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

Guests: Helen Butler, Nse Ufot, Susan Rice, Daniel Alonzo, Andy Slavitt


In an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post", Senator Kyrsten Sinema came out in an even stronger support of the 60-vote threshold than Joe Manchin. Susan Rice, White House domestic policy adviser is interviewed. Might Donald Trump find himself in a criminal court room with co-defendants like his money handler, Allen Weisselberg, or will Allen Weisselberg testify against Donald Trump in the Manhattan grand jury`s investigation? He does not know that Guantanamo is not an island and a country in and of itself and that it is in Cuba. That is where he wanted to send Americans infected with COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic.



And before you go fishing, while you were working, Senator Kyrsten Sinema has published an op-ed piece on "The Washington Post", not just supporting the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, but doing so in language much stronger than Joe Manchin has ever said about it actually. So, she seems as locked in as anyone on this.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Well, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. We`ll see what happens tomorrow and we`ll what happens with those conservative Democrats and, you know, what they hear from their constituents and what they think the stakes are and the options are in terms of the Senate rules. We`ll see.

O`DONNELL: We will learn a lot tomorrow. Thanks, Rachel. Go fishing.

MADDOW: I am. I am going. Bye.


Well, most United States senators never have a one-on-one Oval Office meeting with most presidents of the United States, and even if they`re in the same party. Presidents meet one-on-one with Senate majority leader, especially if they`re in the same party. Sometimes they meet with the chairs of the committees. And in a 50/50 Senate, the president, of course, of course, has to meet one-on-one with senators who are a problem, which is why Joe Biden had a meeting with Joe Manchin today and Kyrsten Sinema, separate one-on-one meeting with her.

She is in her first term as a senator and would not have been in the room with the president today if she was fully on board with the president`s agenda like Arizona other senator, Mark Kelly, who is not a problem for Joe Biden, and so will probably never have a one-on-one meeting with the president.

White House official told NBC News this afternoon, the president hosted senator Manchin for a meeting at the White House where they discussed their shared commitment to voting rights. The president expressed his sincere appreciation for Senator Manchin`s efforts to achieve reform and made it clear how important he thinks it is that the Senate find a path forward on this issue.

The path forward will be blocked tomorrow in the Senate by Republicans when the voting rights bill called the For the People Act comes the a vote which will require a 60-vote threshold before proceeding to simply having a debate on the bill. The only path forward on that bill, or Joe Manchin`s compromised version of that bill, is to eliminate the 60-vote threshold.

And tonight, in an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post", Kyrsten Sinema came out in an even stronger support of the 60-vote threshold than Joe Manchin.

And every single thing in Senator Sinema`s "Washington Post" on that that, the op-ed piece, just about 100 percent of the Senate believed about 20 years ago. It is an op-ed that as of tonight, it is approximately 20 years out of date.

Here`s what President Obama said today about that 60-vote threshold.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Republicans in the Senate are lining up to try to use the filibuster to stop the For the People Act from even being debated. In the aftermath of an insurrection, with our democracy on the line and many of the same Republican senators going along with the notion that somehow there were irregularities and problems with legitimacy in our most reason election, they`re suddenly afraid to even talk about these issues and figure out solutions on the floor of the Senate. They don`t even want to talk about voting. And that`s not acceptable.


O`DONNELL: Remember, tomorrow`s vote is just procedural. It is a vote that requires a 60-vote threshold, not about the bill. It`s not about the bill itself. It is simply a vote that allows the bill to be debated.

Today, there was no suspense in the Senate about whether ten Republicans would join the Democrats in simply allowing the bill to be debated.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: It`s not a vote on any particular policy. It`s not a vote on this bill or that bill. It is a vote on whether the Senate should simply debate the issue about voting rights, the crucial issue of voting rights in this country.

Are you afraid to debate it? Do you not have any good arguments? Let`s dispense with this nonsense. There is no real principle behind these policies. They`re not about election integrity. They`re not about voter fraud. These policies have one purpose and one purpose only, making it harder for younger, poorer, nonwhite and typically Democratic voters to have -- to access the ballot.


O`DONNELL: The policy structure he was referring to there in which Republican state legislatures are making it harder for people to vote include policies that can affect how the votes will be counted and who will count them. "The New York Times" is reporting that Georgia`s new election law is leading to the removal of local election officials, especially Democrats and people of color.

"Times" reports across Georgia, members of at least ten county election boards have been removed, had their position eliminated or are likely to be kicked off through local ordinances or new laws passed by the state legislature. At least five are people of color and most are Democrats. Though some are Republicans and they will most likely all be replaced by Republicans. The law allows Republicans to remove local officials they don`t like and because several of them have been black Democrats, voting groups fear that these are further attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.

We`ll be joined by a county election official who is going to be removed from her position by Republicans in Georgia.

Georgia`s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who refused to fraudulently create the votes that Donald Trump asked him to fraudulently create in a phone call in the Georgia presidential election has been removed by the Republican legislature as the chair and voting member of the state election board. Secretary Raffensperger is now running for re- election and doing everything he can now to ingratiate himself with Trump voters. Secretary Raffensperger has now produced a list of nearly 102,000 voters who will be removed from the voting rolls unless they respond within 40 days to stay on the voting rolls.

And leading off our discussion from Georgia is Helen Butler, a member of the Morgan County Board of Elections in Georgia. Her last day will be June 30th.

Also with us, Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, the voter registration group which works on education and outreach for minority voters.

And, Helen Butler, let me begin with you, and what happened to you. You were -- you`ve been on this board for about ten years now and suddenly, the Republicans are getting rid of you.

How did that happen?

HELEN BUTLER, MORGAN COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS: Well, thank you, Lawrence, for having me.

What they decided was that they wanted to change the composition of the board. Originally, we were according to party. They decided that a majority Republican commission, that they wanted to take over.

So what they did in actuality was to pass the local legislation that said they can go remove all board members. Initially, they were only going to remove two. In the end, they decided to remove everyone.

It was simply because of our election in 2021, the runoff and the November election. We had great turnout. We had people that were able to be hired as co-workers that can really implement the process, and the board members were also a part of the counting process so they didn`t like that outcome so they decided they wanted to challenge it.

We wanted drop boxes. We wanted more polling locations. We wanted a diverse workforce because we wanted young people that knew how to operate new voting equipment. Our co-workers` average age was 75 years of age. We had to have different people during this pandemic --

O`DONNELL: It looks like Helen Butler`s connection is frozen there.

Nse Ufot, what is your reaction to these new changes at this level? At Helen`s level?

NSE UFOT, COE, NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: My reaction is simply this. They are who we thought they were. This is a continuation of the insurrection at the Capitol. This is a continuation of the 60-plus lawsuits that were filed in federal court where not one single judge found that there was widespread voter fraud. That this is a continuation of the big lie.

Do you know why they`re removing Helen Butler from the county board of elections? Because she knows the law. Because she`s going to defend the right to vote for every single resident in Morgan County. Because she`s a human B.S. detector and the moral compass on that board of elections.

And we`re going to see that in dozens of counties in Georgia, because of this trash bill that was passed, Senate bill 202, at the end of the legislative session.

It was rushed through. There was not time for debate. There was an hour for deliberation and then our governor signed it under a painting of one of the last plantations in Georgia where humans were held captive -- just in case, there was any doubt about the sort of motivation behind the bill that they signed.

And this is only one of the ways in which the Republicans are trying to take a sledgehammer to our election`s infrastructure and replace their will for the will of Georgia voters.

O`DONNELL: Helen Butler, how is this going to change the next election?

BUTLER: Well, the next election you`ll have a board that is appointed strictly by a majority Republican Party. That will oversee the counting process, absentee voting, application requests, having to have an ID. With the county process required, who will get to count the ballots, how it is counted, and what are the results?

So the election boards are critical to that process and so you will see that this could be a lopsided decision they can process and implementation of the election laws.

O`DONNELL: Helen Butler and Nse Ufot, thank you both very much for starting off our discussion tonight. Thank you.

And joining us now is Jonathan Alter, columnist for "The Daily Beast" and MSNBC political analyst.

Jonathan, tomorrow is a big day in the Senate but a day without suspense. We`re going to go over this hurdle of having the 60-vote threshold thrown in front of the For the People Act. It will fail. Ad now, we have this op- ed piece tonight by Senator Sinema who as I said, is echoing exactly the way minimum 90 percent of the Senate thought about the 60-vote threshold 20 years ago. And as far as I can tell, nothing but greeting card stuff today.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. That was a disappointing op-ed piece. The stakes, I think, we just saw laid out from Georgia.

This cannot stand in Georgia. The only way it can be superseded is with the federal law in the same way that during the civil rights movement, you had these horrible laws in Georgia and other states. You needed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to supersede them. So, the stakes in Washington are immense. The battle tomorrow will be lost but it is just a battle. But it`s just a battle. This is a war over this issue. And Democrats are getting mobilized and it`s not over.

And there are a number of things that one can take hope from even though this was a setback with Senator Sinema. The most important of which is that Joe Manchin now owns this bill. So, even very recently, there was some indication that he wasn`t going to come along. It`s now the Manchin bill that will be filibustered.

This is the bill that made a number of concessions to Republicans. They weren`t good enough for them. There`s still opposed to it. The more Manchin gets frustrated about his bill not moving forward for debate, much less actually, you know, a vote on the bill, they won`t even allow it to be debated. What this can do is motivate Manchin. I think Sinema would come along with this.

To not ending the filibuster, they`re set in concrete on, but amending the filibuster, changing the rule which can be done with 51 votes so that instead of the majority having to get to 60, the minority, the Republicans have to have 41. They have to have 41 of their senators on the floor at all times.

That`s not easy. That means like in "The Godfather", when they said go to the mattresses, they`re going to go to the cots and we`re going to be back to the way filibusters were in the time of Jimmy Stewart, you know, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

That`s what we want right now. We want to see the bad guys, you know, being Jimmy Stewart. You know, having to stand on the floor for four days making these ridiculous arguments.

And if that happens, you can maybe mobilize more attention nationwide and maybe make some progress in this area.

O`DONNELL: So Joe Biden had separate one-on-one meetings today with Joe Manchin and with Senator Sinema. And now, you can see one reason is that they are not the same on this 60-vote threshold. Joe Manchin has said there are variations on this that he`s willing to do, including the idea that you just suggested. He`s open to it.

This op-ed piece tonight by Senator Sinema is a completely close document. There is no hole in it anywhere that you can you see where she`d able to change her position on this down the road.

ALTER: Well, that was my first reaction to it as well. I just read it a few minutes ago. But she`s talking about 60 votes. And 60 votes is just the reverse of 40 votes, right? So you wouldn`t be getting rid of her 60-vote requirement if went to the so-called talking filibuster and changed the burden of proof, the onus of responsibility so that it fell on the minority.

And she could -- you know, you`re right. There`s very little wiggle room there. But she would not have to say that she was retreating from her super majority standard if you adopted the idea that has documented the idea that has been articulated by Norm Ornstein on this program and elsewhere that you make the Republicans go to the floor and earn all 60 of those votes.

And so, I think that`s where the energy needs to be focused in Washington. Out in the rest of the country, it should be particularly Arizona, you know, putting pressure or wherever you`re from, to say in a general way, aside from all the procedural questions, we need this legislation to save our democracy. It`s that important. These state bills are daggers pointed at the heart of our democracy.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Alter, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

ALTER: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, in our history, we`ve had exactly two people who have held these two jobs -- ambassador to the United Nations and domestic policy adviser to the president. And one of those people is Susan Rice who will join us next in her new job of domestic policy adviser to the president.


O`DONNELL: No one has to tell the richest man in the world that today is Child Tax Credit Awareness Day. No one has to tell Jeff Bezos that because he has accountants who make sure that he takes advantage of every single word in the tax code that can possibly benefit him and help him avoid paying hundreds of millions and indeed, billions of dollars in taxes.

And one of the things that the accountants for the richest man in the world got him on his tax returns revealed by ProPublica, is $4,000 in tax credits for his children.

President Biden wants to make sure that people who don`t have high priced accountants know the Democrats in Congress and the president have expanded the child tax credit and have aimed it at lifting 4 million children out of poverty. Beginning July 15th, all families earning below $150,000 per year will be eligible for the full child tax credit of $3,000 per child under the age of 18, with an additional $600 per child under the age of 6.

The child tax credit is not a tax deduction. It`s not an adjustment to how much you owe the government in taxes. It is a check from the government to you. It is real money.

And that $3,600 per year for a 5-year-old child will now be sent in monthly installments of $300 per month, making budgeting much more manageable.

The Biden administration has launched a new website,, to help you file for that tax credit.

Today, at a Child Tax Credit Awareness event in Pittsburgh, Vice President Kamala Harris said this.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we talk about child policy, it has to be with a recognition that we don`t just come in and take care of the child. You want to take care of a child? You do it in the context of the family in which that child is being raised.


You recognize the challenges of working parents. You recognize the challenges of families that are just barely holding it together. And then you treat the issue in the context of the whole.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Susan Rice, White House domestic policy adviser. She served as national security adviser to President Obama and ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador Rice, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

What is the White House approach to getting the word out about how to file for this? Because many people don`t even realize they`re eligible for it.

AMB. SUSAN RICE, DIRECTOR, DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL: Well, thank you, Lawrence. It`s great to be with you.

First of all, today is very deliberately Child Tax Credit Awareness Day. We`re making a big push to get the word out that for the vast majority of American families, beginning on July 15th, through either direct deposit or a check in the mail, you will get $300 every month for every child between the ages of 6 and 17. And -- excuse me, $250 a month for children ages 6 to 17, and $300 a month for children, each child under the age of 6.

And this is vitally important for the reasons you said. This is cash money in people`s bank accounts that they can plan for and spend against.

And it`s vitally important because our children are the most vulnerable in our society. They need this support. This will help over 90 percent of American children.

Now, Lawrence, there is something important to be said, the money will show up in your bank account through direct deposit or a check in the mail if you have filed tax returns in the last two tax years. There`s a substantial segment of Americans who don`t earn enough money to pay taxes and to file taxes.

And so, for those Americans who are also eligible for the same tax credit that I just described, it`s very important that they know that they need to sign up in order to get these checks coming to them directly. They need to go to, And you are as eligible as anybody who has filed their taxes over the last two years.

So this is here for all Americans who need it, for working Americans and for 90 percent of American children.

O`DONNELL: Income security policy is a challenging arena. The government has been at it for decades now, really starting in 1935 But one of the problems that has existed in the past for things like the tax credit. It`s a once a year financial moment in your life.

You suddenly get this once a year check. Getting this to be a monthly budgetable item for people is a huge breakthrough in this policy.

RICE: It is a huge breakthrough, Lawrence, absolutely, because -- you know, you get a lump sum at the end when you file your taxes, that doesn`t enable you to budget and to plan as easily.

So this is a breakthrough, both in the increased amount that Congress and President Biden made available to American working families but also for its predictability. And the expectation is that this action, this child tax credit will help us cut child poverty in this country in half this year, which is huge. It`s huge. And it`s vitally needed, it`s overdue.

And the other important thing, Lawrence, is, you know, what Congress passed in the American Rescue Plan extended and expanded the child tax credit for this year, for this tax year.

What President Biden wants to do and it`s vitally important and he`s proposed this through his American Families Plan, is to extend the same benefit, the same $3,600 a year for every child under 6, the same $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 for years and years to come.

So, it`s not just a one year benefit. It becomes something that Americans can count on going forward.

O`DONNELL: You know, as we discuss this, I`m hearing echoes of things Daniel Patrick Moynihan has said about this kind of income security policy for -- throughout his career. And I was thinking, there are very few, very few people in American government who have been ambassador to the United Nations and domestic policy adviser to the president. It`s you and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. That`s it.

And one thing he is always arguing and struggling with, and it was -- the government has always been very resistant to it, is that the cure for poverty is money. What poor people need is money. As far back as the Nixon administration, he was trying to push for something approaching a guaranteed annual income.

That policy arena has shifted into the tax code over the last 30 years or so. And we`re now approaching this through the tax code which actually seems like a more efficient method.

RICE: Well, it`s definitely efficient. In the case of the child tax credit, it will -- as we`ve discussed, directly land cash money in people`s bank accounts when they need it most. And it`s similar to another very important provision of the American Rescue Plan which has enabled Americans to purchase health insurance. And on the Affordable Care Act at, and also do so at much reduced cost due to tax premium increases.

So this is the kind of benefit that Americans need most at a time, you know, coming out of the pandemic, where so many have struggled economically, haven`t had the health insurance that they need. Haven`t been able to provide adequately for their families.

These are the kinds of positive steps that President Biden and the Democrats in Congress have enabled to benefit Americans directly and immediately. And it`s the very type of thing that the president intends to make long-lasting through his proposed American families plan which will come before Congress and which the American people have direct stake in its success.

O`DONNELL: I`m sure it is more than a bit intriguing for our audience to see you go from national security adviser to one president to domestic policy adviser to another president. What has that transition been like for you? I guess the big difference id on the domestic policy front, there aren`t the middle of the night emergencies that you have in the national security arena.

RICE: That`s one of the differences and thankfully, I haven`t had that 3:00 a.m. call yet as domestic policy adviser and I`m hoping not to get it.

But it`s interesting, Lawrence. Many of the skills, many of the experiences, making government deliver for people, making the bureaucracy decide and produce results and ensure that they`re implemented, those skills are very much the same whether you`re working on foreign policy or domestic policy.

The substance is different. And for me it is exciting. It`s interesting and challenging and motivating to get to work on the issues that matter most on a daily basis to the American people.

It was a great honor and a privilege to serve under President Obama and help keep Americans safe and it`s an equal privilege now to serve under President Biden, trying to ensure that the American people have what they most need to not only be secure in their lives but to prosper and to develop generational wealth and to do so in a manner that is far more equitable and inclusive than has been our experience historically in the past.

O`DONNELL: Susan Rice, domestic policy advisor to President Biden, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

It`s so important to get this word out to people that this child tax credit is there for them. Thank you very much.

RICE: Thank you very much, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up in tonight`s episode of "Defendant Trump", might Donald Trump find himself in a criminal court room with co-defendants like his money handler Allen Weisselberg? Or will Allen Weisselberg testify against Donald Trump in the Manhattan grand jury`s investigation? We have some new clues about that, next.


O`DONNELL: Two years ago, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked the questions about Donald Trump that a New York criminal grand jury is now investigating.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): To your knowledge, did the president ever provided inflated assets to an insurance company?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.


O`DONNELL: Tonight "The Wall Street Journal" reports New York prosecutors are investigating whether a top Trump Organization executive Matthew Calamari received tax-free fringe benefits as part of the probe into whether the former President Trump`s company and its employees illegally avoided paying taxes on such perks, according to people familiar with the matter.

"The Washington Post" is reporting that Allen Weisselberg was at Trump Tower last week on Donald Trump`s 75th birthday, a possible indication that Allen Weisselberg is not yet cooperating with prosecutors.

"The Washington Post" reports, "Officials involved in the Weisselberg investigation have grown frustrated about what they view as a lack of cooperation from Weisselberg and believe he continues to regularly speak with Trump, according to a person familiar with the inquiry."

A former prosecutor in the New York attorney general`s office who investigated Trump University and forced a $25 million settlement of fraud allegations says, "Allen Weisselberg really ran the whole company. Just to say he`s the money man actually underestimates his role. He was more than that even. He was the whole enchilada."

A former Trump employee told "The Washington Post", "He was in charge of everything."

Joining us now is Daniel Alonzo, a former federal prosecutor in New York City and a former chief assistant district attorney in the Manhattan district attorney`s office.

Thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

What do you make of these clues emerging? Allen Weisselberg being at Trump Tower on Donald Trump`s birthday, apparently staying close to the company, frequently going into work?

DANIEL ALONZO, FORMER NYC FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, thanks for having me, Lawrence. I would say that it seems pretty clear Allen Weisselberg has not yet flipped if he is ever going to flip. I said before that I think that the charges, the criminal charges against him potentially, the tax charges, are probably not enough to get him to flip on Donald Trump.

I think that the real pressure on Weisselberg is going to be if the D.A. can make a credible case against one of his family members. And that`s where some of these perks come in. You know, I don`t know what else they`re investigating in terms of them. But that is a classic way to get somebody to flip.

So if Weisselberg is going to Trump Tower, you know, it doesn`t take an expert on Donald Trump to know it is unlikely that the guy has turned on him.

O`DONNELL: And there seems to be, in the reporting anyway, this anticipation of the possibility of a deal with Weisselberg before any charges are filed against anyone.

There`s also that the other method of, you know, Weisselberg gets hit with charges and then they talk about cooperation.

ALONZO: Yes. Or he gets hit with charges and then he litigates it in which case, you know, in New York, of course, that can take a couple of years. So, you know, I think that if he`s not going to flip now, the D.A. is probably not going to be interested in him flipping, you know, down the road.

The D.A. is probably talking to his lawyers about what kind of charges they`re looking to bring. Obviously, we know it is more serious than just the taxable fringe benefits on which he or his children potentially didn`t pay taxes and the organization didn`t withhold. It is more than that with almost to Weisselberg.

Now, with respect to Calamari, it`s unclear. On the one hand, he`s COO which ordinarily in an accounting fraud type investigation, is a very important person to look at or at least find out what they knew and when they knew it.

But on the other hand, you know, who knows? I mean if your reporting is right and Allen Weisselberg ran the whole enchilada -- a technical legal term -- then perhaps Calamari was not as in the know and they may only have him on the relatively low level crimes involving the taxable fringe benefits.

O`DONNELL: And I know we`ve just been showing pictures of Mr. Calamari who looks like a bodyguard because that`s what he was when he started working for Donald Trump.

And there is a report indicating that Mr. Calamari was advised by the prosecutors to get his own lawyer. He apparently showed up for some encounters with the prosecutors with Trump lawyers and they have now advised him, get your own lawyer. What does that indicate?

ALONZO: That`s not uncommon when companies make the mistake of sending the same lawyer to either represent or at least appear with particular executives or individuals. Prosecutors do not like that because talking to this witness is the same as talking to the CEO of the company or Donald Trump, the owner. So they like to be able to at least have a private conversation with a lawyer who is theoretical only professional obligation is to that particular person.

So it doesn`t surprise me at all that the prosecutors told him he should get his own lawyer.

O`DONNELL: Dan Alonzo, thank you for joining us once again on this continuing story. Really appreciate it.

ALONZO: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, two new angles on Donald Trump`s stupidity. He does not know that Guantanamo is not an island and a country in and of itself. He doesn`t know that Guantanamo Bay is in Cuba. And that is where he wanted to send Americans infected with COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: A new book by two "Washington Post" reporters entitled "Nightmare Scenario" carries this account. "In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as White House officials debated whether to bring infected Americans home for care, President Donald Trump suggested his own plan for where (AUDIO GAP) to suppress the numbers on U.S. soil. `Don`t we have an island that we own?` the president reportedly asked those assembled in the Situation Room in February 2020 before the U.S. outbreak would explode. `What about Guantanamo? We import goods,` Trump specified, lecturing his staff. `We are not going to import a virus.`"

Our next guest, Andy Slavitt, served as President Biden`s White House senior adviser for COVID response. He also served in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, and so when COVID-19 hit the United States, Andy Slavitt, offered back channel advice to the Trump administration through Jared Kushner.

He tells that story in his new book, "Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response".

Andy writes, "I contacted Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law and senior adviser, to offer my assistance and spent the year on the push and pull of an effort to save lives and prevent even more colossal mistakes. Despite a few successes, when it came to dealing with the White House, I generally found myself fighting the forces of denial, blame, and a short attention span that only blew more life into the pandemic."

And joining us now is Andy Slavitt. His new book is "Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response".

And Andy, I don`t know. I think there are a few other things you could have put stupidity up there. You could have put the president thinks Guantanamo is an island where you can send coronavirus -- people who are infected with the coronavirus. That`s -- the kind of madness you were dealing with in trying to deal with that White House as the pandemic was hitting, must have been -- must have been just shocking to you every time you encountered it.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: You know, I needed the title to be shorter than the actual book so I had to cut off a few descriptors.


SLAVITT: But yes, I mean look. There are some sins that are forgivable. Plenty of mistakes are forgivable and we ought to be charitable with mistakes that are made honestly in the heat of battle in the middle of a pandemic where it`s novel, we don`t know what`s going on.

But there`s a bunch of things that are unforgivable. The dishonest mistakes, denying that we are experiencing a pandemic when you know full well that thousands of people are going to die. You know, if the president -- millions of people potentially could have died.

And what the president did was that he`d just come out and said in January, hey, we have a problem. The only reason he addressed this with the public was when the NBA season went out and the stock market went down. That`s all that is documented.

And you know, he suppressed it -- any repression and essentially tried to avoid all responsibility. It is not a good combination for a country to quash dissent when you`ve got a novel coronavirus and you silence all your experts.

So this book just tries to tell the narrative of my interactions with Jared and other people around the country and what happened.

O`DONNELL: Now, Jared Kushner was reportedly, you know, one of the smarter people in the Trump White House, in the passages that I`ve read in this book, he is a dysfunctional moron in the White House who cost people`s lives.

SLAVITT: Well, you know, I did go for the best. I did try to reach the top there. But the truth is, you know, as I say, the reason I called Jared is because President Trump was going to open up the country on Easter Sunday, which would have resulted in untold amounts of deaths among older people.

And so I asked myself the question: who do you talk to in the White House when you want to get something done. And the answer was Jared. But I called and he was gracious enough to receive my call even knowing, you know, where I stand on things.

And you know, he was willing to listen on occasions when I could put forward something that he could also make good for the president. The problem was that everything had to revolve around the plot of the president pushing responsibility for anything that went wrong to the states or to someone besides him.

And so ultimately when I would call him and say, Jared, we`re in big trouble, people are going to die, he would say, you know, I really can`t do much about that because his job was to really deflect anything from hitting his boss.

O`DONNELL: Did he think people were not going to die? Did he think they were just going to get lucky?

SLAVITT: You know, he had this narrative carved out in his head, which it said that the president had done all he could and that any mistakes that happened from here were the responsibility of the governors because the president opened the country in April and, therefore, it`s going to be on the governors. And that was perverse logic.

And as we know -- it is actually the reverse. In times of crisis, if you actually level with the public and say we`ve got a problem, people will rally behind you. people will come to your defense. And we`ve seen this throughout in history.

But the president wouldn`t do that. The president`s ego couldn`t handle a problem emerging on his watch. Once the stock market went up, he bought gifts for all his staff for basically creating some lies for him to tell the public.

Once they told the public, he gave them all the assigned gifts. And from then on, as long as the stock market was up, he didn`t really worry about things too much.

O`DONNELL: Andy Slavitt, The new book is "Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics and selfishness doomed the U.S. coronavirus response.

And Andy, I`m listening to the audiobook because it is read by the one and only Bradley Whitford, Emmy Winner at "The West Wing" and Emmy winner at "Handmaid`s Tale". How did you get Brad Whitford to read your book into a tape recorder?

SLAVITT: Brad`s a wonderful guy. And he does a tremendous job of this. And he sent me funny videos of himself doing this. I`ve had the pleasure of knowing Bradley for a few years.

And, you know, he`s just a really generous person. And the minute he found out I was writing this book, he said I have to read this for you.

O`DONNELL: All right. All funny videos --

SLAVITT: And he did the best kind of job than I could have done.


O`DONNELL: All funny videos of Brad Whitford are welcome on this program, especially if they are humiliating to Brad. Andy Slavitt, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

SLAVITT: You got it.

O`DONNELL: Well, Matthew Mallory is back. Matthew Mallory and his mother Dr. Joan Cephas got vaccinated live on tape right here on THE LAST WORD. And they will be back and have THE LAST WORD tonight.


O`DONNELL: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who developed the vaccine that became the Moderna vaccine joined us at MSNBC`s "TOWN HALL: VACCINATING AMERICA" last month. After Matthew Mallory asked a question of the experts on our panel, Matthew told me that he was still hesitant about getting the vaccine. But Dr. Corbett would not give up.



O`DONNELL: Where is Matthew? There he is.

DR. CORBETT: Hi, Matthew. You know, I get it. I completely understand. From where I sit, I think I`ve realized that through this moment I sit in a place of privilege where I have information on a day-to-day basis about these vaccines that the general person does not.

But the one thing that reassures me constantly is seeing over time more and more people getting these vaccines, the data are so clear and crisp in that they`re safe and that they are effective.


O`DONNELL: Dr. Corbett spoke with Matthew after the town hall was over that night and still couldn`t convince him. Then a week later, Matthew and his mother Dr. Joan Cephas met Dr. Corbett at a Walgreens in Virginia where they both received the Moderna vaccine that Dr. Corbett helped develop.

Matthew and his mother appeared on this program that night from the Walgreens where they got vaccinated.


O`DONNELL: Matthew, what are you going to tell your friends and family if they are wondering about getting the vaccine?

MATTHEW MALLORY, VACCINATED AT WALGREENS: Go ahead and get it done. It`s not that bad.

Go and get it done. It`s not that bad.


O`DONNELL: And today one month after receiving their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, Matthew and his mother went back to the Walgreens in Virginia and got their second shots. Matthew told us that he was hoping to travel to Jamaica after he`s fully vaccinated. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second shot of the vaccine.

And so we look forward to Matthew`s travel pictures this summer without any masks on.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.