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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 7/1/21

Guests: Susan Hoffinger, Tim O`Brien, Daniel Shaviro, Jaime Harrison, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

Summary

The criminal scheme involving Donald Trump signing checks was described in the indictment of the Trump Corporation, the Trump Payroll Corporation, and Allen Weisselberg. As of tonight, Donald Trump is a target in three important investigations: the new House committee`s investigation, the Manhattan district attorney`s continuing investigation, and the grand- jury investigation in Fulton County, Georgia run by district attorney Fani Willis. Today the conservative majority on the Supreme Court once again weakened the Voting Rights Act for the second time in eight years in a 6-3 decision. Search and rescue efforts resumed today in Surfside, Florida after a pause to allow structural engineers to inspect the stability of the remaining structure in the building collapse there.

Transcript

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

I think you isolated what could be the most important question about this indictment today because it refers to other people, other executives in the Trump operation. Are -- how many of those possible other executives involved in the commission of these crimes are named Trump? How many of those are children of Donald Trump?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And if it was a systematic scheme, by the company, to -- including its most highly compensated executives to pay them in ways that were -- that were designed to evade taxes, which is the way it`s described in the -- in the indictment. Allen Weisselberg was getting paid a million dollars a year, and they said he was one of the highest-paid beneficiaries of that scheme, but they did not describe him as the most highly paid. There aren`t many people at the company who are more highly paid than him, and I don`t believe any of them aren`t named Trump.

So, they are describing schemes that apply to other people who are beneficiaries of had things that are laid out there. And that`s what -- Allen Weisselberg`s just been criminal criminally charged with, so it`s got to be an unsettling prospect for the Trump family tonight.

O`DONNELL: And then there`s the other, amazing mystery of how is Donald Trump paid? What`s the payment scheme within that business for Donald Trump, himself? And that`s something we don`t learn anything about in this indictment, so far.

MADDOW: But I bet we are going to learn about it, before too long.

O`DONNELL: It looks like it`s coming. Looks like that is what`s ahead of us. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, once again, Donald Trump signed his name to checks in the commission of a crime, according to an indictment by a Manhattan-grand jury unsealed today, in court, in Manhattan. We have already seen Donald Trump`s signature on checks written in the commission of a federal crime.

Here is Donald Trump`s signature in a check to Michael Cohen, as part of the criminal payoff scheme to prevent Stormy Daniels from telling the ugly truth of what happened when she was alone in a hotel room with Donald Trump. That criminal scheme, of course, completely, fell apart. Michael Cohen went to prison for that criminal scheme. Stormy Daniels went on "60 Minutes" and told the story of that night, including Donald Trump comparing her to his daughter.

Today, another, criminal scheme involving Donald Trump signing checks was described in the indictment of the Trump Corporation, the Trump Payroll Corporation, and Allen Weisselberg.

From 2012 through 2017, and as part of the scheme to defraud, Trump Corporation Personnel, including Weisselberg, arranged for tuition expenses for Weisselberg`s family members to be paid by personal checks drawn on the account of and signed by Donald J. Trump. The payment of tuition expenses for Weisselberg`s family members constituted employee compensation and taxable income to Allen Weisselberg and was treated as part of Weisselberg`s annual compensation in the internal records maintained by the Trump Corporation. However, the indirect compensation in the form of tuition payments was not included on Weisselberg`s W-2 forms or otherwise reported to federal, state, or local-tax authorities. And no income taxes were withheld by the corporate defendants in connection with the tuition payments.

Weisselberg intentionally caused the tuition payments to be omitted from his personal tax returns, despite knowing that those payments represented taxable income, and were treated as compensation by the Trump Corporation in internal records. He did not pay taxes on approximately $359,058 in compensation he received in the form of tuition payments.

That is a lot of money. But that is not the big money, in this indictment. Which says that Allen Weisselberg and other, unnamed employees of the Trump corporation, quote, devised and operated a scheme to defraud federal, New York state, and New York city tax authorities. The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump-organization executives in a manner that was off the books.

The scheme was intended to allow certain employees to substantially understate their compensation from the Trump Organization, so that they could and did pay federal, state, and local taxes, in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid. The defendants arranged for Weisselberg to receive indirect-employee compensation from the Trump organization, in the approximate amount of $1.76 million.

Weisselberg, then, concealed the compensation from his tax preparer, and intentionally omitted it from his tax returns. Additionally, Weisselberg concealed, for years, the fact that he was a resident of New York City, who was required to pay New York City income taxes. Weisselberg, thereby, evaded approximately $556,385 in federal taxes, approximately $106,568 in state taxes, and approximately $238,159 in New York City taxes.

And he falsely claimed and received approximately $94,902 in federal tax refunds. And approximately $38,222 in state-tax refunds, to which he was not entitled.

The 15-count indictment exposes Allen Weisselberg to a possible sentence of 15 years in prison for the most serious count, which is grand larceny in the second degree. Most of the other counts carry possible-four-year sentences. The indictment details Allen Weisselberg`s personal participation in, and supervision of, the crimes described in the indictment. For example, on or about September 2016, Allen Weisselberg directed a staff member in the accounting department to remove the notations "per Allen Weisselberg" from the entries in Donald J. Trump`s detail general ledger relating to tuition payments paid on Weisselberg`s behalf for his family members` private school.

You can get four years for that. Four years in prison. Just for that. Just for that falsifying of business records.

Allen Weisselberg is accused of committing that crime, in the final weeks of the winning Trump presidential campaign in 2016. The question that today`s indictment does not answer is, exactly, how involved and responsible for these crimes was Donald Trump?

Tonight, Donald Trump, who is, reportedly, not a good sleeper, will, at some point, try to fall asleep knowing that Allen Weisselberg, who is 73 years old, is a husband, a father, and a grandfather, who wants to spend his remaining years with his wife, his children, and grandchildren. All of whom, have been beneficiaries of the crimes outlined in this indictment, direct beneficiaries.

Tonight, Allen Weisselberg is facing a possible sentence that could leave him in prison for the rest of his life. Donald Trump has to try to fall asleep, tonight, knowing that Allen Weisselberg could make those sentences disappear. By cooperating with prosecutors and telling them everything that he knows about Donald Trump.

"The New York Times" reached Donald Trump for what they called a brief interview, today, after the indictment. "The Times" reports, asked if he was worried about the pressure being put on Mr. Weisselberg. He said, only that his longtime lieutenant was an honorable man. I`m with him, all the way, he said.

If Donald Trump was with him all the way, in the commission of these crimes, then Allen Weisselberg`s chances of dancing at his grandchildren`s weddings could depend entirely on what he is willing to tell prosecutors, about the man who now says, I`m with him all the way.

Leading off our discussion tonight. Andrew Weissmann who served as chief of the criminal division in the eastern district of New York. He is MSNBC legal analyst.

Also with us, Susan Hoffinger, former Manhattan -- assistant district attorney. She served as a prosecutor in the -- in the trial division and frauds bureau. She`s a white-collar criminal defense attorney now.

Susan, what is your reading of this indictment today? And how much pressure does this put on Allen Weisselberg? That`s what you`d be asking yourself tonight if you were in your old job.

SUSAN HOFFINGER, FORMER MANHATTAN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: For sure. Thank you. Good evening, Lawrence.

Today`s indictment is, clearly, a very broad-ranging indictment, involving 15 years, allegations of 15 years of scheme to defraud taxing authorities. And we are talking about $1.76 million in income that was, either, falsely reported or mis -- or not properly reported. I think with -- it`s -- it`s clearly a very significant indictment.

I think, in terms of the issue of Mr. Weisselberg`s cooperation. Right now, he is looking at charges that don`t mandate a jail sentence. It doesn`t mean that he wouldn`t get one, if he was convicted. But it doesn`t mandate a jail sentence.

I believe that the calculation made by Mr. Weisselberg`s lawyers and Mr. Weisselberg is he is going to fight this, for now. And see what comes down the pike, in terms of additional charges. If he were to have cooperated with the D.A.`s office, you can be sure that the D.A.`s office would have required him to imp hi date not only other people in the larger investigation, meaning, loan fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud, maybe other tax fraud. But he would have to implicate himself, as well, in order to be an effective cooperator. And that`s a larger case.

So, his calculation, at this point, is he`s not going to cooperate, now, on a case that doesn`t require jail to implicate himself in a case that might involve millions of dollars. And perhaps, require jail. So, I think they are going to wait and see what happens with further charges.

O`DONNELL: Andrew Weissmann, we have been discussing, you and I, on this program for a while, the anticipation of this indictment. Now that you have seen it, had a chance to read it, what is your reaction to what you find in it?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So I agree with Susan. And I think a really good sign of that is comparing the public statements of Weisselberg`s attorneys, to those of the company`s attorneys. The company did a full-on attack of the office that reminded me exactly of what, you know, we faced in special counsel investigation.

But Mary, the lead lawyer for Allen Weisselberg, had a very quiet statement that just said, you know, he is going to plead not guilty. And he`s going to, you know, prepare the case for trial. But it wasn`t a full-blown attack. That`s leaving the option open for him to cooperate.

And my read of this indictment is, you know, for days beforehand, we were getting the Trump spin that this was just about fringe benefits. To me, not only is this a very strong indictment, in and of itself, but to me, it reads like a shot across the bow. To have brought this charge now, and to have charged the company means there is more to come. I mean, this is a prediction, obviously.

But all signs of reading this indictment are telling people we are not afraid to bring charges. We are naming other executives in a long-term scheme that began long before Trump was president. During the time he was president and after he was president. There`s no way, in god`s Green Earth, that Donald Trump did not know this was going on. So, to me, this is a very, very powerful message from the Manhattan district attorney`s office.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. And, Susan, we discover it includes good, old-fashioned income-tax evasion because they`re delivering bonuses, salary bonuses, that roughly -- almost half of Allen Weisselberg`s salary in a year is being paid in a false way. In a -- in a way that doesn`t have any withholding on it, at all, sets him up to do all sorts of other kind of deductions that, as an employee, he would not be allowed to do.

HOFFINGER: Yeah. I think what`s one of the significant pieces of evidence in this indictment, which is a speaking indictment, which provides a lot of meat on the bone here. Both, because this is a significant case of public interest. And also, perhaps, to send a message to the Trump Organization, to Weisselberg, and to other employees and executives at the Trump Corp., which is, that there are internal documents from the Trump corporation that show that there was a maximum-set income each year for Mr. Weisselberg.

These benefits were backed out of that number. In other words, those documents show that the Trump organization intended these fringe benefits, these off-the-books payments to be part of his overall compensation and, therefore, his income. I think that`s a powerful piece of evidence that is revealed in this indictment today.

O`DONNELL: And, Andrew, one of the things that`s so striking about the recordkeeping there is they do keep two sets of books. It`s that they actually keep a record, in effect, of the crime.

WEISSMANN: Absolutely. So, you have, you know, basically, it`s Donald Trump and his greed getting the better of him by keeping track of what the, quote, true income is, so that they`re not overpaying their employees. Lawrence, one point I`d like to make, that`s quite striking here, is that the indictment goes out of its way to talk about the fact that there was not just a state and city-tax offense here. But there was a federal-tax offense here.

And that`s repeated, I believe, 30 times in this short indictment, that there is a federal scheme here. And so, the pressure, to me, is on Merrick Garland, right now, to know is he going to put up? Is he going to be investigating this? Because it`s, frankly, an embarrassment, that you have the state of New York pointing out a clear, federal crime.

And, you know, is there going to be additional pressure put on these people, because a federal case will be brought? We know that there is an open civil tax investigation, in connection with Donald Trump that`s been pending for years in connection with his taxes. So it`ll be interesting to see what happens there.

O`DONNELL: Susan Hoffinger and Andrew Weissmann, thank you both very much for starting us tonight, I really appreciate it.

HOFFINGER: Thank you.

WEISSMANN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, more on today`s indictment with a tax-law expert, who says these are serious crimes. And Tim O`Brien, who has been studying the Trump businesses for many years. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: The federal case against Michael Cohen for the payoff of Stormy Daniels included an unnamed person called individual one. Prosecutors say Michael Cohen acted in coordination with and at the direction of. Individual one was, clearly, and obviously, Donald Trump.

In today`s indictment, there is someone referred to as unindicted co- conspirator number one. It is not very clear who unindicted co-conspirator number one might be. There are many possibilities, including someone who might, already, be secretly cooperating with prosecutors.

The indictment says, from at least 2005 through the date of this indictment, the named defendants and others, including unindicted co- conspirator number one, agreed to and implemented a compensation scheme. With the object of enabling Weisselberg to underreport his income to federal authorities and, thereby, evade taxes and falsely claim federal-tax refunds to which he was not entitled. On or before April 5th, 2010, the Trump Corporation, acting through its agent, unindicted co-conspirator number one, underreported Allen Weisselberg`s taxable income for the tax year 2009.

Joining us now, Daniel Shaviro, professor of tax law at New York University law school. Also with us, Tim O`Brien, senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He is author of book "Trump Nation" and he already wrote about Donald Trump`s businesses.

Professor, you tweeted your way on to the show today. When I saw your tweet describing your reaction to these charges, you said this is -- these are serious violations of tax law, that really have to be prosecuted. Why?

DANIEL SHAVIRO, PROFESSOR OF TAXATION, NYU LAW SCHOOL: Well, it`s not really a fringe-benefit case. Some of the spin and the expectation was it`s like if you give a company car to someone and, gee, they didn`t really use it for work all the time. That`s not what this is.

This is kind of like if someone went to his or her boss and said, why don`t you reduce my salary by $5,000 this month but get me $5,000 in an envelope in cash and unmarked bills. That`s what this is. As the previous guests were saying, there is a fixed amount of compensation he is going to get.

And then, it`s reduced so they don`t have to report it. But he gets, in some cases, it was cash. Other cases, it`s tuition. It`s like buying a flat-screen TV. It`s really just a scheme to do sneaky, off-the-books cash instead of reported income.

So it`s nothing to do, really, with fringe benefits. It`s sort of -- again, this is just the allegation in the indictment. It isn`t proven. But it`s about straight-up fraud. Keeping two sets of books and you can`t allow this.

If that happens, basically, no one has to pay taxes anymore. They just do silly things, like have side arrangements and dual sets of books. So it`s really a challenge to the tax system. I don`t see how prosecutors could not charge this, if you run across this. Even if they aren`t trying to get leverage on Weisselberg like everyone`s saying. If you come across this, not to charge it would be rather amazing.

O`DONNELL: And, Tim O`Brien, the indictment is filled with unnamed characters and references to them as the unindicted co-conspirator. And then, there`s references to others and other executives, other high-level executives. And so, the candidates for liability here include Donald Trump`s children. Obviously, include Donald Trump, himself. Who is worried, tonight, as they read this indictment?

TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMP NATION": Anybody in the upper ranks of this very small organization who advised Donald Trump or participated in any of these scams, alongside Allen Weisselberg. The Trump -- the Trump Organization has scores of LLCs under its umbrella. I suspect the Trump Corporation is another one of these entities.

And typically, there weren`t a lot of people at the top of that food chain. It was a -- it was a company that existed on paper. It usually included Allen Weisselberg and some constellation of the three children. So, to the extent of unindicted co-conspirator number one is -- is someone in the Trump Corporation. And that mirrors other LLCs the Trump Organization typically constructs. It`s possible the children are in danger there.

I think, the other issue that`s going -- will come on, very soon, with the weight of this indictment, is -- is people will start to rat one another out, possibly. I think this is an organization. We have talked about this before. There is not a lot of loyalty. Everyone understands that Trump saves his skin, before anyone -- anyone else.

And I think a chill probably went down the spines of -- of people in senior ranks at the Trump Organization when they read this. I think a lot of the spin around this, as being a frivolous suit without a lot of ammunition behind it got dispelled today. This is the very early stages of this investigation. And a lot of people could be cross -- caught up in its crossfire.

O`DONNELL: Professor Shaviro, Andrew Weissmann just raised the question of what do federal prosecutors do today when they pick up this indictment and read it? And to be fair to them, the Manhattan prosecutors are the very first prosecutors who`ve had the tax returns of Donald Trump`s company and Donald Trump to study for criminal behavior. So, of course, they would be the first ones to find it. But what they found includes a federal crime.

SHAVIRO: Yes. No, it`s kind of funny because the New York state basis for the charges that it`s defrauding someone. So it could be that someone who is indicted under this statute defrauded you or defrauded me or defrauded someone else on the show. Instead, it was the federal government.

So, they fined -- the New York state people find federal income tax fraud, which is undeniable, if the facts of the indictment are proven. And they just kind of -- it`s embarrassing for the feds, although as you say, maybe they didn`t have access to it. It also seems to be stuff that, once you look at enough documents, it`s just right there and there is no denying it. Again, if the -- if the indictment is provable.

So, yeah, I don`t see how they can not charge, on this basis.

O`DONNELL: And, Tim, that`s what`s so striking about the indictment is that you can see how this case can be made be -- be -- so well because it is on paper. It is right there. And -- and the man responsible for it all is sitting in the courtroom, Allen Weisselberg.

O`BRIEN: You know, that`s an important thing to remember about the entire sweep of this case, Lawrence. I don`t think a special-grand jury would have been convened and -- and the D.A.`s office targeted a former president, if they didn`t have a lot of other paperwork in their hands, already. That -- that goes to some of these other-possible crimes we`ve discussed, bank fraud, tax fraud, accounting fraud, falsification of business records.

And Allen Weisselberg worked, hand in glove, with Donald Trump for decades, creating the kind of paperwork that that company sent out to banks, other lenders, and the media, to present this mirage around who Trump was. We deposed Donald Trump for two days in 2007. And that deposition is full of - - of his acknowledgment that he and Weisselberg worked closely together on these kinds of issues.

O`DONNELL: Professor Daniel Shaviro and Tim O`Brien, thank you, both, for joining this discussion tonight. Really appreciate it.

SHAVIRO: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up. Donald Trump is now the target of three important investigations, including the ongoing investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. And a new one started by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, today.

John Heilemann joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is now the subject of a new investigation. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named eight House members to a newly created select committee that will investigate the Trump mob`s attack on the Capitol, which the House, already, determined was incited by Donald Trump.

The speaker named seven Democrats including former-impeachment prosecutors Adam Schiff, Jaime Raskin, and Zoe Lofgren and one Republican, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was one of only two Republicans who voted to create this select committee.

That means as of tonight, Donald Trump is a target in three important investigations: the new House committee`s investigation, the Manhattan district attorney`s continuing investigation, and the grand-jury investigation in Fulton County, Georgia run by district attorney Fani Willis studying evidence of Donald Trump`s possible violations of election laws there by trying to interfere with the counting of the votes.

Joining us now is John Heilemann an NBC News and MSNBC national affairs analyst, host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus", and the host of the "Hell and High Water" podcast from The Recount.

John, Donald Trump is famously an insomniac. Tonight, seems like one of the nights where sleep is going to be very hard for him to come by.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. He`ll be up watching Don Lemon over and over again because he likes to hate-watch that on the other network.

You know, Lawrence, I was going to say, as you were going through the investigations, I was thinking that you and I have both been investigated a fair amount in our lives. And I`m not sure whether you spent time behind bars, but I have.

I don`t think I have ever been the target of three investigations simultaneously. So, I think Trump`s probably -- you know, he`s faced some bad situations and obviously, you know, the biggest problem for him is that he no longer has the shield of the presidency.

And you can see him, just in the way he is dealing with the -- the -- the difficulties he is in right now. You can see how desperately he`s already - - he`s, like, trying to think about how I can get back in that White House again, so that I could have the immunity from -- from prosecution.

He`s clearly -- I mean, we have seen Trump wig out a fair number of times but it`s -- there is a particular kind of new quality to the -- to the manic nature that he is reacting to these investigations in which we can talk about more, if you like. But I find it really interesting.

O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean, for example, he actually has scheduled on Saturday a rally in Sarasota, Florida. Another Trump rally in Sarasota, Florida. This would be post-indictment.

The Governor Ron DeSantis, has sent word, please, don`t do that. So, they`ve got a conflict there. The governor`s saying don`t do it because we have a mass-casualty event we are still recovering from fairly --

HEILEMANN: Right.

O`DONNELL: -- you know, close by in Surfside, where President Biden was today.

It`ll be -- you know, this -- this is another test of -- I don`t know what it is -- the Trump psyche, whether he actually tries to have that event, while they`re still searching for bodies on Saturday.

HEILEMANN: Well, I mean obviously, you know, we know that Trump doesn`t care at all about the search for the bodies. He doesn`t care at all about any human life or any of the -- the -- the family members or anybody that`s impacted in a human way.

I think this is a really simple one, Lawrence. Trump has been listening to people say that Ron DeSantis is the next Trump for the last-six months. And I would say the thing that will most induce Trump to do this event is if Ron DeSantis continues to tell him not to do this event.

Trump, I am -- I mean, I bet every dollar in my bank account, which isn`t nearly as much as in yours and, you know, who knows, in terms of Trump`s it could be completely empty.

But I bet a lot of money that a lot of what`s motivating Trump in this particular case is the combination of him needing to be in front of large crowds and feel better about himself and exert some kind of -- in his mind, at least, exert some kind of political power.

And the particular kind of rivalry that is brewing with him and Ron DeSantis right now. There is -- I mean, you see DeSantis winning these straw polls. And that sort of -- Ron DeSantis is a sane-Donald Trump is the new line among Republican political strategists.

Trump`s hearing that and it`s making him crazy. And I think there is a reasonable chance he will end up going through with this to spite Ron DeSantis and to spark a feud with Ron DeSantis so he can have a big war over who is the real king of Florida.

O`DONNELL: So, John, does Allen Weisselberg look like the G. Gordon Liddy of this story to you? Liddy, of course, being the one Watergate burglar who would never crack and never turn on the Nixon conspiracy>

HEILEMANN: Well, I liked your analyst in the "A Block" tonight, Lawrence, who said that I think it makes sense. I think that -- I think he is G. Gordon Liddy until -- until the time gets to be too significant.

I think, you know, if you put Weisselberg in a situation where he might have to spend the rest of his life -- he is not a young man -- potentially, the rest of his life or the rest of his semi-productive life behind bars, I think that will be the test to his G. Gordon Liddyness (ph).

I think he is inclined to be G. Gordon Liddy. But there is a limit on a lot of people who think they`re going to be G. Gordon Liddy. It`s like that Mike Tyson thing. You know, you always have a plan until you get hit in the face.

You always have G. Gordon Liddy, until you face -- until you face actual jail time.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, my G. Gordon Liddy. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

HEILEMANN: All right, Lawrence. Good to see you.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, DNC chairman Jaime Harrison, will give us his reaction to the Supreme Court once again weakening the Voting Rights Act today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Today the conservative majority on the Supreme Court once again weakened the Voting Rights Act for the second time in eight years in a 6-3 decision.

The court upheld two voting restrictions in Arizona: one requiring ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be thrown out, and the other, limiting who could collect and deliver ballots to polling sites.

Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the laws violated the Voting Rights Act because they disproportionately impacted minority voters.

But today, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the laws did not place a burden on minority voters that would prevent them from voting. Quote, "The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote."

In a scathing dissent Justice Elena Kagan accused the conservative majority of rewriting the law beyond what congress had intended. "What is tragic here is that the court has yet again rewritten in order to weaken a statute that stands as a monument to America`s greatness and protects against its basest impulses."

Election law expert Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at University of California Irvine says the court`s decision today, quote, "makes it harder to prove intentional racial discrimination in passing a voting rule making it that much harder for DOJ to win its suit against the new Georgia voting law."

In a statement today, President Biden said how deeply disappointed he was by the ruling. And added, quote, "The court`s decision, harmful as it is, does not limit Congress` ability to repair the damage done today. It puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength.

Joining us now is Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Jaime Harrison, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Mr. Chairman. You are a graduate of Yale Law School. You know how to read these opinions. What was your reaction?

JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, thank you for having me, Lawrence. Listen. This was a kick to the gut. It really was.

And I think Justice Kagan in her dissent, put it perfectly. In essence what the court did when they made their decision, they poured old poison into new bottles. We know the poison of Jim Crow. We know what has happened in the past, in terms of how minorities in this country have not always enjoyed the same voting rights that other Americans have.

And we know that Justice Roberts, this isn`t his first bite at the apple. Shelby was his first bite at the apple, and this has been a lifelong dream of his -- to chip away at the Voting Rights Act.

But you know what, Lawrence, we`re not going to sit around wringing our hands, crying into some handkerchiefs.

We have to mobilize, and we have to fight. We got to get people registered to vote. We got to educate them on why it is important to vote. We got to mobilize them. And then, we are going to protect every damn vote that we can, that we will at the ballot box. And that`s what we have to do.

O`DONNELL: Does this put more pressure on the Democrats in the senate to change the rule on the 60-vote threshold so that they can actually pass a bill that protects these voting rights?

HARRISON: I think the president put it perfectly. Like this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Congress to act. You know, the Supreme Court that`s filled with folks who like to call themselves strict constructionists, right, who -- who follow the letter of the law, and they did everything to subvert the letter of the law.

They went all around the legislative intent. They went all around the history behind the Voting Rights Act. To come up with some arbitrary five - - five-factor test that I -- I don`t know where they found it, to -- to in essence, weaken this law.

But again, this ball is now in congress`s purview. They have to act. And we are going to work very, very hard with our Democrats in the United States Senate, in the United States House to act. We have to do that in order to protect the rights of so many Americans.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the president said today in reaction to this and mentioning some of the other elements in some of the other restrictive voting laws that Republicans are passing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is mildly positive in the sense that there`s a remedy available, based on the particular voting decision. I think that it is critical that we make a distinction between voter suppression and suspension.

The ability of a state legislative body to come along and vote their legislature vote to change who is declared the winner, I find to be somewhat astounding. But the Supreme Court rule -- did not rule that way, today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The president focusing there on the vote-count process after the votes have been cast and how that has been changed in Georgia. That is being -- they are attempting to change that in Texas. That seems to -- seem -- seems to him, to be one of the scariest elements of this. The way Republican legislatures are trying to reach in and put new controls on how they count votes.

HARRISON: That`s exactly right. This is the little, dirty secret in these - - in these voter suppression laws that we see popping up across the state by these Republicans.

You know, they want everybody to be outraged about the fact that, you know, they`re putting -- they`re criminalizing giving somebody a bottle of water. But the real, real rub is that they are trying to make a determination that it`s going to be Republican legislatures making a determination on which votes are counted and which are not.

Lawrence, that -- there is nothing about that is American. That is something that you find in -- in Putin`s Russia. And so, this autocratic mess that we see in the Republican Party.

I don`t even recognize this other party. They love to talk about integrity and everything else. They don`t know what damn integrity is. Because when you are trying to take away the most fundamental, sacred right we have, as American citizens. Something is fundamentally wrong with you. And that`s why Americans have to stand up.

O`DONNELL: DNC chairman Jaime Harrison, thank you very much for joining us on this important night. We really appreciate it.

HARRISON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Surfside, Florida and was with the president today when he spoke with the families of the people who were in that apartment building when it collapsed last week.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz joins us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Search and rescue efforts resumed today in Surfside, Florida after a pause to allow structural engineers to inspect the stability of the remaining structure in the building collapse there. 18 people are now confirmed dead. 145 people are still missing.

President Biden met with elected officials including the state`s Republican Governor as well as first responders and rescue crews.

And then the president met with families of the victims of those -- and those who are still missing, and the president had extended personal conversations -- extensive personal conversations with those people for almost three and a half hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It used to drive me crazy. When they would say, I know how you feel. And you know they meant well but you know they had no idea, none.

No matter what the outcome, no matter what the outcome, when you love -- the people you love, the people you may have lost, they`re going to be with you your whole life, part of your soul, part of who you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That audio was recorded by someone at that meeting. There were about 200 people at that meeting. President Biden said it was important for him to meet with every person who wanted to speak with him.

After that meeting, the president described the uncertainty that the families are now facing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It`s bad enough to lose somebody. But the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they`re surviving or not. Just not have any idea.

When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was, were my boys going to get out? Were they going to make it? And not knowing.

And what amazed me about this group of people was the resilience, their absolute commitment, their willingness to do whatever it took to find -- to find an answer. I walked away impressed by their strength.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: On the way to the airport to return to Washington, the president and the first lady made an unplanned stop to pay their respects at a neighborhood memorial, commemorating and honoring the victims of the building collapse.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Debbie Wassermann Schultz. She represents Florida`s 23rd district which includes Surfside. She was with the president today.

Congresswoman Schultz, you were with the president today including when he was speaking to the families. What was that like to be in that room with the president and those people who were suffering so much this week?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D-FL): Lawrence, it was one of the most moving experiences that I have had. You know, I came home from D.C. as soon as we heard about the building collapse and have been really here through most of the whole week on the ground, with these families whose -- their hearts have been torn out.

I mean imagine -- it`s unimaginable what they are going through. And the president did by starting off talking about his own experience with tragedy, which we know is significant.

And then literally, for three and a half hours, I watched him go knee to knee, family to family, and pull right up to these people who are in the most horrendous pain. Looking into the eyes of someone who has lived through horrendous pain like that.

And his visit helped them, helped us reenforce that not only are we having -- taking a whole of government approach to making sure that we can get these families through this, from search and rescue that continues, to helping them get through every bit of this crisis. But to also thread some humanity through what is really ultimately going to be a lot of overwhelming bureaucracy. That is the magic of Joe Biden.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to something the president said later to reports when they were asking him about his meeting -- meetings with government officials and others in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: There`s no disagreement, no bickering, everybody`s on the same team. It`s what America`s all about. It`s about pulling together, leaving nobody behind. And that is what made me feel, the one thing made me feel good about this is the cohesion that exist. There is no Democrat or Republican out there. There are just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: This is his first encounter as president with Governor DeSantis, and it worked -- what as I looked as professional as you would expect in a situation like this.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: You know, at the local, state and federal level we have been working seamlessly. There is no -- as we`ve been saying consistently - - there`s no daylight between many of us. Obviously, we have our differences of opinion -- strong differences of opinion on lots of different issues.

But when it comes to taking care of our people here in Surfside, people who have been through the most horrific tragedy, literally the stuff of nightmares where the building that your loved ones are sleeping in coming down around them, and now they are buried under it.

The focus on searching for survivors is number one. Number two is taking care of the families. And number three is going to be making sure that we get to the bottom of how this happened and do everything we can at each level of government to make sure it never happens again. We`re all committed to working on this and doing that together.

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: The governor specifically thanked the president for how smoothly the coordination has been with the federal government. Do you have everything you need there now in terms of government support?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: We have -- President Biden really approved in record time -- I mean by the end of the first day, all the resources that they need for FEMA to provide in a disaster have been provided and we`re going to have a lot of other things we need. But the president has committed to see this through all the way to the end as have we all together.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz, I`m very sorry for the loss that your community is suffering and what this has meant for the people there. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Thank you, Lawrence. Stick with us because we`re going to need help every step of the way.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Thank you very much.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

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