk.

RACHEL: So you thought that this was him making it up. You didn`t believe he actually had the Ambassador under surveillance?

PARNAS: No, absolutely not.


O`DONNELL: So the defense is it was a joke, he was drunk. But what you`re calling for is an investigation. And I know if you were still an Ambassador in service you couldn`t be with us now having this conversation and calling for this investigation. I have a sense that you are speaking for Ambassadors - United States Ambassadors around the world tonight.

SMITH: Well, they haven`t asked me too. I may have the sense that I`m speaking for some of them as well, but I`m here with my own opinion. But I don`t know how anybody could listen to that interview and not walk away and say there needs to be an investigation of the threat and of all of these surrounding issues.

You had an earlier guest talking about our foreign policy being hijacked by this group of people with no official role and no oversight. There`s a whole host of issues that need to be investigated and I think anyone who cares about our national security feels that way.

O`DONNELL: And such an investigation would be under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General of the United States. And in the last hour in that interview we just heard Lev Parnas say that Attorney General William Barr is on the team, he was part of this entire endeavor, trying to influence Ukraine. How does that make you feel about the possibilities of an investigation?

SMITH: Well, I can`t speculate on what might actually happen in an investigation, and I`m really grateful that Chairman Engel and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling for an investigation as well and I believe planning to conduct one.

But I will say having spent, you know, 2 1/2 decades explaining American institutions to foreign publics and talking about our justice system as the finest in the world and our system of checks and balances, it`s heartbreaking, actually, to even contemplate that our system might not work.

And I`m not talking about what the outcome is. I`m talking about an investigation. Let the investigation happen and see where is it leads you.

O`DONNELL: Ambassador Dana Shell Smith thank you for your service representing this country around the world and thank you for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And when we come back, once again, with Donald Trump as Nancy Pelosi says, all roads lead to Putin. That`s next.



MADDOW: Did you also convey to him that the U.S. government would stop showing support for Mr. Zelensky, that they wouldn`t attend the inauguration?

PARNAS: That was the biggest thing, actually. That was - that was the main - because at that time you have to understand the way Ukraine is. For President Zelensky winning on that platform being a young President and not really having any experience, the number one thing - and being at war with Russia at the time, the number one thing for them was not even aid. And I know it sounds crazy. But it was more of support from the President.


O`DONNELL: Back with us is Ben Rhodes, a Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. And Ben, of course the beneficiary of withholding aid to Ukraine and withholding any kind of recognition by the President or Vice President of the new President of Ukraine, the big beneficiary of that, every day of that, is Vladimir Putin.

And I want to combine what we just heard with a passage from this new book that`s coming out about the President written by two "Washington Post" reporters. And it contains this moment during the transition talking about he interrupts the President interrupts an interview with one of his Secretary of State candidates to inquire about his pressing desire. "When can I meet Putin? Can I meet him before the inaugural ceremony? He asks". "Nancy Pelosi`s it all roads lead to Putin" seems very powerful in this story.

RHODES: Absolutely, Lawrence. I mean, keep in mind we`re talking about a scandal in Ukraine. Russia occupies a chunk of that country and has been in an ongoing war in Ukraine. What Russia wants is they want Ukraine isolated and in their orbit, their sphere of influence. They want the United States divided from our allies.

They want the United States to be dysfunctional and divided at home. So they have been engaged in a multiyear intelligence operation to support Donald Trump. And it began before the 2016 election and it hasn`t ended. And we know from recent reporting that they are also in on the effort to get damaging material about the Bidens of Burisma through some of the same military intelligence units that were responsible for the 2016 election interference.

So absolutely, we know Vladimir Putin wants to help Donald Trump. We know that Donald Trump is very solicitous of Vladimir Putin and frankly the question that we`ve always wondered is why Donald Trump persistently so solicitous of Vladimir Putin and so willing to fall into the hands and do the things that a U.S. adversary wants us to do?

Yet another reason for Republicans who used to care about this, used to be tough on Russia, or say they were at least, to want to get to the bottom of this.

O`DONNELL: Let me make sure I credit the book properly. The title is "A Very Stable Gene Kruse" and it`s written by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig. There are extraordinary stories in here, including Trump having no ideas where China`s borders are. We can go on and on can about it. I think we will on another night.

Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for joining us on this important night. Really appreciate. That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight we get to hear from Lev of Lev and Igor. And he goes here. He says the President is lying.