Early primary voting underway TRANSCRIPT: 2/17/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Mark Thompson, David Laufman, Matt Miller, Neera Tanden

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

Set your alarm for 5:00 a.m.-ish.


O`DONNELL:  Because NPR has announced that at dawn, somewhere in the 5:00 a.m. hour, they are going to release the poll that you were just talking about.

MADDOW:  Oh, they`ve got a poll.

O`DONNELL: The next national poll, it will tell us whether there are five or six people in that Nevada/NBC debate, MSNBC debate Wednesday tonight. It will be the one that tell us if Bloomberg is in.

MADDOW:  And we know that NPR is going to release that. There might be more than that poll release tomorrow.

O`DONNELL:  Oh, sure, there could be more, yes.

MADDOW:  But if he makes it at the NPR one, (INAUDIBLE) then it doesn`t matter, everything else will be great.

O`DONNELL:  Yes, and he said he`ll show up for it even though he`s not in the running in Nevada, he`s not one of the possible candidates there. So there could be an extremely intense day that`s normally called debate prep, but will really be Bloomberg prep for five candidates who will probably think that`s the place to aim on Wednesday night.

MADDOW:  You know, if nothing else, the Democratic process, the capital "D" Democratic party process is laying waste to the idea that democracy is a staid and predictable and boring affair. Every day is a roller coaster with this one and nobody`s wearing seat belts.

O`DONNELL:  Yes, I`ve given up predicting.


MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Well, tonight`s LAST WORD at the end of this hour will be golf. We`ll discuss why golf should be for the first time ever a serious issue in a presidential campaign, because by Election Day, Donald Trump will have spent more days of his presidency playing golf than the number of workdays in a year. And he has played golf in a way that spends more taxpayer money on golf than any president in history.

And most of the profit from the expenses from Donald Trump`s golf life goes to Donald Trump. Donald Trump`s corrupt golf hustling of the American taxpayer is the most easily explained corruption in the entire Trump presidency. It`s the easy one. And there is at least one Democrat who knows exactly how to attack him on that, as we will show you at the end of this hour.

It is election night in America. And more votes have been cast in tonight`s election than all of the votes in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary combined because it is election night tonight in California. Where almost 1 million votes have already been cast in early voting and it will continue to be election night every night in California right through Tuesday, March 3rd, when California will begin counting the election returns on Super Tuesday in the most important primary of all, the one with 415 delegates, the California primary.

They will be counting votes in the Texas primary on the same night, March 3rd. The second most delegates, 228 delegates at stake. And Texas also has early voting. Thanks to early voting, it is now and will be election night in America every night between now and the first week of June, when the New Jersey primary will award 126 delegates and the Virgin Islands caucuses at the end of this week of June will award the final six delegates in the chase for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

Every night now in America at kitchen tables, people are staring at presidential primary ballots and deciding the future of the country, deciding the future of the rule of law, deciding what it means to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies foreign and domestic, and who is the beast person to do that? As the presidential oath of office swears the president to do?

And the Democratic presidential primary, what makes this the most difficult choice for voters according to polls is not sorting out the complexity of the candidates` policy proposals, it`s not that. That`s not what weighs most heavily on voters as they stare at their ballots, according to what they`re telling pollsters.

The number one issue according to polling among Democratic presidential primary voters, number one, is beating Donald Trump. That`s the most important thing, getting Donald Trump and his children and Stephen Miller and Trumpism out of the White House.

And Democratic presidential primary voters are right to concentrate on that, first of all, because that in and of itself would be a huge governing accomplishment. Political campaigns always get too caught up in the policy proposals of the candidates and never emphasize enough the other side of our politics, which is equally important. The two sides of our politics are what you are in favor of and equally importantly what you are opposed to. What you will prevent from happening.

Sometimes the most important thing you can do in political office is to simply stop a bad thing from happening. The most important thing that John McCain did in his entire political career, his entire 31-year career in the United States Senate, the most important thing he did was not push through a John McCain policy proposal and get it passed into law. The most important thing Senator John McCain ever did was say no. He said no at 1:29 in the morning. That`s when John McCain turned his thumb down and voted no on the repeal of Obamacare in the United States Senate, he voted no to ripping health care away from millions of Americans. That`s what the next Democratic president will be doing to all things Trump, saying no, saying no more Trumpism, no more Trump nominations to the United States Supreme Court, no more federal judges appointed who don`t even meet the minimal standards set by the American Bar Association. No more budget-busting corporate tax cuts, and tax cuts for the rich.

No more threats to take your health care away, millions of people`s health care away. No more babies in cages, no more Muslim bans. No more celebrating with Russian ambassadors over a fired FBI director.

No more rage-tweeting at football players. No more tweeting at the attorney general to lower a sentencing recommendation for the president`s convicted felon friends. No more of that.

No more idiotic, childish behavior with the murderous North Korean dictator. No more nonstop pathological lying day in and day out by the president of the United States, just think about what one day in America would be with no more of that.

And that`s just the tip of the iceberg of Trumpism that would be instantly banished from the White House if a Democrat takes the oath of office at the next presidential inauguration. Voters are very right to say that that is the most important thing weighing their vote.

And they`re doubly right if Mitch McConnell remains the majority leader of the United States Senate, because not one legislative proposal of any of the Democrats running for president has a chance of becoming law if Mitch McConnell is still in place in the United States Senate. Every single Democrat running for president, including billionaire Michael Bloomberg has a much more progressive tax policy than President Obama or President Bill Clinton before him. And not one sentence of Democratic tax policy will become law if Mitch McConnell is still the majority leader of the Senate next year.

Every one of the candidates has a more progressive health care policy than Obamacare. None of that can become law if Mitch McConnell still controls the Senate and voters know that. And so, most voters are not working very hard to sort out the differences in the candidates` complex legislative proposals because they know that a Democratic president will sign into law whatever Nancy Pelosi can pass in the House of Representatives which will only matter if the Democrats manage to win control of the United States Senate.

Tomorrow morning at dawn, as I told Rachel, NPR will be releasing a new national poll of the Democratic presidential candidates. And that means that tomorrow, the five candidates who currently qualify for Wednesday night`s debate might become six. Mike Bloomberg might be promoted to the debate stage by the poll released tomorrow.

As of now, the candidates qualifying for Wednesday night`s debate here in MSNBC descending order of their current delegate count, which is the most important way to look at these candidate now -- Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden. And possibly, Wednesday night, Mike Bloomberg will join them.

Leading off our discussion tonight are: Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama; Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at "The Washington Post"; Sam Stein, politics editor at "The Daily Beast", all three are MSNBC analysts. Also joining us here in New York is Mark Thompson, host of the "Make It Plain" daily podcast.

And, Ben Rhodes, I want to start with you, you`re a veteran of presidential campaigns, what is it like tonight as you`re two nights away from the next big debate. These candidates all saw the kind of Klobuchar surge earned in the last debate in New Hampshire.

What is it that they`re focusing on for Wednesday night and hoping to carry them into victory Saturday in Nevada?

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURIYT ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Lawrence, it`s a tough situation. I did debate prep for the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. But at this stage in the primary, it`s complicated, because on the one hand, you`re delivering a message to Nevada voters, they`re up next, they`re going to caucus.

But you also know that after you get past Nevada and South Carolina, this race goes national almost immediately. With the Super Tuesday primaries, the California prize that you highlighted in your opening. So, you`re kind of speaking to two audiences. You`re trying to get some momentum, you`re trying to speak to the issues you know matter to people in Nevada, but you`re also trying to capture the national narrative and the national momentum.

And so, you know, it`s a tricky balancing act that the candidate are doing, and you see them doing this. My one concern that I see with some of the campaigns is, there`s a chasing of the shiny object. Mike Bloomberg is the new shiny object. Everybody is going after him.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is coasting toward a nomination, if you project through the next several contests. So, I think the most important thing is, and Obama was good at this, deliver your message, make your closing sale to the voters in the next state, and deliver your message to the rest of the country and don`t get knocked off course by what`s dominating the media discussion on any one given day.

O`DONNELL:  Ruth Marcus, the debaters on Wednesday night, they`ll be thinking about the Nevada voters, in a way, they`ve never had to think about them less in the sense that when they`re delivering their debate performance Wednesday night, there are more voters in California watching that debate than will vote in Nevada or any of the other states, the stakes could not be higher as they speak to these voters around the country.

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST:  That`s absolutely right. And as Ben suggested, they`re going to be likely turning a lot of their focus, I hope he`ll be there, because it`s really time for him to enter the fray to come out from behind the checkbook and from behind the ads and to start answering questions from voters, from people like us, and from his rivals for the presidency. And so they`re going to be oddly enough, a lot of the focus, if he`s in the debate, Mayor Bloomberg is going to be on somebody who`s not actually on the ballot in Nevada, but who is going to be on the ballot in California. So, it`s a little bit of an odd contest that has a bunch of different audiences.

O`DONNELL:  Mark Thompson, Republican voters taught their party a lesson four years ago, which is the past doesn`t matter. We do not care that Donald Trump has spent most of his life apolitical or not a Republican, we don`t care that he`s spent most of his life supporting abortion rights and now has flipped. We only care what he says today that he will do tomorrow.

In Wednesday`s debate, we will see, as we`ve seen before, a lot of concentration on the past. On people`s records and what it is. You know, you can go to Bernie Sanders who has never been a Democrat ever, and who was very pro NRA`s way of looking at gun legislation many years ago, but isn`t any more.

Elizabeth Warren was a Republican a long time ago in her life. You know, Mayor Bloomberg was a Republican like yesterday, just -- seemingly weeks ago, I guess it`s years ago now.

How much should all of this record matter versus what the candidate says he or she is in favor of now and will do in the job?

MARK THOMPSON, HOST, "MAKET IT PLAIN" PODCAST:  Well, thanks for having me, Lawrence. It`s complicated.

O`DONNELL:  Yes, it is.

THOMPSON:  Very complicated.

O`DONNELL:  I haven`t sorted it out, it`s a jump ball here.

THOMPSON:  And I think inevitably, people are looking at everything. And because people are looking at everything, Ben is right, this is going to go very quickly, South Carolina, and then just a few days later, Super Tuesday.

We`ve invited all the candidates in our annual jubilee in Selma to talk to the people in Selma.

O`DONNELL:  When is that?

THOMPSON:  That will be February 27th to March 1st. On Sunday, march 1st, we march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate Bloody Sunday.

Then we said, rather than having a photo op on the bridge, let`s talk to the citizens of Selma, where voting rights were born in 1965. What I`ve looked at, though, honestly, is that at Super Tuesday, at the latest, Lawrence, there still won`t be a clear path for anyone to get 1,991 required number of delegates unless they win 55 percent in every primary/caucus after.

We are headed I believe toward a brokered convention. If it doesn`t go down on the first ballot, the superdelegates come in on the second ballot, and you`ve got a big problem. Bernie has a lot of supporters and the other candidates do as well. They`re still not feeling the superdelegates. If it comes down to that, I don`t know where this is going to end up.

Also, what Ruth Marcus said is true, it`s time for Bloomberg to come out from behind the checkbook, there are some things in his past that are quite damning. Especially when we talk about stop and frisk, and sexual harassment lawsuits, and Muslim surveillance, if that is going to keep coming up, and more and more of that keeps coming out, even if he is the nominee, I don`t know that the base is not affected by that.

Apathy doesn`t come into play. So, I think there`s still a lot more that needs to be worked out on this.

O`DONNELL:  Sam Stein, it has been relatively easy up until now, to get the candidates to say, when questioned, at least, will you support whoever the Democrats nominate? Mike Bloomberg has made people I think -- some of these candidates want to duck that question for the moment.

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, yes and no, the one campaign that`s really taking a contrast to Bloomberg aggressively right now, is Bernie Sanders` campaign. And the question was posed to a senior strategist, Jeff Weaver, would you accept Bloomberg`s promise to donate copious amounts of money to the Democratic cause if he`s not the nominee? And Jeff Weaver said no.

That`s sort of tricky, because you can`t coordinate with Bloomberg what he spends on in the case.

But I think, by and large, the field has been fairly committed to unifying the nominee. Maybe not Bernie`s surrogates, but Bernie himself has been up front about unity, regardless of whether he wins or not.

You know, the question, though, of course, as you alluded to early on, what is the case they`re making to the voters to get them to support them, even in these debates, and then, of course, to the superdelegates as well. What I`ve noticed from just talking to voters on the trail, and maybe you have, too, Lawrence, is that voters more than any elections that I can remember are now considering themselves pundits. I mean, they`ve basically have taken on the role of pundits, and they`ve engaged in this very subjective exercise of trying to figure out which of these candidates is the most electable.

Now, each of these candidates can make a case for their electability. But we end up in talking past each other now, these voters do, my guy`s -- the woman I`m supporting is most electable. It`s difficult to have a persuasive moment unless you have it on a national stage like Amy Klobuchar did during the New Hampshire debate.

O`DONNELL:  Ruth, when I was in New Hampshire, I found a voter of every stripe to talk about their favorite candidate and why they are reluctant to vote for their favorite candidate, because they think someone else might be stronger against Donald Trump. I had Bernie voters say, I think someone else may be stronger against Trump. I had Pete voters, people who really want Pete, really want Elizabeth Warren, you know, really want Joe Biden, drifting toward someone else, because of what Sam just called the pundit thing, where they all now -- and it`s because they feel this giant weight of responsibility, they have to pick someone to beat Trump.

MARCUS:  It`s a combination of feeling that responsibility and also the normal human instinct to go with a winner. I talked with a woman in New Hampshire who, this is before she started to go up in the polls, I really like Amy, but I think she doesn`t really have a chance, so I`m with Pete. This was at a Buttigieg event.

Then we saw kind of the permission structure being created to go for Amy Klobuchar. It`s a crazy way to vote, but it`s, of course, they`re not the pundits, they`re the voters, we are simply trying to predict what they`re going to do and not the other way around.

But I think that the urgency of this moment has increased the size of the punditocracy. And to go to that, I think there`s a really potentially dangerous situation arising here. And it`s that Bernie Sanders, I think, as Ben alluded to earlier, is going to have a real challenge in a general election campaign against President Trump. I think a bigger challenge than some of the other potential Democratic candidates.

At the same time, Mayor Bloomberg is coming in so strong, if he is able to blot out the ability of non-Bernie candidates to grow and to compete on some -- any kind of unequal playing field on Super Tuesday, and he becomes the nominee, he`s the candidate who the Bernie supporters, no matter what senator Sanders himself says, they`re going to have the hardest time supporting.

So, that creates a potentially fractured situation, whether or not we get to a contested convention, or if something is -- some agreement is agreed to before we get to second ballots. It`s a potential -- real potential for division that should have everybody really worried.

O`DONNELL:  Mark Thompson, we`ve seen this phenomenon before, where the voter had a favorite but was leaning in the other direction, because the voter was afraid that the favorite couldn`t win. That was the classic case of Barack Obama, who had to convert -- he had to convert people into believing that he could win, including in very large numbers black people who were not on his side when his -- many were, but many were not on his side when his campaign began, because of that doubt, the one I like really can`t win.

THOMPSON:  Absolutely. As a matter of fact, before Iowa, in 2008, the majority of Americans were with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama went on "60 minutes" and acknowledged that. It was after he won Iowa, that black voters were like, wow, this can really actually happen.

O`DONNELL:  And it was because it was such a white state.

THOMPSON:  Indeed. What Ruth said, though, was very, very important. The fact of the matter is, Bernie has -- it`s generational. Bernie has a lot of young people, and they need to be engaged and voting in 2020, if it appears he`s been locked out, they`ll be disaffected.

Bloomberg on the other hand has affected a lot of young people through stop and frisk, it locked them out. So, it gets very complicated and for what does it profit a party, to get a nominee, if it loses unity. We`ve got to figure out how to get that unity.

O`DONNELL:  Well, the obvious solution, the Bloomberg/Sanders ticket, right? No problem.

THOMPSON:  You said it before -- 

O`DONNELL:  Easy to put that together.

THOMPSON:  Let`s do it, let`s do it.

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to have to leave it there.

Ben Rhodes, Ruth Marcus, Mark Thompson, Sam Stein, and you have to identify on shows like this, that was a joke, everyone. OK? There`s no studio audience laughing -- so, no, there`s not going to be a Bloomberg-Sanders ticket. I don`t think.

We`re going to be back after this break.

When we come back, why federal judges think Donald Trump`s interference in the Justice Department is an emergency. We`ll be joined by two of the 2000 former Justice Department officials who have now signed a letter saying Attorney General William Barr should resign. That`s next.


O`DONNELL:  It`s an emergency. That`s what federal judges think President Trump`s interference in the Justice Department is, an emergency. And so, the National Federal Judges Association, which represents more than 1,000 federal judges, today called for an emergency meeting tomorrow to address concerns about President Trump`s interference in the administration of justice in the Department of Justice.

Here`s what Attorney General William Barr says about that.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.


O`DONNELL:  Well, what about a civil case? The Justice Department has a massive civil division that handles matters of great interest to Donald Trump.

What about an antitrust case? Was what Donald Trump publicly and privately asks the attorney general to do or tells the attorney general to do has reached the emergency point?

In a letter released yesterday by former Justice Department officials has now been signed by over 2,000 former Justice Department officials, and that number is growing, the letter says: Each of us strongly condemns President Trump`s and Attorney General Barr`s interference in the fair administration of justice. The letter calls on Attorney General Barr to resign.

The former Justice Department officials` letter says: Although there are times when political leadership weighs in on individual prosecutions, it`s unheard of for the department`s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors who are following established policies in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Roger Stone case.

Bill Barr`s actions unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice`s reputation for integrity and rule of law require Mr. Barr to resign.

Joining us now, two former Justice Department officials who have signed that letter, David Laufman who served in the Department of Justice under the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Also with us, Matt Miller, the former spokesperson for Eric Holder during the Obama administration. He`s an MSNBC contributor.

David Laufman, let me get to the point the letter makes about just how unprecedented it is for the attorney general to insert himself in a sentencing recommending when this -- in any sentencing recommendation at this stage of the proceedings, but particularly one where the person being sentenced is a 30-year friend of the president of the United States.

DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER COUNTERINTELLIGENCE CHIEF, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:  Lawrence, a couple days ago, I used the analogy that we`re at a "break glass in case of fire" moment for the Department of Justice. So, that`s where we are, it is an emergency.

It is unheard of for the attorney general, in essence, to commandeer a pending criminal case to repudiate a sentencing position the government took only 24 hours ago, on behalf of a political ally of the president. And that`s why you saw such an outcry from former department prosecutors and other officials, that`s why you`ve seen an outcry from federal judges who, in an extraordinary move, have called an emergency meeting of federal judges.

O`DONNELL:  Matt Miller, the intervention by the attorney general is so peculiar because this final decision is up to a judge, the judge saw this happen, the judge watched this like the rest of us, in effect both on TV and in the filings the judge has received.

First, a filing recommending 7 to 9 years, then a filing recommending something less than that, whatever the judge thinks is fair. The idea that the Attorney General felt that that kind of change deserved his intervention is so strange in this case.

MATT MILLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: It`s absolutely strange. I think unprecedented is another word for it. When I worked for Eric Holder, I don`t recall him ever getting involved in a sentencing recommendation when the Department has gone to trial and won a case. The AG is getting involved in criminal cases all the time, they get involved sometimes in - sign off on whether to bring a case involved potentially in approving plea negotiations.

But when the Department has gone to court and won a case, is indicted someone and gone and won the case. The Department typically trust the people, the prosecutors who brought that case to be able to read the sentencing guidelines and come up with appropriate sentence, which of course is exactly what happened here.

And that`s in any case, that`s in a normal case. You add to that what you have in this case where it is a close political ally of the President who let`s remember was convicted of lying to Congress basically to protect the President.

When you have an AG get involved in that, it`s I think fairly obvious what`s going on here and that`s why you see so many people from the Department, from the Federal bench who are speaking up and saying, this isn`t the way it`s supposed to work. And they`re speaking up because unlike the way a lot of departments and agencies work that the independence of the Justice Department is not something enshrined in law or regulation. It`s a norm that has existed because presidents and attorneys general have either respected the need for an independent department or have been afraid of the political consequences of violating that rule.

And when you see a President and an Attorney General who don`t respect that rule, it has grave consequences for the independent rule of law. And I think it`s incumbent on everyone who understands how the system ought to work to speak up and say something.

O`DONNELL: David Laufman, I`m not aware of the Federal Judge`s Association ever having an emergency meeting about anything. I mean maybe at some point in their history but certainly not about anything like this.

DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: It`s quite telling. And look, you know federal prosecutors have a precious commodity and that is when they stand before a federal judge, they have the credibility, the full faith and credibility of the U.S. government. That is being eroded now. And judges talk to one another and they may be asking themselves well just how much faith can we put in what the government is telling us. What position can we assume the government is really taking, is it what you filed yesterday, is it going to be what you filed tomorrow. Why are there differences between these filings? What factors led to these changes?

These are just historic departures from norms that federal judges have got to be concerned about at least in politically sensitive case.

O`DONNELL: Matt, everything David just said sounds like something the judge is actually going to say tomorrow in a scheduled conference call with the parties in this case.

MILLER: Yes, I`m very, very curious to see what she does. She has been fairly modest in the way she`s handled this case from the beginning. There were a number of times where I think a lot of outside observers thought she was going to be tougher on Roger Stone, when he was violating the gag order and she gave him several chances before she eventually reined him in.

You know if this were the judge who was in the Mike Flynn case, I think you`d expect him to haul all four-line prosecutors and maybe the U.S. attorney into to grill all of them and conduct something of an inquisition.

I`m not sure she`s going to do that, but she certainly is going to have to have them - I assume the new line prosecutor who is on the case there and ask him what is the opinion of the Justice Department. And she may go further and want to know.

Remember, the judges have great discretion in their courtroom. Why did the Department change its opinion? What were the discussions behind the scenes? Why did the other prosecutors come off the case? Why aren`t they here before me? They were the four people who were here trying this case in my courtroom. I`ve gotten to know them. Why aren`t they here today?

I think that she will have a number of questions and if she chooses to go, so she could go as far as calling the U.S. Attorney and even demanding a statement from the Attorney General himself.

O`DONNELL: David Laufman, Matt Miller, thank you both for joining us. I`d really appreciate it.

LAUFMAN: Good to be with you.

MILLER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And when we come back, we`ll get a report live from Las Vegas about the state of the race ahead of Wednesday`s Democratic debate in Las Vegas and Saturday`s Nevada caucuses from the Editor of the Nevada Independent, Jon Ralston


O`DONNELL: In a first for the Nevada caucuses, the Nevada Democratic Party has opened up the process to include four full days of early voting in an effort to increase turnout. And it is working. Turnout has been huge.

In the first two days of early voting, 26,000 Nevada voters participated. If that pace continues for the last two days of early voting, there could be over 50,000 early voters in Nevada and four years ago, the total number of voters was 84,000 participating in the Nevada caucuses.

The Nevada Democratic Party says that on the first day of early voting, 56 percent of those voters were first time, Nevada caucus voters.

Joining us now is Jon Ralston, Editor of the Nevada Independent, and MSNBC contributor, and he will be one of the moderators of Wednesday`s Democratic debate here on MSNBC. Jon, I`m struck by all those numbers, including 56 percent first time Nevada caucus voters. That says to me the polling might not be very reliable this time. If there`s a bunch of first-time caucus voters who the pollsters weren`t sure would show up.

JON RALSTON, EDITOR, THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT: Is the polling ever reliable on Nevada?

O`DONNELL: It was pretty good four years ago. It said, Hillary would win. She won.

RALSTON: Yes, that`s right. That`s right. Remember, she had a 25-point lead though, and she almost lost. But so, listen, I think you can throw polling out the window pretty much for a couple of reasons. One is that statistic, which is a remarkable statistic, as you point out, 56 percent early voters, but also that massive turnout in early voting, Lawrence. And there were huge lines again today.

And I would guess with more sites tomorrow, the final day, that will be even bigger. But what does that really mean? How much of that is cannibalizing the actual attendance at the caucus? People don`t want to go to a caucus. They want to just go early vote. Fill out the ballot. The Iowa effect, they don`t want to go through anything that might be a nightmare like that. And how much of it really is a sign of enthusiasm with those new voters, with the campaigns driving everybody there?

And as you mentioned, then it`s the first I`ve heard about it. But I understand there`s a debate on Wednesday. And so, I think that`s going to create excitement too. And I think you`d agree there`s going to be more tension in that debate than there has been in the past because of what these candidates are doing now, and especially if Bloomberg ends up being on that stage. The campaigns are going to really drive people to go to the caucus. And so, I think the betting line now is that 80,000 could be eclipsed.

O`DONNELL: Well, we are throwing this poll out the window because you`ve told us to, but we`re going to put it up on the screen before we throw it out the window, so people can see the general shape of things in Nevada. Bernie Sanders in the latest poll, in the lead at 25. Down to Amy Klobuchar, down to 10.

And one of the big numbers in the middle of that poll that`s unusual is Tom Steyer up at 11. And Jon, that has a lot to do with Tom Steyer spending $14 million in TV advertising and other advertising in Nevada. The next spender down from him is Bernie Sanders at 1.8 million. So, a huge gap there in terms of the spending.

RALSTON: Yes. I mean, Tom Steyer is the most well-known person in the state right now. But whether that translates into a good showing in the caucus, I don`t think anybody knows. And I`m unnecessarily saying you should throw all the polling results out the window, Lawrence, that poll is somewhat mirrored by another poll that came out that showed Bernie Sanders with an even bigger lead.

The conventional wisdom is, and I think most of the campaigns believe this, Lawrence, is that Bernie Sanders is well-positioned to win the Nevada caucus. But I think why they`re not overly confident is because of what we`ve been talking about. We`ve never had early voting here before. We don`t know what that means. The poll is only as good as how well it can model the turnout. Right. And so, we don`t know what`s going on.

I think Bernie Sanders as people are confident, but not cocky about this. But what`s really interesting is the cluster below him and that almost anybody could finish in second place. And since Joe Biden is pouring a tremendous amount of resources in here at the last minute, Lawrence, to try to write his sinking campaign, getting a lot of endorsements, doing a lot of appearances, setting up an infrastructure, trying to get the vote out. There was some sense that maybe, maybe he can get into second place here.

O`DONNELL: OK. The suspense could not be greater in Nevada because even Jon Ralston doesn`t know what`s going to happen. Jon, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it. And when we come back, John Bolton tonight said that two of the most important areas of Trump foreign policy are a failure and a mistake. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Tonight, John Bolton made his first public comments for money since the Senate impeachment trial in which Republicans blocked his appearance as a witness, everything John Bolton says publicly these days is for money, in paid speaking events.

Tonight, at Duke University, John Bolton said that Donald Trump`s policy on Iran is "a failure" and that Donald Trump`s utter absence of policy in North Korea is a mistake on the Trump approach to North Korea. Bolton said, "It was perfectly evident, it was going to fail."

When John Bolton was asked if Donald Trump`s call with the President of Ukraine was perfect. John Bolton said, you`ll love Chapter 14. John Bolton repeatedly gave answers like that about his book, for which he was paid a multi-million-dollar advance, and which now awaits a security clearance by the Trump administration, which left John Bolton giving answers tonight like this.

Well, I`d be happy to answer that question, except part of this is now involved in the pre-publication review of my book. Joining us now is Ben Rhodes. He`s back with us. He`s a former National Security Advisor to President Obama. He`s an MSNBC Political Analyst. Ben, your reaction to John Bolton`s comments tonight?

BEN RHODES, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I have two reactions. Lawrence, first of all, you know, this guy could have told the country what he knew about what happened on that call with Zelensky, what happened in the entire Ukraine corruption scandal at any moment in the impeachment inquiry, even though he wasn`t called as a witness because Republicans blocked it. He could have taken to the airwaves, he could have gone on your show, Lawrence and laid it out for people to hear instead he wants to profit off this book.

At the same time, he`s also telling us in his own words, this man who was the longest serving National Security Advisor for Trump, that Trump has been a complete failure on his key foreign policy initiatives, and he`s been a failure in North Korea that continues to build nuclear weapons despite this ridiculous diplomacy that he`s engaged in with a murderous dictator.

It`s been a failure in Iran where they`ve resumed their nuclear program and stepped up their provocative activities around the world. He`s been a failure in standing up for democratic values. John Bolton, in his own words, is revealing that the emperor has no clothes, that Donald Trump has been a complete failure measured against the very objectives that Donald Trump set. And I think it`s important that that be weaved into a narrative about how ineffective Trump is as President.

O`DONNELL: Of course, John Bolton refused to testify in the inquiry in the House of Representatives when Colonel Vindman and others in the same position as John Bolton did testify, including people like Colonel Vindman who were still employed, still working in the Trump White House. Bolton was a private citizen, could have done it. And then Bolton decides from out of nowhere. I`m willing to testify in the Senate trial when he was pretty sure he wasn`t going to have to. Here`s what he said tonight about the Ukraine issues. This is as far as he would go.

He said for all the focus on Ukraine and the impeachment trial and all that, for me, there are portions of the manuscript that deal with Ukraine. I view that like the sprinkles on the ice cream sundae in terms of what`s in the book. Ben, this is the book tour for the book that doesn`t exist yet.

RHODES: Yes, well, and look, I mean, this is a guy who seems motivated above all by profit. And frankly, we`ve seen this in a lot of the Trump people who`ve left and written books. And here`s the reality, Lawrence, like American democracy is on the ballot in this upcoming year. And we`ve had people like Bolton, like Rex Tillerson, like Jim Mattis, like John Kelly, who walked out of that White House and they know a lot. They know a lot that they haven`t told us yet. They know a lot that hasn`t even been in the books that they`ve written.

And frankly, between now and the election, I would like to see these people lay this out for the American people so we can know what is going on in our government, because the glimpse that we`ve gotten is not pretty. The glimpse that we`ve gotten is an unprecedented level of corruption, an unprecedented level of the President using his office, abusing his office for his own personal interests.

John Bolton keeps indicating that he knows that happened and that he`s going to tell us in his book. What I would like to see more of these people do is what Vindman had the courage to do, the guts to do, not for profit, but because it was right, because it was morally the right thing to do. It was ethically the right thing to do. He went through legal channels and he told the American people what he knew. We need more voices like that between now and November.

O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor in the Obama administration, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

RHODES: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And when we come back, the great sportswriter Rick Reilly gave us an invaluable perspective on Donald Trump in his book, Commander-in- Cheat, How Golf Explains Trump. But golf is now at the heart of the corrupt practices of the Trump presidency designed to make Donald Trump richer. And that means that presidential golf should be a serious issue in the presidential campaign. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: For the first time in presidential history, golf should be an issue in the presidential campaign. The golfiest President in the history of the presidency has now played golf 247 times at massive taxpayer expense. Most of the government money spent on Donald Trump`s trips to golf courses is paid to Donald Trump because he always plays golf at properties that his company owns.

So, the Secret Service has to pay Donald Trump to rent all those golf carts to protect Donald Trump and pay Donald Trump for hotel rooms at Donald Trump`s golf resorts. For the Secret Service and others in the President`s massive traveling party. And so, Democratic presidential campaign commercials should include Donald Trump telling lies about his golf courses like this four years ago when he was running for President.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If I were in the White House, I don`t think I`d ever see Turnberry again. I don`t think I`d ever see Doral again. I own Doral in Miami. I don`t think I`d ever see many of the places that I have. I don`t ever think I`d see anything. I just want to stay in the White House and work by myself, make great deals, right. Who is going to leave?


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Neera Tanden, a former senior adviser to President Obama and Hillary Clinton. She`s President, CEO of the Center for American Progress. Neera, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I mean it, golf is serious stuff in the way this President has done it. It`s the most easily explained of the Trump cash scandals in the Trump White House.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS PRESIDENT & CEO: Absolutely, I mean the fact that he essentially plays golf all the time at his own resorts where he makes the Secret Service pay for him and other government officials basically pay - basically into his pocket. And that turns out to be far, far more than what would otherwise be. His salary is another way in which he`s used the government as essentially a personal slush fund.

O`DONNELL: There is one candidate so far who`s gone after golf. It shouldn`t be a surprise to anyone who this is. Let`s listen to this.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People have said when you were mayor, the city gave Trump a contract to operate a golf course. Yes, that`s true. But he was the only bidder. And running a golf course is the only job that I would hire him for.


O`DONNELL: Neera, it takes a lot of money to decide that within everything you want to do in your campaign advertising and in terms of advancing your own message and your own policies, you want to devote some of that money to going after Donald Trump on golf. Bloomberg certainly has the money to do that.

TANDEN: I mean, I think he can be a little. He doesn`t need to be so discriminating when he has that much money. But I think the point is that golf and the amount of golf he plays is an actual humorous point, particularly after he criticized Barack Obama for golfing so much, when in comparison, Barack Obama golf so little compared to Donald Trump. And so - but I think the most important part of this is the corruption element. It is the issue in which the President is essentially - President Trump is actually essentially profiting off of playing golf. And most of us would find that hard to do, but it`s kind of very rarely does.

O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean, one of the things about the Bloomberg campaign and you know, if he`s not the nominee, which at this point in the polling seems likely, what he`s promised to do is spend a massive amount of advertising, which would basically be aimed at Donald Trump. His ads are very clever, very smart. He would clearly include this and include that clip of Trump saying, you know, I won`t be playing golf when I`m President. We would definitely see that in a Bloomberg paid for ad in the general election.

TANDEN: I definitely hope so. I think one of the most important things is, is to really be able to laugh at Donald Trump and to be able to call out his insecurities. I think Trump is essentially a narcissist. He`s very insecure. And Mike Bloomberg has been able to get under his skin as have several other candidates. And so, I look forward to that.

O`DONNELL: Neera Tanden gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Neera, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

TANDEN: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.