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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, September 8, 2020

Guests: Daniel Goldman, John Kerry


Joy Reid and John Heilemann leads the discussion of Rachel Maddow's interview with Michael Cohen. Faced with multiple sources saying they heard Donald Trump call American soldiers killed in action "losers," Donald Trump is now insisting that he respects our military. After Joe Biden's record-setting $365 million fund-raising haul for the month of August, a new report details frivolous spending inside the Trump reelection campaign that has erased the Trump campaign's massive financial advantage.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Joy Reid and John Heilemann are going to lead off our discussion of Rachel's interview with Michael Cohen.

We'll be joined later in that discussion by former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman who questioned Michael Cohen under oath for a couple of days when Daniel Goldman served as special counsel to the House Intelligence Committee. Daniel Goldman will analyze the legal aspects of what Michael Cohen had to say tonight and offer his assessment of Michael Cohen's credibility based on his own interactions with Michael Cohen as an under-oath witness.

And later in the hour, we will be joined by former secretary of state, John Kerry, who is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War. We'll get Secretary Kerry's reaction to Donald Trump calling American soldiers killed in action "losers", and calling anyone who served in Vietnam a loser, and that includes John Kerry.

I'm sure most of you have just watched Rachel's hour-long interview with Michael Cohen which included Michael Cohen's account of how the Trump presidential campaign began.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: Donald Trump never thought he wasn't going to win this election. He actually didn't want to win this election. This was supposed to be -- it's how he started it, the greatest political infomercial in the history of politics.

So, if you take that line and you add to it the Trump Tower Moscow project, you'll understand that this was a branding deal. That's all that the presidential campaign started out as. This was a branding opportunity in order to expand worldwide.


COHEN: There's only one problem. There's only one problem. He won.

MADDOW: Yeah, oops.


O'DONNELL: And then there was the way Donald Trump illegally used the "National Enquirer" ran by David Pecker to hurt all the other candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination.


COHEN: So as each candidate was moving up, let's say Marco Rubio, David Pecker would reach out to me and he would give me a list of things that he was intending to do in order to squash Ted Cruz's or Marco Rubio's rise. Whoever was rising in the polls, that was the person we needed to knock out of the race.

With Marco Rubio, you may remember there was photos of him in a swimming pool, that he had a drug problem, and also, some other -- we'll call them salacious rumors. And every time that they would be made, they would be provided to me by David Pecker. I would immediately take them into Mr. Trump's office. We would sit down and talk about it. He would approve it and then I would contact David.

Next thing you know, two days later on the front cover, Marco Rubio has a drug problem.


O'DONNELL: And tonight, Rachel got a confirmation that Donald Trump was lying about something that I said Donald Trump was lying about nine years ago when he claimed he was sending private detectives to Hawaii to investigate Barack Obama's birth, and Michael Cohen explained Donald Trump's hateful obsession with President Barack Obama.


COHEN: He doesn't care what he says. He doesn't care who gets hurt so long as he wins. And when he saw that his poll numbers and his popularity and the number of times that he's gracing the front cover of a newspaper is increasing, he just added onto it.

All of a sudden, he was sending people to Hawaii to go check. That's a lie. He never sent anybody anywhere.

He just said it and everybody sort of bought into it. Of course, Donald Trump sent somebody. He's rich, right? Who wouldn't send somebody if you want to prove your point?

Well, Donald Trump didn't do it because he didn't want to spend the money and he didn't believe it.

You know, his hatred for Barack Obama is plain and simple. He's black. He went to Harvard law. He graduated at the top of his class. He's, you know, incredibly articulate and he's all the things that Donald Trump wants to be, right? And he just can't handle it.


O'DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, Joy Reid, host of "THE REIDOUT" on MSNBC at 7:00 p.m., and John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He's executive editor of "The Recount" and co-host of Showtime's "The Circus."

Joy, I was following your tweets. I know you were riveted to that hour of television. I just want to say, Joy, go.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, "THE REIDOUT": That was -- I knew it was good television, and congratulations to Rachel on that interview. Yeah, I was there from start to finish.

Look, everything that Michael Cohen says rings true for me. You know, the book that I just recently did, I interviewed a lot of people who know Donald Trump and who knew him when he was running for president and before that on the "Apprentice," et cetera, interviewed Tony Schwartz, as you have many times, Lawrence.

And the reality is we know all of this is true because there's so much evidence in Donald Trump's public life that backs up all of this. You know, the stuff about race, we heard this from Michael Cohen before. We heard it from Mary Trump.

This idea that he hates Barack Obama because Barack Obama is who he wants to be. He's smart, he's popular, he's beloved around the world, he's respected. He was a president who in Donald Trump's mind had it made, movies were being, you know, screened in the White House, celebrities were surrounding him.

He thinks that's what he was supposed to get and he hates that this black man got it and he thinks that because he's black, he didn't deserve it and that he deserves it, Donald Trump deserves it, not this guy.

And there's also, you know, the stories that Michael Cohen has told about Donald Trump riding through, you know, black neighborhoods or describing what it would be like toe ride through black neighbors and saying do you remember a place where blacks where are in charge that's not an S-hole? That's just his belief, right, so we get it, that that's true. And even his being in love with money and that's why he's in love of Putin -- it all rings so true.

And here's the important thing, if people don't want to believe Michael Cohen, the problem with saying that you doubt him is he was Trump's bad guy. And who else would know the dirt Donald Trump was doing than the guy who held the shovel for all those years. He was the guy doing the dirt for Trump, paying off the, you know, porn actress with his own money and getting reimbursed.

He was the guy trying to look out for Donald Trump Jr. while he was being berated and belittled by his father. He is the one who would know that Donald Trump, he isn't pro-life. He mocks the idea of evangelical Christians but he knows he could use them.

He doesn't care about them. He doesn't care about anybody. It's true, the bad guy has spoken.

O'DONNELL: John, Michael Cohen offered one possible point of gratitude that Donald Trump would have for Vladimir Putin, and that's a $50 million profit Donald Trump made in flipping a house in Florida, selling it to a Russian oligarch. Donald Trump believes Vladimir Putin was really behind that sale.

Let's listen to that part of the interview.


MADDOW: Did he actually think that Putin had arranged this $50 million windfall for him?

COHEN: Well, I -- I don't -- I don't know what he was thinking. I can only tell you, which I did in the book, I can recount the conversation. He believes that all of the Russian oligarchs are basically pawns of Vladimir Putin. He controls all of them. I guess very much to the same extent that Mohammed bin Salman had the ability within which to lock up all of his relatives and other members of the royal family for money, right?

Trump is keen on this power. And whether it's Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong-un, Maduros, it's the power that he's so involved with and so in search of that this is exactly what he believes. He believes that Putin controls all of Russia and all of its wealth, and anything like the purchase of this home had to have been through or with the permission of Vladimir Putin.


O'DONNELL: John Heilemann, your reaction to that?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: So, when you hear a story like that, Lawrence, it just adds one more of the very long list of reasons why we all now look back and wish fervently that Bob Mueller had been empowered by Rod Rosenstein to look into the matters related to Donald Trump's financial entanglements with Russia when he was doing his investigation, instead of being blocked from doing that kind of work when the Mueller investigation was taking place. It's the kind of thing that with subpoena power and a team of investigators, I'm sure Bob Mueller would have been able to get to the bottom.

But it certainly it sounds to me like Michael Cohen having done a lot of Donald Trump's work in Russia, having been his kind of business development czar in a lot of the skeeziest (ph) places in the world, including Russia, I think Michael Cohen probably has a pretty good instinct on that.

And I will say this. I mean, if you add up a couple things here, there's not a lot of news in this book as far as I'm concerned. I agree with Joy in one very particular sense. I thought I had a lot of dealings with Michael Cohen in 2016 and before that when I was covering the Trump campaign. I thought he was a wire back then.

I know he's telling the truth about most of the stuff now because most of these things are things that I know from my own reporting to be a fact, including the notion that Donald Trump did not expect to win, intend to win the presidency in 2016. And so, what does this tell us?

If you put the Russia piece in, Cohen is telling us he didn't expect to win, he's kissing up to Putin throughout the campaign because he thinks he's going to be a financial payoff on the other side once he losses the presidency in 2016. Well, what do we know, if you put all that together in Trump's motivation and how he sees Putin, and the money piece of it, it explains an awful lot about the way Donald Trump is treating Vladimir Putin now, not just the obsession with power, but he's looking very clearly if you take Michael Cohen's assessment of Trump, he's looking at what Putin could mean to Trump financially on the other side of his presidency, and I think that explains a lot of things that some people have had a hard time understanding about Donald Trump's behavior in terms of foreign policy with respect to Russia over the last four years.

O'DONNELL: But, Joy, isn't -- isn't Donald Trump also looking at Vladimir Putin as the king-maker in the United States? He saw Vladimir Putin help him win the Electoral College last time. If he spends four years genuflecting to Vladimir Putin, then Vladimir Putin is going to help him win the Electoral College again

REID: Right. I mean, and I too was told by people that Donald Trump didn't intend to win, that he intended simply to market himself and get -- grow his business around the world, absolutely. But then he won.

And I think probably the scariest parts of what Michael Cohen said to Rachel Maddow in this interview was the beginning and the end, right? And the end part, he said, that Donald Trump looks to somebody like Putin or someone like Kim Jong-un or someone like Mohammed bin Salman and he sees a future for himself. Now that he's won, I might as well live like the other oligarchs like Putin controls, right?

So, If I'm just another one of the oligarchs and if they report up to Putin and become rich and they can have power and they can have endless money, why can't I? Donald Trump looks to be junior Putin now. He is an oligarch in training, a dictator in training because now that he's felt the power, now that he's begun to enjoy the unchecked power that unfortunately a weak supine Republican Party, which unfortunately controls one half of the Congress, has let him unleash on the country. They've let him act as king.

Now that he's felt what it's like to be king, he doesn't want to leave. Now he thinks maybe I will do 10, 20, or 30 more -- how far many I can get because it'll keep me out of jail, if you're thinking like him, and number two, I can keep the money rolling in and really benefit when it's all over and get a pardon or whatever, you know, Cohen has said he thinks he might try to do it.

And at the beginning part of that interview which I think was the scariest part of it, which was when Rachel opened by asking why are you the one who's suffering here? And the reason he's suffering is that there's a bigger, badder, much more wicked Michael Cohen in business now. His name is Bill Barr.

Bill Barr, who we just found out tonight, has had the Justice Department intervene in a civil lawsuit of a woman named E. Jean Carroll who's accused this president of rape. Now that Justice Department, the taxpayer-funded Justice Department is involved, Michael Cohen was out of jail and he got snatched back and thrown back behind bars and was told by U.S. Marshals sign this thing to give away your right to free speech. Give it away. Give away your rights or you're going back to jail.

That's terrifying because now that Donald Trump thinks he's the king, he's trying to act as king, and he has the power because of Bill Barr and the Republican Party to at least try to do it.

O'DONNELL: Let's listen to this piece where Michael Cohen is describing that Donald Trump is not the same person that he was before this presidential campaign and before this presidency and what's become of Donald Trump now. Let's listen to this.


COHEN: He's not the same person that I knew going back years ago. He was always gruff. He was always a certain way. But the power that he now has has gone to his head.

He wants to be an autocrat. He wants to be the president of this country for life. He wants to be just like Putin, just like Kim Jong-un, just like Maduro. He wants to be just like Mohammed bin Salman.

He craves this. He doesn't want to run for president, and that's why he says what about 12 more years, 12 more years? He's not joking. Understand, Donald Trump doesn't have a sense of humor.


O'DONNELL: John, that line is something that professionals in comedy pointed out to me, that Donald Trump doesn't have a sense of humor. There's just this emptiness and what Michael Cohen is describing as this craving for hanging onto power.

HEILEMANN: Yes. If you ever heard him laugh, Lawrence, not only does he not have a sense of humor like tell a joke, or say anything that's witty or clever, but you never see him with an easy chuckle. You never see Donald Trump guffaw.

You never see him -- that part of him is dead, and I think it is the all-consuming narcissism. And now, I think what Cohen is saying here, I thought, you know, there are a lot of ways in which Donald Trump changed since the time Michael Cohen first knew him.

I think Michael Cohen would have been fascinated to hear him speak of what he thinks of -- is Donald Trump's cognitive decline because I think that's equally obvious. But hand in hand with that cognitive decline over the last 10, 15 years, there's also been the -- as hard as to say believe, a swelling narcissism, and a swelling now -- I think that part of clips depose to what Joy was alluding to just now, which is, you know, Trump never had power before, real power.

I mean, if anything, he was a man with his face pressed against the glass of the real power in money world of New York City and their financial world, in the world of real estate. He was an arriviste and a grasping one at that. The presidency has let him taste genuine power for the first time, and I think that speaks to the kind of ruthlessness we now see, and it does send a chill down the spine for anybody who's worried about the prospect of Donald Trump might not let go of office easily or at all in the face of an election result that he doesn't like in November.

O'DONNELL: John Heilemann and Joy Reid, thank you both very much for starting off our discussion tonight. Really appreciate it.

REID: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

REID: And when we come back, Daniel Goldman will join us. He served as counsel to the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment of Donald Trump. Daniel Goldman spent two days questioning Michael Cohen in a closed-door deposition.

And Michael Cohen is still a witness working with prosecutors, and he explained to Rachel that that's why he couldn't answer all of her questions tonight. Daniel Goldman will consider all of that and join us with his reaction to Rachel Maddow's interview next.


O'DONNELL: Rachel asked Michael Cohen why he was the only one charged with a campaign finance crime of paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her sexual encounter with Donald Trump in what prosecutors called a criminal conspiracy against the United States of America to help elect Donald Trump.


COHEN: The president's signature was on two of the checks at the beginning, which I provided to Congress as part of the open house testimony. Why I'm the only one, it doesn't make sense. As I stated, I was acting at the direction and for the benefit of Mr. Trump.

And how I became -- I'm not the one who had the affair. He did. I am the dummy who paid $130,000 to keep it quiet, but this was my conversation with Mr. Trump with Allen Weisselberg and others, and I did it in order to protect him. And I guess the thank you that I got from my loyal boss was Michael Cohen should, as I once said, take a bullet for him and lose everything, lose my freedom, my company, my law license, my family's happiness, everything.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Daniel Goldman, the former majority counsel for the House Impeachment Inquiry and former director of investigations for the House Intelligence Committee. He's also former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I want to go right to that question of why was Michael Cohen within the charged in that case in the Southern District? Why, for example, was Allen Weisselberg, the Trump accountant who participated in that scheme to pay Stormy Daniels, why wasn't he also charged?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER MAJORITY COUNSEL FOR THE HOUSE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY: Well, it's hard to tell. It's hard to look behind the veil, but the one biggest problem with any additional prosecutions is that Michael Cohen was not signed up as a cooperating witness and could not be used. So everything you read in that book and everything that he's testified to is not helpful to the Southern District of New York because for whatever reason, and I suspect it's in large part because Michael Cohen did not fully admit his guilt to the prosecutors in complete and a forthright manner about his other criminal conduct unrelated to Donald Trump, that he was unusable as a cooperating witness.

And you can't just put a book on the witness stand and say, hey, jury, read the book. You need to have the witness there who can be cross-examined. So, A, you can't charge a sitting president, individual-1 in this case, and B, Michael Cohen is not usable as a witness.

O'DONNELL: Will the president -- if the president doesn't pardon himself before leaving office and, say, Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20th, based on what you understand the evidence to be, would Donald Trump, private citizen, but charged with this crime in the Southern District of New York if he hasn't already pardoned himself for federal crimes?

GOLDMAN: Well, I said two years ago that if you have Michael Cohen as a witness, if you have David Pecker as a witness, and you have the recording of Michael Cohen talking to Donald Trump about the payments, and then you have the checks as corroboration for the repayment of Michael Cohen, that I would have charged that case against Donald Trump. But again, the problem you have is Michael Cohen is not a usable witness. And if you don't have him as a witness to explain everything, it's very difficult to charge that case to a jury.

O'DONNELL: What was your experience with Michael Cohen as a witness? You had two days that we didn't see, which was in closed-door deposition. Then there was public testimony by Michael Cohen in the House. This was after he decided to come forward and tell what he presented as the truth about Donald Trump.

GOLDMAN: Right. He lied back in the summer of 2018 -- or actually '17, rather. Sorry. He lied to the House Intelligence Committee particularly about Trump Tower Moscow. And then he decided to come back in after pleading guilty to lying and he testified again.

And I spent a few days with him prior to his testimony and then I led the deposition over the course of two days. Look, at the end of the day, I think Michael Cohen is telling the truth when he's talking about Donald Trump. And there are a couple of things that really jump out to me. The first is his lies were in his self-interest, and what he professes to be the truth is against his self-interest. And that's always a very critical thing for anyone judging credibility.

Do the lies make sense? Are they trying to benefit him? Or are they bad for him? When he told the truth, he admitted to crimes.

So, no one -- very few people I should say lie in order to incriminate themselves. And the second thing, and you saw it in the interview with Rachel tonight and it's littered throughout the book. He doesn't overstate things. He doesn't say things that he doesn't know.

And there's a strong temptation to do that. There's a strong temptation to say, oh, yeah, I heard Donald Trump use the N-word. No one would be the wiser if that were not the case. Or Rachel asked a couple questions. Do you know whether there was talk about Don Jr. getting cut out of the will? Do you know, you know, whether the sexual assault charges are true?

He didn't say he knew these things. And the temptation for any witness who's trying to be persuasive is to give as much information as they can, but when a real measure of credibility is when they recognize and acknowledge that there are many things that we don't know that could be damaging against the person that they're testifying against.

O'DONNELL: I want to listen to something that Michael Cohen said at the beginning of the interview about what he's not permitted to discuss. Let's listen to this.


COHEN: So you're right. I'm not permitted to discuss them other than to say that there are ongoing investigations into all of the actions that everybody has heard about for so long, including the Supreme Court case that now exist in order to obtain Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization's tax returns.


O'DONNELL: Does that sound like he's a cooperating witness in pursuing those tax returns?

GOLDMAN: Well, I know that he is. I know that he has provided information to the Manhattan district attorney's office. It related to their ongoing investigation. He's provided information to other offices.

And the Manhattan district attorney's office doesn't have the same requirements that the southern district of New York does where you have to admit to all of your own criminal activities and wrongdoing. And so, I strongly suspect that he is helping them and certainly given what we do know about that, it is a function of some of the tax issues that he has raised -- he raised in Congress.

And we now know the Manhattan district attorney's office is looking into some of the business records issues.

O'DONNELL: Daniel Goldman, there is no attorney with more legal authority over this subject than Daniel Goldman with your experience in the Southern District and the House Committee Council. We really appreciate you joining us tonight.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure, Lawrence. Great to be with you.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, it has now been five days, just five days since Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting in "The Atlantic" that quoted Donald Trump calling American soldiers killed in combat losers and suckers, and those comments have now been confirmed by multiple news organizations. "The Washington Post" reports that Donald Trump calls American soldiers who served in the war of his era, the Vietnam War, losers.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, a decorated combat veteran who served in Vietnam will join us next.


O'DONNELL: Donald Trump cannot tell the truth about himself because his reflexive lying about himself always uses superlatives about himself and only superlatives. So faced with multiple sources saying they heard Donald Trump call American soldiers killed in action "losers" Donald Trump is now insisting not only that he respects our military, that's not good enough for him. He is the best respecter of our military in the world according to Donald Trump.

Here's Donald Trump yesterday responding to reports first by Jeffrey Goldberg in "The Atlantic" and then by "The Washington Post" that Donald Trump calls American soldiers killed in action "losers".


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgrace. Who would say a thing like that? Only an animal would say a thing like that. There's nobody that has more respect for, not only our military, but the people that gave their lives in the military. There's nobody.


O'DONNELL: So there's Donald Trump trying to get people to believe that no one respects our military and our war dead more than Donald Trump, including everyone who has served in our military, including every one who is currently serving in our military, including every American family who has lost a loved one in combat and including our next guest.

Joining us now is John Kerry, secretary of state in the Obama administration, a former senator from Massachusetts. Secretary Kerry served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Valor, and three Purple Hearts for his heroic service in combat.

Secretary Kerry, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I just want to give you a kind of an open microphone to react to what we've learned about what Donald Trump has said about our war dead being "losers" and people serving in the military being "losers".

JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it's tragic. And obviously the president has been denying it quite vehemently, but what's really interesting about those denials, Lawrence, is that the story appears in "The Atlantic" and at least four other major outlets, A.P., Fox News, "New York Times", "Washington Post" have all confirmed that these are the statements that the president made.

And obviously it's extremely significant, in my judgment, that none of the generals who are cited in these stories have repudiated the story. It is completely consistent, sadly, with an attitude that he has expressed for a long period of time. I mean after all, he's quoted as having called his generals "dopes" and "sissies". He has obviously attacked military people in service over a long period of time, most notably John McCain.

He denies that he called John McCain a loser but it's right there on TV for everybody to listen to where he says, well, he got captured, I don't like people who get captured. And he goes on and he says I don't like losers, when talking about John McCain.

So the president's credibility with the Armed Forces of the United States is in serious jeopardy. These generals he has now attacked as saying that they just want to sell arms, which is the only way it appears this president can see anybody doing anything, that they want to make money, which is why he asked General Kelly at the gravesite of General Kelly's son, "I don't get it," quote. "What was in it for them?"

He can only see transactional -- and that is what John Kelly apparently came to the conclusion after a certain period of time. So you juxtapose that with Joe Biden who has spent an enormous of time with his wife with Jill taking care of veterans, working for veterans, respecting veterans.

And most importantly, Joe Biden is a military family. He and Jill and his family are a military family. They sent their son off to war. They didn't try to exercise even the privileges they had available as vice president to get him some cushy job. And Beau would have never had it any other way.

So the distinction between these two men who are running for the presidency could not be more clear. I saw veteran after veteran spontaneously posting videos over the weekend just ripping and tearing at the president.

And that is not a good situation when you're asking young men and women to go off and put themselves in harm's way on behalf of their country.

O'DONNELL: I want to ask you about a quote that appeared -- a statement of the president's that appeared in "The Washington Post" reporting that's kind of specifically aimed at you and thousands, hundreds of thousands of others. He said -- it says, "Trump believed that people who served in the Vietnam War must be losers because they hadn't gotten out of it according to a person familiar with the comments."

Now, most of your Yale graduating class managed to get out of it. Donald Trump managed to get out of it. Can you explain to Donald Trump why you volunteered?

KERRY: Well, I said many times, I wrote about it and I said it at the time. I said it when I came back and opposed the war, which a lot of people didn't like. People didn't like the fact that a veteran came back and spoke out against the war.

But what I said was that my parents were greatest-generation parents. My dad volunteered to be in the Army Air Corps, 1939. And my mother worked as a nurse. She happened to be in Europe at the time when the war broke out. She was taking care of refugees wounded, escaped in front of the Germans a day before they came in to occupy the city of Paris.

So I grew up with a sense of service and responsibility and believed that we all owe it to our country. Of course President Kennedy summoned our generation to that task. Many of my closest friends at Yale did volunteer for service. One of my very great closest friends, Richard Pershing, grandson of General John Pershing, the general of the armies of World War I, was killed in Vietnam during Tet (ph) in 1968, and other great friends of mine were killed. So that is service.

That is the greatest sacrifice. We've always called that. Go back and you read Abraham Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg, tiny little speech that he wrote, whatever it was three minutes, something, recorded for all history because he understood what we owed the people who sacrificed.

Donald Trump in Paris when presented with the prospect of going to a rainy ceremony at the cemetery where they were going to celebrate the Marines who were lost in World War I at Belleau Wood, his reaction was I don't want to get my hair wet. His reaction was that the guys who -- the marines who lost their lives there were suckers.

And it just is such an appalling inability to understand as a president of the United States. And that's something that, you know, even the vets who came back in the post war always honored the service of our fellow veterans despite the fact that some bad things happened over there.

The vast majority of people who served in Vietnam served with such honor and such distinction and gave their all in a situation where the politicians were letting them down every single day. A great tragedy for a country and one that we unfortunately executed in another war of choice, which was Iraq.

But this is just -- the juxtaposition between Donald Trump and Joe Biden simply could not be clearer. And I think service people all over the world they're going to look at this, they understand what has happened.

Donald Trump went on the "Howard Stern Show" years ago and equated his chasing of women in New York as his Vietnam. Somehow that's the way he saw the world and I don't think it's changed very much since.

O'DONNELL: We have to squeeze in a quick break. We'll discuss Donald Trump's refusal to object to Vladimir Putin for the poisoning of Putin's strongest political opponent.

We'll be right back with more with former secretary of state John Kerry.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Germany has said that Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was poisoned. What do you think should be done to Russia about that? What is your message to Russia about that? And how should the international community and the United States respond?

Well, I think we have to look at it very seriously if it's the case. And I think we will. So I don't know exactly happened. I think it's tragic, it's terrible, it shouldn't happen. We haven't had any proof yet, but I will take a look.


O'DONNELL: Mr. Secretary, the president has not found a word to say about the poisoning of Alexey Navalny, Russian dissident opponent of Vladimir Putin who is now being treated in Germany. He has not found a word to say about American troops being basically attacked by Russian troops in Syria -- not an open fire, but vehicles going right at the American troops, injuring the American troops in the process. America has seen the video of this -- of this, you know, transgression against American troops, and not a word from the president of the United States.

KERRY: Well, for whatever reasons, Lawrence, I think it's pretty obvious by now, having witnessed the president's appearance in Helsinki where he stood feet away from Putin after having had a meeting with him, and he literally threw the American -- the entire American intelligence community over the bridge. I mean, just threw them out saying in front of Putin that he had denied that anything had happened. And he said, quote, "I have no reason not to believe President Putin."

So in saying that, he was saying I have every reason not to believe the intelligence community of the United States. I think John McCain at the time called it one of the most infamous presidential moments that he ever witnessed. And clearly the president has never spoken out about the bounty on American troops, never raised it with President Putin in any of the phone calls to the best of any of our knowledge, never cited that he had, and has never said anything about the poisoning of Navalny.

So we have a president who for whatever reasons is completely intimidated or somehow held in the spell of or frightened of President Putin. And in those realities of all three of those scenarios, we have a president who is not protecting our troops, not protecting the interests of the United States of America, not upholding the constitution that is duty to our nation. And I think people need to stop and put all of this in a context of who they want to see as commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the United States.

These young men and women are extraordinary in today's generation. They serve willingly. They're volunteers. And they deserve certainly the respect of the commander in chief if not every single American.

O'DONNELL: The intelligence community has found that, of course, Russia is attacking our election process once again this time, trying to re-elect Donald Trump as president. What is at stake for Vladimir Putin and the Russian government in our presidential election?

KERRY: Well, what's at stake for Vladimir Putin, clearly, is whether or not there will be a president of the United States who will, in fact, be on the up and up and deal with him and hold him accountable. That doesn't mean he won't try -- the president wouldn't try to work with President Putin.

I mean during the Obama administration, President Obama managed to hold and Vice President Biden who devised the policy together with the president, held Putin accountable for the invasion of Ukraine, for what happened with Crimea, managed to put together a major reassurance program for the frontline states, $4.3 billion, sent troops to the frontline states, adopted one country and others in NATO, adopted others to train and provide capacity to make it clear that this was not going to stand, and brought Europe together to sanction President Putin and Russia.

And those sanctions were raised repeatedly over the course of the next years because of actions that President Putin took. But even as he did that, President Obama managed to work with Russia on key things and to try to work with them on the Iran nuclear agreement, on global climate change and the Paris agreement, on any number of other things because that's what you have to do.

And President Trump has clearly evidenced an absolute lack of calibration capacity. There's no ability to be able to manage the crisis and be firm and still hold President Putin accountable for whatever else it is and cooperate where capable.

He simply has surrendered the presidency apparently to President Putin and Russian interests and I think every American needs to be deeply concerned about that.

O'DONNELL: Former secretary of state John Kerry, thank you once again for doing us the honor of joining our discussion. We really appreciate it.

KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you so much.

Coming up, 56 days -- only 56 days until Election Day, and Joe Biden's campaign has set fund-raising records while Donald Trump's campaign is in financial trouble. And battleground state poll showed Joe Biden winning the electoral college. All of that next with John Heilemann.


O'DONNELL: After Joe Biden's record-setting $365 million fund-raising haul for the month of August, a new report details frivolous spending inside the Trump reelection campaign that has erased the Trump campaign's massive financial advantage. "The New York Times" reports of the $1.1 billion his campaign and the party raised from the beginning of 2019 through July, more than $800 million has already been spent.

Now some people inside the campaign are forecasting what was once unthinkable -- a cash crunch with less than 60 days until the election.

Joe Biden's campaign has been outspending the Trump campaign in TV advertising over the last week, including in six key battleground states where starting today, voters see ads like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our chance to put the darkness of the past four years behind us, to end the anger, the insults, the division, the violence and start fresh in America. We can stop focusing on a president who thinks it's all about him and start focusing on what's best for us. We need to get control over the virus.

Donald Trump failed. Joe Biden will get it done.


O'DONNELL: John Heilemann is back with us. And, John, I want to put up the NBC battleground map right now which is a conservatively arrived at approximation. They're giving Joe Biden 290 electoral votes as of tonight, which would be 20 more than he needs. Donald Trump at 163. 85 were a toss-up.

But Biden, even if Donald Trump wins every toss-up state, Biden is still president. How did we get to the spot where the Trump campaign is struggling for cash?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, Lawrence, there's going to be quite -- there's going to be books written, movies made about this. How we got there is we got a bunch of grifters, a bunch of thieves, a bunch of charlatans running a campaign in the way that they approach all of their business dealings, who took over this campaign and saw it as a slush fund rather than as a crusade, who were mercenaries, not missionaries.

You know, Donald Trump, I think, you know, there's a reason why Brad Parscale is not running the campaign any longer. That was that not they were losing and they were losing in a profligate way, and it was clear that Brad Parscale and a lot of his friends, people on the edges of the campaign, were getting rich in the process.

And Donald Trump is not someone -- does not take well to that under the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of circumstances.

Lawrence, it's one thing to blow your cash advantage, to blow one of the main advantages that an incumbent president has always over a challenger. You don't have to have primaries. You don't have to spend money gaining the nomination. He ran unopposed, and they managed to blow that.

It's one thing to blow all that money and be ahead. Donald Trump's not ahead as you just pointed out. He's losing -- right now, he's losing enough without, you know, on the most conservative estimate if the election were held today, he'd lose, and that's a pretty conservative estimate. There's not a battleground state where Donald Trump is ahead right now. And there are a lot of states that Donald Trump is playing defense on that he won pretty comfortably in 2016.

O'DONNELL: And every, I guess, seven-year-old in America can remember five years ago when Donald Trump said he would pay for the campaigns himself. He didn't need any donations at all. Here he is running out of money having spent an awful lot of that campaign money on himself and his own businesses.


TRUMP: We needed to spend more money upfront because of the pandemic and the statements being made by Democrats. But the press was fake, and we have to spend a lot of money. No, if we need -- if we did need -- we don't because we have much more money than we had last time going into the last two months. I think double and triple. But if we needed any more, I'd put it up personally.


O'DONNELL: John, how much is he going to put up personally?

HEILEMANN: Oh, Lawrence, let's you and I admit that we both -- can say right here that you and I agree that the answer to that is the big old goose egg. The big fat donut, a big stinking hairy zero.

You're good at that picking up Donald Trump's lies, Lawrence. That one was not. You don't have to be as good as Lawrence O'Donnell at calling the lies of Donald Trump and that one was a lie.

O'DONNELL: John Heilemann gets tonight's LAST WORD.

And once again, THE LAST WORD is "lie". Thank you John. Really appreciate it.

That is tonight's LAST WORD.




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