Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 1/18/2021 – MSNBC

Posted: January 29, 2021 at 12:29 pm

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: I`m so glad that you did, Rachel, because I was going to read it if you didn`t. The good news in it is the FBI knows everything these people are up to at the moment and seems to have a good eye on them. I think their possible success at their schemes is probably close to zero at this point with the amount of attention they already have from the FBI.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yeah, I was also interested to see, and this is a rare thing that you don`t see papers don`t say very often, that "The Post" says, withholding details outlined in the intelligence report at the request of the FBI to avoid revealing intelligence-gathering methods or specific security vulnerabilities.

So, the FBI is going to "The Post" and saying, don`t report this stuff, it`s going to let them know how we`re surveilling them. And how they know - - how they might be able to figure out what we`re doing. How we know what they`re doing. That`s a sign of active investigations.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, it reminds me of the arrests of the gang in Michigan whose scheme was to kidnap the governor. About half of the people involved were either FBI informers or FBI agents, themselves. There was just a stunning amount of them so that at any given moment, when you were talking to someone in that plot, you were talking directly to the FBI. And that may very well be the case with all these people tonight.

MADDOW: Yeah, it may be. Man, this next two days, I`m both looking forward to it and really excited about it being over.

O`DONNELL: It will be over very soon, Rachel.

MADDOW: Yeah. Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

Well, Mary Trump is going to join us with at this point about 38 hours left in her uncle`s presidency. She is the person who I think can give us some idea about what to expect in those 38 hours and what Donald Trump`s life is going to be when he becomes a private citizen on the golf course. And this is this country`s 35th Martin Luther King Day.

Professor Eddie Glaude will join us at the end of this hour to consider what Dr. King`s final speech should mean to Americans today.

And so Donald Trump leaves the presidency the same way he entered it, with the overwhelming disapproval of a majority of the American people. A substantial majority of Americans disapproved of Donald Trump on the very first day of his presidency and every single day of his presidency and now in the final days of his presidency, 61 percent disapprove of Donald Trump and that`s before America has had a chance to see all of the pardons that Donald Trump will grant and what are now his final 38 hours in office.

A Quinnipiac poll today shows that 59 percent say Donald Trump should not be allowed to hold elected office in the future. 55 percent approve of the vote to impeach Donald Trump in the House last week. 54 percent say that Donald Trump should be convicted in his trial in the United States Senate. 59 percent say that Donald Trump is, indeed, responsible for inciting the violence that occurred in the invasion of the Capitol on January 6th.

That same poll also shows that Donald Trump and the Fox Channel`s relentless bombardment of propaganda lies has done grave damage to Republicans` ability to distinguish fact from fiction and 67 percent of Republicans think that the Biden/Harris election victory is not legitimate but always remember when you see a poll of Republicans, you must remember that only 25 percent of American voters are Republicans and so 67 percent of Republicans is only 16 percent of us, the American people.

Even if Donald Trump pardons himself, he is going to spend the next few days and possibly many more years as a defendant. First, he will be in effect the defendant in the Senate impeachment trial where the evidence continues to mount against him in the form of statements made by people who have been arrested for invading the Capitol, and they say that they did it because Donald Trump told them to. That is proof of incitement of insurrection, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The statements of many of those people who are now criminal defendants, themselves, will surely be used in the impeachment trial against Donald Trump. And so, the people who might turn out to be the most effective witnesses against Donald Trump in his impeachment trial in the Senate are the very people who love him so much that they invaded the Capitol for him. They love him so much that they committed federal crimes for him. And they love Donald Trump so much that they murdered a police officer for him.

Donald Trump is already a defendant in civil lawsuits that will progress much more quickly now that he`s not president starting on Wednesday afternoon. E. Jean Carroll is suing Donald Trump, saying Donald Trump raped her in New York City in the 1990s. Donald Trump`s niece, Mary Trump, is suing her uncle and will be testifying in legal proceedings against him. Mary Trump will join us later this hour.

Donald Trump and his children who are involved in this business could become criminal defendants in an investigation currently under way by the Manhattan district attorney. Donald Trump might become a criminal defendant in Georgia accused of violating state election law by asking the Republican secretary of state to find votes for him.

"The New York Times" is reporting that Donald Trump is contemplating more than 100 possible pardons, along with the White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone and advisers including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his daughter and son-in-law. Mr. Trump has spent days sifting through names and recommendations, assembling a list that officials say he intends to disclose on Tuesday. His last full day in office.

Don`t trust the list. Do not believe the list when it comes out because Donald Trump can grant pardons secretly that would never be revealed publicly until that person is charged with a federal crime. And only then would that pardon -- would that pardon reveal what Donald Trump had granted it, and that pardon would then be presented so that the charges would be dismissed against that person.

That could be how Donald Trump pardons himself. He might pardon himself and not reveal it publicly so that he doesn`t provoke a negative reaction to the pardon, to his self-pardon, in his Senate impeachment trial. "The New York Times" reports, White House officials also believe that any consideration he is giving to granting himself a pardon could also turn more Republicans against him in his coming Senate impeachment trial.

Not if he keeps his self-pardon a secret. He might keep pardons to his children a secret unless and until they are charged with a federal crime. Do not trust the Trump pardon list when it is publicly revealed. There is no reason to believe that Donald Trump will make every pardon he grants in his final hours of his presidency public.

It seemed like every hour today there was a new report from another news organization about who is on and who is slipping off the Trump pardon list, but none of those reports included the fact that Donald Trump can keep some of his pardons secret and his Senate impeachment trial gives him a huge incentive to that.

A lawyer for at least one of the people who invaded the Capitol is already asking for a pardon from Donald Trump. The lawyer for this guy wants a pardon for him saying that he only entered the Capitol because Donald Trump told him to.

Donald Trump will spend all of his waking hours -- the waking hours remaining in his presidency trying to figure out how best to protect himself with pardons. And when he does that, his poll numbers will not be going up. Donald Trump`s life beginning Wednesday afternoon will, in his mind, be the life of a loser. The only thing that might remain constant in his life is the number of hours he spends trying to play golf. Many national security experts are hoping he doesn`t have any new intelligence information with him on the golf course.

Sue Gordon was Donald Trump`s principal deputy director of national intelligence for the first three years of his presidency and she says that Donald Trump, the president she served, cannot be trusted with any more intelligence briefings as is traditional for presidents after they leave office. Sue Gordon writes in the "Washington Post," my recommendation as a 30-plus-year veteran of the intelligence community is not to provide him any briefings after January 20th with this simple act which is solely the new president`s prerogative, Joe Biden can mitigate one aspect of the potential national security risk posed by Donald Trump, private citizen.

Donald Trump, private citizen, doesn`t have a single good day in his future.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The New York Times", and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Yamiche, your friends in the White House press corps have been issuing new reports every hour at different news organizations about who`s on the pardon list, who`s slipping off the pardon list. Is Steve Bannon going to get one? Is Rudy Giuliani going to get a pardon? How much money -- how big are the bags of money being dragged into this process to pay the people like Giuliani and others who might be trying to secure pardons for others?

And it seems at this point tomorrow might be the day when we learn of at least some of these pardons.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s right. The reports are that President Trump who has finally turned a tornado corner, and realizes that he`s going to have to leave the White House has now turned his attention to pardons.

The understanding is and reporting shows that he might issue as many as 100 pardons all at once. At one point, there was supposed to be two batches of pardons. He was obsessed with the idea he was going to try to win back the election, the Electoral College count, they couldn`t get him focused no on the pandemic, but even -- not on the pardons, as a result, we`re seeing this now.

What it says about the Trump presidency, at the very end of this presidency, he`s wrestling with a marred and tarnished legacy that could get even more controversial and, frankly, more stained tomorrow given who he ends up wanting to pardon. This is now a president who may, as you said, secretly pardon himself because the legal problems are mounting, if you watch closely Michael Cohen who, of course, was -- was convicted of a crime that he committed with President Trump, he said that he`s been in contact with federal authorities, with state authorities, who`ve been reaching out to him.

So what we see here is president Trump weighing all of the different legal challenges of other people but also weighing his own personal legal challenge which, of course, are many.

O`DONNELL: And, Nick Kristof, there are reports indicating that there have been discussions about possibly pardoning the invaders of the Capitol, but Donald Trump has been advised against doing that. And with the impeachment trial looming, these pardons could create a more dynamic problem for him than otherwise because he does have that Republican Senate jury that he has to hold on to.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah. He`s finally running into a measure of accountability. I mean, when he said way back when he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and nobody would pay attention, well, today it does seem finally that has caught up with him and see his poll ratings going down after there had been this floor, nothing seemed to move them.

Now those floorboards are wearing out as you noted. A Pew Poll found him even lower at 29 percent. Then, of course, that`s going to affect the impeachment calculations.

I would say aside from the question of who`s on all those lists that are coming out and how reliably we should view those, there`s also the question about the process and even if the names end up being names that, you know, that don`t send our eyebrows soaring, the process should. This has not gone through Justice Department with a scrutiny, the review, that is customary and is traditional.

And I think, you know, we should find that offensive even if the particular names in the end do not offend us.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. Yamiche, the pardon office in the Justice Department was set up so that to depoliticize the pardon process. Donald Trump has jumped that and made all of his pardons political including ones that he may include tomorrow of worthy cases that are deserving of pardon, of people he doesn`t know so that he can put some things in there that look like reasonable choices that another president could have made.


ALCINDOR: That`s right.


KRISTOF: Go ahead, Yamiche.

O`DONNELL: Sorry, let`s go to Yamiche. Go ahead, Yamiche.

ALCINDOR: Well, one, Nick Kristof, I love your point so much, I`m going to make this brief. I think for me when you look at that, the list could include people that are criminal justice cases that are cases that advocates are pushing for, but we know just by what we can see in the past that some of these names are likely to raise eyebrows. Let`s remember that this was a president who pardoned people that were involved in killing civilians in Iraq, little children in Iraq. He has pardoned Scooter Libby, he`s pardoned Roger Stone. He`s pardoned people that were close to him as well as people that he didn`t know.

And the feeling is, yes, maybe he`ll have some people who maybe are deserving of pardons who are people who maybe have been wrongfully convicted in all sorts of things or maybe have seen a sort of change. There are probably going to also be people that are politically motivated, that are about sending a message. He`s wanted to kind of argue that he was a target of a hoax, the target of an unfair prosecution in all sorts of ways, unfair investigations.

So, I can just imagine based on my conversation there are also going to be people especially in the Republicans` conservative cause celebre that are going to make eyebrows definitely raised.

O`DONNELL: Nick Kristof, you look down to 2021, Donald Trump may have been living the life of the weekend golfer who spends the weekday in courtrooms or answering interrogatories or depositions in civil cases. How do you think Donald Trump is going to look in our politics, say, at the end of the first year of the Biden administration?

KRISTOF: So, I think it`s encouraging that those floorboards are beginning to drop out on his public support. I think it`s also encouraging that we`re seeing some signs that the Republican Party is willing to try to -- some people within the Republican Party are going to try to move beyond him. But I -- you know, I think it`s really too early to tell whether we`re going to see what happened, you know, with Nixon, for example, where Nixon had job approval ratings only a hair below where they are for Trump right now, about 25 percent, and then he became, you know, stigmatized by everybody across the country, or whether Trump is going to continue to maintain this hold over the Republican Party partly because of a fear that people have of being primaried, partly because his base remains much more loyal so far to him than they do to any other Republican officials.

O`DONNELL: Yamiche, the year after Richard Nixon left office was very hard to find anyone who could remember voting for him. It just became something that people weren`t willing to admit. There may be some erosion like that with Donald Trump, but his supporters seem to be more strongly attached to him than Richard Nixon`s were.

ALCINDOR: That`s the case right now. There are a lot of Trump supporters who are wanting to talk about how proud they are that they stood up for the president, stood by him as he lied about election fraud and lied about the election being stolen from him.

But I think that this -- the racial reckoning that we`re going through, this idea that people are starting to finally realize the threat of white supremacy, that white supremacy literally crashed and attacked our U.S. Capitol, that that might give some people some cause when you ask them whether or not they supported the president. I will say this is Martin Luther King Day. There are a lot of people who are sharing quotes from Martin Luther King who are talking about his ideals, but who don`t actually really talk about the radical change that he wanted, doing away with discrimination.

And I think those people are going to have to really contend with their support of president Trump and they may start to not want to associate with it.

O`DONNELL: Yamiche Alcindor, Nick Kristof, thank you very much for starting off our discussion here in the final hours of the worst presidency of American history. Really appreciate you joining us tonight.

KRISTOF: Good to be with you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

YAMICHE: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Up next, Chuck Rosenberg will join us to consider the legal technicalities of the Trump pardon spree and the strategic difficulty Donald Trump is going to have in trying to protect himself through pardons of himself and other people. Some pardons could hurt Donald Trump more than they help him legally. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: To pardon or not to pardon. That is the question facing Donald Trump every minute of his remaining time in the presidency. That`s what`s keeping him awake tonight. There are political implications to some of his pardon choices that could make him even less politically popular than he is now.

But there are also some very important legal strategic issues that matter to Donald Trump because protecting himself is the really central matter in the pardons for him. That`s what he cares about. Protecting himself.

Consider the example of Allen Weisselberg, the longtime accountant of the Trump company. Donald Trump might want to relieve Allen Weisselberg of any federal criminal risk involving the Trump company tax returns and Donald Trump`s personal tax returns, but "The New York Times" reports that Allen Weisselberg might not receive a preemptive pardon. Quote, in part, out of fear that Mr. Weisselberg may forfeit his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

So some of the choices Donald Trump could make in pardoning people to try to protect himself could actually create more legal danger for Donald Trump.

To discuss more of the legal complexities of the looming Trump pardon spree, we are joined now by Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney. Chuck is now an MSNBC legal contributor and host of the podcast, "The Oath."

So, Chuck, let`s just begin on a pardon checklist of questions. Does this question of can you grant a preemptive pardon to someone who has not been accused of a crime, as happened with Richard Nixon? But the Richard Nixon pardon was never tested in court so we never got an opinion on the validity of that pardon.

Do we have in our history some other Supreme Court opinion on the validity of a pardon, a blanket pardon, for someone who has not actually yet been accused of a federal crime?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, but we have other precedents, Lawrence. It`s a great question. Washington issued a preemptive pardon for those who partook in the Whiskey Rebellion. As you pointed, President Ford issued preemptive pardon to Richard Nixon. President Carter issued preemptive pardons to individuals who evaded the draft. So while it hasn`t been tested, we do have precedent.

O`DONNELL: And what about pardoning a business? Can the Trump company get a federal pardon?

ROSENBERG: That is such an interesting question. So let me answer it with about a 90 percent confidence integral, Lawrence. My surmise is, yes, you can issue a pardon to a business organization.

There are only two restrictions in the constitution on the president`s pardon power. It has to be for a federal offense and it cannot be in a case of impeachment. Corporations can commit federal offenses. They can`t be put in prison, of course, but they can be fined, they can forfeit property, they can be put on probation, they can be ordered to pay restitution to victims.

So corporations can more or less be treated as individuals. So my surmise, my 90 percent confidence integral answer is yes, you can issue a pardon to a business organization.

O`DONNELL: It sounds to me, Chuck, like that is worth it for Donald Trump, to issue a pardon to the company, let them spend -- if they get accused of federal offenses, let them send a year in the appeals cycle with it and buy a year of time. And the same thing with the Donald Trump self-pardon. Professor Tribe has convinced me the Supreme Court would rule against him.

But Donald Trump would say in that a minimum of a year delay of self- pardoning himself so that that would have to be litigated to the Supreme Court.

ROSENBERG: Sure. It would have to be litigated at the federal level, but, again, remember, you cannot pardon, or at least the president cannot pardon, for a state offense. So while a business organization that received a pardon or president that granted himself a self-pardon could litigate in federal court, it would have no value and no effect in a state prosecution.

And we know that the Manhattan district attorney, a state prosecutor, has an open investigation of the Trump organization and many people affiliated with it.

O`DONNELL: Well, you see the -- that challenge of if you pardon Donald Trump Jr., he loses his Fifth Amendment rights. If you pardon your accountant, he loses his Fifth Amendment rights. Does Donald Trump if he pardons himself lose his Fifth Amendment rights?

ROSENBERG: Not entirely, at least not in my view because, again, you have state criminal jeopardy. So when you talk about the Fifth Amendment, think about it in two different buckets. There`s the federal bucket and the state bucket.

And as long as he is still at least theoretically exposed in the state criminal system, he still has some vestiges of his Fifth Amendment privilege remaining. So I think you`re quite right. You may lose it, it may be stripped in the federal context, but you could still assert it.

And to your earlier point, Lawrence, and it`s such an important one, by merely asserting it, you can get to litigate it. Even if you lose in the end, you still get to litigate it which means you`re running the clock.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, Donald Trump as a litigant has always been a believer in running the clock as long as you possibly could to avoid the day of reckoning.

But, Chuck, if he doesn`t have a federal pardon, on day one, he becomes criminally liable in the southern district of New York where he was identified in court as directing Michael Cohen to commit the federal crimes that sent Michael Cohen to prison. That exposure is so clear to Donald Trump as he sits there tonight, it`s hard to imagine him leaving office without writing that little note to himself with that pardon.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, I think that`s also exactly right. You know, he not only has exposure there, but he has exposure in the District of Columbia for inciting an insurrection. Also a federal offense.

And so -- and, by the way, the phrase you just used is so interesting. Writing a little note to himself. There`s absolutely no requirement in the constitution that a pardon be made public. Or that it even be in writing. It could be oral, I guess, or it could be stuck away in his drawer to be pulled out if he needs it down the road.

Again, the Constitution only places two limitations. Cannot be for a federal offense and cannot be for cases of impeachment. Otherwise, the power is broad and the Constitution is silent.

O`DONNELL: We will know a lot more about this tomorrow night.

Chuck Rosenberg, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Always appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, Mary Trump`s last word here on THE LAST WORD during the last hours of her uncle`s presidency. Mary Trump joins us next.


O`DONNELL: With less than 38 hours left in her uncle`s presidency, we turn now to Mary Trump for her expert guidance on what to expect in those remaining hours and what Donald Trump will be feeling the next time he goes to play golf as a private citizen.

Joining us now is Mary Trump, author of "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World`s Most Dangerous Man". Mary Trump, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

And I want to just clarify something because as we -- before the commercial when we were jumping over to here, I said something like, Mary Trump`s last word on THE LAST WORD. It doesn`t mean you will not be begged to come back in the future on some Trump madness day or for other reasons. It`s just this is your last word during the Trump presidency here on THE LAST WORD.

And it feels like a significant moment to us because you have helped so many of us guide us through this final year of the Trump presidency, and I think reduced properly the level of surprise at some of the things we`ve seen happen because I don`t get the sense that you`ve been surprised at anything that you`ve seen happen.

MARY TRUMP, AUTHOR: Yes, unfortunately, I wish I had been wrong or my assessments had been considered melodramatic in retrospect. But unfortunately, Donald has been true to form all along which is why, unfortunately, we can`t let our guard down yet. 38 hours is a really long time.

O`DONNELL: I want to get -- you can tell us, what`s been going through your mind, as I know, I`m sure you have been reading these press accounts of your cousin, Ivanka Trump in the Oval Office with Donald Trump, with Jared Kushner, going over the pardon list. Discussing Trump family members, should we pardon, should we not pardon. This apparently had been going on for days. This no doubt will keep Donald, as you call him, up late tonight.

When you`re imagining those scenes of the Trumps discussing the pardon list, what goes through your mind?

M. TRUMP: They`re going to do as much damage as they can on the way out. And when I heard how many people were on that list, it gave me a sinking feeling because we`ve already seen some horrific pardons. And if he`s giving out another 100 or 200, there`s a lot of room for him to do things that are even more horrific.

But we need to remember a couple things. First of all, part of their motive here is to demoralize and enrage the rest of us. So we need to just -- it`s going to happen no matter what. What hopefully will happen, though, is he`s going to overstep because as you and I have talked about before, he`s increasingly desperate. I mean. there may only be a day and a half left. That doesn`t mean that it`s all going to be over for him and he`ll just, you know, take his toys and go home.

He`s freaking out and these pardons are also designed to get him out of any future trouble as you and Chuck Rosenberg just discussed.

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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/18/2021 - MSNBC

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