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Transcript: The ReidOut, December 23, 2020

Guests: Pramila Jayapal, Larry Kupers, Paul Butler, Rob Davidson, Marilyn Strickland, Leslie Jones

Summary

Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago with country in chaos. Trump derails COVID relief, risks government shutdown. Trump vetoes defense spending authorization. Trump pardon spree rewards political friends and allies. Millions of Americans are choosing to ignore all warnings of traveling for the holiday season and gathering with friends and family. Are we in for yet another deadly surge on top of the ongoing surge?

Transcript

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: What an absolute beautiful moment there.

That does it for me, you can catch me right here on MSNBC weekdays at 3:00 P.M. Eastern. Have a safe and very happy holidays. "THE REIDOUT" starts right now.

TIFFANY CROSS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I'm Tiffany Cross in for Joy Reid.

Donald Trump, who was nothing but consistent, is leaving office the same way he arrived, in a flurry of chaos, leaving scandals and mayhem in his wake. And yet four years later, he still manages to stun Congress when days before Christmas, he struck at the heart of struggling Americans facing hunger, potential homelessness and financial ruin by derailing the bipartisan stimulus package that he took almost no part in, endangering relief to millions of Americans and bringing the country to the brink of yet another government shutdown.

Much of Trump's chaos was enabled by Attorney General William Barr who left his post today. But Trump's interpretation of justice will live on, having pardoned crooked former congressmen and war criminals who are loyalists. He is now pretty much engaging in open warfare with his own party today, vetoing a colossal defense bill in a move that will defund the military.

Trump is also taunting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, threatening primary challenges against other Republicans and ignoring a devastating public health catastrophe simply because he's over it.

Trump emerged today from the White House where he has been hiding since November 3rd, hosting a motley crew of conspiracy theorists and fringe flunkies while planning a coup. Heading off to Mar-a-Lago, where he will spend his last Christmas as president, he will remarkably still host his annual red carpet New Year's eve party, some might say a super-spreader event, and remain at his estate until January 1st or the 3rd.

But, honestly, who knows if he will ever come back. It wouldn't even matter, because right now, we essentially have no president. No one in the Oval Office who is interested in the acts or the oaths of being president, no one who is even pretending to be president or no one who is even playing one on T.V. We have a man who insists on making every aspects of American life and struggle about him. And now even his physical presence is absent, leaving America to fend for itself for 28 more days.

Joining me now to talk about this and more are Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington State, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and David Jolly, former Republican Congressman who is no longer affiliated with the party.

Jonathan, I have to start with you on this because there's a lot of conversation about what is Trump going to do. Is he going to veto the bill? Some people say he will, other say, calm down. Honestly, nobody knows at this point. What are you hearing?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we've certainly been down this road before. There have been other moments where he has thrown an 11th hour fit, if you will, about a spending measure or bill that he had previously signaled that he would be okay with. Let's recall that it was a couple years ago when the government shutdown because he got upset after being criticized in conservative media that there wasn't enough funding for his signature border wall.

What happened yesterday took everyone by surprise. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows organized a video that was shot in the White House in total secrecy. Only a few aides were notified. Most of the west wing staff surprised. Certainly, Republicans on Capitol Hill were as well.

And what happens next is unclear. The president never used the word veto in that video, but, clearly, that is the threat. But he may just let this dangle out for a few days and rant and rave and eventually quietly sign the bill and we'll all move on.

But it is possible that we will have a bit crisis and, certainly, this will deprive Americans if the spending measures were to fail, and that benefits run out, Americans who so desperately need the help right now in during an economic crisis and, of course, a health crisis that has killed over 320,000 Americans.

And I think the backdrop here is, as a final point, it's also a broad side against his own party. The president privately feels betrayed. He tells people, that Senator Majority Leader McConnell, that Senator Thune, the whip in the Senate, but even the vice president, Mike Pence, who's been nothing but loyal, he feels like they have not defending him enough, they're not going along with his baseless conspiracy theories that the election was rigged and therefore must be overturned.

And this is sort of an act of petulance and vengeance, which complicates the lives of Republicans, many of whom really stuck out their necks for this vote and certainly the two senators from Georgia who are trying to hang on to their seats and, therefore, the Republican majority in those runoffs in a couple of weeks.

CROSS: Yes, we're going to get to that later in the show. But, Jonathan, let me stick with you for a second. Why the secrecy around this video? I mean, like are all the sycophants who surrounded him in the White House gone? Why is he operating on an island when he's still surrounded by staff? Are they done with him?

LEMIRE: Well, we've seen a staff that's really hollowed out in the week since the election. Remember, we had a coronavirus outbreak the night -- at the White House the night of the election, at their party there. And some staffers quarantined for weeks and didn't come back. Others have moved on to new jobs, including the communications director, Alyssa Farah. She has left the White House. Others are actively shopping for a new post. And still others have sort of given up in a way of trying to talk the president out of things, a real fatigue that has set in in the west wing.

And they clashed even a few days ago when the president first made this demand privately that he thought the benefit should be to American should be $2,000 rather than $600. He was talked out of it initially by some staff who eventually gave in. There aren't many voices in this White House that he would listen to.

One of whom, Jared Kushner, who is a senior aide, of course, he has been MIA too. He's in most -- he's been in Israel this week. He's now returned but he drew the wrath of some in the White House for not -- for, once again, seemingly not being present at a moment of crisis for the president. It's a small, small group of some conspiracy theorists-touting lawyers, like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who are in the president's ear, Michael Flynn, another who's called for martial law. He has the president's ear. Very few other Republicans do at this moment.

And we're seeing him act alone, that he is sort of ending his time in the White House four long weeks to go, increasingly isolated but also completely unbound and lashing out at staff, Republicans and making everyone's life difficult right now while abdicating his leadership roles during the pandemic.

CROSS: Yes. I mean, I think the absence of Jared Kushner is very interesting because he's supposed to be the secretary of all the things and he's, you know, pretty much vanished.

Let me turn to you Congresswoman, you were a player in this bill. I mean, you were a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. You've fought for certain things. I think, at this point, the American people want to know, am I getting $600, am I getting $2,000, and if I'm getting anything, when will those checks come? As best you can, how can you answer that question to American people who are suffering right now when everything seems to be hanging in the balance?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, I just have to go back and say that the president is being disingenuous at best, cruel at worst. 250 days ago, Tiffany, I introduced a bill with Rashida Tlaib and others for $2,000 in survival checks. And just even a couple weeks ago, my colleague, Lisa Blunt Rochester, had a bill for $1,000 per adult and $1,000 per child. We were pushing for more money the entire time.

And Speaker Pelosi actually asked the White House to please have the president tell us exactly how much the president was willing to put into these survival checks because there was bipartisan support for actually increasing these payments.

The president never said a thing. He never weighed in. He never said that he was willing to fight for $2,000 checks. And so now that there was a compromise crafted, which, frankly, none of us believes on the Democratic side is sufficient, now he comes out just when we've gotten that compromise crafted and he says, oh, he wants $2,000 checks.

Well, let me tell you this, Mr. President, we are ready to take you up on that offer, which, by the way, was a Democratic offer first and foremost, and we will offer a unanimous consent bill that will -- unanimous consent request that will put $2,000 checks on the table. And if the Republicans object, then the country will once again be clear about how it is Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and Republicans that are continuing to play games with people's futures.

And that is a thing that feels so unbelievably cruel to me. Yesterday, I was on the radio here in Seattle about talking to people about how we hope they will see these survival checks, the expanded unemployment assistance that is in the COVID relief package within a week. People are desperate.

Last week, I was on the show with you -- just a few days ago, actually, not even a week ago, saying what we say to that single mother who is trying to figure out if she can stay in her home over the holidays, who can't put food on her table.

So this is the ultimate of cruelty in my mind is the game playing. We could have had $2,000 checks. Democrats wanted that a long time ago. The president has not been anywhere in this discussion. This is what he does. He creates chaos. He is cruel. And, frankly, it's a -- it's terrible for the American people.

CROSS: Yes, and he's pulled the attention away from people who are actually lawmakers and put it all back on himself again. So, you know, it's just really tragic. And the $600, I think a lot of people aren't realizing, a lot of that money will be eaten up by overdraft fees. It's spent before it even hits bank accounts. So people are really struggling. I hope the president realizes that.

David Joylly, I want to turn to you. I have to ask about this defense spending bill. For those of us who have covered D.C. for a long time, I have to say I never thought I would see the day when a Republican president would be out loud advocating for defunding the military. And all these people who are so in their feelings about defunding the police, I hope there's just as much outrage at your president who is actually defunding the military. Talk to me about this bill.

First of all, will your Republican colleagues or former Republican colleagues, I should say, will they sustain his efforts to veto it or will they stand up for military families at this incredibly challenging time?

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Tiffany, look, it's a great question, and Congress will likely override the veto. I guess I would defer to the congresswoman on that. But in a bit of nuance when it comes to congressional politics, I would say, what he vetoed is a policy bill. It is not the funding bill. It would not defund the military.

We have two lanes of legislation on Congress. One deals with policy. One deals with the funding. The funding is what's in jeopardy given the president's recent veto threat. You know, we're so focused on the stimulus amount, is it $2,000 or $600.

The reality is, this is one major package and the government shuts down Monday at midnight. That is where the real funding for the military is. If Donald Trump vetoes the stimulus package that we're all talking about, he's actually also vetoing the fiscal year budget that would start midnight on Monday night, which is why a continuing resolution might be needed and why we're focused on the stimulus.

Funding for the government expires Monday at midnight. The veto of the defense policy bill today will likely be overridden and worked out. But whether or not defense is funded for the next fiscal year, it depends on Monday at midnight.

CROSS: And we should say one of the reasons why he does it -- why he vetoed the bill is because it required that ten or so bases change the names of former confederate leaders.

JOLLY: Sure.

CROSS: He didn't like the Section 230, which wouldn't repeal a law for social media, who he's had beef with for a long time about some labels they put on his tweets. I mean, it is just utterly ridiculous that this is where we are as a country.

Congresswoman, I want to turn back to you because David Jolly punted to you and said you would be better to answer this question. So do you think that the Republicans in the House will stand up and make sure that he can't veto this legislation? And I also want to tag on to that, why is this $2,000 one-time for payment for families such a non-starter for the GOP?

JAYAPAL: Well, I have no idea why it's a non-starter for the GOP. It makes no sense when their constituents are struggling, just as much as mine. This is not a partisan issue. And so -- and, you know, and I will say that there are Republicans, like Josh Hawley in the Senate and also McKinley in the House who have been pushing for these larger stimulus payments or survival checks, as I call it. So, I hope we can get that done.

But we will pass -- on Monday, we're coming back in because we're going to have to vote again on the NDAA. There were -- look, there were plenty of votes to override the veto. So, Congressman Jolly is exactly right on that. That's not going to be a problem. We will likely -- if he says he's going to veto the stimulus bill and the appropriations package, we will have to pass another continuing resolution. That might take the whole thing into the New Year.

So, again, uncertainty for families, no relief for people, no appropriations, nothing, nothing for the American people. Why? Because Donald Trump is so arrogant and narcissistic that he's got to always turn it back to himself. And that's just the sad reality of where we are.

We don't know if he'll veto the appropriations bill. Let's see what happens. But we are ready. We're going to go back into session on Monday. We will vote on the unanimous consent. Well, we're assuming Republicans object to the unanimous consent, which means that we will then offer a bill to add $1,400 to the $600 payment and maybe we'll pass it. That would be wonderful. That bill will be tied to the rest of the appropriations package. So, Donald Trump will not be able to sign the $1,400 but not the appropriations package.

And then we will also have to pass a continuing resolution, assuming that Trump is still thinking about vetoing the whole thing. It's a mess, thanks to Donald Trump.

CROSS: Yes. And meanwhile, these food lines are getting longer and families are just in limbo this holiday season, which is incredibly heartbreaking. So, we'll keep an eye on it. Thank you so much, you guys, for bringing some context to this as people are struggling. Thank you, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Jonathan Lemire and David Jolly.

Up next on THE REIDOUT, William Barr says goodbye to the Trump administration, skipping out on Trump's final four weeks and what might be just the beginning of obscene pardoning spree.

Plus, Trump throws a wrench in Senate Georgia runoffs by calling for a $2,000 stimulus checks, putting the Republican candidates in a difficult spot.

And a special holiday visit by Leslie Jones who may be trolling me by now, we don't know.

Back with more on THE REIDOUT after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROSS: As Donald Trump has done with nearly every power given to the presidency, his brazen use of pardon and commutation has perverted the solemn act, and the backlash is growing. Remember, Trump long campaigned on draining the swamp. Yet he granted clemency last night to three former congressman who epitomize the swamp. It helps that Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins were among the first members to endorse candidate Trump during his 2016 campaign.

And also included in the part in spree were two key figures caught lying in the Mueller Russia investigation, former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan.

And bringing harsh criticism both here and abroad was Trump's decision to pardon for ex-Blackwater contractors convicted of the indiscriminate killings of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children.

Like many of Trump's past pardons, it appears that many of these bypassed the traditional Justice Department review process. Today was Attorney General Bill Barr's last day at the DOJ, so it's totally not surprising that there wouldn't be any pushback from him.

However, according to "The New York Times," Barr has told associates he had been alarmed by Mr. Trump's behavior in recent weeks.

Welcome to the club. Where was all this alarm weeks ago?

Joining me now is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, and Larry Kupers, is the former head of the Department -- or the department of attorney -- Department of Pardons at the DOJ.

Larry, I want to start with you. I am so happy that you were able to join us.

A lot of people think that the president can just show up and pardon whoever he wants, which, technically, that is in his executive power, but there actually is a process to pardons. Can you briefly walk us through what that process is?

LARRY KUPERS, FORMER DOJ ACTING PARDON ATTORNEY: Yes.

But I will start off by saying that Trump has basically avoided or circum-routed that process entirely. The process is that a person seeking a commutation or a pardon puts in an application to the Department of Justice. It goes to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

And there, the lawyers, review the application, look at various documents and consider what to do with the application. What sort of recommendation, after they evaluate it, should they give, either a favorable recommendation or a denial?

It goes to the pardon attorney. The pardon attorney reviews, once again puts his or her stamp on it. Then it goes to the deputy attorney general. And the deputy attorney general makes the final decision. What is going to be the recommendation of the Department of Justice? Is it going to be for a grant or for a denial?

Goes to the White House and eventually goes to the president. As can be seen in the public record, the overwhelming number of grants of clemency by this administration came from the White House, without going through the Department of Justice.

CROSS: So, this is kind of crazy, because there are so many people who are on standby and desperate to get a pardon. And these people were able to cut the line.

They have shown no remorse, which is one of the qualities that you should show before getting a pardon. And here they are, pardoned, while Trump is actively executing people. And the DOJ is completely absent from this.

I want to ask, because there are rumors, right, about the pardon process. And I want to stick with you for a second on this one, Larry.

KUPERS: Sure.

CROSS: Some people have speculated, there's been some reporting that he may pre-pardon his children. I have literally never heard of that. Is that something that can actually happen? Is that legal?

KUPERS: Absolutely.

The best example is Richard Nixon. When you talk about commutations and pardons, usually, the word pardon is used for something called a pardon after conviction, which means somebody gets convicted, waits five years, and then asks for a pardon to restore his or her rights.

But there is something also called a preemptive part. And a preemptive pardon is, for example, what Joe Arpaio got when he was given a pardon before he was actually convicted of the crime that he was facing.

CROSS: Larry...

KUPERS: And because -- yes.

CROSS: Yes, Larry, I hate to interrupt you, but I do want to say, as we're talking about this, there's breaking news.

The president has just pardoned Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort is a name that's been in the headlines for a long time. He is one of the compadres of Roger Stone. He served as Trump's former campaign manager, and the president has just pardoned him as well.

This just -- I hate to interrupt you, but this just came across the NBC News desk.

So, what do you make of this latest pardon?

KUPERS: Well, this is just one of his many pardons from the very start, all abusive, because what he's doing is either benefiting cronies or trying to excite his base.

What I should point out about this pardon, though, is that it is not a pardon that wipes out Manafort's conviction. It's a pardon that's after conviction. So, his conviction stands. But now his rights will be restored. And if he has any more prison time to do other, then that, I take it, is being commuted by this pardon.

CROSS: So, also -- with more breaking news, also, in the name of the president's latest pardons Roger Stone, who is a longtime partner of Paul Manafort, and Charlie Kushner.

Why might that name sound familiar? He is, of course, the father to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

You will remember that Charlie Kushner was sentenced to jail under the reign of New Jersey Governor -- former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which was rumored to cause some discord between Jared Kushner and Chris Christie on the campaign trail. And now Charlie Kushner has been pardoned, along with Roger Stone.

This news is just hitting the NBC desk, so we're bringing it to you first. And it just happened to be during this segment on pardons, which is crazy.

Paul, Paul Butler, I want to bring you in this conversation, because this is just a wild abuse of presidential pardon power.

What do you think the president's -- his intentions are of pardoning these really shady characters, by all accounts? I mean, for anybody even remotely familiar with Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, you remember, you and I have shared the screen before we're talking about Paul Manafort and his infamous ostrich coat.

It's like the money that he spent behind these shady dealings. What do you think the president's trying to accomplish with these pardons?

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: We know what his intent is by looking at the people who he has given pardons to.

And they're his political friends, or war criminals, or rich white guys, or people like Paul Manafort who were convicted in the Mueller investigation and who didn't rat Trump out.

Almost none of these scoundrels were qualified under the normal process that Larry described, because they haven't accepted responsibility or shown remorse. People like Paul Manafort and the Blackwater security murderers don't think that they did anything wrong.

CROSS: Right.

BUTLER: As of today, Trump has pardoned about 65 people. Actually, that's as of an hour ago.

Again, it's going to go up and up. But it's not going to be people who were sentenced under draconian drug laws and turned their lives around, who deserve mercy. It's more likely to be, as we see, family members like Don Jr., Jared and Ivanka, rich white dudes, and people like Paul Manafort, who went to prison, rather than expose Trump's criminality.

CROSS: So, let me just -- I want to inform our viewers.

Paul Manafort, who is 71 years old, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for his role in a decade-long multimillion-dollar financial fraud scheme for his work in the former Soviet Union, a very consistent theme with this presidency.

And Roger Stone, who's 68, his -- we remember that this breaking news, when his 40-month prison sentence had previously been commuted by Trump. And he has a ridiculous social media campaign maintaining his innocence. He was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House inquiry into possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia.

Mr. Kushner, Jared Kushner's father, 66, he pleaded guilty in 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion and a single count of retaliating against a federal witness and of lying to the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, and he served two years of that sentence in 2006.

And I have to tell you, Paul, I cannot help but think of people who are serving long prison sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses, for low-level criminal offenses who are still in prison today, while these people have been pardoned by a president who claimed he wanted to drain the swamp.

It just beggars belief at this point, but I think this is all the commonality of, see where white supremacy gets you? It cast a wide, dark shadow over every aspect of our criminal justice system and our government.

I want to bring in Jonathan Lemire, who is rejoining us after this breaking news.

Jonathan, thanks so much.

I know we had let you go. Thanks so much for coming back.

Tell me what you're hearing from the White House and where these pardons even came from. We were expecting more pardons, but why these three?

LEMIRE: Well, we had a feeling this might come on -- come tonight. So I left the camera on.

Yes, these are widely expected, but, of course, still somewhat stunning to read the names in the official release.

And it's two tracks here. It's in similar themes to the pardons we saw last night. The first, of course, is, he's rewarding allies. In this case, it's Charlie Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, married to Ivanka Trump, who is perhaps his most influential aide.

The conviction of Kushner is one -- of Charlie Kushner, of course, was a life-defining moment for Jared Kushner. He has said so extensively. Of course, let's remember that it was Chris Christie, then U.S. attorney now -- then -- who became later governor of New Jersey and a Trump ally, who was behind that prosecution of Jared Kushner's father.

And that's the reason why Christie didn't get a job in the Trump administration. So, this was long believed that it was going to happen tonight. And Jared Kushner, as we discussed earlier in the hour, had largely been absent from the White House in recent days. He'd been in the Middle East.

But he was spotted there today and traveled with President Trump on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago this evening to begin the president's break. So he was with the president as this news came out.

And then, of course, the other theme is a further rebuke to the Russia probe, to the special counsel Mueller investigation, which the president has deemed a witch-hunt and felt like it shadowed, unfairly, in his mind, his administration throughout his time in office.

And we're seeing those two pardons tonight, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, two who, of course, were -- Manafort in particular -- this was widely held -- former campaign chairman, has been -- had served time. He was convicted about two years ago, I believe, and -- but never turned on the president, and explicitly made clear, it was signaled to the White House, that this is why, that he remained loyal and remained silent with hopes of a pardon, which he received tonight.

CROSS: I mean, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort have been a staple in GOP politics. I mean, you can go back decades, and their names are attached something.

Jonathan, let me ask you. And I know this news is just breaking, so I know what it's like to just get this stuff across your desk and be asked questions about it.

But I want to ask. The president has really kind of blanketed himself a champion of criminal justice. He touted his role in the FIRST STEP Act, even though he really didn't do anything but sign it. This was a bill that came about in Congress by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Republican Doug Collins out of Georgia.

Is there anybody in this group of pardons who would fall under the people he would consider the FIRST STEP Act? Are there drug offenders, nonviolent drug offenders, people who he loved to chart out with Kim Kardashian? Or are these all like personal favors from anybody from Betsy DeVos' brother-in-law, Erik Prince, who runs Blackwater, to Mr. Kushner, who is obviously Jared Kushner's father-in-law (sic)?

Are there any people who just landed on his desk and got a pardon out of compassion or any -- above the -- above the shadiness line?

LEMIRE: Sure.

We're going through the list, just like you are, so I don't have a complete answer for you. It does seem, just sort of skimming it -- and, obviously, the names Kushner, Stone and Manafort are the ones that jumped out -- that some of these appear to have come through the normal pardon process.

The president, we know, throughout his time in office, right, that he has, of course, favored his allies and rewarded loyalty with these pardons and these acts of clemency. But he has, as you just noted, given some to people who I think a lot of Americans feel deserved, the people who were unjustly prosecuted, who were given far too harsh sentences.

And there seems -- and White House aides in the initial few minutes since this came out suggested that some of those stories are in here as well. But those, of course, are not the headlines.

The headlines are these three big names, loyalists, his son-in-law -- his powerful son-in-law's father, and then, of course, these two longtime aides. And you're correct to note that Stone and Manafort are not just people who showed up on the scene to help with Donald Trump's 2015-2016 presidential campaign. They have been staples in the Republican Party for decades.

And, certainly, the corruption, many believe, has run deep. And I would also say this. I don't think we should expect at all these to be the final pardons issued by this president. It is typical. Presidents often give pardons around Christmas, and certainly near the end of their term.

We have seen most presidents give a wave of them. But this one in particular, this is the power the president -- this president, Trump, has fallen in love with. It's something he can do unilaterally. He doesn't need Congress. He doesn't need the courts. And, frankly, he doesn't even really need many in the way of his own staff. It's just something he can do.

And I think there will be more. We're led to believe there will be many, perhaps many more in these last four weeks of the president's office, with the question, of course, remaining of whether it's even legal, whether he could perhaps even offer pardons, preemptive pardons, to members of his own family and potentially even himself.

CROSS: Definitely.

Don't go anywhere, Jonathan Lemire, because I want to come back to you on this.

But I want to bring in David Jolly, who, like Jonathan, stuck around for us.

David, this is -- again, like Jonathan pointed out, this is not like it's unexpected.

JOLLY: Yes.

CROSS: But it's still beggars belief.

The president, like I said, has been nothing but consistent. So, not surprising that he's done this.

You share Jonathan's belief that there are going to be other pardons coming down the pike as well.

JOLLY: Yes, absolutely.

Look, I think there's a lot in this behavior by the president. We know his pardon authority is largely at his own discretion, and he is choosing to use it for his own political and personal network, which you could make the case is an abuse of his office, but, truly, he has the pardon power exclusively to himself.

I find it interesting that it appears some of those pardoned tonight were represented or at least pushed by Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general, some in the last batch pushed reportedly by Rudy Giuliani. There's a question of how broad this network goes of this whole pardon activity.

But, at the end of the day, I think what we know, Tiffany, from Donald Trump's pardon activity is this. We are pushing up to the threshold where Donald Trump will make a decision whether or not to pardon possibly himself or members of his family for behavior and activity not yet charged.

And that is a new area. He certainly -- he likely has that authority to pardon any behavior and activity not yet charged. That's the threshold Donald Trump has to decide whether or not he's going to cross in the next 30 days.

CROSS: So, neither of these guys are currently in prison. I mean, Paul Manafort was released earlier this year because of concerns about COVID.

Meanwhile, one in five prisoners in this country has been diagnosed with COVID. And these guys, after breaking the law, get to roam about free.

Paul Butler, I want to bring you back in the conversation.

Do you anticipate that this president will pardon regular folks who have been unjustly sentenced over the years? I know he loves when celebrities come to the Oval Office and beg him, and he gets to tout them out. Do you think that will happen in the remaining days of his presidency?

BUTLER: Yes, I sure hope so.

There are 14,000 petitions for clemency and pardons that are pending in Trump's office. And while he has, on occasion, granted mercy to people who really deserve it, that hasn't been the thrust of how he's used his power.

He's used it in a very instrumental, self-serving and political way. But I have worked on petitions for people who have been sentenced under draconian drug laws who have accepted responsibility and really turned their lives around and done the right thing. And those folks are largely being dissed by this White House in this rush to reward Trump's friends and cronies and people who lived by the code, who didn't snitch Trump out.

CROSS: So, I do want to add that the president has also pardoned Margaret Hunter, who is the wife of California -- former California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

These two were accused of mishandling campaign finance funds, and they allegedly were taking funds and were trying to ball until they fall. And now these two have been pardoned. Duncan Hunter, no longer a member of Congress, Margaret Hunter, his wife, have now been pardoned by the president.

So, this is just a smorgasbord, this motley crew of shady characters who have been pardoned. It's a little insane.

Larry, I want to bring you back into the conversation. I know we're throwing a lot of breaking news that you at this point. But what do you make of these pardons? And do you anticipate that this president will pardon additional family members?

And I don't even know if it's legal that he can pardon himself, but I'm told that it is.

KUPERS: I anticipate he will keep -- he's basically gone into overdrive with these pardons.

But it's -- the pardons are nothing new. It's the same -- the same M.O., which is to pardon people who are cronies and pardon people who will excite his base.

When you get to his family, you're not going to have any legal problems with that, because the pardon power is very expansive. When it gets to the possibility of pardoning himself, you may have a legal problem, but you can only have a legal problem with that if he's prosecuted after he leaves office by the federal authorities.

And if he does pardon himself, he will actually trigger possibly the federal authorities to prosecute him to not let stand what is an egregious abuse of the pardon power, which is to self-pardon.

CROSS: Right.

And we should say that these pardons don't do much in way of state charges. And I think the question we have to ask is, if he's pre-pardoning his children, what exactly is he pre-pardoning them for?

Jared and Ivanka Kushner made over $130 million during the second year of the Trump administration. So we'll have to wait and see. If more pardons come tonight, we will certainly bring it to you here on THE REIDOUT, so don't go anywhere.

I want to thank you, Larry Cooper, Paul Butler, Jonathan Lemire and David Jolly. I know I was throwing a lot of breaking news at you guys. Thanks for sticking with me on that.

Still ahead, millions of Americans are choosing to ignore all warnings of traveling for the holiday season and gathering with friends and family. Are we in for yet another deadly surge on top of the ongoing surge?

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROSS: Just two days from Christmas and the families of 325,000 Americans will have one less person with them to celebrate the holidays. That's one less mother, one less father, sister or grandfather to hug.

This week alone, nearly 7,000 of our fellow Americans were taken by the coronavirus. In California, the surge of cases is pushing the state to the brink, averaging nearly 300 deaths every day. Experts and officials are pleading with Californians to please forego travel.

Health experts are concerned that activities and behaviors thought to be relatively safe just weeks ago now carry a higher risk of infection than ever before, disregarding dire warnings, more than 5 million passengers have passed through TSA check points since Friday. That's roughly 1 million American passengers every day crisscrossing a country that is awash in the coronavirus.

As devastating as that news is, it's not all bad because Pfizer announced an agreement with the federal government to deliver 100 million more doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Joining me now to answer all your questions and more is Congresswoman-elect Marilyn Strickland of Washington state, and Dr. Rob Davidson, ER physician in West Michigan, and the executive director of the committee to protect Medicare.

Dr. Davidson, thank you so much for joining me.

I do want to start with you being an ER doctor here. The one thing that really frightens me is we're hearing in California ICU capacity is at 0 percent. Does the country's hospital infrastructure as it stands right now, are we prepared to take this influx of sickness after the Christmas break when people will inevitably get ill and have to be rushed to the hospital?

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Listen, of course we will find places to put all of these sick people, but they end up in places where they're not, you know, supposed to be. They end up in the emergency department for hours and days on end. They end up on regular medical wards.

And in Reno, Nevada, they end up in parking garages that are converted to clinical space. The problem is we can create beds, we can hook up oxygen and we can get enough ventilators. It's the number of people on staff to take care of all these sick people.

You have nurses taking care of two critically ill patients for two shifts which is a lot of work now doubling that up in some places. And the patients just can't get all the care they need and the nurses are forced to work under such duress, you know, putting them at high levels of stress like we've never seen.

CROSS: This is a scary thing to imagine, but you see in California ICU beds are at zero capacity and now here we are. I think there are two sets of people asking two different questions. The first is how soon can me and my loved ones talk it?

The second is how many of you all are going to take it? And then I will decide if I'm going to take it.

So, Doctor, I want to stick with you here. One, how soon before everybody can take the vaccine, because there's a process to this? And two, what do you say to people who still have skepticism about the rollout of the vaccine?

DAVIDSON: You know, we think by the end of the first quarter next year most people who want it will be able to get it, most people, certainly by the end of the second quarter of next year. So, we're still talking another six months of everybody doing the hard work of wearing masks and socially distancing, of not traveling and doing everything as remotely as possible.

As far as, you know, kind of alleviating people's concerns, I'm getting the Moderna first shot in four days. My wife is a physician and got the Pfizer first shot four days ago. You know, our committee is going to be starting a vaccination education program, hopefully sharing videos of physicians across the country in their own communities getting the vaccine, talking about the safety.

I'm confident with the studies that have been done showing it safe. I'm confident with the technology and I think we all have to put our money where our mouth is and walk the walk and show people we trust it.

CROSS: Congresswoman-elect Strickland, I want to talk to turn. And let me be the first to say, from one Washington to another, welcome to D.C. We'll see you in January.

I want to ask you because you're actually a former mayor, and one of the other concerns I think a lot of people have is there is no centralized response. There is no centralized rollout at the federal level.

Having run a local municipality, how comfortable are you leaving this rollout up to the states, keeping in mind we have governors like Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp out there who will be deciding how this vaccine rolls out?

REP.-ELECT MARILYN STRICKLAND (D-WA): No, I mean, it's unfortunate that we don't have a strong national strategy to do this and that we do have to rely on governors. And one of the things that I know is true is that people have been asking the question, when do I get the vaccine? And, you know, you brought it up earlier where there are some folks who are reluctant about it. But not having a national strategy puts us at a disadvantage.

The good news in Washington state, for example, is that Jay Inslee has done a very, very good job of managing this pandemic and he will do a good a job of making sure the vaccine is distributed and done so equitably. But we know that we have to get the people on the front lines of the vaccine first, health care workers, the people must vulnerable and also people who are going to be in a position where they may be carriers and spread it inadvertently.

And so, you know, we wish we had a national strategy, but right now, we have to go with the governors. I also appreciate that you brought up the mayors because they will play a big role in this rollout.

CROSS: What role do you think mayors will play across the country in the rollout?

STRICKLAND: You know, I think the mayors can work with the governors because they are typically running larger cities and just making sure that we are coordinating locations where the vaccine will be available and also, too, you know, I think for some people, they are still reluctant about the vaccine.

For some communities, historically, the healthcare system hasn't always put us first and we have some bad experiences with it, and so in many case some mayors can lead by example by showing that the vaccine is something that is safe and should be taken when you have the opportunity to get it, but also just working with the governors.

And so, some of the governors I know, we have questions about it because they have been acting as though this is a hoax and not obeying the rules to socially distance or wear masks, which is tragic. I also can count on America's mayors to do some of the heavy lifting as well. So, hopefully, the Biden administration will have a good relationship America's mayors the way that Obama did and that can be an avenue to make sure that people who need the vaccine will get it.

CROSS: Can I ask, have you had the vaccine?

STRICKLAND: I have not had the vaccine, but I do plan to get it in January when the 117th Congress does convene. And I do so for many reasons, but it's the same reason I wear a mask. I want to take care of those around me and I don't want to expose others to something.

And so, I will be flying back and forth from Washington state to Washington, D.C.

I will be in airports. I will be on planes, and I will be with members of Congress. As you know, there are some folks in Congress who have not been wearing masks and have been attending super-spreader events. And so, to protect other people and the people in my family, especially the elders in my family that I'm around a lot, I'm going to lead by example show people it can be safe.

CROSS: Yeah, they just changed the rules if in the House, in Congress a week or so ago.

Look, I can ask you guys a lot of questions, but we have a lot of breaking news this hour. So, maybe you guys will have to join me on my show, "THE CROSS CONNECTION" one day. But that's all the time we have with you for now. So, thank you so much. Congresswoman-elect Marilyn Strickland, looking forward to meeting you when you get to D.C., and Dr. Rob Davidson.

I'm Tiffany Cross and I will see you again Saturday morning on 10:00 a.m. Eastern on "THE CROSS CONNECTION". I will be answering all your questions that you have. So, be sure to tune in.

But we're not done here. So, don't go anywhere. Joy Reid, who I hope is enjoying her time off, left us all an early Christmas present and it involves the amazing Leslie Jones and a certain Christmas classic updated by Joy herself.

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: This holiday season, Americans are dealing with a lot. A raging pandemic, a president who refuses to concede he lost re-election, and a country so divided we can't even seem to agree on the need to wear masks.

So, tonight, we'll end the show with my little twist on a Christmas classic to fit our times. Joining me for a special reading, comedian Leslie Jones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LESLIE JONES, COMEDIAN: And now time for the remix of "Twas A Night Before Christmas" by Joy Ann Reid.

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the White House the president was stirring and starting to grouse. He shared COVID virus with all of his team, his family, his aides, and his little regime. He spread it at rallies and parties to gloat over stealing Supreme Court seats and nearly the vote.

But he failed to pull off the greatest escape, to keep being president despite losing key states. No SCOTUS, no lawsuits, no lies about fraud. No Rudy, no Fox News, or OANN could alter the fact that Joe Biden was in.

And Tish James and her glasses, with Cy Vance on hand, could soon indict everyone, federal pardons be banned.

No Jared, no Ivanka, no Junior and dumb one, you might not escape from the crimes you have done.

At the Senate, McConnell was playing the scrooge, denying relief cash that might make Christmas huge. For regular people, for whom he cares not, though he shielded big businesses from all of their rot.

Republicans partied at COVID affairs, Lindsey snickered at poor folks, evictions and CARES (ph). They toasted and feasted, little Marco sipped booze and everyone whispered, they still hate Ted Cruz.

Right wingers and screamers and some QAnon rubes all gathered at statehouses carrying guns. They wailed and they hollered, we still think Trump won!

While Kamala quietly reclaiming her time assured, all the children that things would be fine. And I heard Trump exclaim over Ferguson's coke, Melania, pack your (EXPLETIVE DELETED), our lease has been revoked.

Merry Christmas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

REID: Thank you very much to the great Leslie Jones.

And that's tonight's REIDOUT.

Happy holidays to all.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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