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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 6/14/21

Guests: Janai Nelson, Ari Berman, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jonathan Kott, Hoppy Kercheval, Kurt Andersen

Summary

Republicans are trying to make it more difficult to vote in areas where Democratic turnout is strong. The House Judiciary Committee is announcing a formal investigation into the Trump Justice Department`s secret seizure of communications records of journalists, members of Congress, and their staffers and families. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is interviewed. ProPublica`s stunning report last week showed that our richest billionaires paid little or no federal- income tax. Donald Trump was the first post-Nixon president who decided to model his presidency on the presidency of the disgraced Richard Nixon, the Republican president who resigned from office as the impeachment process was just beginning in the House of Representatives in 1974.

Transcript

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

And it leaves you wondering, did Mitch McConnell just do the Democrats a favor? By, basically, telling Justice Breyer, this really, this summer is the time to go.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: He`s drawn a bit of a line for Breyer and for a whole lot of Democrats who didn`t think -- who might have thought that, hey, maybe, this time, McConnell will look at things differently. McConnell is remarkably consistent in how he looks at who should be appointed to the Supreme Court and how.

O`DONNELL: It seems like he made justices -- Justice Breyer`s decision a little easier today. Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, we faced a democracy crisis, when the president of the United States called Georgia`s secretary of state, on January 2nd, and told him to quote, find 11,780 votes. We survived that crisis, because the Georgia secretary of state refused to lie about the vote count, and change the vote count, so that Donald Trump could win the state of Georgia, instead of Joe Biden.

Republicans in Georgia do not want that to happen, again. And so, they have removed the secretary of state from the position of authority, in the aftermath of an election. And they have moved Georgia closer to the possibility of cheating the vote count next time Donald Trump calls and asks them to do that.

And Georgia`s not the only state that is trying to make it easier for Donald Trump to call, and tell them how many votes he needs to win an election.

Our first guest tonight, Ari Berman, has studied the new election laws passed by Republican state legislatures this year and says, quote, these bills are part of the greatest assault on voting rights, since the end of Reconstruction. And they raise the likelihood of a nightmare scenario where GOP-controlled state legislatures use their increased power to override a Democratic victory in 2024, or persuade Republicans in Congress, if they regain power in 2022, to do the same.

Republicans are trying to make it more difficult to vote in areas where Democratic turnout is strong. Democrats have fought that kind of voter suppression, in the past. But they have never had to fight Republican attempts to change what happens, after people vote. "The Washington Post" calls that, the most dangerous thing, that Republican legislatures are doing, now.

"The Washington Post" reports, potentially, most dangerous, legislatures are giving themselves the right to interfere in vote counting and election disputes, while tying the hands of secretaries of state to rule impartially or even, in some cases, to seek legal advice. Bills giving legislators more oversight of elections, allowing them to interfere in the running of elections, and otherwise, injecting partisanship into the process already have passed in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

This is the most important story about American government, in our lifetimes. Republicans are trying to change the nature of government in America. They are trying to eliminate democracy, in states where they fear accurate-vote counts. A new report from three voting rights groups warns, quote, the commitment of many state legislatures to attacking the foundations of our democracy appears to have deepened. The trend toward threatening election administrators with criminal penalties is more pronounced and aggressive, and attempts by legislatures to perform core election functions has grown more brazen.

Many election officials around the country have faced death threats. An e- mail sent to election officials in Georgia said quote, no one at these places will be spared, unless and until Trump is guaranteed to be POTUS, again. Many election officials are quitting their now-dangerous jobs. "The Associated Press" reports, it is clear that many have recently left because of the newfound partisan rancor around the jobs and the threats many local election workers faced leading up to the November election, and afterward, as former-President Donald Trump and his allies challenged the results.

Many of the people seeking those jobs now do not believe in democracy. "The Associated Press" reports, the local-election jobs are being vacated, as Trump`s false claims of fraud persist within the GOP, and provide a platform for his loyalists to launch campaigns to become top-election officials in several swing states. That report, from voting rights groups, says the 2021 state legislative season may, ultimately, prove to be a turning point in the history of America`s democracy. These are the ingredients for a democracy crisis.

Leading off our discussion of that crisis tonight is Ari Berman, senior reporter for "Mother Jones". He is the author of "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America."

Also joining us, Janai Nelson, associate director counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Election Fund.

And let me begin with you, Janai, tonight because the NAACP legal defense fund has been fighting these battles for as long as the NAACP legal defense fund has existed.

This chapter, that we have arrived at now. Where we are -- where we`re -- where we are dealing with the aftermath of voting. What secretary of states will be allowed to do, or not be allowed to do, those changes in these election laws are things we`ve never seen before.

JANAI NELSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: That`s right. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has been around for 81 years. And we have been fighting attacks in our democracy, and particularly, attacks that have used black voters as a vehicle to undermine our democracy and to undermine black-political power. That has been something that we have seen, time and again.

But this, particular wave of voter suppression laws seeks to do something even more nefarious than what we`ve seen in other eras and through other iterations, because it`s not only targeting black voters. It is doing that, for sure. But it is s, also, targeting our democracy, as a whole.

It is undermining the machinery of our election administration systems. And it is calling into question, legitimacy of future elections, if we allow these laws to stand. It invites partisan interference on a scale that we have never seen before and allows them to overturn legitimate election results, and essentially, override the will of the voters.

And this is happening because we are seeing a change in the demographics of our electorate. And we`re seeing voters who have been underrepresented and marginalized, exercising their political power in unprecedented ways. It`s a deeply unfortunate result that, really, should be a welcome mat to democracy. But instead, it`s a slammed door.

O`DONNELL: Ari, when I read these new laws, they read as if Republican state legislatures want to make sure that there is someone friendly there to take Donald Trump`s call when he calls and tells them how many votes he wants them to find.

ARI BERMAN, SENIOR REPORTER, MOTHER JONES: That`s absolutely right, Lawrence. But this is the Republican Party`s failsafe. They are going do everything they can to try to make it harder to vote.

And if that doesn`t work, they are going to be in the positions of power to, actually, try to overturn or interfere with how votes are counted. And that`s the most chilling part of all of this and the greatest threat to democracy. And the greatest threat to democratic norms.

We`ve seen voter suppression, before the election. We haven`t seen voter suppression, after the election. That`s what`s so new and chilling. And they are trying to accomplish the goal of the insurrection, through other means.

That because Trump was unable to override the will of the voters, they have done everything they can to try to put themselves in the position in the future, to be able to override the will of the voters, through the state legislatures, the heavily-gerrymandered state legislatures that are doing this, and then, laying groundwork for replacing secretaries of state, replacing members of Congress that might have stood up to Trump in 2020 with people advocating for stop the steal, now, going forward.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Stacey Abrams had to say about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT ACTION: Voter suppression began with the inception of this nation. But what has happened in the 21st century is that it`s been digitized. It`s been commoditized and it`s been franchised out of the south and across the country.

And what we are seeing with the fake audits, with the intimidation of election workers, with the criminalization of, simply, doing the job of managing democracy, we are seeing attacks, on all levels of our democracy.

This is exactly what happens across the world, when -- you know, past, longstanding democracies, start to erode. It begins by undermining how people feel not about the democracy that they have, but about the administration of that democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Janai Nelson, I know, when Thurgood Marshall was running your legal shop at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was accustomed to, when he would gain some yardage and have some wins in this kind of arena, he was accustomed to the opposition, finding a new way, finding some other way to block people from voting, always adjusting to whatever progress he was trying to make.

And -- and, here we are, this year, with -- with such a sharp and quick reaction to our last-vote count that produced a Democratic president. And now, it`s aimed at a party which -- which is different. It`s -- it has a different quality and different dimensions to what Thurgood Marshall was fighting.

NELSON: That`s right. But it`s, you know, racism is a shape shape-shifter. And the attempt to monopolize democracy and, at this point, really, to eliminate this democracy is all part of the same story, which is to maintain a hegemonic power in this country, that is centered on white supremacy.

Thurgood Marshall knew this to his core. He the work we did in Brown versus Board of Education. But when asked about his most consequential case, he cited a case from the 1940s, which was a voting rights case out of Texas because he knew that the fundamental right to vote was so integral to all the other rights that we fight for.

And what we are seeing now is a subversion of all democratic operations in our society. Eighty-six lawsuits were filed to challenge the 2020 election, and none of them succeeded. So, instead of continuing to fight this through fair court processes, you are seeing a single party, unfortunately, enact a rash of laws that subverts all of these processes in our democracy for fair concentration of election and is now installing election officials that will do a candidate or a party`s bidding, at their will.

That will lead to anarchy. That is not democracy. That is totalitarianism and that is something that we must fight with every inch of our being.

O`DONNELL: Ari, in your article from "Mother Jones", you mention not just the possibility of what these Republican legislatures are trying to accomplish. But what might happen, if we have a Republican Congress? How would that affect the voting outcome?

BERMAN: Well, what would happen is, first off, the gerrymandered-state legislatures could decide that they were going to override the will of the voters. Actually, appoint their own electors as opposed to who the people voted for. That is what Trump wanted.

Then, it could go to Congress and Congress could say we don`t have certified electors for the states for Joe Biden. So therefore, we are going to appoint or confirm the electors of the gerrymandered legislatures. Or we are just going to decide that we`re not going to certify the election outcome.

And that`s the nightmare scenario, here. Is that the will of the people just becomes completely meaningless. That it`s disregarded by gerrymandered legislatures. And it`s disregarded by the stop-the-steal advocates in the Republican Party, at the congressional level. I think this is what this is all building towards, that elections are, essentially, rendered meaningless, because where the Republican Party has power, they are just going to decide that, if they don`t like the election results, they`re not going to abide by them.

And that`s really the biggest danger here. It`s not that people won`t be able to get around voter suppression. It`s that the ultimate-voter suppression, just deciding that people`s votes don`t matter, at all.

O`DONNELL: Ari Berman and Janai Nelson, thank you very much for joining us tonight on the most important story of the year. Really appreciate it.

NELSON: Thank you, Lawrence.

BERMAN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up: the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to see the subpoenas. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, giving him two weeks to hand over copies of the Trump Justice Department`s subpoenas for the phone records of Democratic members of Congress, and Trump White House counsel, Don McGahn.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, will join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: "The New York Times" reported a twist on the Trump subpoena story this weekend. Reporting that, in 2018, the Trump Justice Department subpoenaed Apple to provide the telephone records of the Trump White House counsel, Don McGahn.

Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced the committee would conduct an investigation into such subpoenas issued by the Trump-Justice Department, which, also, targeted the phone records of two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Adam Schiff, and Congressman Eric Swalwell. The subpoenas also demanded the phone records of at least one staff member of the house intelligence committee and a child.

Today, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a details letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding a copy of each subpoena, all documents and communications, including e-mails, text messages, and calendar entries, related to the subpoenas.

Joining us, now, is Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who signed that letter to the attorney general today.

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

The -- your letter to the attorney general gives him two weeks to deliver these documents. What happens if he doesn`t?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Well, the House can move, more or less, immediately, to a subpoena. Because they have their own members involved, I think they may be willing to do that. We have more complicated subpoena procedures in the Senate, at 50-50. But that would be the next stop, is try to work through our procedures to get a subpoena as well.

O`DONNELL: As a former prosecutor, yourself, do you see any reason why the attorney general can`t simply hand over those documents to you tomorrow?

WHITEHOUSE: No, he can. There may be things that would need to be blacked out in order to protect the anonymity of witnesses and things like that. I mean, ordinarily, if you are going to take a run at a member of Congress, you`re not going to do so without predication. In fact, the department won`t allow you to proceed without predication, ordinarily. So you`d lay out the predication somewhere in those memos.

And if there were witnesses who gave you that predication, you might want to protect them.

So there are reasons to black certain parts of it. But, you know, I mean, you know, a subpoena is usually released to the person who is subpoenaed, at the end of the day. So, that`s certainly not very private.

And, you know, the department wants to get a lot of people through the Senate. So if they start playing hardball with us, then, you know, good luck with your nominations.

O`DONNELL: Well, one position they`re going to need to get confirmed is the one being vacated now, by a Trump appointee, John Demers, who was the - - apparently, an assistant attorney general, who may have had control over these subpoenas.

WHITEHOUSE: Yeah. Well, we have to find that out. It`s a little bit strange.

I mean, ordinarily, these go before a special committee in the Department of Justice for investigations that touch on serious First Amendment concerns. If you want to run an investigation into a church, if you want to run an investigation into a news outlet, if you want to run an investigation against an elected official, you, usually, have to get special clearance. And so, we would be looking for the description of how that clearance was obtained, whether this was done as a national security matter, within the National Security Division, or a criminal matter. There is a lot that has not, yet, been answered.

And one really big question, in all of this, is the role of the FBI. Ordinarily, these matters go through the FBI. And an FBI agent is directly involved in this.

And so, Director Wray, I think, has some questions to answer, just as much as Barr does and Rosenstein does.

O`DONNELL: Let`s imagine, for a second, that this information became public the day before Merrick Garland`s confirmation hearing. What question would you have asked him about this?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I`d have asked him a question, very like the questions that I did ask him, which is, what are you going to open up the Department of Justice to start answering our questions, and eliminate the policy we had under the Trump administration of no Democratic questions get answered, and politically sensitive Republican questions get a special-fast lane out of the FBI?

O`DONNELL: I want to, also, get your reaction, tonight, to Mitch McConnell basically saying if the Republicans get control of the United States Senate, they will not confirm any Biden chosen Supreme Court justice.

WHITEHOUSE: Yeah. You know, the stunning part about that is he is willing to say it out loud. He might want to have that secret thought with him and his little cabal of elite Republican billionaire donors. But the fact that he is willing to say it out loud shows, first of all, how little respect they have for our ability to tangle with them and take them on for making an admission like that.

And second, like just how plain and overt this is. I think he is playing to an audience of a very small group, of big billionaire donors, who have a plan to try to take over as much control of the United States` government as they can. And their target is the Supreme Court. And he will do -- Mitch will do anything in his power to hand the Supreme Court over, as much as he can, to that little donor cabal.

O`DONNELL: Now, he said that based on the possibility of the Republicans winning the Senate through elections in 2020. So that would block two years of potential Biden nominations to the Supreme Court.

But the truth is, as Senate history shows, the Republicans could, conceivably, get control of the Senate next week. We have seen plane crashes and other forms of --

WHITEHOUSE: Yeah.

O`DONNELL: -- sudden deaths of senators.

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: Yeah, when I served in the Senate.

So -- so, we really are, at all times, a heartbeat away from a Republican control.

So, presumably, if the Republicans got control of the Senate next month, it would apply right now. It would apply for the rest of the Biden presidency. No Supreme Court confirmations.

WHITEHOUSE: Look, the most important thing to Mitch McConnell is his little reclusive group of billionaire donors. And the most important thing to them is control the Supreme Court that doesn`t have to answer to the voters. So, it will do what they want.

And they tell it what to do with this whole little fleet of amici curiae that they send before the court on a regular basis. That is the most important political imperatives that Mitch McConnell has and I believe he will do, essentially, anything to get there. In fact, we`ve seen that he broke every-possible rule, every norm, every precedent, everything in the Senate that stood in his way, he broke.

O`DONNELL: Are you hoping that Justice Breyer creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court this summer?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, now that would be the right time. And if I believed it`d do any good to say that, then I`d probably say that.

But, you know, you get on the Supreme Court, you get those robes and you make your own decisions. And I don`t know that senators trying to tell you what to do actually makes that easier rather than harder.

O`DONNELL: Well, let`s just hope he considers what you just said to have - -

WHITEHOUSE: He can do the math.

O`DONNELL: Let`s hope he considers what you just said, that you might say it but didn`t actually say it even though you did say it.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

WHITEHOUSE: Seem to have frozen up.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Senator.

WHITEHOUSE: Coming up, the Reverend William Barber led a Moral Monday demonstration in West Virginia today aimed at getting the attention of Senator Joe Manchin. Up next, we will be joined by two experts on West Virginia politics who have been studying Joe Manchin`s politics, up close for a long time. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don`t give up on Joe Manchin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: How is that for optimism? If you are not an optimist, you don`t belong in a legislative body. Almost-every good thing that the Congress has done, at some point, seemed impossible.

Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she spoke to Joe Manchin about the op-ed piece he published a week ago in West Virginia which was titled "Why I`m voting against the For the People Act".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: As I said, to him, I`ve read the op-ed. You`ve left the door open.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Oh, you talked to him about it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Today, a group of optimists gathered in Charleston, West Virginia and marched to Joe Manchin`s office there led by Reverend William Barber. In a letter to Senator Manchin from the group, they urged the senator to support the For the People Act. And asked him to use his power to open up, quote, "a new path for justice by ending the use of the filibuster".

Joining us, now, are Hoppy Kercheval, dean of West Virginia broadcasters and host of the radio program, Metro News Talk Line. Also with us, Jonathan Kott. He served as communications director and senior adviser to Senator Joe Manchin for seven years.

Jonathan, let me start with you, since you worked with him every day in the senate for seven years. Nancy Pelosi says -- she said she read the op-ed. And she sees an opening. I read the op-ed. And I don`t see the opening.

Did -- did you see an opening in the op-ed that Nancy Pelosi could get in there and -- and get him to go along with the For the People Act?

JONATHAN KOTT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I don`t think he`s going to go along with the For the People Act. But Joe Manchin is always willing to work with anybody -- any of his colleagues -- Democrats, Republicans. I have seen him, in the same week, work with Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump.

So, yes, I think you`re right. every (INAUDIBLE) politician is optimistic and Joe Manchin is nothing if he`s not a constant optimist who always thinks he can bring people together and get a good bill and a good deal for the people of West Virginia.

O`DONNELL: Hoppy, what are your radio listeners saying about this? And is Joe Manchin representing their view of this?

HOPPY KERCHEVAL, RADIO HOST: Yes, I think he is because West Virginia is a conservative state for the most part. Manchin has crafted his political career being in the middle. Not getting too far to the left and too far to the right.

And I got to tell you, despite this rally today. There is not a lot of buzz on the For the People Act in West Virginia. This is -- West Virginia`s last couple of elections have been very smooth. There haven`t been any issues.

So there -- that issue isn`t getting much traction here. So I`m sure that Manchin, who has great-political instincts, feels like he is on the right side for his home state on this.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, Joe Manchin keeps saying that he wants bills to be bipartisan. But in this senate, that -- that means getting ten Republicans. So far, it looks like, maybe, he has five on what they are calling a framework for an infrastructure bill. Not clear, where the other five would come from.

Is there a point, in this process, where Joe Manchin will abandon the attempt at a 60-vote version of the bill?

KOTT: I don`t know if he`ll abandon it. But at some point, I think, he`ll realize that, no, the Republicans are not willing to come to the table. And are not willing to work with him. And he`ll -- he`ll try to find a way to work with Senator Schumer and President Biden and craft a bill that he thinks is worthy of 10, 20, 30, Republicans supporting it.

If they`re not willing to come -- come to the table and work with him, then I think he will find a way to, you know, come -- come to grips with reconciliation and pass a bill that helps West Virginia. I mean, Hoppy knows better than anybody they need infrastructure in West Virginia. They need roads and bridges. They need Internet access. They need, you know, hydro dams, water infrastructure.

So he`s not going to abandon his state for the sake of bipartisanship but he wants to work with his Republican colleagues to make sure they get a bill that`s good for -- that Shelley Capito thinks is good for West Virginia and Joe Manchin thinks is good for West Virginia.

So, Hoppy, you are giving me the feeling that there probably won`t be any movement from Joe Manchin on the voting rights bill, the For the People Act.

But on infrastructure, do you agree with Jonathan that, if he can`t get to 60 Republicans on infrastructure. He has to get some kind of infrastructure to bring back to West Virginia and he will do it with Democrats, alone, if he has to?

KERCHEVAL: I think he will. And remember, he went with reconciliation on the Jobs Bill a couple of months back. And then he made a big deal out of coming back to West Virginia and saying I`m bringing millions and millions dollars to West Virginia counties and cities. He made a point of trying to illustrate that when he did interviews in West Virginia.

So he is very aware of the infrastructure needs in West Virginia. He doesn`t like all the green-new-deal stuff that -- that`s in the Biden plan. But I can very much see Joe Biden making a deal or doing whatever is necessary to get an infrastructure bill that brings back millions to West Virginia, channeling his best memory of Robert C. Byrd.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, quickly, before we go. What about voting rights? Will there be something on voting rights that Joe Manchin will support and join the Democrats on in the Senate?

KOTT: Yes. He supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And I would remind you, he was secretary of state and he was governor. He knows how important election integrity is. He is working hard to make sure that Republicans will come to the table and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And he will work with anybody to get a better bill, a stronger bill, to protect voting rights.

O`DONNELL: What about the 60-vote threshold on the John Lewis Bill?

KOTT: I think -- I don`t think Joe Manchin is going to budge on the filibuster. I have known him for a long time and I have never heard him give an inch on that. I think he is going to do everything he can to get to 60 votes.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Kott, Hoppy Kercheval -- thank you both very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

KERCHEVAL: My pleasure.

KOTT: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up. ProPublica`s stunning report last week showed that our richest billionaires paid little or no federal-income tax. Our next guest says tax law is not the problem. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston won a Pulitzer prize when he was at "The New York Times" reporting on taxes. He called ProPublica`s report on taxes last week the most important tax story that he has ever read.

ProPublica took us back to the early days of the tax code when tax returns were not private information and revealed what the top 25 richest Americans pay, and mostly don`t pay in taxes.

Much has been made of the point that, apparently, the tax-avoidance methods used by the billionaires in the article are all legal.

In an opinion piece for "The New York Times" Anand Giridharadas argues that the problem is not what tax law allows. It`s a set of social arrangements that make it possible for anyone to gain and guard and keep so much wealth, even as millions of others lack for food, work, housing, health, connectivity, education, dignity, and the occasion to pursue their happiness.

Many Americans are beginning to question, not only corruptions of the system but the matter of whether billionaires should exist, at all.

Joining us now is Anand Giridharadas, MSNBC political analyst and publisher of The Ink Newsletter.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. I was waiting the minute that report came out, for what you would be writing about this. And I had some sense of the directions you would go.

And in your piece for "The New York Times", you -- you point out that it`s not really about tax law. There`s a much bigger issue to consider here.

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what the ProPublica report -- which is really heroic, journalistic work -- what it revealed is that -- not some kind of epidemic of law breaking. But in fact, a social contract build on madness. An insane social contract in this society, in which most of you sitting at home on your sofa, or in your bed, watching this right now, pay a significant portion of your income, a significant portion of the net increase in your wealth year to year to the government.

And the richest people, the 25 richest in this case as is revealed by this report, in many years, paid literally, zero in income taxes. Literally, in dollar terms, less than you. Not as a proportion of their income. Some of them, literally paid less in dollar terms than you.

And others pay some -- some amount. But as a fraction of their wealth increase, it`s -- it`s a ridiculous pittance. Warren Buffett`s wealth went up in $24 billion in the period the story talks about 2014 to 2018. He paid $24 million in that time.

That may sound like real money but I think a lot of people watching this would love to pay one out of every thousand dollars of their net increase in wealth to the government in taxes. You know, most people spend way higher than that.

So we have to ask ourselves. Why is it that we just continue to avoid taxing billionaires` real source of increased money, which is their wealth, not their income. And what anybody who works with billionaires as accounting will tell you is that billionaires can literally pick their income for any-given year. They can go to their accountant and say I`d like a dollar of income. I`d like losses this years, the way Donald Trump always wanted losses. I would like my income to be $11 million this year and things can be rejiggered. They cannot sell some things, sell some things. Do whatever they need to do. So it makes no sense to tax billionaires on their income.

What we have to start in America getting ready for is -- is taxing billionaires on their wealth.

O`DONNELL: And Elizabeth Warren has proposed that and it was considered a radical proposal, in the tax world, when she first made that case. And every month, since then, the case develops in her direction, in her favor.

And it seems to me, on this report coupled with the richest man in the world deciding to get in his spaceship and go into space is exactly what Elizabeth Warren needs in terms of pushing her wealth tax, which you have the richest man in the world deciding I`m -- I`m going to take my spaceship and go for a ride into space, while you have the homeless population that you have in this country with nothing being done about it, at the same time.

Those two stories appearing in the same newspapers on the same days. It seems like this is giving Elizabeth Warren some of the momentum she needs.

GIRIDHARADAS: Look. Jeff Bezos may have work to do in space and that is his right. But I, and a lot of the rest of us, have work to do down here on earth. I don`t want this democracy to die and go with darkness. And it is at risk of doing so if it continues to slouch toward plutocracy where we begin to take it for granted that most decisions are made according to whether they would be for billionaires.

Whether we go after monopolies or not. Whether we raise the minimum wage or don`t. Whether we have universal healthcare or don`t. Whether we end money in politics or don`t. These are all decisions where doing the sensible- democratic thing is actually quite popular.

But there is this veto -- this kind of backroom veto of the billionaire. And I think, actually, the Warren plan was important. Important conversation starter. Bernie Sanders had a wealth tax also. You know, no shade to either of them. They got an important conversation started.

But both of their wealth taxes, you know, neither crossing above the kind of 10 percent a year of your wealth threshold. Neither of those wealth taxes would have actually shrunk these fortunes year to year, right? Because these folks are in returns well above 10 percent typically in a given year, right?

So your billion dollars becomes $1.2 billion the next year and so on and so forth. So it`s time to actually go beyond the Warren and Sanders` tax plans on wealth and really start talking about an erosive wealth tax that would erode these fortunes year to year so that in the year 2022, these biggest fortunes would be smaller than they were in the year 2021.

O`DONNELL: All right. That -- that`s the new one on the table now. Now, there is a proposal to the left of Elizabeth Warren`s.

Anand Giridharadas, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

GIRIDHARADAS: I would say it`s to the sensible. It`s -- it`s not about left and right. It`s about actually keeping a democracy. #.

O`DONNELL: It`s -- it -- embraces the reality of what we`re looking at.

GIRIDHARADAS: That`s right.

O`DONNELL: Right. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.

GIRIDHARADAS: Good to see you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up. It won`t be as easy as some of you might think for historians to decide, who was the worst president? Kurt Andersen will try to decide that for us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Donald Trump was the first post-Nixon president who decided to model his presidency on the presidency of the disgraced Richard Nixon, the Republican president who resigned from office as the impeachment process was just beginning in the House of Representatives in 1974. The Nixon presidency was corrupt in every conceivable way back then. Then Donald Trump came along and showed us new ways to be corrupt that Nixon never even dreamed of.

Bestselling author Kurt Andersen takes us inside the Nixon White House in his new podcast entitled "Nixon at War". In episode 1, Kurt Andersen uses tapes of Nixon`s phone calls to show us the president`s reaction to Daniel Ellsberg`s leak of the Pentagon papers to "The New York Times" which published the documents exactly 50 years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURT ANDERSEN, AUTHOR: Nixon reacts not to the substance of the leak but only to the fact of the it. The (EXPLETIVE DELETED) who talked to the press.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I`d just start right at the top and fire some people. Whatever department it came out of, I`d fire the top guy.

ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, sir. Well, I`m sure it came from Defense and I`m sure it was stolen at the time of the turnover of the administration.

NIXON: Oh, it`s two years old then.

ANDERSEN: Almost three years old, in fact which maybe why Nixon doesn`t seem all that concerned at first.

Then in the afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, I have Dr. Kissinger calling you.

ANDERSON: His national security adviser Henry Kissinger from out in L.A.

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER NIXON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Mr. President --

NIXON: Hi, Henry. How are things in California?

KISSINGER: Well, I just got here.

NIXON: Haig was very disturbed by that "New York Times" thing. I thought it --

KISSINGER: Mr. President, I think --

NIXON: -- unconscionable damn thing for them to do.

KISSINGER: Unconscionable.

NIXON: Of course, it`s unconscionable on the part of the people that leaked it. Fortunately, according to Haig, it all relates to the two previous administrations. Is that correct?

KISSINGER: That is --

NIXON: But my point is are any of the people there who participated in this thing in leaking it. That`s point, do we know.

ANDERSEN: Still focused on the leakers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

05: Joining us now is Kurt Andersen, best-selling author and (INAUDIBLE) award-winning broadcaster. His latest project out today is the seven- episode podcast series "Nixon at War".

Kurt, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I`m going to let you ponder the big question of the night which is, who was worse, Nixon or Trump? But when you listen to those Nixon tapes, there is nothing quite like it. You are hearing in other tapes active criminality at work in the White House.

ANDERSEN: You hear active criminality, you hear just incredible cynicism about this war that he wasn`t ending, and cynicism (ph) by him, by Henry Kissinger about for instance when -- at that point in 1971 when the withdrawal was going on.

But their whole point, absolutely brazen cynicism was we can`t let -- we just have to prop up this Saigon government until November of `72. That`s all we`ve got to do. That was what it was about at that point, it was -- as well criminality.

And it`s funny, I didn`t really realize until I spent the last year deep into these tapes and this research that it was the Pentagon papers, the release of the Pentagon papers that kind of put him off the rails, that really triggered this festering paranoia and hatred of the press and all the rest that he had.

And it was that summer when he really went nuts and started ordering these burglars, the plumbers to go into the Brookings Institution and Daniel Ellsberg`s psychiatrist`s office in Beverly Hills and then a year later Watergate.

It was -- I never quite realized the degree to which Vietnam and specifically the Pentagon papers released just turned him into the gangster that he was always ready to be.

O`DONNELL: Well, let`s listen to the tape that`s in your podcast where Nixon basically makes the decision that ends his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H.R. HALDEMAN, FORMER NIXON CHIEF OF STAFF: Houston swears to God, there`s a file on it at Brookings.

KISSINGER: I wouldn`t be surprised.

NIXON: All right. All right, All right. (INAUDIBLE).

HALDEMAN: In the hands of the same kind of --

NIXON: Bob --

HALDEMAN: The same people.

NIXON: Bob, now you remember Houston`s plan? Implement it.

KISSINGER: But couldn`t we go over? Now, Brookings has no right to have classified documents.

NIXON: I mean I want it implemented on a thievery basis. God damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: It was that decision Kurt to telling his people to go commit these crimes and then the one that really did it was -- when they got caught was when he told them to go break into the Democratic Party headquarters, and that`s when these people working for the Nixon White House got caught.

ANDERSEN: Yes and the Brookings thing, which got kind of -- because it never actually happened. They cased the joint, they went there, they tried to get in.

Chuck Colson (ph) and one of the former NYPD cops he had working for him had a plan to set a fire as a distraction from the burglary. It was nuts.

Of course, it was the summer of the enemies list and all that, too. And we think of Watergate as being this separate thing, but you see when you look at the war and their conduct of the war and his secrets involving that, including his own secret fiddling with the Paris Peace talks in 1968 in order to get elected that it was his crimes, his Vietnam war crimes in that instance had begun well before he was elected and continued and was what really, more than anything, led to Watergate and his downfall, even though it was going pretty well for him.

You know, he was bringing people out, he stopped in the draft, all the rest. So he really grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory by letting his craziness about the press concerning Vietnam lead him to commit all these crimes.

O`DONNELL: So the worst president in history is?

ANDERSEN: Well, he`s really up there, more than I thought he was. I mean he and Henry Kissinger have not only tens of thousands of American lives on their hands that people didn`t need to die, but hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Vietnamese and Cambodian lives on their hands.

As terrible as Donald Trump and Trumpism are, he didn`t do that. So I would say in the finals, it`s a maybe Trump-Nixon-Buchanan runoff, you know.

O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean the Trump difference really is Vietnam. That`s the one that is incomparable really to any other president, the way Richard Nixon just cynically cost American soldiers` lives with the way he handled Vietnam from the start.

Kurt Andersen, we are out of time but the audience is going to get to do their -- get the pleasure of this podcast in which they can learn all of this. It is called "Nixon at War".

Kurt Andersen, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

ANDERSEN: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And that is tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.