IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/10/21

Guests: Chris Coons, Neal Katyal, Bharat Ramamurti, Alessandra Biaggi, Clay Jenkins, Brian Higgins


Republican senators ignored Trump`s primal screams to follow his orders and join with Democrats to give President Biden the big bipartisan infrastructure deal that Donald Trump failed to get. New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned just one week after the state attorney general`s office released a report accusing him of sexually harassing 11 women. The coronavirus delta continues to wreak havoc in states with low vaccination rates and Republican leaders are making matters worse. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to strike down Governor Abbott`s ban on mask mandates. Politico reports that former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that Donald Trump called him late December, pushing a potential lawsuit to throw out the election results in six states. New York state is about to have its first female governor.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: The coronavirus delta continues to wreak havoc in states with low vaccination rates and Republican leaders are making matters worse.

In Florida today, NBC News reports that 14,787 people were hospitalized for COVID. Nearly 90 percent of the state`s ICU beds were in use and 85 percent of all patients` beds were filled. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis still refuses to impose safety measures to protect his constituents.

But someone in Florida recognizes the state needs help. The federal government just fulfilled a request to send 200 ventilators other and supplies to Florida to help with the surge in COVID hospitalizations.

Over in Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is still banning mask mandates. Despite that he`s now asking hospitals to stop non-emergency medical procedures to free up space for COVID patients and he`s bringing in out of state health care workers to help with the surge.


VELSHI: Two of Texas` largest school districts, Dallas and Austin are fed up. They`ve chosen to impose mask mandates in defiance of the governor. And Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to strike down Governor Abbott`s ban on mask mandates.

Joining us now is Dallas County Clay Jenkins. He`s the highest elected official in Dallas County, Texas. Judge Jenkins, good to see you again.

We went through this last year because the governor of Texas imposed similar restrictions on mandating and shutdowns and masks and things last year and a number of judges and localities challenged the governor at the time.

Where do things stand?

JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: Well Ali, it`s good to see you again as well and thanks for having me.

Moments ago I received an order from a judge granting a temporary restraining order against Governor Abbott allowing me the opportunity to require masks at our schools and businesses. And so I`ve taken a break from talking to business and educators and others to talk to you but I`ll continue doing that tonight until the last person has gone to sleep.

Then we`ll do it again early in the morning with an ad awards (ph) getting an order out sometime in the first half of tomorrow.

VELSHI: So this has just happened, a judge has said to you, you have a temporary restraining order against the governor`s mandate?

JENKINS: That`s correct. In the last few moments, that has happened. I just put it on Twitter before coming on to talk to you and as I always do, I`ll talk to the business, education, health care communities and get their feedback. But we will be issuing an order tomorrow and it will be in keeping with the doctors` recommendation that we need to wear a face mask while we`re indoors.

VELSHI: And of course, you had filed -- the parents -- of the 12 children in Dallas County had filed a lawsuit. You`ve also filed a separate lawsuit. Is this temporary restraining order with respect to those lawsuits that have been filed?

JENKINS: Well, the children deferred having a hearing today so the judge could spend more time on my hearing but the children`s desire is that schools require face masks and after listening to the superintendents of all the districts tomorrow and the doctors, I think there is a good probability that is exactly what I`ll do.

VELSHI: We have anecdotal evidence. We`re talking to doctors and pediatric hospitals across this country. And they`re saying that there seems to be some impression people have probably from last year that kids don`t really get sick from this and when they get sick, they don`t get all that sick.

The anecdotal numbers we`ve got are that they do. Kids get this -- kids get COVID. Kids under 12 can`t vaccinate. Kids under 12 living in homes where people are not vaccinated are getting COVID and it`s serious. There are kids on life support. There are kids on ventilators in hospitals. You would think that part would sort of get past partisan politics.

JENKINS: Ali, let me give you a statistic. There are 19 counties in our combined metro area. That`s 7.7 million people. And today we had two -- that is two pediatric ICU beds in those entire 19 counties.

That means for every car wreck, every mishap, every COVID patient who is a kid, there is two beds. You may have to drive 120 miles to get to it, but there were two beds.

Doctors are already making decisions on kids and adults that would not even cross their mind as far as limiting care a month ago. But they`re already having to make those decisions now because of the shortage.

We don`t have the maximum amount of people we`ve had in the hospital. That occurred last winter but because the governor pulled the temporary staffing and employee getting the Democrats to come back to vote on voter suppression that left the state to go to D.C., we have less staff at our hospitals now than ever before. And the situation in our hospitals is worse than ever before.

But this is not about politics, it`s about public health. The enemy is not Governor Abbott or Governor DeSantis. The enemy is the virus. We all need to do everything that we can to defeat that virus.

I`m hopeful that these governors who are not listening to the doctors will listen to the doctors who have trained their entire adult lives to advice us at this moment --


JENKINS: -- and our only hope of beating COVID.

VELSHI: Judge, thanks for being with us. Thanks for the news that you got and congratulations on that. I hope you succeed in getting some people around there to handle their mask situation and prevent the spread of this any further than it needs to be.

Clay Jenkins is the judge in Dallas County. Thanks for being with us.


VELSHI: All right. Coming up, new and alarming details about what Donald Trump was doing in the runup to January 6th as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to interview another key witness -- a Georgia United States attorney who resigned after pressure from Trump to overturn the election results.

Neal Katyal joins us next.


VELSHI: There is new reporting tonight on what Donald Trump was doing in the days between election day 2020 and January 6th, 2021.

Politico reports that former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen said that Donald Trump called him late December, pushing a potential lawsuit to throw out the election results in six states.

"Why, the then-president wanted to know, wasn`t the Justice Department doing more about the election? The complaint modelled on the Texas suit would have urged the Supreme Court to declare that the electoral college votes from six key swing states lost by Trump cannot be counted because of baseless allegations of fraud and for the justices to order a special election for president be held in those states."


VELSHI: Rosen says he shut Trump down. Then on January 3rd, Trump called Georgia`s secretary of state telling him quote, "I just want to find 11,780 votes," which of course is the exact number of votes Trump would need to have overturned Georgia`s results.

Imagine that. He actually called and asked him to do that. And on that call, Trump referred to a quote "Never-Trumper U.S. attorney who is now believed to be B.J. Pak, then the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia.

Now the day after that call, that U.S. attorney B.J. Pak abruptly resigned, reportedly after pressure from the Trump White House.

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will interview B.J. Pak behind closed doors following its recent interviews with Rosen and former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue.

Joining us now is Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general. He`s an MSNBC legal contributor. This plot thickens -- has thickened so much, Neal. It has gone from being the sort of haphazard attempt that there are people who were not willing to call it a coup attempt into something that very much was a coup attempt.

It was an absolute plan that involved people at the highest levels of our government and now we`ve got this B.J. Pak. And we don`t know exactly what his role was but he disappeared after Donald Trump called the secretary of state to ask him to change around some votes in Georgia and tomorrow he`s going to be interviewed.

You are an expert at this. What would you ask him?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I think Ali, you know, suddenly quitting your job two weeks before a departure date is a red flag in any workplace. And if that workplace is a federal prosecutor`s office, it`s more like a blaring siren.

So what I want to know is I want to get to the bottom of that. Why did you resign? You know, what were the contacts between Trump or the Justice Department high level officials and you?

Did this Jeffrey Clark figure, this environmental civil lawyer, you know, who evidently was in cahoots with Trump, did he play any role in this? You know, the night before he resigned, the deputy -- acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue had a phone call with you, what was in that phone call? What was discussed? You know.

And most importantly, you know, B.J. Pak resigns on January 4th, the day after it was revealed that Trump had pressured Georgia secretary of state Raffensperger to find me 11,780 votes.

So I want to know basically did Pak know about that? What was his reaction to that? Was his resignation in any way related to that?

VELSHI: And it does seem that between Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue and B.J. Pak we`re getting some answers. I mean even -- we don`t know of them -- everything`s leaked and that`s how we`re finding it out.

But they`re all saying that they were told to do something that they thought was either at best wrong and at worst highly illegal. What happens now? How does this unfold in your opinion? Where does this go next? It feels to me this has to exist outside of the political realm and move squarely into the criminal realm?

KATYAL: 100 percent. So there is stuff and answers we know and there`s stuff we don`t know. We know Donald Trump filed a bunch of bogus lawsuits. We know Donald Trump, as you said Ali, at the lead up of your show, you know, that he held a pep rally on January 6th. We know Trump maneuvered with Jeffrey Clark, this lower level Justice Department official to try and throw out the election results. We know that the acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen rejected this garbage.

We know that Trump still calls the election results bogus and illegal and supported lawsuits in his fundraising even after his attorney general told him these lawsuits are going nowhere.

We also know about the 11,780 votes you know, that phone call to the Georgia official. And we know the next day that B.J. Pak resigns. We know a lot of stuff.

But we don`t know why did Pak resign? What were the contacts between Trump and the Justice Department, the full level of contact. And most importantly to get to your question, we don`t know where the Justice Department right now stands on this. We don`t know what Merrick Garland is doing about this.

As we speak, the Justice Department`s investigating and prosecuting all sorts of low level, you know, drug dealing across this country and, you know, here we have one of the most hugest crimes imaginable, disenfranchising millions of people and we don`t know where the Justice Department --


VELSHI: Yes. This might be the big one, right? This might be the big one. They came really close. There was an actual plot to overthrow a democratic election. They came really close.

And what I don`t know, Neal, at this point is whether there is anything protecting it from happening again other than good people who will say I`m not doing this or the B.J. Paks of the world who quit -- I don`t know whether the institution can prevent this from happening again.


KATYAL: Thank you for saying that, Ali, because you know, Trump`s M.O. was to basically appoint people like B.J. Pak who were relatively obscure, not people you know, very prominent lawyers, appoint them to big positions like federal prosecutors in Atlanta and then lean on them to do his dirty work.

Now Pak it looks like, we don`t know but looks like he wasn`t willing to do that. But you know, if he acted differently, if you know, Jeffrey Rosen acted differently. If any of these people, just a couple of them, changed their mind, everything could be different and we could literally have had a coup, which is why an investigation is so, so important.

Not a political one, as you say, just tell us the facts, tell us what happened and then we can adjust our system accordingly.

VELSHI: Neal, good to see you. Thanks, as always. Neal Katyal.

Coming up, Kathy Hochul will make history in two weeks when she becomes New York`s first woman governor. We`ll talk to the Democrat who holds her old congressional seat about what kind of leader she`ll be.



VELSHI: New York state is about to have its first female governor. Today Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul released a statement saying, quote, "I agree with Governor Cuomo`s decision to step down. It`s the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers.

As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York state`s 57th governor."

Kathy Hochul will have more to say tomorrow at a press conference in Albany. She`s a native of Buffalo and once served as a staffer to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

She served on the Hamburg Town Board. Then as Erie County clerk before winning a special election in one of New York`s most conservative congressional districts in 2011. She became Cuomo`s deputy governor in 2015.

"The New York Times" describes her style as the polar opposite of Governor Cuomo`s noting that she, quote, "has established deep reservoirs of political good will, spending much of her tenure on the road highlighting the administration`s agenda and engaging in extensive on the ground politicking. She`s taken pride in visiting each of New York`s 62 counties each year and has friends across the state," end quote.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins. He represents Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul`s former congressional district in western New York.

Congressman Higgins, good to see you. You know, I was saying to Rachel, you`re kind of like a Canadian congressman, right. You`re on the border there when guys like me went from Toronto to Buffalo or upstate New York. That`s where we would -- we`d cross into your constituency.

REP. BRIAN HIGGINS (D-NY): You would do that.

Kathy Hochul is motivated by big challenges. And she`s inspired by great ideas and good people. And she`s going to be a great governor of New York.

VELSHI: Tell me about your work with her and how you got to know her.

HIGGINS: Well, she`s a friend and colleague for 40 years. Always been inspired by her idealism, her commitment to public service and her work ethic. And the people of New York, as a governor, will come to know her very, very quickly and will be impressed by the same things that impressed me so many years ago.

VELSHI: It`s a hard situation to take over from something like this because it is so fraught with distraction. And it`s brought everybody -- sort of brought the worst in everybody out because it`s -- there`s been such pressure on the governor to leave.

What does -- what do you think, what do you recommend, what do you imagine that she`s going to do to sort of put her stamp on New York?

HIGGINS: Kathy, based on her personality, based on her upbringing in Buffalo in Western New York is a stark contrast to what we have. She`s compassionate, but she`s tough. And she will be a great governor.

As you`ve mentioned at the outset she has served in every level of government -- local, county, state and federal. And she`s well prepared for this opportunity. The job of lieutenant governor is -- and it`s (INAUDIBLE) to prepare yourself to become governor at some point. She`s done that.

And I think people can look to Kathy for a great inspiration, a great sense of duty, and she`ll be a great governor for New York state.

VELSHI: As an observer from a side given that you`re part of the congressional delegation, how broken is New York Democratic politics right now?

HIGGINS: Well, all politics are broken right now. And you need people on both sides of the aisle to rise above the fray.

I mean (ph) Kathy has demonstrated over three decades of public service the ability to rise above the fray, to focus in on issues that matter to people regardless of their political persuasion. She will be an outstanding governor for New York state and for all people.

VELSHI: Were you taken by surprise when Governor Cuomo resigned today? I know the entire New York delegation, kind of everybody, even people who had been on Cuomo`s side for a while after this report came out said we`re done. It`s time to go. Were you surprised that it actually happened?

HIGGINS: Truthfully, no. I think the evidence relative to what the governor had done was overwhelming. And I think it was just a matter of time.

Somewhat surprised it was this early, but I think, you know, the earlier the better to get out of the way and to allow Kathy Hochul to do what she is very, very capable of doing and that will prove to the benefit of everybody in western New York who is very, very proud of her.

But also for the entire state of New York and for the nation. New York is a special place, as you know, with its own unique tradition and Kathy Hochul will serve the people of this state in an extraordinary way. I couldn`t be more proud of her as a colleague and a friend.

VELSHI: Congressman, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it. Congressman Brian Higgins is the Congressman for New York 26 up by Buffalo. This is Kathy Hochul`s former district when she was a member of Congress.

That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again.

Day 203 of the Biden administration. And on this day we watched the three- term Democratic governor of New York Andrew Cuomo announce his resignation.