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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/13/22

Guests: Ron Klain, Linda Thomas Greenfield, Mark Zaid


Joe Biden scoring more legislative wins than almost any other president in his first two years can surely be credited in part to the fact that Joe Biden had more legislative experience than any president in history before he became president. Interview with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield



And with the seventy-seventh General Assembly of the United Nations meeting, we have the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Joining us tonight, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. And normally, in any kind of normal world, which we don`t live in, she would be the lead guest for the first half hour of the show. It`s a very big deal having the U.N. ambassador here.

But we also have a Ron Klain, who may have heard of, White House chief of staff. And the man of the hour, the day, the week and possibly some weeks to come, Geoffrey Berman is going to lead us off our discussion tonight.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST, "ALEX WAGNER TONIGHT": It`s murderers row of amazing guests.

O`DONNELL: It`s one of those nights.

WAGNER: It`s one of those nights. Have a great show, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Alex. Thank you.

It was just about two years and two months ago on a Monday night, a Monday night I will never forget, after a weekend I will never forget, when Rachel Maddow and I were here marveling. And I mean just marveling at a weekend of breaking news like we had never seen before, involving the United States Department of Justice.

Attorney General William Barr tried to fire the Manhattan District Attorney Geoffrey Berman and this is the part that was so stunning -- Geoffrey Berman fought back in a way that we did not know is even possible.


O`DONNELL: Just when you think you can`t be shocked, the Friday night attempted firing of the U.S. attorney of the southern district of New York was stunning and then Geoffrey Berman`s comeback, you can`t fire me was even more stunning and ultimately Geoffrey Berman`s win as I think you clearly described in your hour is really -- it`s just kind of indescribably important. Who knows what Donald Trump and William Barr were really up to and really trying to accomplish by trying to install the prosecutor of their choice in Manhattan?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Exactly. What was that about? How do we get to the bottom of what that was about? Was the integrity of an individual investigation or multiple investigations at stake and will they continue to be at stake?

I think once they`ve -- I mean, they got away with doing this with decapitating and taking control of the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C., removing the independence of that office entirely. They are clearly making a go for it in New York. I don`t think this will be their one swipe at it, but boy, did they botch their first shot at it.

O`DONNELL: What were they trying to block? What were they trying to stop? What was so urgent, so immediate? What -- what is that office up to? We may find out soon. Who knows?

MADDOW: I will say that Barr didn`t do himself any favors by trying to fire Berman in such a way where he supposedly offered him these other bigger jobs at the Justice Department. That completely takes away any argument that Barr and Trump might want to make that Geoffrey Berman, is somehow incompetent and had to be taken out because of something that was wrong with him. He wouldn`t offer him a bigger job if there was something wrong with him.

And so, why did they want to take him out? It sort of has to be about some ongoing investigations. And until they can come up with any other explanation, that`s going to be the thing that investigators congressional investigators I think are honed in on.


O`DONNELL: And they are honed in on it now that Geoffrey Berman`s book has come out explaining it all. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee immediately launched an investigation based on the revelations in Geoffrey Berman`s book.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): What Mr. Berman has disclosed in his book is outrageous conduct by the Trump administration, harassing those that they disagreed with politically. I think that`s a significant disclosure, and I think it should be followed up. I have contacted Merrick Garland to get a reaffirmation from him about his definition of his role vis-a-vis the president, and I don`t rule out the possibility at some later date if we have the time and I hope we do to bring Mr. Berman in for a testimony.


O`DONNELL: Well, he happens to be here right now. So we will begin taking his testimony.

Joining us now is Geoffrey Berman, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 to 2020. His new very important book is "Holding the Line: Inside the Nation`s Preeminent U.S. Attorney`s Office and Its Battle with the Trump Justice Department".


Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

We have been tag-teaming you on this network beginning last night with Rachel Maddow where I watched every word, and then today with Nicolle Wallace where I again watched every word on the edge of my seat. There is so much more to cover.

I want to go straight into individual one because -- because for me personally, I have been wondering about this since the moment I read the phrase individual one in the Michael Cohen case, in the comp -- the criminal complaint that you filed against Michael Cohen, he is charged with federal crimes that he then says in court that he committed when he pleads guilty. He said he committed these crimes in coordination with and at the direction of -- those are his words in court under oath, individual one, who he who he identifies as a candidate for federal office.

We all knew it was Donald Trump.


O`DONNELL: And so what I thought when I saw that was okay Donald Trump cannot be charged according to Justice Department policy with this crime while he`s president. But as soon as he`s not president, weeks, months after he`s not president, he has to be indicted for the identical charges that he`s identified as having committed in this case. Why hasn`t that happened?

BERMAN: Well, that`s not necessarily the case. There`s often, we will charge an individual with coordinating with another individual -- individual one, individual two, individual three, and the defendant is charged and goes to trial and the other individuals are not. That is a frequent occurrence because it all depends on the specific facts against the individuals. And weighing those facts against the law and ensuring that you have enough for, you know, a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.

And so, you`re absolutely right, there would have been no indictment during Trump`s term. On January 20th, if there was going to be an indictment, that`s when you would expect it. There was no indictment.

And you know, and I have complete confidence -- as you know, I was recused from that case. The person who was in charge of it and it was Audrey Strauss, who was a person of, you know, immense integrity, an icon of the New York bar and she had with her the team of southern district lawyers who had been pursuing this case from the beginning.

And they made a decision and I am fully confident it was the right decision.

O`DONNELL: But you understand how we can`t be because we don`t know her, we didn`t work with her, and we know that the president of the United States was accused by Michael Cohen in court under oath in his guilty plea testimony. And in the prosecutorial documents as participating in the same crime -- a crime that Michael Cohen couldn`t have committed without Donald Trump, impossible to commit the crime without Donald Trump.

And so, I cannot sit here beginning to understand why Donald Trump has not been charged with that crime, which would have been the responsibility of Merrick Garland`s Justice Department because it couldn`t have occurred until Donald Trump was no longer president. So it wasn`t even possible under the Justice Department policy then, highly questionable policy but we`ll leave that out for now.

And so, this seems to be a situation where the Justice Department is simply asking us to forget what we heard in court that day from Michael Cohen under oath, forget what we read in the prosecutor`s pleadings, because we will never explain to you ever why this other person who was involved in committing the crime was not charged.

BERMAN: Because it`s also a rule and important to the workings of the Department of Justice that people who are investigated but not charged are not discussed. So in my book, there are -- you know, dozens of people who I could have mentioned that we investigated yet didn`t indict and they`re not mentioned because it`s not fair. And we have to be fair to everyone.

O`DONNELL: But one that you do mention which seems to be an incredibly powerful and important story is John Kerry. And John Kerry, you tell us the story in here, one chapter in here of John Kerry being investigated by Donald Trump`s Justice Department because Donald Trump was tweeting that he wanted him investigated. We don`t know what other communication Donald Trump had directly with the attorney general, but your point in the book is he didn`t have to all. All they had to do in the Justice Department was read Donald Trump`s tweets.

BERMAN: Read the tweets or read newspaper articles about the tweets. But let me also point out, the only reason I included the John Kerry case is because I reached out to him before the publication and made sure that he had no objections, because had he had an objection, that would not have been in there, because it`s not fair.


O`DONNELL: But I would suspect and John Kerry can tell us that he doesn`t have an objection because he considers it an incredibly important story to be told, especially the way you tell it in every detail going right up to the people working in Justice Department in Washington basically ordering you to do it.

BERMAN: Right. So President Trump attacks John Kerry in two tweets, saying that John Kerry engaged in possible illegal conversations with Iranian officials regarding the Iran nuclear deal. The very next day, the Trump Justice Department refers the John Kerry criminal case to the Southern District of New York. Two tweets from the president and the John Kerry criminal case becomes a priority for the Justice Department.

And what`s more, the statute they wanted us to use was enacted in 1779 and had never been successfully prosecuted, almost 220 years on the books, there was not a single conviction. And so, we investigated Kerry, determined that he was entirely innocent but still the Justice Department pushed and pushed and pushed. And when I declined, Attorney General Barr would not take no for an answer. He then transferred the case to another district, which fortunately didn`t indict as well. It`s an outrageous story of interference with the independence and integrity of a U.S. attorney`s office. In this case, it was the U.S. attorney`s office for the Southern District of New York.

O`DONNELL: And you did what government does well, which was delay. You delayed this 11 months. You tried to put off the moment of reckoning with the attorney general as long as possible, but they were pushing for you to search John Kerry`s electronic communications. That was the step that you would not go to.

BERMAN: Well, I`m not going to search somebody`s electronic communication when ultimately, even if I find something, I`m not going to charge them under the statute that we`re, you know, studying and analyzing. So, no, I wouldn`t take that step.

And what happened is the Justice Department contacted us on the same day of another Trump tweet where Trump tweeted, possible violation of Logan Act, and, you know, John Kerry, possible violation of Logan Act. We got contacted that same day where they pushed us what`s happening with that order to search his emails? Where is it? Why haven`t you filed it?

O`DONNELL: Let`s name names because you do in this book very clearly. You`re talking about these tweets from Donald Trump about John Kerry. The tweet was in the morning. That afternoon, Bharara got a call from main Justice. He was told that David Burns, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for national security, wanted to know why we were delaying. We had not proceeded to the order to look into Kerry`s electronic communication.

So, David Burns who was doing exactly what should never be done by any Justice Department official is now very happily employed in a very rewarding law firm as he probably will be for the rest of his life and these kinds of people of which in your book I`m getting the sense there were perhaps a dozen or so in main Justice were doing these things seemingly every day. I mean, just in your district, and you`re one out of 94 federal districts, they were doing it to you all the time.

BERMAN: It was unrelenting.

O`DONNELL: Who knows what they were doing in the other one?

BERMAN: Exactly.

O`DONNELL: And so -- and so the David Burns characters in here. He had mentioned once on one page of the book, but that revelation about David Burns is a revelation that everyone should remember about David Burns because he represents a whole army of people like that in the Trump administration.

BERMAN: I think we`re going to find out a lot more about what went on behind the scenes with the congressional investigation that Senator Durbin announced. What we have now is communications -- what I know about is communications between main Justice and the Southern District of New York and what I believe Congress is going to find out internal conversations among the people of main Justice. I`m very interested in seeing those.

O`DONNELL: You know, when I saw that, the question becomes right away and this is a question to you, how stupid are they? How much of this will the Senate judiciary committee find to be in writing in emails or texts or other forms?

BERMAN: Yeah, I -- you know, never underestimate the stupidity of some people. So I expect to see a lot of it.

O`DONNELL: Because what I notice in William Barr`s most incriminating communication with you, it`s verbal. It`s not -- he`s not writing you anything. He`s in the room with you he`s saying it just to you, one on one, he`s making sure there`s no witnesses.

BERMAN: Right.

O`DONNELL: And so, you know, how much are they going to find?

BERMAN: Well, I think they`re going to find a lot. I think they are. I think that between emails and text messages, it`s going to be interesting.

O`DONNELL: You write and the striking thing about this passage is it comes on page 274 of the book. And by the time you get to page 274 of the book, this might as well be in italics just at the top of every page of the book because this is what the book is, it says the Department of Justice is not supposed to operate according to the president`s impulses, personal relationships and business interests.

And by the time we read that, the case has been closed on that`s exactly how the Bill Barr Justice Department --

BERMAN: Exactly. You know, I`m sure that what John Kerry did pissed off the President Trump. But pissing off the president is not a federal crime -- well, it wasn`t until the Trump administration perhaps. But, you know, but that`s not how the Department of Justice operated under Bill Barr.

O`DONNELL: The -- your method was and I`ve seen this in government people in difficult situations in different places, your method strikes me as first of all, just I would describe as survival. Stay in this job, but not fear -- this is -- this is not the story of someone trying to stay in the job for the job`s sake, trying to stay in the job for the sake of the resume. It`s trying to stay in the job to protect this job from being held by someone else. And I don`t know who those people could be who they wanted in there instead of you.

BERMAN: But I wouldn`t stay in the job if it meant undermining the integrity and independence of the Southern District of New York. That always came first.

And so, at the end, it was basically -- when I sent out that press release, I knew that was the end of me, but I also knew that in all likelihood, Audrey Strauss would take over as acting U.S. attorney and not the outsider that Bill Barr wanted.

O`DONNELL: So, the inside account that we now have that Rachel and I were worrying about wondering about so eagerly on that Monday after the weekend was that you had a Friday meeting with Bill Barr, in discussions with Bill Barr, he`s trying to get you to quit and he`s offering you how about this, how about running the security exchange commission, like anything to get you to quit so they can get their guy in there.

BERMAN: Right.

O`DONNELL: And you know you don`t want their guy, in there you don`t want to quit, and so you don`t quit. And Barr then knows you didn`t quit, and you`re out for the evening with your wife, you`re on your way to see the kids, and suddenly, Barr issues a public statement saying you have stepped down. Geoffrey Berman has stepped down and the president intends to replace him.

And then you put out your own press release saying, I have not left this job. I am still in this job. And that was the one where we all just jumped back and --

BERMAN: I said I have -- I haven`t resigned and I have no intention of resigning. And then I cited language from obstruction of justice statutes. And I said the cases of our office are going to continue unimpeded and, you know, that was an extraordinary night.

O`DONNELL: And so, one of the things I love about this is the relentless unintended consequences of decisions made in government and politics and there was a decision made early in your story at the intersection of government and politics and it wasn`t made by you. It was made by Senator Gillibrand of New York who decided she would not -- she would oppose your nomination to be confirmed as the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and one of the courtesies of the Senate is even from the other party is that if the -- to be confirmed in that job, you have to have the support of the senators from that state. She wouldn`t give her support.

So the Trump administration said sorry, we can`t get you confirmed. But if you still want the job, we can put you in there temporarily as a temporary appointment and then maybe the judges in the district after four months, they have a right to appoint someone if they want to, they might appoint you then you might have it and then maybe -- maybe we`ll get you confirmed or not. But you`ll still have the job.

BERMAN: That`s exactly right.

O`DONNELL: That`s how you get the job. So you get the job when you`re serving and Bill Barr, the attorney general, wants to fire you, the trouble is the judges appointed you.

BERMAN: Exactly.

O`DONNELL: And so, you your theory of the case was you cannot fire me. The judges appointed me.

BERMAN: Exactly. There was a court order that that, you know, appointed me by the judges and only the judges could get rid of me or if someone was nominated to confirm the statute provides, you know, then -- you know, then I leave and the confirmed person comes in.


But Barr didn`t have that. He wanted me out immediately. We`re five months from the election.


BERMAN: It had to be immediate and it was it ended up being a complete blunder.

O`DONNELL: Right, and so that`s what gave you the leverage to force Barr to say publicly, the person who will take over is the person who you wanted to take over.

BERMAN: Exactly, I was prepared to litigate the issue.


BERMAN: And I`d like to --

O`DONNELL: We discovered in the book, you had a secret team of lawyers ready to go to sue the Justice Department, sue Bill Barr, sue the president, whatever it takes, to fight this fire.

BERMAN: That`s right. I ended up not needing to do it because I think that Barr realized he didn`t want -- the president didn`t want a very open fight on this issue so close to the election. And so, you know, they just surrendered.

O`DONNELL: The -- the book is full of so much more than what we will be able to cover here tonight, including the definitive story of how Jeffrey Epstein was finally convicted and sent to prison. You have the story of a rap star getting involved with a gang who then turns and testifies against the gang and has to sleep in your conference room when he`s a witness because it`s too dangerous.

BERMAN: For the first time as a cooperating witness slept in our conference rooms, so when he testified, he didn`t have to go outside on the street. He could walk across the bridge into the courtroom.

O`DONNELL: The lessons for anyone who wants to grow up into this field are in this book in a very accessible way, with the brilliant editing of my friend Scott Moyers who edited a book for me.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: Which makes it such a great read.

You know, I wanted to do this the Washington way which is go through it surgically and find all the stuff that matters and I`m not going to bother with the rapper. But it`s so beautifully structured and perfectly written that I was drawn into the whole thing, how you became a Republican to revolt against your Democratic parents, all the way through -- all the way through every piece of it.

What is the defining lesson you would like a reader to take from this book?

BERMAN: The defining lesson I think is that professional and integrity and honesty in government is so important and how vulnerable our system of government can be if you have a president who wants to use the Department of Justice as his own law firm to target his enemies and to benefit his friends. And he appoints individuals at the Department of Justice and other departments who will do his bidding, we`re lost.

O`DONNELL: To that fragility, a final quick question. After you`re on Nicolle Wallace, some people who had worked in the Justice Department themselves said, well, why didn`t he bring this to the Office of Professional Responsibility? What about the internal mechanisms within the Justice Department to deal with the problems you were having, do they work?

BERMAN: So my problems were with Attorney General Barr. The idea that I would be referring a case to the Office of Professional Responsibility complaining about Bill Barr who is OPR`s boss, it`s naive to think that`s going anywhere. It doesn`t work.

And that`s why our system requires people of good faith who will abide by their oaths to keep the Department of Justice independent from politics.

O`DONNELL: Geoffrey Berman, thank you very much for delivering us the final story about this. Going to be fascinating to see what the Senate Judiciary Committee asks of you and asks of others who you name in this book. Thank you very much for joining us.

BERMAN: Thank you for having me.

O`DONNELL: Appreciate it.

And coming up, White House chief of staff Ron Klain will join us next.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Exactly four weeks ago today, I sign the Inflation Reduction Act into law, the single most important legislation passed in the Congress to combat inflation. We`re going to lower prescription drug costs, lower health insurance costs, lower energy costs for millions of families. I want to take the most aggressive action ever, ever, ever to confront the climate crisis and increase (AUDIO GAP) --


O`DONNELL: The Biden legislative agenda and its accomplishments for the first two years of his presidency are now by far the most successful (AUDIO GAP) accomplishments in the first two years of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 and 1934.

The policy successes include achieving the lowest child poverty rate on record. And today, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the deficit reduction already achieved in the Biden legislation will continue to reduce the deficit by $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years. The one part of the Biden Inflation Reduction Act that is not yet working is the Inflation Reduction part. Prices have continued to rise even though gasoline prices which were presumed to be one of the principal drivers of inflation have dropped steadily for 91 straight days.

Joe Biden scoring more legislative wins than almost any other president in his first two years can surely be credited in part to the fact that Joe Biden had more legislative experience than any president in history before he became president.

And his White House chief of staff Ron Klain had more legislative experience than most if not all previous White House chiefs of staff.


Today Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that he hopes becomes the next big legislative battlefront in the United States Senate -- a federal abortion law.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC); I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say after 15 weeks no abortion on demand, you have states have the ability to do at state level and we have the ability in Washington to speak on this issue if we choose. I have chosen to speak.


O`DONNELL: That is a direct contradiction of Lindsey Graham`s previous position and 50 years of Republican talking points that the federal government should have no abortion laws.


GRAHAM: The point I`m trying to make is I think (INAUDIBLE) I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is White House chief of staff Ron Klain. Let me begin with what we just heard from Senator Graham. Are you and President Biden prepared for that legislative battle presumably next year of Republicans trying to legislate federal abortion law?

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You know Lawrence, absolutely. You know, the president said on the day the Dobbs decision came down, and rolled back Roe v. Wade, he said, this is going to go one of two ways. Either there would be a pro-choice majority in the House and Senate, and we would enshrine Roe versus Wade into the law of the land once again or there will be an antichoice majority in the House and Senate.

And that`s what Lindsey Graham was talking about today -- Republican majority in the House, Republican majority in the Senate and that majority would try to pass a federal ban on abortion across the board, all 50 states.

So, you know, the difference between where the two parties are on this issue just could not be more stark or more clear. President Biden wants to make Roe versus Wade the law of the land again. Senator Graham wants to ban abortions in all 50 states.

O`DONNELL: What is the inflation reduction component in the Inflation Reduction Act? Is it simply the effect that you expect from the deficit reduction that is built-in?

KLAIN: No, Lawrence. I think it goes much beyond that. The president talked about this today. Look, Americans experience inflation around their kitchen table, around the prices of things they pay.

One of the things in today`s core inflation number was a real increase in medical expense cost, going up. What does the Inflation Reduction Act do? It brings down the cost of prescription drug. It caps what seniors have to pay for prescription drugs. It has the government save money on prescription drugs by having Medicare negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to bring down the cost of those drugs.

It lowers people`s health insurance premiums, by about $800 a year. That`s just on the side of the health care part of the act. The act also going to bring down people`s utility bills. It`s going to make the cost of heating your home cheaper. It`s going to allow you to buy energy efficient appliances, heat pumps, energy efficient cars. All those things are going to lower your costs. People will pay less as the provisions of this bill take effect.

O`DONNELL: And what is your projection on when they will see ana effect in inflation? A downward effect?

KLAIN: Look, first of all you know, core inflation was higher than we would like to see today. Inflation is coming down. Today`s inflation report was lower than last month, which was lower than the months before.

We still have some work to do Lawrence, to continue to bring down prices. As you mentioned, gas prices are down $1.30 a gallon over the course of the summer, 91 days in a row. They continue to drop.

You saw in today`s report that the speed of inflation around food is starting to ease income down. We need to see lower prices for rents. We need to do more on housing to bring down the cost of rents and housing expenses. We need, as I said a second ago, to address medical expenses.

So we`re starting to make progress on inflation. It`s still too high, it`s unacceptably high. We need to continue to drive prices down. We are getting there with gasoline prices, real progress on food, a lot more work to do.

O`DONNELL: Going forward, how much of the president`s time is going to be divided between his normal activities as president which includes an unprecedented involvement and support of Ukraine`s war against Vladimir Putin`s invasion and all of the presidential activities he has and campaigning to try to maintain his party`s control of the House and the Senate?

KLAIN: Well, you know, he is going to be both president and, you know, the leader of our party. And he will be on the road campaigning for Democratic candidates, but it doesn`t take him away from his duties as president.


KLAIN: He`s going to continue to advance our economic agenda, try to bring down costs, try to bring relief to middle class families. As you said, he`s critical to our efforts to support the Ukrainians in this war against Russian aggression. He`s going to stay on top of that.

We`ve got a number of domestic priorities we are pursuing. But he will be on the road, he will be talking about the choice this fall between Democrats and Republicans.

O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, thank you very much for joining us. Always appreciate it.

KLAIN: Thanks Lawrence. Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will join us next.


LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We`re not going to let Russia get away with lying to the world or staining the integrity of the Security Council by using this forum as a venue for legitimizing Putin`s violence.





THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Putin wants the world to travel back in time to a time before the United Nations, to a time when empires rule the world. But the rest of the world has moved forward. It is not 1919. It is 2022.


O`DONNELL: That was United States ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the night that Vladimir Putin announced his military would invade Ukraine in February of this year. As the invasion began, thanks to the very existence of the United Nations, Russia`s ambassador to the United Nations had to sit there and listen to Ukraine`s ambassador in a meeting of the Security Council.


SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Call Putin, call Lavrov to stop aggression and I welcome the decision of some members of this council to meet as soon as possible to consider the next decision that would condemn the aggression that you launch on my people.

There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, Ambassador.


O`DONNELL: And it is our honor to be joined tonight by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I`m delighted to be here with you.

O`DONNELL: That moment at the U.N. is for me at minimum what the U.N. is for. Without the United Nations, we never would`ve had that moment and Russia would never have had to listen to anyone from Ukraine say anything to them.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was surreal. It was surreal to have it happen while we were all sitting there in the room. The Ukrainian ambassador texted me to say they`ve started fighting and I have just delivered my remarks.

I texted him back and said I will ask for the floor again. And I did ask for the floor again. So that I could expose again and condemn Russia for what they were doing. And we watched it in real time. It really was an extraordinary moment.

O`DONNELL: We had so much tension in the United Nations. It was FDR`s dream, 78 years ago during World War II that this would be the successor organization to World War II, so there would never be World War III. So much of it was kind of locked in the cold war, so many tense confrontations there.

By the time you arrived at the U.N., you had reason to hope that you wouldn`t have nights like that?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it was shocking to me. I had been there just barely a year when this attack happened. But we have been warning of the attack for sometime prior to the attack, so no one should`ve been surprised. We certainly were prepared.

We had prepared other members of the Security Council with the knowledge that we had and we were able to condemn Russia`s actions almost immediately. Taking it to the General Assembly and getting 141 countries to sign on and vote to condemn Russia.

So the Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly -- we were ready for this and we were prepared for this, and we have continued over the course of the past six months to condemn Russia, to expose their malign efforts and to also isolate them in the Security Council. And we will continue to do that in the weeks and months to come.

O`DONNELL: The cohesion of this alliance against Vladimir Putin`s aggression is the likes of which we haven`t seen since World War II, I think, and the continued cohesion of it, no fraying at the seams, nothing loosening coming apart here.

President Biden does get an awful lot of credit for that. How much of that is due to what you are able to help hold together at the United Nations where you see representatives of that alliance every day?


THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I mean that`s part of it but a bigger part of it are the bilateral relationships that we have with these countries. Our ambassadors in these countries, Secretary Blinken engaging with his counterpart. I do it on a daily basis with members of the Security Council, with members of the U.N., engaging them and trying to work with them to help build this very strong coalition.

And I have to tell you President Putin miscalculated. He miscalculated how strong our partnership with Europe (INAUDIBLE), and he miscalculated NATO. He miscalculated that we would remain strong. And finally, he miscalculated the commitment of the Ukrainian people to fight for their sovereignty, to fight for their independence and to fight for their freedom and they continue to do that today.

O`DONNELL: I want to squeeze in a commercial break here so that we can continue talking. When we come back, I want to ask what your experience as a career diplomat means to you after U.N. Most U.N. ambassadors don`t go in for the job with that experience. We`re going to be right back with the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.



THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The truth is that this war was one man`s choice, and one man alone -- President Putin. It was his choice to force hundreds of thousands of people to stuff their lives into backpacks and flee the country. To send newborn babies into makeshift bomb shelters. To make children with cancer huddle in hospital basements interrupting their treatment, essentially sentencing them to death. Those were President Putin`s choices. Now it`s time for us to make ours.


O`DONNELL: And we`re back with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Another choice Vladimir Putin has made is to create food insecurity elsewhere in the world, continents away in what -- in the hope that by starving people in Africa, that it will weaken our resolve?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It certainly has become a major consequence of this unprovoked war on Ukraine. What we learned as this war started is that both Russia and Ukraine are major, major exporters of wheat. In some countries in Africa and the Middle East close to 50 -- 60 percent of their wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. And because of Russia`s attack on Ukraine, Ukraine has not been able to export its wheat until just recently, after the Secretary General was able to strike an agreement between Russia, Ukraine with the help of Turkey to get some of that wheat out.

Russia can also export its own wheat. They have argued to the international community that sanctions have contributed to the food insecurity when in fact there are no sanctions on Russia`s agricultural products. They can export their wheat. They can export fertilizer which we learned so many countries depend on from Russia. And we need to end this war so that we can start to rebuild the economies of these countries who are so dependent on exports of foodstuff from Russia and Ukraine.

O`DONNELL: President Biden will be coming to the United Nations next week. What do you expect him to say, and what to the United Nations members want to hear from the president?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well certainly they want to hear from the president of the United States. That`s clear. And what they hope to hear and I think they will hear from President Biden is a reaffirmation of our commitments to the United Nations, our commitment to the U.N. Charter.

We will be focused on three priorities. We will be looking at food insecurity, as you just noted. And how to address issues of food insecurity around the world. He will be hosting the Global Fund, and working with the Global Fund in terms of replenishing their accounts so that they can address HIV/AIDS, they can address tuberculosis, malaria, and to work to prevent pandemics from happening again.

The Global Fund has asked for $18 billion. The U.S. is committed to giving them $6 billion. We`ve already given them $2 billion, and we`re looking to other countries to make additional contributions.

And third we will be focused on the U.N. charter, on U.N. reform and we will be looking to hear from the president where he hopes we will go in looking at how we will make sure that the U.N. stood (ph) for purpose for the next generations to deal with the issues of peace and security, human rights, to deal with the social and climate issues that we`re dealing with around the globe.

O`DONNELL: You are a career diplomat, a foreign service officer. You served as an ambassador, you served as an assistant secretary of state. That`s an unusually long foreign policy resume for U.N. ambassadors. What advantage does that give you at the United Nations?


THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know I know the world and having spent 35 years in the foreign service, there are few countries that I have not engaged in. I know Africa. Some people tell me that I probably have forgotten more about the continent than they know.

And I know their leaders. I know their people, and they know me. And that has given me, I think an advantage that many other former permanent representatives and ambassadors didn`t bring to the table. So I`m able to pick up the phone and sometimes I don`t pick up the phone, the phone calls come to me from heads of state around the continent of Africa, as well as in Europe, I served in Pakistan. I did work in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

So I have had quite a bit of experience working on humanitarian issues, which are really very, very close to my heart, working on issues that bring a better life to people. And I bring that to this job.

O`DONNELL: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for your career in foreign service. And thank you very much for joining us tonight.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, I`ve enjoyed being here.

O`DONNELL: Really appreciate it. We`ll be right back.



O`DONNELL: The United States ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield gets tonight`s LAST WORD.