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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/2/21

Guests: Adam Goldman, Tim O`Brien, Steven Dennis, Celine Gounder, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld


The House Oversight Committee has released new evidence from the Trump Justice Department that could be the smoking gun in criminal investigations of Donald Trump`s attempts to commit election fraud, and overthrow the presidential election. The U.S. Senate unveiled its 2,700- page bipartisan infrastructure bill. On Saturday night, Senator Lindsey Graham says he, quote, "started having flu-like symptoms". Senator Graham attended a gathering on a boat in the Potomac River which is the Washington, D.C. home of Senator Joe Manchin. Yale Business professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says we have never seen anything like the long list of major American companies who are now refusing to make political contributions to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the presidential election.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Lawrence, I have to say, we report on really interesting things. But -- but that conversation with -- with Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, it`s inspiring. You know, his -- his view is that there are lots of Americans like him. He is not a standout. There are lots of people in government, and you know this better than any, who are actually prepared to take a stand and -- and suffer the consequences.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: That -- that`s exactly what I wanted to mention to you, Ali. It was really a great interview, and I am so glad that you let it breathe and go on, as long as it did. And I, especially, like the part which we could never hear, before now, of what his life is, now, and what his life is going to be.

We all knew about what he lost. We all knew about the military career he lost, as a result of bravely crossing Donald Trump. But to hear where he`s headed was so encouraging. And -- and that -- that, in itself, was inspiring. That -- that he is turning in -- what`s happened to him into a positive direction in his own life.

VELSHI: He has never doubted, even though it has cost him, heavily, he has never doubted the decision to do the right thing. It was -- it was heartening -- Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: Have a good show.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, very bad things happen to Donald Trump when people see his tax returns and Donald Trump knows that, which is why he always tries to prevent anyone from seeing his tax returns. But Donald Trump has suffered another, big loss in his lifelong campaign to hide his tax returns. The Trump Treasury Department and the Trump justice department violated the law and lied about the law, by refusing to allow the IRS to hand over Donald Trump`s tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neil.

The law on this could not be simpler. It has no exceptions. The law requires the IRS to hand over any tax returns, requested by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Those are the two tax-writing committees in -- in the Congress.

The chairs of those two committees have unique, legal authority to demand to see tax returns. They have an authority that the president doesn`t have. The president cannot demand to see tax returns. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee can.

Two years ago, Chairman Neil demanded to see the Trump-tax returns. And now, the Justice Department has purged itself of the lies that the Trump Justice Department told, to withhold those tax returns from the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And the IRS will be forced to turn over the Trump tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as soon as this week.

Donald Trump`s lawyer issued a classically stupid statement, breathtakingly stupid statement, that has become the trademark of all-Trump lawyers. He told "The Wall Street Journal" that he objects to the IRS, actually, complying with the law, and giving the tax returns to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. And he raises this objection, not only on behalf of my client but on behalf of all future holders of the office of president of the United States.

Now, if you are 50 years old or younger, every president of the United States during your lifetime has made their tax returns public. All those presidents have handed over their tax returns to you. All, except one. All, except one. The last time Donald Trump`s tax returns had to be handed over was when the Manhattan district attorney obtained Donald Trump`s tax returns in February of this year.

Four months later, exactly-four months later, Donald Trump`s company was criminally charged with tax crimes. And Donald Trump`s lifelong accountant was in handcuffs, charged with tax crimes. That were found in those Trump- tax returns that were handed over to the Manhattan district attorney.

The House Oversight Committee has released new evidence from the Trump Justice Department that our first guest, tonight, says could be the smoking gun in criminal investigations of Donald Trump`s attempts to commit election fraud, and overthrow the presidential election.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Goldman says any state or federal prosecutor can use these statements against him. The evidence is handwritten notes by the then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue who was listening to Donald Trump`s telephone conversations with the then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.


The notes indicate Attorney General Rosen was asking Donald Trump to understand that there was nothing that the Department of Justice could do to change the outcome of the election. Quote, understand that the DOJ can`t and won`t snap its fingers, and change the outcome of the election, doesn`t work that way. The notes show that the president of the United States responded, just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the R. congressmen.

Later, in the same phone call, the notes show Donald Trump saying, DOJ failing to respond to legitimate complaints/report of crimes. You guys may not be following the internet, the way I do.

Those Justice Department notes will, surely, be used in the House Select Committee`s investigation on the attack on the Capitol and the weeks leading up to that attack.

Yesterday, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a member of the committee, said he wants to know exactly what Donald Trump was doing, every moment that the Capitol was being attacked.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I would support subpoenas to anybody that can shed light on that. If that`s the leader, that`s the leader. If it`s anybody that talked to the president, that can provide us that information, I want to know what the president was doing, every moment of that day. After he said I`m going to walk with you to the Capitol, after Mo Brooks stood up and said we`re going to kick back and take names, today is the day that, you know, patriots take their country back from other people. I want to know what they were doing because that`s going to be important.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight is Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was the lead counsel for the House Intelligence Committee during the first impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump.

Daniel Goldman, let me ask you about -- as -- as evidentiary-smoking guns go, how smoky is this one? And let me just read these department of justice notes, once again. This is the president. President Trump saying, just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It`s pretty bad, Lawrence. It`s pretty, pretty far up there, in terms of the smoking gun, particularly, because we know that the president committed various acts that, if he -- if, with criminal intent, could be -- could amount to a crime. The real question here, that everybody is wondering, is what did Donald Trump know, in the lead-up to January 6th? And what did he intend, through his speech on January 6th, his inaction after the Capitol was stormed, and what did he know in advance of it? And these notes really shed a lot of light on what was in his head, which is always the most difficult thing to prove in any prosecution.

And the fact that he is demanding that the Department of Justice just say that the election was corrupt, with no factual basis to support that, demonstrates that his intent in opposing the election. And in everything that he was doing was done with corrupt means, with a corrupt intent. And that is where you get mens rea, which, in the criminal law, is the necessary intent to charge someone.

So, now, the federal and state prosecutors, if there are federal prosecutors looking at this, and we know there are federal prosecutors looking at January 6th. Now, they go back to what the elements of their specific crime, that would be applicable to Donald Trump`s conduct. And they would have to determine whether he met all of those elements. But this gets prosecutors a lot closer to the most difficult element, which is intent.

O`DONNELL: So, let`s say, you`ve got a grand jury going in Fulton County, Georgia, which they do. District Attorney Fani Willis is presiding a grand jury there. Possible election fraud by Donald Trump based on the taped- phone call to the Georgia secretary of state, in which Donald Trump is saying, find the 11,000 votes. Find the 11,000 votes.

What he does not say, on that tape, at any point, is I`m sure if you conducted an absolutely accurate count, you would find those 11,000 votes.


And that, of course, would be what the Trump defense would claim he meant.

But when you combine the actual words we hear on that phone call, with this set of notes saying, just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me. Leaving the rest to me sounds like, I`ll make the phone calls to the secretaries of state, and whatever the rest is. It sounds like the rest is what he was doing in Georgia.

GOLDMAN: Lawrence, you`ve got a future as a prosecutor but -- because that`s exactly the way that a prosecutor would think about it. What are the defenses? If you see those words on a transcript, how could they be interpreted? And find me the votes sounds, based on what we know about Donald Trump, like he`s asking him to do something wrong or something improper or illegal.

But there`s a legitimate explanation that -- that he -- what he meant was, you know, just do a recount and see what you can find. But when you combine it, with his efforts -- with what he said to the Department of Justice, around the same time, that just say that the election was corrupt, without any factual basis, forget about whether it was or not, just say it. Then, you can apply that to what he said to Brad Raffensperger, just as you said, and it becomes much more nefarious.

And that`s why these notes and, I`m sure, there`s more, Lawrence. I mean, "The Washington Post" reported that he was calling over to the Department of Justice every day in the lead-up to January 6th.

And do you think that Brad Raffensperger was the only Republican official, in any of the states that he was trying to overturn -- in which he was trying to overturn the election that he was calling? Of course not. He brought in the Republican legislators from Michigan to the White House to try to convince them to overturn the election.

I am certain that if you dug a little bit deeper, what is not public is a lot more conspiratorial comments, like what he said to the Department of Justice.

O`DONNELL: Well, another place where there`s more, you know as a prosecutor, if you -- if you got these notes. And you`re looking at an investigation of Donald Trump. You know that they`re just notes, and they`re actually incomplete sentences and there`s symbols, instead of words. And so, in fact, it is entirely likely that Jeffrey Rosen or Donoghue, the people who were hearing this phone call, actually, have more words in their heads than are put down in the writing there, and that, these notes simply refresh their memory to other lines that could be, also, very incriminating and very informative that might not, actually, be in the written notes.

GOLDMAN: Well, that`s always possible. And, you know, the fact that Donoghue is a professional and took contemporaneous notes is -- is very helpful because it will allow him to refresh his memory. But you make a very good point, Lawrence. There`s more in those notes that we aren`t even talking about, which is that Donald Trump admitted that he was a keen observer and reader of the Internet.

Now, you know and -- and I know, now, that before January 6th, there was a lot of internet chatter about plans to storm the capitol on January 6th. And the big question, in impeachment 2.0, was did Donald Trump know about those plans?

And we -- there were no witnesses and there -- it was impossible to figure that out. But he is here admitting that he is a very -- he`s very attentive to the Internet. Far more so than the Department of Justice.

Well, I don`t think that gets you all the way that you need to get to, to - - in order to demonstrate that he knew what the plans were, before January 6th. But it is, certainly, very helpful.

O`DONNELL: Daniel Goldman, thank you very much for your legal expertise on these notes. Really important. Thank you.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: And joining us now is Tim O`Brien. He is senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He is the author of the book "Trump Nation." He was sued by Donald Trump, in 2006.

And he, of course, won and crushed Donald Trump in court. Tim, there`s such an interesting through line here going back to Colonel Vindman, who appeared in the previous hour with Ali Velshi.

You`ll remember, in the Ukraine situation, Donald Trump was on the phone simply trying to get them to say that they were having an investigation of Joe Biden in -- in Ukraine. They didn`t even have to have the investigation. He just wanted them to say that they were having an investigation.

That`s an echo of what we`re seeing in these Department of Justice notes. Just say you, at the department of justice, just say there was something wrong with the election. That`s all you have to do. You don`t actually have to do the work and find anything wrong with the election.

TIM O`BRIEN, SENIOR COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG OPINION: That`s actually, also, happening in a -- in a -- in a theatrically-grotesque way in Arizona, where you have this sham recount going on.


And Republican officials from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have -- have visited Arizona to watch that process, Lawrence. And I think, they don`t really care if, at the end of the day, they find evidence of wrongdoing. It -- the mere act of calling the election into question is enough to raise doubts in their voters` minds that (INAUDIBLE).

That was, of course, behind the allegation around the big lie. We`re in this moment, in which Donald Trump, who is -- is the most nefarious performance artist ever to inhabit the Oval Office is using that -- that kind of performance art in a number of realms, I think, to overturn the rule of law and democracy.

O`DONNELL: Tim, I always want to talk to you when new inside information about Donald Trump emerges, especially when it`s quoting Donald Trump in operation, because you know him better than almost all reporters, and you have had dealings with him, unlike any other reporter has. And so, when I - - I have a feeling that, when you read those notes, those Department of Justice notes, it`s a very different thing than when I read them. I`ve never had a conversation with the guy.

And so, you -- you read those notes. What do you -- what does it tell you about the Donald Trump that you know?

O`BRIEN: That, you know, he -- I don`t think anybody really -- I don`t think enough people understood when Donald Trump got elected, the extent to which he is willing to corrupt everyone around him. And to overthrow institutions, norms, and the law, in order to get his own way.

And he does it in small and large ways, every minute of every-waking day of his life. It`s how he operates, and there`s very few people who exist in that orbit around him who don`t, either, become co-opted or corrupted by it. And you saw this, day in and day out. And what he wants to do, first and foremost, though, is always establish a fall person, a fall guy or a fall woman, who goes out and jumps into this trench, first, and appears to be the main actor, and while they go out there, and they take the brunt of, either, the criticism or the risk for doing it. He`s in the background, like a puppeteer, actually, doing the dirty work.

And in that -- in that note -- in the notes from the DOJ, that Rosen took, you see that happening in real-time. Just go out there, and send up the flair. Tell them you are doing this, and I will take care of the rest. I`m good at this. I`ve done this all the time. I`ve been doing it for five decades, and I can do it now.

O`DONNELL: Tim O`Brien, thank you, very much, for joining us tonight. Always appreciate it.

O`BRIEN: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up. Senator Lindsay Graham was one of the 17 Republicans w who voted to proceed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But today, he tested positive for COVID-19. And will be isolating for ten days, when he will miss voting on that bipartisan infrastructure bill, which appears to be moving steadily along the track in the United States Senate, tonight.

That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Infrastructure week doesn`t get more official than this. The United States Senate began the week, today, by formally bringing an infrastructure bill to the Senate floor. This is the infrastructure week that Donald Trump talked about, but could never come close to achieving. No committee of the House or Senate ever even considered a Trump infrastructure bill because Donald Trump never delivered a Trump infrastructure bill to the House or Senate.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of what is happening on the Senate floor, tonight. We are seeing senators act, as legislators, for the first time in many years. In the 21st century, the leadership of both parties in the Senate has usurped the legislative process, and made it their own. Committees stopped functioning. Committee chairs stopped writing legislation and virtually all legislation originated in the Senate Majority Leader`s office.

So, miracle number one, tonight, is that the Senate has returned to legislating on the floor of the Senate, instead of the majority leader`s office. And the other miracle of the night is that the senators working on major legislation in a real-bipartisan way. We had a right to believe the Senate would never work this way, again. And this might be the last time it works, this way.

The very next bill Majority leader Chuck Schumer has promised the Senate will work on, will be a completely partisan, Democrats-only infrastructure bill that will be much bigger than the bipartisan bill the Senate is working on tonight. As promised, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought a bipartisan infrastructure bill to the Senate floor, today, after a long weekend of work by Senate staff that put the bull -- the bill in legislative language, which, in the end, made it to -- made it 2,702-page document.

That work, of drafting a bill, is often falsely attributed to the senators who have negotiated the legislation. But in truth, they delegate the drafting of the bill to staff, including the nonpartisan professionals at the legislative counsel`s office, who know how to turn hopes and dreams into the language of laws.

In an unusual act of giving credit, where credit is due, this weekend, some of the bipartisan senators involved in negotiating the bill, in effect, acknowledged that they delegated writing the bill to their staffs when the senators admitted they attended a party, Saturday night, on a boat docked in the Potomac River.


Republican Lindsey Graham was at that party, Saturday night, and he tested positive for COVID-19 today after, first, feeling what he called flu-like symptoms Saturday night. We`ll have more on that, later.

The Senate adopted two bipartisan amendments today. An amendment offered by Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican Senator John Thune to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry and an amendment offered by Democratic Senator Alex Padilla and Republican Senator Jerry Moran, amending the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act to expand the funding authority for renovating, constructing, and expanding certain facilities. A Republican amendment, offered by Senator John Barrasso, with no Democratic co-sponsor, was defeated.

"The Washington Post" has new reporting on how the bipartisan bill came to be. Quote, as an earlier set of talks between Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito was grabbing headlines in May, the White House was in touch with a separate group of ten senators that had begun its own infrastructure discussions. Once the Biden talks with Capito collapsed, the White House turned its attention, fully, to the group of ten senators which, until then, had kept an intentionally-low profile.

In the final days before announcing last week`s final breakthrough, senators and the White House delegated the last stretch of talks to two seasoned Washington operators, Senator Rob Portman and the White House Steve Ricchetti. It was a conscious decision with Biden wanting to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen at a pivotal moment.

Joining us now, John Heilemann, NBC News and MSNBC national affairs analyst. He is executive editor of "The Recount," where he hosts "The Hell and High Water" podcast. Also with us, Stephen Dennis, Senate correspondent for "Bloomberg News".

And, John Heilemann, it`s the old days in the Senate, once again, at least for this week.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Lawrence, I`m thinking about, like, back in, like, 1993, 1994, when -- when I lived down there, and you lived on Capitol Hill, and rode around on a motorcycle and were the most powerful staffer on the Senate side. It`s really like nostalgia time. And I know you and I both had a lot of doubts that we would get here.

And I still don`t think this think is home. I mean, we know how complicated it`s going to get. Now, you know, all of the -- the worries about the Senate, about whether they could do what you just described, vividly, that we haven`t seen in such a long time. Not just the legislating but the legislating in this bipartisan way.

Mitch McConnell having apparently concluded that the politics here are such that he`s at least willing to help Chuck Schumer in the normal way, to get to make business happen in the Senate, and get this bill through. Get over the house, where the atmosphere is more toxic than -- I mean, it`s -- it`s always toxic and crazy over there. But I would say, over the weekend, things got toxicer and crazier, and I think things are going to get -- are still -- still, a lot of complexity in making -- trying to land both these planes at the same time.

And AOC, over the weekend, made clear how hard it was going to be. But, boy, is it something to watch the Senate? I`m feeling -- like I`m feeling like a young man, again, at least for tonight.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. Steven Dennis, you are watching every move the Senate makes on this. In fact, we are relying on you to catch everything that we miss, which is a lot. But so far, it`s going very smoothly. The -- the biggest bump in the road, so far, is that Lindsey Graham has COVID and will be out for the next ten days.

STEVEN T. DENNIS, SENATE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yeah. I mean, unless there`s a big outbreak in the Senate, this thing is going to pass. You know, they had 67 votes to move to the bill. And that number could grow. When you think -- when you actually read through this bill, the 2,700 pages, there is something for every state, for everybody who drives on a road or drinks clean water or goes to an airport.

It -- it`s packed with goodies. It`s packed with things that the business community wants, the Chamber of Commerce wants, the unions want. So, it -- when -- when you don`t have a whole lot of pain in a bill like this, you know, you can just kind of see the -- the train heading down the track.

And the real question, right now, is in the hallways is not whether this thing is going to pass. It`s how long the Republicans are going to sort of force them to go through amendments and, you know, debates. And I believe, you know, once this thing to be debated for the next two months and, of course, he is never going to vote for this bill. So, that`s got groans from the -- from the Democrats.


There is a funeral on Friday for Mike Enzi so that`s sort of, potentially, a deadline where they might try to wrap up either the bill or the debate on the bill on Thursday. And then maybe, you can finish it up on -- over the weekend.

And -- and then immediately head to the budget resolution, that all- Democratic effort that`s going to tee up this fall of a much bigger bill. But they still don`t have that written. They still don`t have Joe Manchin onboard. I talked to him about it today. They still have a lot more work to do before they leave for the August recess.

But you know what? All these senators are happy. You know, senators haven`t been happy the last four years. Whether they`re Republicans or Democrats, they -- they`ve had to deal with pesky questions that, you know, when they get to work. What about this tweet? What about that tweet?

You know, this is sort of what Joe Biden kind of promised that he would bring the parties together. And see if he could come up with a deal.

And it looks like he`s getting a lot closer to that -- to that promise. It`s -- it`s a big package. It`s the kind of package that Trump could not get done, even though -- you know, if he really wanted to, he could have. And -- and Washington hasn`t seen, in a long time.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: John, I`m -- I`m so good -- so glad Steven used that word, happy. It is so true, that -- that if you let legislators legislate, that will make the same ones happy.

Now, in the Senate, that leaves out a good dozen, at least, on the Republican side, who -- who will probably vote against this.


O`DONNELL: Yes. But that is what we are seeing. Joe Manchin echoing -- Steven said that could be 80 votes for this. Could be 90 votes for this.

But, John, there is a really interesting, political calculation here and that is Donald Trump, who has -- you know, he`s gone silent. Maybe, he`ll come back on this. Maybe he sees a loss -- he recognizes a loss when he sees it.

But he tried to stop the Senate from even considering this bill. He tried to use all of his muscle and threatening -- threatened all the Republican senators about voting to proceed to this bill.

17 of them just defied him, and proceeded to this bill. He knows he lost that vote. Does Donald Trump stay active and stay loud about this? So that he can then publicly lose another infrastructure vote in the Senate?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think, um, first of all, yes. Legislators like to legislate. I would say that Steve knows more about the Senate than I do, at this -- certainly, at this hour.

But I`ll -- I`ll say this. I think it`s more than four years that these senators have been unhappy. And it goes back at least eight -- at least eight maybe back to -- I can`t remember in this -- in this century, in this millennium, where there`s been a happy United States Senate.

That`s been a miserable place to work for a lot of people. You know, especially younger members, people like Michael Bennet. You know, where years ago, a decade ago, we`re talking about how horrible it was to work in the Senate. What a poisonous, toxic environment it was.

So it`s amazing to see people happy. I think part of it is legislating, Lawrence. Part of it is another thing Steve said which is this is what they used to talk about. I`m not going to say this is bill is loaded with pork. But I am going to say that like goodies for everybody on the left and right and 50 states making sure everybody gets to take something home is the old model to why I used to say that infrastructure was bipartisan because everybody likes bringing money home, right? And the payfors aren`t that painful.

So look, I mean I think that the Trump question is, you know, we have learned that Trump has enormous power over the Republican Party when it comes to their pure politics.

What he has never had much power over is over the operational elements of how policy gets made or not made. And you can go back to the attempt to defeat Obamacare -- to repeal Obamacare in the very first months of the Trump administration to see the first instance of that.

Where Trump lost when it came to actual on the ground policymaking when there was any legislating done. When Trump tried to exert his will, he often didn`t succeed.

And I think, Lawrence, the fact that he is still out there trying, as an ex-president, tells you that he`s going to keep trying. Because he sees there -- there`s some political advantage in doing this. And I think he is going to ride the house, and going to try to split Democrats.

He is going -- he wants to have a voice in all this and I think the fact that he`s lost that one vote, it would be a rational man would sit back and recognize the loss when he sees one.

He`s not a rational man and I think he is going to try to have -- he is going to still try to take more whacks at this thing before it`s over.

O`DONNELL: Steve, as you look at the Republicans in the Senate, how many of them will basically follow Donald Trump`s orders on -- on this vote? And how many of them will be doing that because they`re angling for the next Republican presidential nomination?

DENNIS: Yes. I mean, I think anybody who is running for president these days is running to the right. So you know, I wouldn`t expect somebody like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley to be embracing Joe Biden -- a Joe Biden infrastructure package. They want to have something to run against him on.


DENNIS: So, you know, we`re -- I wouldn`t expect anybody who is thinking about running for president -- and that could be, you know, five or ten Republican senators -- frankly, to vote for this.

But you know, I -- I think one thing to watch with Trump is once this thing comes out of the Senate and it`s over in the House. You are going to have Mitch McConnell and other Republicans sort of pounding the table to have her bring it up for a vote. And that`s going to be the big question is whether she can withstand that.

She is going to have a lot of House Democrats who want this package to come up for a vote. And is -- is Trump going to just stand by and like, take Nancy Pelosi aside or something and hold this thing hostage?

I don`t -- I think it`s just going to be a very weird position for him to be in once this thing gets over into the House.

O`DONNELL: Well, Nancy Pelosi knows, right now exactly how she is going to handle it. And I`m sure she will handle it the way she intends to handle it.

Steven Dennis, John Heilemann -- thank you both very much for joining us tonight.

DENNIS: Thank you.


O`DONNELL: And coming up Senator Graham says he`s sure his COVID symptoms would be much worse if he had not been vaccinated. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: On Saturday night, Senator Lindsey Graham says he, quote, "started having flu-like symptoms". Senator Graham attended a gathering on a boat in the Potomac River which is the Washington, D.C. home of Senator Joe Manchin.

Initial reports of the event called it a party. But Senator Manchin prefers to call it, quote, "a gathering".

Senator Graham and Senator Manchin are both fully vaccinated. And Senator Manchin says, everyone else at the gathering was fully vaccinated.



SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Yes, maybe. Not quite.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bipartisan senators?

MANCHIN: Bipartisan. Yes. They`ll tell you if they wanted to. If they wan you to know who they are, they`ll tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean senators obviously -- you guys weren`t mearing mask and (INAUDIBLE).

MANCHIN: We were outside. Ok? And we were all -- everybody`s been vaccinated. So you know -- and then, you know, I talked to Lindsey today. He`s fine. He`s all good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long did y`all go?

MANCHIN: What do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long was the event?

MANCHIN: I don`t know. Whatever it takes to eat --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple of hours?

MANCHIN: -- whatever it takes to eat a hamburger or two.


O`DONNELL: Senator Graham now takes his place in that rare group -- fully- vaccinated people, who then get infected with COVID.

Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: As of July 26th, the CDC received 6,587 reports of breakthrough infections that resulted in hospitalization or death. among 163 fully- vaccinated million people. That is a percentage of 0.01 percent or less.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Dr. Celine Gounder, an internist, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital.

And Dr. Gounder, I just want to go back to what Senator Manchin said for a moment. Just to -- as an illustration for people. He -- Saturday night, he`s had people over. A dozen, he thinks, senators and maybe a few more people. Let`s call it 15 people over.

Outdoors, he says. Um, Saturday night. All, vaccinated. And was there a risk? We now know that Senator Graham probably had COVID then. He tested positive for COVID on Monday. It was Saturday night when he was feeling sick Saturday night.

What`s the threat level at an event like that for vaccinated people?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Lawrence, this is in fact a very low-risk event if in fact all of this was happening outdoors as we`ve been told. This was a group of all fully-vaccinated people.

And the risk of a breakthrough infection -- so infection not disease -- breakthrough infection is only 0.01 percent. Of those who have a breakthrough infection, your risk of disease, hospitalization and death are much, much lower even still.

So this is, in fact, a very low-risk event for all those who attended. I would just add that, if you are at an outdoor event where people are very closely crowded together or sports venue, for example, or lollapalooza, as we have seen the pictures this week -- that would be a different story. But from what we are hearing, this was a low-risk event.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what CDC Director Walensky said today about the delta variant.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: If you get sick with the delta variant we estimate that you could infect about five other unvaccinated people -- more than twice as many as the original strain.

In all of this there is still good news. Our vaccines are working to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death.


O`DONNELL: What does the delta variant -- what should the delta variant do to our behavior? And let`s talk about both categories, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated obviously.

DR. GOUNDER: Look. The delta variant is different. I think that`s the key takeaway message here. It is more transmissible. If you have the delta variant, the -- you can infect twice as many people. That`s because the levels of virus that you carry in your nose, in your throat if you have the delta variant, are a thousand-times higher than they would have been with early forms of the virus.

So if you imagine, you`re just carrying with you that much more of the virus. You are sneezing out that much more of the virus. It`s going to be that much more contagious to people.

And also, it may result in more severe disease. We are seeing younger people, even children now hospitalized and getting quite sick with this. And so, this makes the delta variant a much more significant threat to anybody who is not vaccinated.


O`DONNELL: We`ve finally, as a country, reached the level that President Biden was hoping we`d get to on July 4th -- 70 percent. 70 percent of people, 18 years and older, have at least one dose of the vaccine at this point.

And I want to go back to a statement Lindsey Graham made about this infection that he`s gotten as a fully-vaccinated person. Senator Graham is 66 years old. And he issued this statement saying, "I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse."

Is -- is that message getting through?

DR. GOUNDER: I, certainly, hope it is. You know, by vaccinating people, we`re not going to prevent every single infection. Vaccines are not perfect but they are very good at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death.

A lot of people compared COVID to the flu early on. To be very clear, COVID is not the flu. But we can turn COVID into something more akin to the flu. More like a regular winter cold, through vaccination. And -- and that`s the key -- through vaccination.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

DR. GOUNDER: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: And coming up: What has happened to those giant corporations that have stopped making political contributions to the Republicans who voted to overturn the presidential election? Yale Business School professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says those companies are doing great.

That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Yale Business professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says we are seeing, quote, "unprecedented civic engagement from America`s corporations". He says we have never seen anything like the long list of major American companies who are now refusing to make political contributions to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the presidential election. A long list of America`s biggest corporations are also condemning laws proposed and enacted by Republican state legislators to restrict voting.

Professor Sonnenfeld studied what has happened to the companies that have taken a public stand in opposition to those Republicans who oppose democracy. Professor Sonnenfeld writes "The vast majority of corporations are sticking to their pledge not to support those Republican objectors and that stance is not hurting their market performance. In short, political wokeness works."

Joining us now is Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at Yale School of Management. He is a CNBC contributor he is my long time friend since his days as a student at Harvard Business School.

So we will be dropping the professor title tonight Jeff.

Jeff, what I was really struck by, many things in your article about this, in your study about this.

Number one, the companies who said they would do this are really doing this. The refusal to make the political contributions. A misstep by Toyota but then Toyota quickly corrected itself.

JEFFREY SONNENFELD, PROFESSOR, YALE SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: That`s exactly right, Lawrence. There`s some myth making out there, much of it fed by the right, attacking these CEOs as woke wimps somehow suggesting it`s all empty pr, and sadly some on the left have also fallen into a trip of suspecting these business leaders are cynical or just doing this for some pr value.

But in fact 85 percent of them have held to their commitments and some of those who unfortunately made their pledges, made pledges and then it looked like they reneged.

It was just the flow of the money across the January 6th date. So that explains some of those 15 percent. And like you say, some like Toyota got caught on reneging and have come back around after they were held accountable to it.

So it`s remarkable. It`s remarkable that thousands of major employers enabled millions of workers, first time in American history, to have paid time off to go to the polls and do and work and volunteer -- to support at risk volunteer poll workers and things.

So it is -- it is a very important time. And seeing why CEOs are seen as among the most trusted sources of authority in American society right now which is quite a move from where we were a decade ago.

O`DONNELL: You write, "Business leaders can have the courage of their convictions and not suffer for it." And what I`m wondering about and you know these people. You know them personally. they know you on a first name basis. You are respected by all of them.

Is it real or is it is business positioning that`s going on here? Is this - - is this the courage of their convictions and other executives convictions within the company and workers within the company or is it a kind of business positioning of sorts?

SONNENFELD: There can be some Lawrence, that are artificial and showcasing. For most of it, it`s real and there`s some degree of self-interest in here.

First, you take a look at the financial performance of these firms who signed these petitions and made these pledges. They are out performing the S&P and their total shareholder return is very high. Half of them have beaten the total shareholder return of the Standard & Poor`s indexes and things. They have done very well financially.

But these CEOs, for the most part, they are not racists. They`re not isolationists. They`re not nativists. They`re not protectionists.

They believe in social harmony. They don`t want angry communities and workers divided pointing fingers at each other and angry shareholders and consumer boycotts.


SONNENFELD: It`s what Tokyo called this back in 1830, social capital is as important as financial capital. It`s in their self-interest.

When you see some say, stay in your lane, mind your business. This is their lane. This is part of their social context, part of their strategic context to business.

O`DONNELL: And it seemed to take a lot to bring them into this space. It`s not like they have been kind of, you know, eagerly jumping in to our politics. This was a crisis in democracy itself that made them take this stance.

SONNENFELD: Yes, it is a crisis in democracy. I wound up having a couple of emergency meetings which I didn`t call, but CEOs asked me to call, November 5th. You remember, of course election night was Tuesday November 3rd. Thursday, November 5th was when President Trump on the air with unprecedented claims of authority he didn`t and assertions that many political historians like Tim Snyder (ph) from Yale and others called literally a coup d`etat some CEOs at that time thought that that was overblown rhetoric but they were armed.

And you name it, from pharma to finance, manufacturing to retail, telecom to transportation -- they were texting me saying hold us together. I said why don`t you use the trade groups. And they said, they have got complex agendas.

I think what they meant to say, they`ve all got reputations. And since I got nothing to lose but they since pulled them together and they started meeting. So we have had four of these informal groups sometimes with as little as ten hours over the night and across the political spectrum. Most of them are Republicans and yet, they came out very firmly in their stance. So it`s remarkable.

O`DONNELL: We have got to leave it there. We are up against the clock. Jeff Sonnenfeld, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

SONNENFELD: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: We will be right back.




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