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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/14/21

Guests: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)


After the Trump mob`s attack on the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. Future historians will find nothing that illuminates the depravity of Donald Trump more vividly than his lie that he lost hundreds of friends on 9/11 -- a lie so vile that even Donald Trump is afraid to repeat it. We are five minutes away from polls closing in the California recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: After the Trump mob`s attack on the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, and said, quote, "I hope you can prevail in the insane snake pit of the Oval Office and the crazy family as well. You`d think there`d been an intervention by now. The Republicans have blood on their hands and everybody who enables him to do what he does has blood on their hands and the traumatic effect for our country.

This man is a nut and everybody knows it and nobody will act upon it. We have been taken over by a dictator who used force against another branch of government, and he`s still sitting there. He should have been arrested. He should have been arrested on the spot. He had a coup d`etat against us so he can stay in office. There should be some way to remove him."

During the call General Milley repeatedly said he agreed with Speaker Pelosi. General Milley promised the speaker that he personally would block any attempt by Donald Trump to use nuclear weapons or launch any kind of military attack on another country in order to create a crisis that he would then try to use to keep himself in office.

All of that is revealed in the new book "Peril", co-authored by "Washington Post" journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. According to the book two days after the attack on the Capitol, General Milley called his counterpart in the Chinese military to try to maintain calm between the two countries when it seemed so chaotic in Washington.

General Milley said, quote, "We are 100 percent steady. Everything`s fine, but democracy can be sloppy sometimes." General Milley assured the Chinese general that Donald Trump would not attack China as a way of trying to hold on to power.

According to the book, General Milley said this. Quote, "General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we`re going to attack, I`m going to call you ahead of time. It`s not going to be a surprise."

Donald Trump issued a written statement tonight saying that if General Milley said that, he should be charged with a crime for, quote, "telling China that he would be giving them notification of an attack."

The book described General Milley convening a meeting with top military leaders to review a procedure for launching nuclear weapons. At that meeting General Milley said, quote, "No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process, and I`m part of that procedure."

Then he went around the room, asking each officer for confirmation they understood, looking each in the eye. Got it, Milley asked? Yes. Yes, sir. Got it, he asked another. Yes, sir. Milley considered it an oath.

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

Also with us Maria Theresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino and MSNBC contributor.

And John, here is General Milley once again a major source, in a book telling about what it was like in the snake pit, as Nancy Pelosi calls it, with Donald Trump. General Milley now the focus of Donald Trump`s wrath again with this statement tonight saying that if what he is saying in here he actually said, then General Milley should be charged with a crime. The Milley versus Trump battle continues.


JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, Lawrence. It is like a battle of an adult -- not just an adult but an adult who is supremely concerned, scared, terrified, petrified, mortified about the state of the country in the moments after the November election and particularly in the moments after the January 6th insurrection.

That adult trying to make sure that the child -- and worse than child -- the demented child in the White House would not wreak havoc or cause vengeance, wag dogs -- whatever possibilities were running through Donald Trump`s mind. I think that`s how you can characterize it here.

You have someone who cared a lot about the country and someone who cared nothing about the country and only about himself, and Milley`s story as conveyed by this book, vividly and other books that we`ve had in the last couple of months has been very consistent throughout.

And I will say, you know, you have Trump now, the thing that you know Trump enjoyed most about that statement, Lawrence, is that he got to call General Milley dumbass in the statement, which is kind of just about a good illustration of why General Milley was so concerned about the state of affairs in that period.

And I will say once again reading the accounts, we all now learn every time one of these stories comes out how much closer to the brink we were than we understood and how much we owe people like General Milley and others, the few remaining adults in charge at that point for having the country`s best interests at heart and being there in case the worst happened.

O`DONNELL: Maria Theresa, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa`s reporting Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6th, which by the way, was the only thing he could do. I`m not sure why anyone gets credit for doing the thing that`s the only thing you are legally allowed to do, and we call that the right thing.

But he did it only after desperately trying to find a way to do the wrong thing and help install Donald Trump in a false second term. There`s a passage here about with Mike Pence speaking to former vice president Dan Quayle, who was the last Republican vice president who had to in effect be part of a certification of his own ticket`s loss of the reelection campaign.

And so here is Dan Quayle telling Mike Pence, Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away, Quayle said.

Pence says, I know, that`s what I`ve been trying to tell Trump, Pence said, but he really thinks he can. And there are other guys in there saying I`ve got this power. And Quayle interrupts and said, no you don`t, just stop it.

Maria Theresa, one of the interesting investigative roots for the January 6th committee in the House is who were the other guys? Who were the other people in the White House who Pence is referring to right there, who were saying that Mike Pence does have this power?

MARIA THERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think first before we go there who would have thought that it would be Dan Quayle to save our democracy, Lawrence? That was absolutely not on my bingo card at all.

But in all seriousness, I think there`s a lot of Republicans that are -- have whispered behind closed doors but at the end of the day that actually came forward and said, he had this authority.

I would say that Ted Cruz was one of them. Anybody who voted against the certification that day of January 6th -- those are the Republicans that behind closed doors on the congressional side were saying that the president had this authority.

Then you also have more information in the book where it was that he -- he knew, Pence knew that it was the wrong thing to do, but he has allowed himself to be bullied on perhaps what was going to be the most important day of his life.

He left a legacy, but it was because he was pushed by a previous vice president who had done the exact same action to do the right thing.

And to what you said, Lawrence, there is no congratulations for doing his job that is demanded by the constitution. If anything, we should be -- we should actually have a moment of pause that he even had to have a conscience through Dan Quayle to do the right thing.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, you are in Los Angeles tonight. I am assuming that Sunday night`s episode of "The Circus" on Showtime will be all about the recall.

HEILEMANN: I wouldn`t say necessarily say all about the recall, Lawrence, but we will have a decent chunk about it. I was out there with Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom and Eric Garcetti and Jamie Harrison, a bunch of other -- the whole Democratic state, local and to some extent national leadership in Long Beach last night.

And as you know, it is my home state, Los Angeles my home city so I`m happy to be out here. But we are using the recall to get at some larger themes, talking about a lot of this backlash against the Biden administration`s vax mandate and the fact is that Larry Elder doing what he is doing right now, bringing the big lie to California, creating a slightly less big lie, but letting us know, putting us all on notice that this is now SOP for the GOP. We`re going to be seeing it in 2022, 2024 and beyond. If Republicans are losing they`re going to claim fraud and that`s is another one of the unfortunate legacies of Donald Trump.


HEILEMANN: And we`re going to see it, I`m afraid -- well, we have already seen it here, but we`re going to see it I think in an even louder way tomorrow if Gavin Newsom prevails as we now all expect he will.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann reporting from Los Angeles tonight. "The Circus" returns Sunday night to Showtime.

Maria Theresa Kumar, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Thank you both.

KUMAR: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, it is rare for Donald Trump to speak without Lying. It is even more rare for Donald Trump to stop telling a particular lie that he has already told. We will show you the lie that Donald Trump said once and never again. The lie that even Donald Trump is afraid of repeating.

That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Captain Patrick Brown ran into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 leading his team of firefighters from Ladder Company Three.

After the South Tower collapsed the fire department ordered firefighters to evacuate the North Tower. In a recorded radio response to the order to evacuate the North Tower, Pat Brown said this.

"This is the officer of Ladder Company Three. I refuse the order. I have too many burned people here with me and I`m not leaving them."

That is the kind of pain and loss and heroism that was being commemorated on Saturday at Ground Zero by President Biden and two former presidents and thousands of the loved ones of people who lost their lives on 9/11.

President George W. Bush joins the commemoration in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 was brought down by the heroic passengers who did not let the hijackers fly that plane to Washington where it could have destroyed the Capitol or the White House.

Donald Trump did not participate in any of the commemorations. He dropped by a fire station very close to his Manhattan home for a photo-op with a few firefighters. He told a few jokes there before heading off to Florida for a payday on 9/11 as a commentator for a pay-per-view boxing match which "The New York Times" described as, quote, three hours of Trump recalling different boxers he`d known and been friends with before two depressing top bouts, both over in the first round, each of which featured one washed-up fighter beating another.

The man who claims to be a billionaire did that on 9/11 because he apparently thinks he needs the money. In the reports of Donald Trump`s visit to the fire station near his home, it does not appear that he told the firefighters any of his usual lies about his experience on 9/11. He told a new one last week on one of the more obscure Trump-supporting TV networks.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I was down there right after the event and I brought a big crew of people down. And I helped, a lot of other people helped.

Those first responders are very brave, and I`m telling you, we were hearing creaks. I have never forgotten it. There was, I think the United States Steel Building it was called at the time and it`s 50 stories tall, and we heard creaks. I said, that building is going to come down. And two big firemen grabbed me and grabbed other people and they just moved out of that area. Never came down, but I`d never heard a noise like that.


O`DONNELL: No, he never heard a noise like that because that never happened, none of that happened. It is all a lie. He was not down there right after the event. He did not help. He did not hear any creaking building.

What he did do after 9/11 was lie about contributing to charitable funds for the victims of 9/11. And Donald Trump told his worst lie about 9/11 when he was running for president in 2016.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center fell down?

TRUMP: The world -- excuse me -- I lost hundreds of friends.


O`DONNELL: As soon as he said that during the South Carolina debate I tweeted that that was a lie. I knew it was impossible that Donald Trump lost hundreds of friends on 9/11. Donald Trump was following my tweets closely in those days because I was just about the only member of the news media at that time who was calling his lies "lies".

He attacked me on Twitter, of course, but he paid attention to my tweets in those days. And so the next morning on "MEET THE PRESS" he changed his line about losing hundreds of friends on 9/11.


TRUMP: I was there. I lost many, many friends in that tragedy.


O`DONNELL: And as soon as he said that I tweeted that that was also a lie. Donald Trump knew he was caught in that lie, but he also knew that I was the only one who caught him. And so he never said it again.

For less than 24 hours Donald Trump lied about losing friends on 9/11 and then never said it again for fear of being caught by all the major news organizations in that despicable lie. Donald Trump lost zero friends on 9/11. Donald Trump attended zero 9/11 funerals -- zero.

But Donald Trump tried to steal the grief of all the families who lost someone on 9/11. He tried to steal the grief of all the thousands and thousands of people who lost loved ones and dear friends and co-workers on 9/11.

Donald Trump tried to steal their grief so that he could exploit that grief as his own in a political campaign debate.


O`DONNELL: Presidential historians search for clues to the character of American presidents. Future historians will find nothing that illuminates the depravity of Donald Trump more vividly than his lie that he lost hundreds of friends on 9/11 -- a lie so vile that even Donald Trump is afraid to repeat it.


O`DONNELL: We are five minutes away from polls closing in the California recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom. Earlier today Governor Newsom spoke with NBC News Jacob Soboroff.


GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): I`m really proud of the progress we`re making as a state, our resilience, our ability to be led by science, open argument. I have the backs of every Californians, even those who voted for this recall because I care about them. I care about their families. I care about their loved ones and they communities. And I have a responsibility to each and every one of them as well.



O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. She`s a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

And Congresswoman Bass, the exit polls look good for the governor. All the pre-election polling look good for the governor. But it is a recall, it`s very difficult to poll. It`s very difficult to predict.

We are minutes away from getting huge dumps of votes, the mail-in ballots will be reported very early.

What is your expectation tonight?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well my expectation is that we`ll know something pretty quick. You know, today is the day the election ends. We`ve actually been voting for weeks. And I do think that we should know something pretty quickly.

And I feel good about it, I`m excited. You know, we were worried a few months ago that Democrats weren`t really motivated but I think Larry Elder helped motivate people because the choice is very clear -- sanity or insanity.

O`DONNELL: Larry Elder clearly is not going to concede. He won`t be giving a speech tonight or ever saying that he lost this election and Gavin Newsom was properly maintained in office by the voters of California through their choice.

What does that mean to California politics, to American politics generally that Republican candidates now will not ever concede defeat?

BASS: Well, I think that it is showing us consistently across the nation that they are trying to fundamentally undermine our democracy.

You know in California we have over 60 recalls going. People can barely take office before they`re being recalled. This is the sixth attempt to recall this governor.

And so what I`m concerned about and I think we need to look at, is this a strategy in a blue state where you`ll just grind government to a halt through the tactic of using recalls?

We really need to take a step back and examine this process. But what I`m very hopeful is that tomorrow we will begin discussion about reforming this process because it is very broken.

O`DONNELL: In July this looked very risky for Gavin Newsom, the polling was very, very close. It looked like it could have been possibly a Democratic Party strategic mistake not to have a recognizable Democratic name on the list of alternatives to the governor just in case the recall passed.

The Democratic voters had basically no one to vote for on that ballot, but it seems as though the governor will be able to hold on -- hold on by a substantial margin according to what we`re learning in exit polls so far.

But what does it mean to Democratic Party politics generally? Are there lessons here for the Democrats in California?

BASS: Well, I do think there are, and the number one lesson is that we have to reform this process. Because basically you have to get a certain number of signatures, right? But this has now developed into a business. So all you have to have is a couple of major donors and you can get signatures to put anything on a ballot in California, not just the recalls but also valid initiatives that make no sense.

So we`re going to spend close to $300 million when Lawrence, the election for the governor, the re-election is nine months away. If you don`t like him, then vote him out at re-election.

And again, if you know you can`t vote him out, you need something like recall to have happen. And that`s why the entire process needs to be examined and reformed.

O`DONNELL: There`s been a lot of talk recently about you possibly running for mayor of Los Angeles. Do you have a time table for making a decision about that?

BASS: Well, I will tell you, Lawrence, this was not something I was thinking about, but I am giving it serious consideration now because we have a very bad humanitarian crisis going on in Los Angeles with over 40,000 people in the city -- 60,000 if you include the county who are living on the streets.

And I`m very worried especially after my last four years in Washington, I want to see us bring this city together, not tear it apart with the type of divisiveness that has taken place in this recall.

So beginning tomorrow we need to first reform the process because frankly no one is going to run for office if as you get elected you get recalled before you`re even able to move in.

So that`s going to be my first order of business. But I will make a decision soon.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Karen Bass, we`re less than a minute away from polls closed in California. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BASS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

And we are now 30 seconds away from the polls closing in California. Stay tuned for more coverage of the California recall election on MSNBC. We will have actual returns very soon.



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

Day 238 of the Biden administration.

It is as we`ve been covering tonight election night in California.