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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/12/22

Guests: Mark Zaid


Chief Justice John Roberts defends the Supreme Court`s legitimacy. What happens on the battlefield is rarely the thing that decides a war. Normally, the preparations before hand determine what happens when the fighting begins. And these preparations are what settle the outcome of the war itself. Vladimir Putin`s Russian TV supporters of his war crimes in Ukraine are now very worried that Putin might be losing his war in Ukraine. DOJ Subpoenas 40 Trump associates in January 6 probe. Trump asks judge to keep blocking DOJ access to documents.



Is it okay if I have David Corn on, too, to talk about "American Psychosis" --


O`DONNELL: -- the title of this new I think as of right now best-selling book because of the five minutes that you just spent on it.

MADDOW: I mean, I love David Corn. You know, personal disclosure, he`s a friend. I think he`s a great journalist. I love the way he thinks I love the way he writes.

I`m so glad that he`s done a super readable modern history of the right because we keep talking about these things like they haven`t happened before. And so much of our history of this stuff that we remember it is like facile and self-serving and not exactly right. And we just need smart digestible history about this stuff right now particularly as we head into the midterms, and this is just perfectly timed.

O`DONNELL: And we`ve all been thinking about it I remember beginning to think about it when Donald Trump got the nomination in 2016. How did this happen and I kind of worked my way back to Sarah Palin, and then I kept going and I kept going. But I never did the full homework that David Corn has done to take us all the way back to where it really begins and trace its consistency all the way through.

And its survival points that you that you just described with the John Birch Society maybe that could have been the moment, where they exactly where they snuffed this out. But no, it survived. It snuck through this way and then it snuck by other moments in history other ways to come out to this full bloom in 2015, 2016.

MADDOW: And the conservative movement and the conservative media has been very self-congratulatory about the fact that they eventually did sort of self-police kooks like the John Birch Society out of their ranks. And they did eventually.

But all the years that they delayed and they didn`t do it and they kept them inside the tent because they wanted to keep them, you know, door- knocking for them and keeping their donations coming in, they didn`t want to alienate them. All those years had a cost and those years before they did the right thing, before they did the brave thing, that`s actually the relevant history for where we are right now.

And so, it`s just -- anyway, I`m obsessed with this stuff as you know, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Rachel, Geoffrey Berman is going to join me tomorrow night to follow up the discussion you had with him tonight and that breaking news you reveal tonight about that that individual one complaint in the Michael Cohen case turns out it was twice as long in the original draft and the Bill Barr people at the Justice Department got it got -- it cut in half. It still was hugely condemning of individual one.

And the thing I`ve been wondering about, not since that time but since the new administration came in is, why hasn`t Donald Trump been prosecuted as individual one in that case? We understand that while he was president, William Barr was going to say that you cannot prosecute a sitting president. But as soon as he wasn`t president, I fully expected that he was going to be indicted on the elements of the individual one case which are identical to the Michael Cohen case.

MADDOW: And you know there`s so much about that -- the prosecutorial -- about prosecutorial discretion and all these things that is by necessity secret. Of course, if you`re being illegally and improperly pressured to do something that looks like prosecutorial discretion -- well, you shouldn`t be quiet about that, you should tell people about that and that`s sort of the curtain that that Geoffrey Berman has pulled back now. I think the question ultimately made now at this point because it`s been so long, may be a statute of limitations issue, right?

If that behavior was in the 2016 campaign, well, it`s 2022 now. Most statute of limitations for most crimes is a five-year thing, that -- that maybe all. But whether or not charges can still be brought or could still be brought against Trump for that, there also ought to be repercussions for the people inside the Justice Department who brought that improper pressure. I mean, arguably that is a criminal act itself to obstruct justice.


Certainly, it`s worth investigating as a potentially, you know, a matter of professional misconduct as lawyers. And certainly, it`s a matter of investigation internally at the Justice Department both in terms of the need for reform so it doesn`t happen again, but also there ought to be punishment, there ought to be a cost for the people who did that.

Perverting U.S. law enforcement for political means is arguably illegal, definitely wrong and can`t go unpunished.

O`DONNELL: And Rachel I thought and I that when we saw Nixon`s attorney general when I -- and I say we, I mean people of a certain age. So Nixon`s attorney general John Mitchell go to prison, go to prison. That that eliminated -- it just eliminated this behavior from that point forward at the Justice Department. It just wouldn`t happen again, that that would be enough by way of warning to people.

But I guess those warnings only last a couple of decades.

MADDOW: Yeah, that`s right. And if you think that you`re going to get -- you`re not going to be in trouble for it, obviously, that gives you more -- that gives you more runway. If you think you`re not going to get in trouble for it and you get pressured every day to do it, that gives you even more runway. And if you see other people around you getting away with even worse stuff, that gives you even more runway to do it.

And what he describes about Bill Barr`s behavior here and Edward O`Callaghan and Rich Donoghue and Jeffrey Rosen, I mean, he names names here and talks about what exactly they did, it`s really bad in terms of how the Justice Department can be corrupted if officials at those kind in those kinds of key positions are willing to do it.

The Justice Department has to fix this because the American public has to believe that it`s an incorruptible institution. And in order to believe that, we have to know there`s consequences when corruption is demonstrated, confessed to and proven. And so, this just what -- this is not a normal book. This is not a normal tell-all book.

This is -- this is the start of something of the Justice Department. That`s going to have to be taken very, very seriously.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, there`s never been a book like this, and Geoffrey Berman will be here at this hour tomorrow night for further discussion on that.

MADDOW: Bye, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, we now know the name of the person who is likely to be named as the so-called special master in the criminal investigation of Donald Trump, but we don`t yet know what that special master will actually be doing. That is one piece of our breaking news coverage in this hour which includes new filings in the case this evening by federal prosecutors and Donald Trump`s lawyers.

The other sprawling mass of breaking news that we have tonight is reporting in "The New York Times" by a team of reporters, including our first guest, under the headline: Justice Department issues subpoenas in a week, expanding its January 6th inquiry. "The Times" reports Justice Department officials have seized the phones of two top advisers to former president Donald J. Trump and blanketed his aides with about subpoenas in a substantial escalation of the investigation into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election, people familiar with the inquiry said on Monday.

The seizure of the phones coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Mr. Trump after the 2020 election represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Federal agents with court-authorized search warrants took phones last week from at least two people. Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump`s legal efforts, and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who was the director of election day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020, people familiar with the investigation said.

"The Times" reports that Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner appointed by Rudy Giuliani when Giuliani was mayor, has also received a subpoena. Bernard Kerik helped Rudy Giuliani promote false voter fraud claims. Bernard Kerik`s lawyer confirmed to "The New York Times" that he was subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney`s office in Washington, D.C.

Bernard Kerik is the only person in the subpoenaed group of Trump associates who knows what life is like inside federal prison. He is the former New York city police commissioner who was convicted of federal felonies and served time in federal prison and, of course, Donald Trump is the only president of the United States who would seek out and accept help from Bernard Kerik after Kerik got out of prison.

"The Times" reports: According to one subpoena obtained by "The New York Times", they asked for any records or communications from people who organized, spoke at or provided security for Mr. Trump`s rally at the ellipse.

Also this evening, the Justice Department filed its response to Donald Trump`s list of suggested so-called special masters in the criminal investigation of Donald Trump for illegal possession of government records, including classified records. Donald Trump`s lawyers filed their response to the Justice Department`s two names proposed as special master, not surprisingly. The Trump lawyers said they opposed both of the names submitted by the Justice Department. Then the Justice Department replied saying that one of the two suggested names by the Trump lawyers is acceptable to the Justice Department, that is 78-year-old senior federal judge Raymond Dearie, who was appointed to the federal court in 1986 by Republican President Ronald Reagan at the suggestion of New York`s then junior senator, Republican Senator Alphonse D`Amato.

Judge Dearie served a seven-year term on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court where he became familiar with the handling of classified material. Earlier today in the case of Donald J. Trump versus the United States of America, Donald Trump`s lawyers filed their reply to the Justice Department`s filing on Thursday. The Justice Department demanded then that the Trump appointed judge in the case, Aileen Mercedes Cannon, reversed herself and exclude the 100 classified documents seized from Donald Trump`s residence from any examination by the so-called special master, and the Justice Department demanded that the judge reverse herself on her order barring federal prosecutors and the FBI from continuing their investigation of the classified documents.

The Justice Department pointed out that it is impossible for the intelligence community to assess the damages to national security in this case without the FBI`s continued investigation of what has been happening with those documents while in Donald Trump`s illegal custody.

Today, Donald Trump`s lawyers said in effect that an FBI affidavit submitted by the Justice Department last week by Alan Kohler Jr., the assistant director of the counterintelligence division of the FBI is a lie. Kohler`s affidavit said the intelligence community`s classification review and national security risk assessment are inextricably linked with the criminal investigation.

Donald Trump`s lawyers said that is simply not true. The FBI is lying about that and the Trump lawyers, of course, offered no evidence to support their research assertion that the head of counterintelligence at the FBI lied to the judge in this case under oath.

We will in a moment get Andrew Weissmann`s expert reading of this pleading, along with Attorney Mark Zaid`s interpretation. But for the moment, I`ll point out only one stunningly childish passage. On page 15, the Trump lawyers, quote, the law accurately saying, quote, the archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility for the custody, control and preservation of and access to the presidential records of that president. And then they think they have a winning point in their next line when they say the law, quote, does not say that the archivist must assume custody and control of all materials that fall within the definition of presidential records.

So there are the Trump lawyers thinking that they`ve caught the law writers thinking that they`ve found the loophole. The law says shall, it doesn`t say must.

I am sorry, but I must now invoke what they call in the Senate a point of personal privilege and that is as someone who used to write law, I can tell you that shall means must. Those two words mean exactly the same thing in written law. Laws are not written just by the staff members like I was who worked for senators or chairman of committees where the laws really get written.

The committee staff writes the first draft of the law and then we present it to the legislative council`s office and that is the place where technical professionals do nothing but write the final words that appear as the law in the United States of America, and they make sure that the legislative intent is clear.

They could have written the archivist of the United States may assume responsibility for presidential records and that would leave the door open to more than one possibility.


And laws sometimes do that. That would possibly leave the door open to the dream world that Donald Trump and his lawyers are playing in. And a Trump appointed judge in Florida is pretending to believe.

But the legislative council did not leave that door open in this law. The law says that the archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility and that does indeed close the door tightly and legally on who has the responsibility.

When I read this today, I could not believe that there was a legal practitioner out there anywhere in the United States of America who could read the word shall in law and does not know that it means must. Everyone writing laws intends for the word shall to mean must.

There is much more to say about this legal filing by Donald Trump`s lawyers today we will get to that in a moment but we begin our discussion tonight with "The New York Times" breaking news about the 40 subpoenas hitting Trump associates.

Joining us now is Katie Benner. She is a Justice Department reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor.

Katie, what else can you tell us about your -- what you`re finding in this reporting.

KATIE BENNER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. Second of all, I want to clarify one thing I`m not one of the bylines on that story. That`s my esteemed colleagues. I just didn`t want that to be inaccurate but thank you for including me.

And I can tell you tonight that what the Justice Department has done is sent out a blanket of subpoenas for requests for information for a number of Trump`s associates related to a couple of different investigative threads that we know the Justice Department has been pursuing, including a look at whether or not the effort to have fake slates of electors was illegal and funding around the post-election efforts to discredit the results of the election.

I think one of the most interesting things about this is that it really speaks to the strategy of the Justice Department, at this point which is to try to obtain as many documents as possible and it`s not a huge surprise given that Lisa Monaco as the deputy attorney general, that she`s briefed on these matters, that she is one of the people overseeing this investigation, and that her case that made her famous is the Enron investigation which actually took a very similar tack of gathering as much documentary evidence as possible as much paper as possible to prove the government`s case.

O`DONNELL: Well, you`re really going to get Andrew Weissmann going on that since he also worked on the Enron investigation. He`s going to join us in a moment.

This -- these subpoenas and this investigation seems to also be reaching into not just events leading up to January 6, but the whole fundraising campaign that went on after Donald Trump knew that he lost the election after November 7th, that they -- there was a massive fundraising campaign about changing the results of the election somehow that continued even after January 6th.

BENNER: Absolutely. And I think that it`s not unusual for investigators to follow the money. It`s fruitful in all sorts of areas, whether or not you`re looking at financial fraud or some other crime. And in this case, it is an open question what kind of solicitation was made for the funds, how were the funds used, was any of the spending misrepresented and you know in what circumstances were monies spent or distributed that may or may not lead prosecutors to other investigative avenues.

O`DONNELL: Katie Benner, thank you very much for leading off our discussion tonight. I really appreciate it.

BENNER: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: And joining us now, Andrew Weissmann, former FBI general counsel and former chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of New York and professor of practice at NYU law school. He`s an MSNBC legal analyst.

Also with us, Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security and security clearances.

Andrew Weissmann, let me begin with you and offer you a reach back into what Katie Benner was just talking about and how the Enron investigation could be in some sense a model for what we`re seeing now with this blanket of 40 subpoenas going out in the last maybe two weeks.

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So I don`t think you need to go back to that far to Enron, you know, over 20 years ago because as Lisa Monaco and I used to say about Enron, that was like doing calculus to most cases which are algebra. That was an incredibly complex case.

What we`re talking about here whether it`s the Mar-a-Lago case or the sort of PAC fraud or the January 6 insurrection is, while there are a lot of witnesses and documents, these are not complicated. You don`t have to be steeped as Lisa Monaco is in the Enron case to be able to do this case.

So I think this is really sort of the bread and butter for the Department of Justice to be doing this and I think it`s exactly the right step is that you expect to see lots and lots of grand jury subpoenas for documents.


You search warrants for phones, which are always a great source of getting information because obviously that people communicate through emails and encrypted apps and all sorts of ways that phones allow you to get information that the bad guys tend to think are protected but in fact aren`t -- something probably Mark knows a lot about.

So I think this is one where, again, you don`t have to go back to Enron and but it does help that Lisa and also her staff are extremely experienced federal prosecutors.

O`DONNELL: And let me get your reaction to the likelihood at this point that Judge Dearie will be named the special master in the -- in the Trump case.

WEISSMANN: Yeah, two quick thoughts. So I know Judge Dearie well from having practiced in the Eastern District of New York. He is beloved there by the defense bar and by prosecutors. He was the U.S. attorney there before he was a federal judge.

Let me give you two quick stories about him, I think he -- if he saw any sign of remorse or rehabilitation at sentencing, he went out of his way to speak directly to the defendant to make sure that they knew that he could call him, he wanted to hear from them. He wanted to have that personal connection.

When I was a junior prosecutor, first year there, he was late for a court appearance and the defense lawyer and I both got hand-written apology notes from the judge explaining why he was late. He is humble, smart, fair, I think this is such a good choice.

And I also think one of the things that may very well happen is because he is actually a sitting federal judge, essentially, the government is going to be able to think to essentially replace Judge Cannon with Judge Dearie, because he will now be the special master. He will be making a first cut on law and facts and I think it would be very hard for Judge Cannon to overrule somebody with that much experience as Judge Dearie has. So I think this is a real win for the Department of Justice.

O`DONNELL: Mark Zaid, let me get your reaction to today`s developments. The Trump lawyers filing and then what looks like the choice of Judge Dearie since the Trump lawyers rejected both of the Justice Department`s suggested special masters and the Justice Department accepted this one from the Trump lawyers.

MARK ZAID, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, the Trump lawyers turning this into what we`ve been hearing on right-wing talking points that this is just a storage issue gone bad I find frankly very insulting. And I think a number of people who are sitting in jail right now for having the unauthorized possession of classified information probably are a little bit upset by that legal argument or they want to sue their lawyers for malpractice for not having raised it as part of their defense.

A lot of the brief that they filed today also talked about things that quite frankly are just completely irrelevant and not necessarily subject to any dispute that the government would care about. The former president has an unfettered right to access presidential records. Yeah, that`s fine.

If President Trump, former President Trump or his designee wanted to go to the National Archives and access his presidential records not a problem. That has nothing to do with what is going on now, and they continued or started to make this argument about that the president has the power to declassify documents. Again, not in dispute , not an unfettered right, because there are limitations on a presidential power to declassify, particularly under the Atomic Energy Act.

But the question or issue about their brief is although they say he had the power when president, they don`t say he exercised that power. So then why are you even raising this in your brief for about a page in the half.

Now, Judge Dearie, you know, I don`t know and Andrew may know better whether or not Judge Cannon is limited to just these four choices. She did receive lots of other choices by people. In fact, people wrote in recommending themselves to be the special master.

But of the four, certainly having a sitting federal judge or a retired federal judge and especially one who had the type of experience of being on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is optimal.

And I echo Andrew`s point in particular about it will make Judge Cannon`s decisions afterwards very difficult for this inexperienced federal judge of only two or so years to counter what someone of Judge Dearie`s qualifications and experience might say.


And so, I`m not sure if the Trump team is ultimately going to be happy with that choice if that`s where she goes.

O`DONNELL: Andrew, quickly before we go. Despite Judge Cannon`s intent or expectation of the special master, could Judge Dearie himself simply refuse to look at anything marked classified?

WEISSMANN: I think if that is within his remit, meaning if the judge says: I deny what the government has requested and the government doesn`t appeal that. So those are two big ifs and she says that`s what I want the special master to do, then I don`t think Judge Dearie would say I`m not doing that. He would follow the remit that he was given.

I just personally don`t think that the Trump team is going to like his answer because Judge Dearie is smart and he will make a decision quickly these are not complicated issues and he also will follow the law. And the law here is so clear that I think he has to be thinking, this is -- you know, he`s -- I`m sure he doesn`t want to be in the limelight but I think he probably views this as doing part of his service, but I think this is one where he want to make sure people think that he`s fair and objective, but I don`t think these are complicated, factual or legal issues.

O`DONNELL: Well, it`s going to be another dramatic week in this case with the Justice Department threatening a possible appeal -- an appeal as early as Thursday. Andrew Weissmann, Mark Zaid, thank you very much for joining our discussion tonight. Really appreciate it.

ZAID: Thank you.

WEISSMANN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the country is watching a Trump-appointed judge in Florida try to give Donald Trump everything he wants to help him in a federal criminal investigation of Donald Trump. And the Supreme Court supports forcing ten-year-old rape victims to give birth. And then Chief Justice John Roberts says he`s deeply troubled that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is being questioned even by members of the Supreme Court itself. That`s next.




JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t understand the connection between opinions that people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Don`t understand the connection. The chief justice of the United States Supreme Court John Roberts said that on Friday at a time when the country is watching a Trump-appointed judge at the lowest level of the federal court system trying to give Donald Trump everything he wants by interfering with a federal criminal investigation of Donald Trump.

And John Roberts said that at a time when ten-year-old girls in America, who are rape victims are being ordered by the laws of their states to give birth because they were raped. And those laws were authorized by the United States Supreme Court.

John Roberts did that himself. John Roberts himself joined the Supreme Court opinion that was the first in history to take rights away from women and girls, and insist that suddenly ten year old girls in this country, by law, must give birth after being raped.

And John Roberts wonders why people don`t simply stop at politely disagreeing with that opinion and take that next step to question the very legitimacy of the court.

The court quoted the 400-year-old opinions of British judges, who believed in putting witches to death, and did indeed themselves sentenced witches to death. They quoted those British judges in opposition to abortion to justify their own decision in 2022 to force young girls in this country to give birth after being raped.

The court`s legitimacy is being questioned by members of the Supreme Court itself. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in their dissent that John Roberts Supreme Court majority overturning Roe versus Wade, quote, undermines the court`s legitimacy.

Joining us now are Dahlia Lithwick senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate and host of the podcast "Amicus". She is the author of upcoming book, "Lady Justice: Women, the Law and the Battle to Save America". Also with us Claire McCaskill former Democratic senator of Missouri. They are both MSNBC analysts.

And Senator McCaskill, John Roberts just doesn`t get it, he just doesn`t get the connection between disagreeing with opinions of the court and then questioning the legitimacy.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a guy who is really out of touch. I mean let me count the ways the legitimacy can be questioned.

First, people were put on the court with a political two by four wielded by Mitch McConnell. First by denying a sitting president an opportunity to name a Supreme Court justice, first time in history.

Second, by installing a judge moments before a presidential election, never before in history.


MCCASKILL: Third, he`s got a guy sitting on the Supreme Court whose wife is helping plot to overthrow the government.

And then they overturned a right that women had in this country for 50 years. It is unbelievable how bad it is.

O`DONNELL: And Dahlia Lithwick, one of your solutions that you proposed in your brilliant new piece in Slate is expand the courts? Not just the Supreme Court, which is legislatively is possible but difficult; but the lower courts, including the district courts, like for example the district courts in Florida where Donald Trump right now has one of his very own judges doing everything she possibly can for him.

One of the ironies of the special prosecutor, the special master choice in this case, Raymond Dearie is that in 1986, Ronald Reagan was able to appoint him to a federal judgeship that did not exist the year before, because it was created in an expansion, exactly the kind of expansion you are talking about in the district courts.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, MSBNC LEGAL ANALYST: That`s exactly right, Lawrence, and the courts have been expanded historically overtime. Not just the district courts, by the way and the circuit courts but the Supreme Court. The number there has not been static either.

And in fact, the judicial conference, which is the nonpartisan body that developed policy for the courts is begging for expansion of the lower federal courts, because of the backlog because unless you are Donald Trump, you can wait for years to be heard in court.

And so there are a whole bunch of measures, whether it is jurisdiction stripping, whether it is adding seats to the bench, whether it is protecting voting rights from judicial intervention.

A lot of things that can be done, and I think that the days of wringing our hands and saying we have to live under the sum of Trump judges for all eternity because nothing can be done, those days have to kind of end now.

Now there`s a whole bunch of things that can be done and we have to stop talking about them as abstractions.

O`DONNELL: Claire McCaskill, if the Democrats add two senators to their count, get up to 52 senators in the Senate, will they be able to expand the courts?

MCCASKILL: I don`t think so. I do not believe that there will be enough votes to do that, but I do think there is an opportunity to talk about a lot of ethics reform, term limits, and maybe age limits since the idea of a lifelong appointment I think has really gone out of fashion, especially for this Supreme Court.

O`DONNELL: Senator Claire McCaskill, Dahlia Lithwick, thank you both very much for joining our discussion tonight.


O`DONNELL: Thank you. Coming up, Donald Trump cannot yet find a negative word to say about Vladimir Putin, but now some Russian government officials are saying Putin should be removed from office, and Russian state TV pundits are questioning Putin`s war with Ukraine.

That is next.



O`DONNELL: What happens on the battlefield is rarely the thing that decides a war. Normally, the preparations before hand determine what happens when the fighting begins. And these preparations are what settle the outcome of the war itself.

That is how our next guest, Professor Phillips O`Brien begins his latest piece for "The Atlantic", titled "Ukraine pulled off a master stroke", explaining how strategic planning has put Ukraine on the offensive in their war against the Russian invasion.

Joining us now is Phillips O`Brien. He is a professor of strategic studies and the head of the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, the author of "How The War Was Won: Air, Sea, Power, and Allied Victory in World War II".

O`Brien, the word "victory" is in the title of your book, and people are using the word "victory" for Ukraine now against Russia as a real possibility.

PHILLIPS O`BRIEN, UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS: It has always been a real possibility. I mean this campaign didn`t come out of nowhere, it has come out of the fact that Ukraine has a better army. It is receiving better weapons. It`s got better commanders, better political leadership, and a more united country support in the war.

The real mistake was thinking Russia was this superpower that was going to dominate. Ukraine always had some great advantages. Had Ukraine been helped earlier in the war, with the kind of support they are getting now, Ukraine could`ve been in this position earlier.

But we are where we are now, and we are seeing the strength of Ukrainian armed forces, and the strength of the Ukrainian nation.

O`DONNELL: And talk about the kinds of plans you have seen executed as they have unfolded live, as you do in your article.

O`BRIEN: Yes. Basically what we saw here is the Ukrainian sort of pulled the Russians around into the places they wanted to be, and took them out of where they did not want the Russians to be.

So in terms of where the Russians put their troops, the Ukrainians drew them into the south around Kherson, by talking up a Ukrainian attack. And that`s where they wanted them to be, because they can really -- the Ukrainians can destroy them with ranged weapons much more easily in Kherson.

And they pulled them out of this area around Kharkiv, where the Russians did not think anything was going to happen, because the Ukrainians are very quiet. And then the Ukrainians hit them where they weren`t, and really blew apart the Russian lines.


O`BRIEN: What we have seen is the Ukrainians, the Russians had a very thin defensive line here, and the Ukrainians just blew it open, and the Russians ran away.

O`DONNELL: Phillips O`Brien, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

O`BRIEN: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will join us next with a look at how Russian state TV is losing confidence in Vladimir Putin.



O`DONNELL: Vladimir Putin`s Russian TV supporters of his war crimes in Ukraine are now very worried that Putin might be losing his war in Ukraine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re now at the point when we have to understand it`s absolutely impossible to defeat Ukraine using those resources and colonial war methods.

A strong army is opposing the Russian Army fully supported by the most powerful countries in the economic and technological sense including European countries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you suggesting military mobilization?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m suggesting peace talks about stopping the war and moving on to dealing with political issues.


O`DONNELL: Thanks to Julia Davis for monitoring Russian TV for us.

The "Washington Post" reports a group of district council members in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin`s hometown, called for the Russian leader to be charged with treason and removed from office in a rare but brazen protest against the war in Ukraine.

A day after the resolution against Putin was made public a local police station told the lawmakers they were facing legal charges due to actions aimed at discrediting the current Russian government.

Joining our discussion now is Michael McFaul who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. He is an MSNBC international affairs analyst. And Ambassador McFaul, as you know, the administerial (ph) council in Moscow, some members there followed up with the same thing we saw from those rom to St. Petersburg officials.

St. Petersburg being where, of course, as you know, Vladimir Putin got his political start working in the mayor`s office as a bureaucrat and going on from there. Is this the beginning of more of this?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is definitely something new, Lawrence. I think we are hearing now in public what a lot of Russian elites have been saying privately. They know this war has not been going well. They are worried about the long term durability of it.

And now, with these incredible victories by the Ukrainian warriors on the battlefield, they are now starting to say things in public. That clip that you just played, and yes, thank you Julia Davis for watching so much Russian TV so that the rest of us do not have to, although I did watch that clip because I know Boris (INAUDIBLE), the guy you just showed.

And it is remarkable that he would be allowed even to say that on Russian television. Remember, that station is controlled by the Kremlin. It shows that there is a lot of finger pointing going on now. Not by (INAUDIBLE) him towards Putin just yet, but towards the generals, intelligence officers. That suggests there is disarray and confusion about where this war goes next.

O`DONNELL: Is there a kind of American-Vietnam scenario here, where in 1968 President Lyndon Johnson was basically driven from office by the failures of the American approach to the Vietnam war. And that eventually, through the following Nixon administration making some of the same mistakes but constantly trying to get out. They eventually got out.

And so that`s how the North Vietnamese one, they wore down the American resolve inside the government. Is a scenario like that possible here, where the Ukrainian forces continue to succeed so thoroughly militarily, that they wear down the internal support structure within Russia, which includes the support structure for Putin himself?

MCFAUL: Yes. But with one big difference. Russia today is a dictatorship, not a democracy. And therefore it will take a lot longer for that to happen. So the analogy that I use is not Vietnam, but actually Brezhnev`s invasion of Afghanistan. That`s when he overreached, that`s when he went too far, and they were bogged down there for a long, long time.

But the unraveling of the regime took a lot longer. It did not happen overnight. They were there for a decade, and eventually it led Gorbachev, the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, but it was a long, long process.

O`DONNELL: And as you look at it tonight, with people using the word "victory" now in Applebaum (ph), in "The Atlantic". A very welcome sort of piece concludes, we must expect that a Ukrainian victory, and certainly a victory in Ukraine`s understanding of the term also brings about the end of Putin`s regime. Are these premature hopes and dreams?

MCFAUL: Like Brezhnev them in Afghanistan, that was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. But it did not happen when Brezhnev was in power. And you know, political scientists like myself, were not good at predicting the future. By the way, neither are intelligence agencies.


MCFAUL: But I do think this is the beginning of the end of Putinism, as a regime. I just don`t want to go out on a limb and predict when that will actually happen.

O`DONNELL: I have found myself very reluctant to use the word "victory" in anything that I`m saying about this --

MCFAUL: Yes, exactly.

O`DONNELL: -- but I`m really struck by what a big swell of that where it is occurring in the last couple of days, among thoughtful observers.

MCFAUL: Well, and among my Ukrainian friends, Lawrence. I mean talked to Ukrainian government officials pretty much every day. They are cautious, they don`t want to get ahead of their skis. They are worried about counteroffensives. And remember, they have not liberated Donbas or Crimea, which President Zelenskyy has set as goals.

But they are more optimistic today than they have been since they won the battle of Kyiv several months ago.

O`DONNELL: Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for continuing to guide us through this war. We really appreciate it.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me with you.

O`DONNELL: We`ll be right back.



O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s LAST WORD.