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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, December 15, 2020

Guests: Steve Schmidt, Ben Stiller


Attorney General William Barr is leaving office next week for reasons that are more than a bit mysterious. The Food and Drug Administration confirmed Moderna's analysis that its new coronavirus vaccine is 94 percent effective. The latest thing in charitable fund-raising is the Zoom call with your favorite celebrity or the celebrity you can afford.


STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And to see that -- to see that great American idea and ideal trampled on by people who have breached their oath to preserve and protect it is just appalling over this month. But we shouldn't underestimate how important this month of November 2020 was. It will define the political fight for the (INAUDIBLE) of our lives.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL MSNBC HOST: Steve Schmidt, thank you very much for joining us on this very important night in your political journey. We hope to hear from you many more times. Thank you very much, Steve. Really appreciate it.

SCHMIDT: You're welcome.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, 36 days -- that's how much time Donald Trump has left to think about who's going to get a Trump pardon. And Attorney General William Barr is leaving office next week for reasons that are more than a bit mysterious, especially when you consider how William Barr left office the last time he was attorney general in 1993.

We'll consider that next with Justice Department veteran Glenn Kirschner.


O'DONNELL: William Barr is something of a curse for first-term presidents. This is the second time William Barr has served as attorney general for a first-term president who lost his re-election campaign. William Barr was attorney general when President George H.W. Bush lost his re-election campaign in 1992 to Bill Clinton. And William Barr stayed on the job then as attorney general right up to the morning of inauguration day on January 20th, 1993.

Bill Barr remained in his job as attorney general until the very last second of the very last minute in 1993. But this time Bill Barr is leaving the job and I'm being careful here not to use the word, resign, because we don't know if Bill Barr is resigning or being fired.

But Bill Barr is leaving the job next week. One full month earlier than he left the last time. Why?

Joining us now is someone with decades of experience in the Justice Department, Glenn Kirschner. He's a former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst.

Glenn, I read William Barr's letter yesterday carefully. He doesn't say resign. Donald Trump didn't say fired in the tweet. Just leaving. That means Donald Trump is reserving the right to declare him fired at any point in the future.

How do you read the letter? How do you read the situation? Why is Bill Barr bailing out a month earlier than he did last time he was attorney general?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Lawrence, the way I read the letter is it's as if it was written by Donald Trump because it's nothing but praise and cheerleading and it's a fine piece of fiction.

The way I read Bill Barr sort of bowing out early, it may have something to do with what you alluded to in your opening piece, which is that, you know, he was involved in, you know, what I would call a pardon rodeo when he was the attorney general for George H.W. Bush because back during the Iran Contra Scandal President Bush was debating whether to issue a pardon I think initially for Casper Weinberger and Bill Barr gave him some advice as attorney general and it's become something of an infamous line.

He advised President George H.W. Bush that, you know what, when it comes to pardons, if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound. And he advised President Bush to pardon six government officials who were criminally involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Five of them had already been convicted at trial.

So we know that Bill Barr is not above being part of that kind of a pardon palooza. But here's the thing. If you are the attorney general and a president at the end of his term begins to issue all of these pardons, your reputation will be forever wedded to whatever pardons the president issues.

And I think we all have a sneaking suspicion, Lawrence, that it's about to start raining pardons in, perhaps, the ugliest way.

O'DONNELL: Well, in the Justice Department has a pardon office that normally processes all the paperwork that leads up to a presidential pardon. And so now with Bill Barr out of there, he won't -- he can claim no contact with any of this. But I actually kind of thought Bill Barr was going to have to hang around until the last minute to make sure that he, himself, had a Trump pardon on the way out the door.

KIRSCHNER: I agree with you, and I'll tell you, Lawrence, the moment I heard Bill Barr break with Donald Trump on the election fraud issue, one, I was taken aback. I think we were all somewhat surprised when Bill Barr said there was no massive election fraud that would undermine the election results.

The next thing that went through my mind at that moment was Bill Barr already has his presidential pardon in his back pocket because Bill Barr is corrupt but he's not stupid. I mean he knows he's going to need that pardon in the future given some of his legal transgressions as attorney general.

So once he was willing to publicly break from the president, it made me think he must already have that pardon from Donald Trump.

O'DONNELL: Glenn Kirschner, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

KIRSCHNER: Thank you, Lawrence.

Coming up, Dr. Anthony Fauci said today that President-Elect Joe Biden should receive the coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible.

Our next guest will be getting the vaccine tomorrow morning on "THE TODAY SHOW".


O'DONNELL: Today, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed Moderna's analysis that its new coronavirus vaccine is 94 percent effective. The FDA says that Moderna's data quote, "supported a favorable safety profile with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an emergency use authorization.

An FDA advisory panel will meet on Thursday to decide whether to recommend the Moderna vaccine for approval for public distribution.

Today, NBC News confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence is likely to receive a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the week.

Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris should be vaccinated as soon as possible.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: This is a person who very soon will be the president of the United States. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will very soon be the vice president of the United States. For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can.

You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January. So that would be my strong recommendation.


O'DONNELL: President-Elect Biden responded to Dr. Fauci's recommendation.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. Fauci recommends I get the vaccine sooner than later. I want to make sure we do it by the numbers and we do it, when I do it, you'll have notice and we'll do it publicly.


O'DONNELL: Today our next guest Dr. Vin Gupta tweeted this. "I get my vaccine tomorrow and I'm grateful to the scientists who labored to make this day happen. After the second dose 21 days later, I will continue masking, distancing and avoiding travel until Dr. Fauci says otherwise. Stay vigilant. Ignore the noise. Normalcy is ahead."

And joining us now is Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist and affiliate assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics. He's an MSNBC medical contributor.

And, Doctor, you've been on the front lines of this pandemic and tomorrow morning you get the vaccine on "THE TODAY SHOW", as I understand it.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Lawrence. "THE TODAY SHOW" reached out and I was happy to oblige. And I'm doing it with the two of my colleagues here in Seattle. And I think it's important to build public trust since we do have rationing of this vaccine, supplies constrained upfront.

It's important for the American people to look to their doctors, to the clinicians who're providing care for COVID-19 patients to see them take it, in some cases publicly, to see them report on any side effects and to see the experience with it.

So I'm convinced that that's going to help with public buy-in and increased acceptance.

O'DONNELL: What has been the general feeling among people that you've been working with in the medical profession with the arrival of this vaccine, what it means to them and their lives.

DR. GUPTA: I think it's overwhelming excitement, Lawrence. This is our only way out of this pandemic. We all recognize that in public health. We want to be out of this pandemic as much as you do, as much as your viewers do because we want to plan on that vacation later in 2021 in a normal holiday season. So this is a mutually shared sentiment.

What I will say is we're also mindful of what Dr. Fauci and other leading lights are saying when it comes to what a vaccine means once it gets deployed. We know that after, for example, at day 21 I'm going to get my second dose. After that second dose, it's not like the lights turn on and suddenly life is normal for me.

We still have to mask, distance, and be vigilant because there's two things here right now, Lawrence, that are still unknowns. One, how long is immunity acquired from this vaccine, whether, regardless of brand, how long does immunity last? We still don't truly know that. We're building that knowledge as we speak.

And then number two, and this is really clear because -- it seems to be really clear because this is a confusing point. A vaccine can prevent serious illness but in some cases not prevent somebody from developing an asymptomatic version of illness, where you can still transmit in this case COVID-19 to others.

It's sort of a weird dichotomy here that we're trying to tease out. Does, for example, Moderna, published today in their press release, some data suggesting it actually prevents transmission of this virus in addition to severe illness.

We want that confirmed because that's going to be an important fact to present to the American people so we can guide behavior.

Now, when you see an additional fact like that reported by -- or finding like that reported by Moderna, which might or might not prove to be true, does it give you any thoughts about, well, maybe I should wait for Moderna, I could get a Moderna vaccine maybe next week.

You're obviously getting Pfizer tomorrow since that's what's approved at this point. Is there anything in that kind of news that makes you think, oh, maybe I'll wait for the next one?

DR. GUPTA: No, absolutely not because Pfizer is also developing this knowledge base as we speak as well, and there's some hints that Pfizer also -- that that vaccine is effective both in terms of mitigating transmission and preventing serious illness. That's crucial because at the end of the day what we want is for this vaccine to prevent all your viewers from coming to see somebody like me and my colleagues in the ICU.

But that question on transmission is vital and Pfizer's building that knowledge as we speak and they should have data out in the next few weeks as well. So I don't think this should impact people's decision-making if they have a decision on brand.

Honestly, no one is really going to have a choice in these initial few weeks on brand. They should just take whatever vaccine they can get access to.

But it is an important question, Lawrence. And we're going to have clarity on these issues -- duration of immunity and whether or not these vaccines protect against transmission in addition to severe infection in the coming weeks and early months ahead.

O'DONNELL: Dr. Vin Gupta, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We'll be watching tomorrow on "THE TODAY SHOW". Thank you, Doctor.

DR. GUPTA: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: And coming up, how much does it cost to talk to Ben Stiller on Zoom? Because there's a price, and Ben Stiller isn't happy about it. But I think we can make him feel just a little bit better, when Ben Stiller joins us next.


O'DONNELL: Time for tonight's LAST WORD.

So the latest thing in charitable fund-raising is the Zoom call with your favorite celebrity or the celebrity you can afford. Ben Stiller recently revealed how disappointed he was to discover where he ranked in the dollar value of charity Zoom calls. At that point his call was worth $1,675.

And this is one of those areas of embarrassment for Ben Stiller that didn't exist a year ago. The celebrity charity Zoom call is a 2020 thing created obviously by the pandemic.

It wasn't something I planned to do for the KIND Fund but Eric Gerty (ph) reached out to us and said he would happily contribute $20,000 to Kids in Need of Desks for a 30-minute Zoom call as a birthday present for his wife Laura Gerty. That money will provide hundreds of desks for schools in Malawi and scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi.

And I did that Zoom call with Laura Gerty on her birthday. We were joined on the call by her friend, her long time best friend Angelique Weintrup (ph). And I stayed on that call for a lot longer than 30 minutes because they made it so much fun.

So far this holiday season you have contributed $1,736,936 to the KIND Fund. Every contribution helps provides desks to schools and scholarships for girls to attend high school in Malawi. No contribution is too small. You can contribute at

And tonight to match Eric and Laura Gerty's generous contribution and to pump up Ben Stiller's price for charity Zoom calls I am contributing $20,000 to the KIND Fund for a Zoom call with Ben Stiller.

And joining us now for that Zoom call is the suddenly high-priced Ben Stiller. Ben, thank you very much for joining us tonight. And I just want to -- I want to do this like the Celebrity Zoom call that it is.

So what's the favorite movie you -- I don't know. I can't even think of what -- by the way, on your celebrity Zoom call what was the most uncomfortable question?

BEN STILLER, ACTOR: Well, my Celebrity Zoom call has not cashed in yet, the one that you're -- so I haven't done it yet. But it's very stressful for me to think of things to talk about with anybody for 30 minutes, you know, let alone a stranger. I mean even someone I've known for 10 or 15 years. So I'm looking --

O'DONNELL: I'm going to have Laura Gerty give you a call because she's really fun and the 30 minutes will fly by.

STILLER: I'm looking forward to it. I think, you know, I'm happy to talk about anything. It's kind of like for me -- it's kind of like, you know, it's for a good cause.

It used to be with these things you would donate like a visit to a set or a visit to a premier of a movie. But since those things aren't happening anymore it's a little more one-on-one. I think it's a great thing and I'm looking forward to it. I hope I'm interesting enough.

O'DONNELL: It's a little awkward when the price becomes public, but then again you emphasized the public nature of your price. The only reason I know about it is you tweeted about it.

STILLER: Yes, I know. And I appreciate you coming to my rescue and actually making the Zoom call now public, which only adds more pressure really to how interesting the $20,000 Zoom call we're having right now is. I wouldn't want to check your second ratings right now as to -- actually what happened also Anthony Scaramucci, he direct messaged me and offered -- he was saying what's going on with that? Like $1,500, we've got to jack that up.

And he had some Mooch Method that, you know, he was going to like we'll I'll retweet it, and then we'll get a whole, you know, but I'm not really good at Twitter. Mooch is much better.

O'DONNELL: Well, we jacked it up tonight. And from now on the beginning bid for a Ben Stiller Zoom call is going to be much, much higher I'm sure.

STILLER: I appreciate that, Lawrence. And if I can return the favor and you want to do -- also when you do joint Zoom calls, that kind of ups the value. If you say like Ben Stiller, Lawrence O'Donnell will do -- that always helps take the pressure off also like what is my time worth to somebody.

O'DONNELL: Yes. And I could ask all the questions which would then guarantee that they would be dumber than anything anyone else would ask you in the Zoom call.

STILL: I'd (INAUDIBLE) on Zoom call because I think you could just -- I won't have to do anything. You could just talk and talk and I'll be --


O'DONNELL: A nice playful Zoom call with Steve Schmidt about, you know, the state of our politics -- that kind of thing.

And by the way, my text machine is lighting up since I announced you were coming on here. Some guy who's claiming to be the director who gave you your first big -- your first part in a movie said to say hi, Steven something. And so he's watching.

And by the way, I think I'm going to charge him $5,000 for passing along that through this Zoom call to the high-priced Ben Stiller.

STILLER: Wow, Steven something. I think I might know who you're talking about.


O'DONNELL: Yes. Ben, thank you very much for doing this. I hope we've done wonders. And right now I guess you are entering the Guinness Book of Records in a tie with me for highest priced Zoom call discussed on this show. That's where it is.

STILLER: Nice. Well, let's take this on the road and do it more often because I think we're going to make a lot more money for charities. All right?

O'DONNELL: Ben Stiller gets tonight's LAST ZOOM CALL and only Zoom call. Ben, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

STILLER: Thanks Lawrence. I'm a fan.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.



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