The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/24/17

Guests:
Jim Himes
Transcript:

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW

Date: February 24, 2017

Guest: Jim Himes

 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That`s “ALL IN” for this evening. 

 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

 

Good evening, Rachel.

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend. 

Have a great weekend. 

 

HAYES:  You bet.  You, too. 

 

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy Friday. 

 

You know how news keeps happening on Fridays in recent weeks?  We`re having

another one of those.  Two big stories have landed late in the day today

and into tonight that are kind of a one-two punch for this White House and

its ongoing scandal and its ongoing mishandling of national security

issues. 

 

One of these stories is really brand new.  I think at least it will be

brand new to you tonight when I tell you about it.  The other one is a

rather devastating follow-up to something that broke last night that we

covered quite a bit on last night`s show. 

 

We`ve got one of the top Democrats from the Intelligence Committee here

tonight to talk with us about both of these things, but they are both

developing and/or breaking tonight.  Let`s just get right to it. 

 

OK.  First one.  Less than a week and a half after the election, the White

House announced that retired General Michael Flynn would be named national

security advisor to the president.  It wasn`t a total surprise, right? 

Flynn had been around during the campaign, he was clearly a big wheel in

Trumpland. 

 

But even still, even though the announcement he`d be national security

adviser, it couldn`t be construed as a surprise.  It was still nevertheless

kind of a shock.  Particularly to experienced national security folks who

had followed Michael Flynn`s career for a while. 

 

Him being named national security adviser for a lot of people was a real

holy smokes moment because even though General Michael Flynn had many years

of difficult service everybody respects, by the time he came home at the

end of his military career and started working in the Pentagon, Michael

Flynn had earned a new kind of reputation.  He very quickly became known as

– forgive me – kind of a nut. 

 

Let me explain part of why.  Here`s an example, quote, “Days after Islamist

militants stormed the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012,

General Michael Flynn reached a conclusion that stunned some of his

subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency.  He told them Iran had a

role in the attack.  Now he added it was their job to prove it.  Flynn soon

took to pushing analysts to find Iran`s hidden hand in the Benghazi

disaster, according to current and former officials familiar with the

episode.”

 

Quote, “But those investigations found no evidence of any links between

Benghazi and Iran.  And the general`s suborn insistence there was a link

reminded some officials at the agency of how the Bush administration had

once relentlessly sought to connect Saddam Hussein in Iraq to the 9/11

attacks.”

 

I remember when the “New York Times” put that lead on the front page of the

Sunday paper about Mike Flynn.  I remember the feeling of dread that washed

over me reading that about him. 

 

There`s been an attack, prove it`s Iran.  Hey, intelligence agency, prove

this for me.  I`ve decided in advance.  Now, find me the proof. 

 

Michael Flynn was not just your average retired general when they picked

him to be national security adviser.  I mean, before the new

administration, before the new president hired him to be national security

adviser, the previous president had fired him, had fired Michael Flynn from

the Defense Intelligence Agency for being kind of a kook.  For being viewed

by his colleagues and subordinates as kind of a nut ball.

 

And that particular kind of nutballery is something we have experience with

as a country.  Recent, bad experience.  I mean, having fixed ideas about

some boogieman in the world and telling intelligence agencies to produce

intel that proves what you already believe about that boogieman, that`s bad

old days stuff, right?  I mean, that`s bad old days stuff from 9/11 and the

Iraq war.  That`s the Bush White House in the first hours after 9/11

deciding they wanted to use that attack to go after Saddam.  And then they

spent months getting intelligence agencies to produce evidence that maybe

bolstered that conclusion. 

 

I mean, there`s going to be a lot of competition for what will be the first

line in Dick Cheney`s obituary, but one of the top contenders is going to

be his role in trying to train the intelligence agencies after 9/11 that

when they were asked about Iraq and 9/11, about Iraq and al Qaeda, about

Iraq and WMDs, the correct answer to any of those questions was always

“sir, yes, sir.”

 

I mean, we supposedly learned this lesson, right?  You don`t tell the

nation`s intelligence agency what to conclude and then ask them for a

report that proves that.  We`ve been down that road.  It cost thousands of

American lives.  You just don`t do that.  You don`t do that anymore. 

 

Not anymore, asterisk, because maybe we are doing that again and this is

the first punch in that one-two punch tonight. 

 

As of last night, what we had from CNN reporting was this.  It was a senior

White House official telling CNN this, quote, “The Department of Homeland

Security and the Department of Justice are working on an intelligence

report that will demonstrate that the security threat from these seven

countries is substantial.” 

 

Notice that phrasing there?  What is that report going to – put that

devote back up there.  Can you put that back up on the screen?  Put it back

up. 

 

Yes, OK.  “The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice

are working on intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security

threat for these seven countries is substantial.”  Oh, really, are you sure

that`s what it`s going to say.  This intelligence report is not done yet,

but you know what it will say already?  That`s not the way it works. 

 

CNN`s reporting last night was this declaration from the White House.  This

order from the White House was going over very poorly with actual

intelligence folks.  Quote, “This is an assignment that caused concern

among some administration intelligence officials who see this White House

charge as the politicization of intelligence.” 

 

Quote, “A conclusion in search of evidence.”  This is, quote, “the Trump

White House seeking an intelligence report to fit the policy instead of the

other way around.”  I mean, this is basic stuff.  Maybe we didn`t have a

sharp feeling about this as a country before the Iraq war disaster but we

do now.  It`s very simple. 

 

On any circumstance, on any topic, telling an intelligence agency to come

up with a report that concludes X when you`re given the answer when you

give them the assignment, I mean, that`s fleshing red lights bells and

whistles, danger, Will Robinson, right?  I mean, this is resign in protest

stuff. 

 

This is something we have gone through before as a country.  It went very

badly.  We are never supposed to go there again, no matter what the topic

is. 

 

In this case, what the topic is is the Muslim ban.  The federal courts as

you know, they`ve blocked the refugee ban and Muslim ban.  At the appeals

court level, the court said they were blocking it in part because the

government hadn`t shown any evidence that the ban was rational.  That it

was strategically rational on national security grounds, and so, right,

that makes sense procedurally. 

 

You know, if the government wants to defend, if the administration wants to

defend its Muslim ban or some version of its Muslim ban in court they have

to prove that the Muslim ban makes sense.  I mean, we knew at some point

the court wrangling over that policy would get to the point where they had

to prove that it was for a reasonable reason. 

 

But it`s one thing for the White House, for the administration, right, the

government to make up their argument for why banning people from those

seven countries is a rational thing.  It`s one thing to state that case and

cite their evidence and persuade the court that those people from those

seven countries have to be banned from coming to our country.  It`s one

thing for them to make that argument. 

 

It`s another for them to go to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at

the Department of Homeland Security and say, “Hey, give us an intelligence

report that prove we need the Muslim ban.”

 

That you cannot do.  And that was the status of this story late last night. 

And now, tonight, oh, boy, did this thing blow up.  You knew it would blow

up, right?  This kind of thing has to blow up when you push it to that kind

of a breaking point. 

 

Now, it has blown up, because now, people at the Office of Intelligence and

Analysis at the Homeland Security Department, the intelligence agency at

DHS, turns out they did do a report on the Muslim ban.  They did do a

report on whether the Muslim ban makes sense, on whether banning travel to

the United States by people who hold passports from those seven Muslim

countries, whether that makes sense. 

 

They did it.  They did look into it.  They got that assignment from the

White House.  They should look into whether or not that policy makes sense

on national security grounds and they produced the report on the subject. 

 

It is three pages long and it finds that no, the travel ban does not make

sense on national security grounds.  And I will – we`ll put the document

on screen in just a second. 

 

But here`s the thing to know about the scandal nature of this right now,

about the politics of this right now, the churn and the political fistfight

and scandal in this right now.  And the trouble that the new administration

has that is coming from inside the house, right?  And it`s this – the

Department of Homeland Security has just been taken over by the Trump

folks, right?  There`s a Trump homeland security secretary, they`ve brought

in Trump undersecretaries at various levels. 

 

The new people who just arrived, the Trump folks, apparently tried to spike

this intelligence report.  They axed it.  They said we`re not putting that

out.

 

But this is the report that the intelligence agency inside Homeland

Security created.  This is real.  This is actually what they concluded. 

And we do still have a real free press and so now, inevitably, that spiked

report which they wouldn`t release – Homeland Security says, assures us

that it is real, but they spiked it. 

 

The spiked report which they wouldn`t release and didn`t want to put out

because of what it says presumably, that report has now been leaked to, I

mean, obtained by “The Associated Press”. 

 

We know the White House demanded an intelligence report that – what was

the quote?  “That will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven

countries is substantial.”  But what they actually got was this,

“Citizenship likely an unreliable indicator of terrorist threat to the

United States.”  That`s the title of it. 

 

First line of the key findings there?  “The Department of Homeland Security

Office of Intelligence and Analysis assess that country of citizenship is

unlikely to be a reliable indicator of terrorist activity.”  Oh. 

 

Intelligence agencies are not perfect.  They are not always apolitical,

even though they`re supposed to be.  But intelligence agencies will stand

up for themselves and their work.  Sometimes when they need to and this is

one of those moments.  I mean, this is simultaneously a signal, right,

direct evidence that the Trump Muslim ban is believed by the intelligence

community to be hokum in terms of it having any national security

rationale, right?

 

So, this is simultaneously good detail on that.  It is also a flashing red

light siren that the Trump folks are directing intelligence agencies to

produce material that fits the need of the White House.  So, that`s one. 

 

If you haven`t seen this, we will post this three-page document online at

Maddowblog.com so you can read this assessment by the intelligence agency

within Homeland Security about why Trump`s Muslim ban isn`t justified on

national security grounds. 

 

 

Again, this report was spiked by senior administration officials after the

White House told Homeland Security they wanted a different conclusion from

a report like this.  But the real thing has seen the light of day, thanks

to “The Associated Press”.  And thanks to whoever inside Homeland Security

made sure that saw the light of day by giving it to “The Associated Press”.

 

Now, I said there was a one-two punch today in these national security

stories.  That`s one. 

 

Two, second big story tonight is increasingly starting to feel like the

open question of whether or not the White House chief of staff gets to keep

his job.  When last we left White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus,

when we last left him in the news, he was being named as the White House

official who contacted the FBI about the FBI`s reported investigation into

contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, while the Russian

government was attacking our election last year. 

 

Well, today, the White House got excited to push back on that reporting. 

We don`t exactly know what they thought was the damaging thing about that

reporting that they were pushing back on, but in their big excited hours-

long pushback today, they also actually confirmed repeatedly and

emphatically the worst part of it.  They confirmed today in no uncertain

terms that, yes, Reince Priebus, yes, the White House chief of staff, they

now confirm he did discuss with the deputy director of the FBI and the

director of the FBI what the FBI knows about contacts between the Trump

campaign and Russia. 

 

The White House is confirming that the White House chief of staff contacted

and pressured the FBI about that ongoing investigation.  At least we

believe it`s an ongoing investigation.  It`s been reported and confirmed by

multiple sources that the FBI is investigating contacts between the Trump

folks and Russia while Russia was messing with our election.  The FBI is

not confirming that on the record. 

 

The other investigations that we know for sure are ongoing into the Trump

folks and their contacts with Russia while Russia was messing with our

election, the other investigations we know for sure for are happening are

being led by the intelligence committees in the House and Senate and

Democrats have been concerned that the Republican chairman of those

committees, one of whom was a member of the Trump transition team,

Democrats have been concerned that the chairman of those intelligence

committees are not intelligent – sorry, that`s not what I meant to say,

are not independent enough, they cannot approach this without partisanship

and that they`re already too much on the White House`s side on this issue. 

 

That`s why Democrats have been saying no, let`s have a select committee,

let`s do it outside the normal committee system.  You can`t have these two

intelligence chairmen leading these committees.  They are not independent

enough.  Those have been Democrats` worries, Democrats` suspicions. 

 

Those suspicions were driven home with a pile driver tonight when just

before airtime the “Washington Post” broke this news, that in addition to

lobbying the FBI directly about the FBI investigation into Trump and

Russia, the White House also successfully enlisted the Republican chairman

of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.  These guys were supposed

to be leading impartial hard-nosed investigations into this matter. 

 

The White House successfully enlisted Congressman Devin Nunes and Senator

Richard Burr, the heads of the intelligence committees, the White House got

them to call reporters and tell reporters that there`s really nothing to

see here in the scandal, that the contacts between the Trump campaign and

Russia, there`s nothing there. 

 

The White House apparently asked these committee chairmen to call reporters

and say that and these committee chairmen did it.  What? 

 

Quote, “The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the

intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories

about Trump associates` ties to Russia.  Acting at the behest of the White

House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week.  The calls

were orchestrated by the White House.  The effort involved senior lawmakers

with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Senator

Richard Burr and Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairmen of the Senate and

House Intelligence Committees.”

 

Devin Nunes confirmed tonight he had spoken to at least one reporter on

this matter, quote, “at the request of the White House communications

aide.”  Senator Burr also acknowledged that he had conversations about

Russia-related news reports with the White House and then engaged with news

organizations. 

 

This is incredible.  I mean, it`s one thing to have the White House chief

of staff leaning on the FBI about this investigation.  The other

investigations are supposed to be run by the House and Senate Intelligence

Committees.  The chairmen of those two committees have been enlisted by the

White House to call reporters off the record and tell them, hey, there`s

nothing to this, Russia and the Trump folks?  Don`t report on that, there`s

nothing there.  Trust me.  I`ve got access to this intelligence. 

 

 

These are the guys who are supposed to be leading the investigation in

Congress. 

 

Greg Miller and Adam Entous have this story tonight in the “Washington

Post” and they note with admirable restraint.  Quote, “The decision to

involve these officials could be perceived as undercutting the credibility

of the ongoing congressional probes.”  Yes, you think?  You think?

 

More ahead.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  So, we`re continuing to follow this breaking news tonight.  The

“Washington Post” breaking news just this evening that will, frankly, tie

your socks in a knot if you were thinking that maybe the whole Trump/Russia

thing was going to be investigated impartially and aggressively by Congress

where the intelligence committees are running those congressional

investigations. 

 

The two Republican chairmen of the intelligence committees in the House and

the Senate, they have both tonight admitted to the “Washington Post”, that

they have been calling reporters off the report at the request of the White

House, to tell reporters that there`s nothing to these stories, there`s

nothing to worry about when it comes to the Trump campaign`s contacts with

Russia, which is a thing they are supposedly leading independent

investigations about. 

 

More that that, the “Washington Post” also reports tonight that senior

officials at U.S. intelligence agencies were also roped into making these

press calls, making calls at the request of the White House to reporters,

to tell reporters that they should basically stand down on this

Russia/Trump connection stuff.  Intelligence agencies and the investigatory

committees in Congress are both supposed to be completely independent of

the White House on a matter like this and investigating the White House on

a matter like this.

 

But apparently, they`re all working for the White House and trying to make

the bad press on this go away.  Stunning, stunning reporting. 

 

Joining us now is one of the senior Democrats on the House Intelligence

Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. 

 

Congressman Himes, thank you very much for being here.  This is turning out

to be a weird night. 

 

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT:  It sure is.  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  What is your overall reaction?  I want to ask you about the

Homeland Security report about this – the Muslim ban where the White House

was apparently giving them a direction as to what they wanted that

intelligence report to say.  I want to ask you about that. 

 

But, first, I want to get your reaction to this “Washington Post” reporting

tonight about the Trump/Russia connection? 

 

HIMES:  Yes, well, you know, you said it right.  We`ve seen this movie

before, right?  Those of us who remember the lead-up to the Iraq war

watched as the – I think the intelligence community and all of the

analysts, there was no doubt where the White House wanted to be.  And it

damaged an awful lot of reputations, including of the CIA, including of

Colin Powell.  And, of course, we went to war and thousands of Americans

died. 

 

And now, we see that instinct again where the White House is making it very

clear the conclusion they`re looking for. 

 

Now, on this travel ban thing, you don`t need to be on the intelligence

committee to know the vast bulk of the terrorists that hit us on 9/11 were

from Saudi Arabia, a country not on the list.  You can look at the

terrorist attacks in Europe and know those terrorist attacks were

undertaken by European citizens. 

 

If you study the region, you`ll know one of the biggest sources of ISIS

fighters in Syria is Tunisia, all countries which are not on this seven-

nation list.  And so, it shouldn`t surprise anybody that when the

intelligence community does do their work, they will conclude that the

president`s idea is just a foolish one. 

 

MADDOW:  And on that particular story, on that DHS story, what we have is

the intelligence agency within DHS apparently being told by the White House

what their intelligence report should conclude, that it should conclude

those seven – banning travelers from those seven countries makes sense. 

 

Apparently, analysts within the intelligence agency and DHS didn`t follow

instructions.  They produced an independent report that said quite the

opposite of that.  It appears as we piece together this reporting from A.P.

and “Washington Post” that the Trump officials inside DHS spiked that

report, wanted not to release it and now these intelligence analysts or

somebody who had access to their work released it to the press instead in

order to get around administration officials trying to disappear that

report. 

 

Does that make you feel worried about that kind of a leak?  Do you feel

that sort of a leak is heroic?  Is it somewhere in between? 

 

HIMES:  Well, I`m ambivalent about it, of course, because leaks – you

know, government by leak is no way to run a government.  But you`ve gotten

awful lot of very patriotic people in places like DHS and CIA and NSA and

FBI who have been vilified by this president.  Before he got sworn in, he

was drawing comparisons to the intelligence community and Nazi Germany. 

 

This morning on Twitter, he attacked the FBI brutally.  You know, these are

people working for these agencies.  They take their jobs seriously.  They

are all about floating up the truth in the most objective fashion they can

and now, you`ve got these people trying to convince America that building a

really big wall will solve our undocumented immigration problem.  They`re

trying to convince people that if we just cut off the flow of folks from

seven countries, that that`s going to keep us safe. 

 

They know better.  And so, they here in a terrible position because I don`t

think these people want to leak.  But when they see their government

spiraling off in such a dangerous direction, I think they feel torn and

they say, boy, the truth must out and therefore, I`m going to release a

report like the DHS report. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve said you want to expand the House Intelligence

Committee`s investigation into looking at the this issue of the White House

trying to shape intelligence conclusions.  But let me also ask you,

chairman of your committee, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, he admits

to the “Washington Post” tonight that at the request of the White House,

he`s been making calls to reporters trying to shape coverage, to tamp down

coverage about the connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian

government. 

 

He supposedly is leading your committee`s investigation into those

connections.  How big a problem is this? 

 

HIMES:  Well, it`s a problem on two fronts.  Number one, I`m involved in

this investigation, you know, and I know for a fact we are not at a point

in the investigation where anybody – not the chairman, not me or anybody

else – can draw any firm conclusions about what the communications were

between the Trump people and the Russians.

 

So, we`re not at a point where any conclusion can be drawn.  So, anybody,

whether it`s the chairman or anybody else who says here are the facts, they

I don`t – they are not speaking from good information, they`re not telling

the truth.  That`s point number one. 

 

Point number two, of course, is – and you made this point earlier – and

this illustrates why we need an outside 9/11-type commission.  I mean,

these chairmen, before the committee`s investigations were done, have come

out with what they I guess hope or believe will be the conclusion,

certainly what Donald Trump would hope the conclusion would be. 

 

But this is exactly why, look, we`re in the political fray, this is why we

need an outside commission of elder statesmen and elder states women who

aren`t tarred in the way we are by partisan questions.  Look, when I say

something about this, the president`s supporters are going to say, “Well,

that Himes guy, he`s a Democrat.”  And that`s why this needs to be done by

an outside commission. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes, particularly, if the chairmen of these two committees are

admitting they`re already working with the White House on spinning this

particular issue. 

 

HIMES:  Yes, that should – it indicates a sort of compromise of

objectivity, right?

 

MADDOW:  Representative Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence

Committee – really appreciate your time tonight.  Sir, thanks for being

here. 

 

HIMES:  Thanks, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  To that point.  There has been – there was this initial sort of

thrust in Congress when the details started coming out about Trump campaign

and Russia while Russia was influencing our election.  There was initial

thrust that maybe we did need a 9/11-style commission, maybe we do need

something independent.  We need to something outside the partisan system.

 

That died, right?  That was going to be Lindsey Graham and John McCain

pushing for that.  Remember when they were getting all that good press

because they were being so independent and pushing so hard on the Russia

issue.  They gave that up.  They said, no, let`s let the intelligence

community do it.  I mean, sorry, let`s let the intelligence committees do

it.

 

Now that the intelligence committees are working with the White House on

spinning this story, that question has to come back up.  Lindsey Graham,

John McCain, you guys want to be here on Monday?  I wouldn`t interrupt,

we`d talk for a long time.  It would be awesome. 

 

We`ll be right back. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Last night on this show, one of our guests broke important news

about the new national security adviser. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

COLIN KAHL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO VP BIDEN:  H.R. McMaster,

who is highly regarded military officer, he`s a normal human being, he`s

smart, he`s strategic, he`s pragmatic.  You know, he had an all-hands with

the National Security Council staff today and he said a lot of the right

things including saying he doesn`t believe they should be using the term

“radical Islamic terrorist” because he believes that folks they`re fighting

are un-Islamic. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was on this show last night.  Colin Kahl, he served as

national security advisor to Vice President Biden, he was on the National

Security Council.  He reported first here on our show that according to

multiple sources the new National Security Adviser, General McMaster, he`s

telling the National Security Council that he doesn`t believe they should

use the term “radical Islamic terrorist.”

 

And that makes sense in the real world, right?  It calls terrorists Islamic

when ideally you`d be promoting and recognizing a vision of Islam in which

terrorists are seen as sacrilegious, heretical murdering monsters, right? 

 

So, it makes sense that an experienced strategic thinker in national

security would not want to use a phrase like “radical Islamic terrorism”. 

Make sense in the real world. 

 

Does not make sense in this White House, though.  After the new president

spent the whole campaign talking about how Democrats were afraid to say

“radical Islamic terrorist” and how he would insist on saying it, even if

the Democrats would not. 

 

He used the phrase again at CPAC this morning.  He said, “We`re going to

keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.”

 

But apparently his new national security adviser says, no, we shouldn`t be

saying that, it`s counterproductive, it`s non-strategic.  And that`s a

newsworthy departure between the president and his national security

adviser.  It`s also a frequent kind of occurrence in this administration. 

 

Here`s another example.  Yesterday, the president told visiting business

leaders at the White House that his crackdown on immigrants, detaining and

deporting people all over the country, yesterday, he called that a, quote,

“military operation.”  Just a couple of hours later in Mexico City, this

was his secretary of homeland security. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Listen to this: no, repeat no use

of military force in immigrant operations.  None. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Don`t pay attention to what – I mean it, listen to this.  None. 

 

At a sweaty stream of consciousness rally in Florida last weekend, the

president bragged about how he had personally intervened to cut the cost of

Air Force One by a billion dollars, which is great.  President says he

saved us a billion dollars on the cost of the new Air Force One. 

 

The president did not actually save us a billion dollars on the cost of the

new Air Force One.  The Air Force had to come in and clean up after him on

this one.  Quote, look, look at the headline, “Air Force stumped by Trump`s

claim of billion dollar savings on jet.”  An Air Force spokesman telling

reporters, quote, “To my knowledge, I have not been told that we have that

information.”  He then referred reporters back to the White House for news

on whatever magic billion dollar coupon the president found. 

 

The president also has insisted that it wasn`t just a campaign thing,

wasn`t just shooting off his mouth, we really should have stolen Iraq`s oil

and we might yet have another chance to steal Iraq`s oil.  He has repeated

that as president, repeated that even while standing in front of the CIA

memorial wall. 

 

After that, the defense secretary had to go to Baghdad to say, no, no,

don`t listen to that man, we`re not taking anybody`s oil. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REPORTER:  The question is about seizing Iraqi oil.  Is that a position you

think –

 

JIM MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think all of us here in this room, all of

us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I`m

sure that we will continue to do so in the future.  We`re not in Iraq to

seize anybody`s oil. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  This keeps happening.  I mean, other countries – I mean, even

just us American citizens, if you are told something by this government, it

is important to now ask “with whom am I speaking?  Can I have your name? 

Can I have your supervisor`s name?” 

 

And that was before the “Washington Post” broke this news tonight that the

White House secretly enlisted senior people at the intelligence agencies

and the chairmen of the two committees investigating the president`s Russia

ties, enlisted those folks to speak to reporters about dropping the Russia

story.  Do we have any kind of precedent for an administration conducting

not just the regular business of government but even security and

intelligence in this way?

 

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. 

 

Michael, it`s really nice to see you.  Thank you for being here.

 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Thanks.  Nice to see

you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  So, we are getting the sort of one-two punches. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  We are. 

 

MADDOW:  It`s – yes.  It`s – and on the one hand it feels like maybe it`s

too much, maybe it`s hard to keep up with.  On the other hand, I feel like

these stories are proceeding linearly.  That we keep getting new

information about troubling ties between the president and his associates

in his campaign and Russia and increasingly with each new day, we keep

getting news about the administration trying to stop investigations of

those ties and to influence people who might be in charge of leading those

kinds of investigations, is – is it – do you see it that way?  Is it that

linear?  And do we have examples from history that compare to this? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, the obvious example and I hope this does not turn out to

be this, but Richard Nixon was driven out of office because he tried to

stop the investigation of the Watergate. 

 

You know, the smoking gun tape of June 23rd, 1972.  He talked to his chief

of staff Bob Haldeman and said, “Get the CIA to tell the FBI to stay the

hell out of this investigation.”  He was trying to shut that down.

 

So, what “The Post” story is suggesting tonight is that there was an effort

to enlist big members of Congress and also big members of the intelligence

community to call reporters and say essentially stay the hell out of this

investigation of – there`s not much to the story of Russia ties between

the Trump campaign – members of the Trump campaign and officials in

Russia. 

 

The next step that I hope this does not go to is that next is found

evidence of efforts by the White House to, you know, trim in investigation

in Congress or shut down the FBI.

 

You know, when you were talking, Rachel, I was thinking of we all saw “Meet

the Press” last weekend and Chuck Todd was asking John McCain, do you think

the Republicans in Congress can impartially investigate this Russia story? 

And he said, “I hope and belief they can.”  And then he chuckled and said,

“Well, I guess I have more hope than belief.”

 

MADDOW:  Wow.  I mean, I guess – you know, the idea that the White House

would call on important legislators to help sell their agenda, to help move

something in the press, that`s not unusual.  It seems to me that what is

unusual, what perks up my ears and makes me think about the timeline of

presidential history is the fact that these are the two intelligence

chairman who are leading the only investigations that exist in Congress. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  These are the judges – these are the judges in whatever

hearing is going to go on, at least the one that we`re talking about and

also, you know, above and beyond the morality of it and above and beyond

the fact that this is not the way the government is supposed to be run,

it`s not too bright for reporters to get calls from intelligence officials

and high officials in Congress who are supposed to be investigating this,

the natural question they would ask and they obviously did was, who got you

to do this, was it the White House? 

 

MADDOW:  And how on earth can you go lead an investigation while you`re

making these calls lobbying me on my coverage? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  It`s like if they didn`t want a 9/11 Commission, they are going

to be perhaps compelled to do it by essentially their own actions. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Yes.  Exactly.  Exactly.  Michael Beschloss, NBC News

presidential historian, Michael, thank you.  I really appreciate your time

tonight. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Amazing to watch.  What a story. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes, I feel like that whole one-two punch thing, I feel it right

here. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right, right, right. Be well, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Michael.

 

All right.  Up next, we have a surprising update, kind of a silver lining

for a dark cloud update on a story that we told you about earlier this

week, we got a really big viewer reaction to.  You can take a quick break

but come back because you will be surprised by this next news. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  I do not expect this, but check this out.  This is something we

covered a couple nights ago on the show.  We got a huge reaction from you

guys about it.  Lots of people who saw it contacted us about this segment.

 

But here it is.  Montana is a big state but it`s only got about a million

people and because of that, Montana only has one member of congress, two

senators, one member of the House.  Their member of the House is Ryan Zinke

and Ryan Zinke is expected to leave Congress soon so he can join Donald

Trump`s cabinet as secretary of the interior. 

 

When that happens, Montana is going to have to hold a special election to

replace Ryan Zinke and the plan for that until this week seemed like kind

of a no-brainer.  They were going to do that election as cost effectively

as possible for the taxpayers of Montana, particularly because they had an

expensive election in November. 

 

They`re going to try to do it very cost effectively when it comes up for

the Ryan Zinke seat, they were going to run that election by mail.  Very

simple.  Every registered voter gets a ballot mailed to you at the address

at which you are registered to vote.  You fill out that ballot, you mail it

back.  That`s it.

 

They do a lot of elections in Montana that way.  It`s cheap.  It`s easy for

people to vote that way.  They`ve got experience doing that.

 

That plan to do it by mail, that took the form of a bill that was sponsored

by Republicans in both the House and the Senate in the Montana legislature. 

Until, suddenly, two days ago, the chair of the state Republican Party came

out with this emergency report telling Republicans they had to withdraw

that bill, they couldn`t support that bill because if Montana votes by

mail, too many people might vote and that a Democrat could win the

election.

 

That happened earlier this week.  We covered it.  This gonzo weird state

politics story. 

 

But now, today, despite that hyperbolic, partisan, hyperventilating from

their state chairman, the Republican-controlled Montana Senate passed the

bill to do the election by mail and not by a slim margin, either, they

passed it 37-13.  Almost two-thirds of the Republicans gave their party

chairman the one finger salute and voted for their bill their party chair

was telling them holding the vote for the house seat would make it too easy

to vote and it might mean that a Democrat would win. 

 

But the Republicans in the Senate decided they are OK with that.  They want

more people to vote.  That`s just the Senate.  The bill now goes to the

statehouse which is also Republican controlled.  That`s going to be fun to

watch.  Your move, Montana Republicans.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  There`s been so much going on this week with members of the House

and Senate returning to their home districts and facing their constituents

or in some cases going to great lengths not the face their constituents. 

But this week, we end up with reporting, one specific story of a

congressman taking a different approach. 

 

His name is Rodney Frelinghuysen.  He`s a Republican congressman in New

Jersey.  He held his town hall this week by telephone instead of in-person. 

 

Members of Congress sometimes do that when they don`t like to be in person

around their constituents.  In Congressman Frelinghuysen`s case it was a

little unusual because he called this town hall with no notice, with no

public announcement.  And it was by invitation-only. 

 

Because of that it was covered by only one reporter who found out about

this telephone town hall live as it was happening because she knew someone

who happened to be invited to it.  She got a tip.  Hey, I got a robocall. 

 

Now, that tip turned out to be lucky. 

 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

 

NANCY SOLOMON, MANAGING EDITOR, NEW JERSEY PUBLIC RADIO:  I think actually

the congressman might have made some news with some of the things he said

in his response to constituents. 

 

BRIAN LEHRER, WNYC:  Like what? 

 

SOLOMON:  Like that he – that any funding for a wall on the Mexican border

would be stopped by his committee.  He has no intention of funding that.  

 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  No intention of funding that.  Really? 

 

Reportedly in this phone call town hall that nobody knew about, Congressman

Frelinghuysen announced that his committee had no intention of funding the

president`s southern border wall.  That`s a big deal because Rodney

Frelinghuysen`s in charge of that.  He`s the chairman of the Appropriations

Committee. 

 

Now, I should tell you right here that Congressman Frelinghuysen`s office

denies that reporting.  According to them, what he said is just that his

committee would be happy to consider any request from the president for

funding the wall or funding anything else.  But is that true?  I mean, did

he say something else to his constituents other than what he was to be held

to in public?

 

We kept asking for a tape of the call or a transcript.  We couldn`t get

anything from the congressman`s office on that.  No response, not even a no

from them on that. 

 

But then we got the most amazing thing in the mail.  On the show earlier

this week, we put out a call for anybody who might have tape of that

telephone town hall.  Hey, were you invited to be on this thing?  Did you

join?  By any chance, did you tape it?  If so, please send us the tape? 

 

Tonight, I can report with great joy and secret internalized back flips

that somebody did send us the tape. 

 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

 

REP. RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN (R), NEW JERSEY:  Gerald in Wanaque, it`s

Congressman Rodney.  You`ve joined my telephone town hall meeting.

 

CALLER:  I`m disappointed that you`re not doing face-to-face.  I think that

would have been appropriate. 

 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  So, the good news is we got the tape of that town hall that might

have that really news worthy discussion about the appropriations committee

chairman saying he`s not going to fund the border wall.  The bad news is we

only got the little squib of it and not the portion that included the

discussion of the border wall. 

 

But honestly, come on, love me.  Who else besides THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is

going to show you cell phone video of a cordless phone in speaker mode on

its cradle for a telephone town hall?  They tell me this is a visual

medium. 

 

For the record, we heard from several constituents of Congressman

Frelinghuysen that a staffer told them there`s no official recording of

this town hall.  His office finally told us that tonight as well. 

 

But somewhere out there, I am ready to believe that someone recorded more

of that call, perhaps even the part about the border wall. 

 

So I appeal again for your help.  If you heard something interesting or

even something boring from Congressman Frelinghuysen, I would love to have

it.  And I would especially love the tape.  It might be national news.

 

You can get it to us by www.sendittorachel.com.  And honestly, you know

what?  In fact, if you have any footage from any town hall that you think

news was made, I would love to have my hands on that footage.  Sometimes

members of Congress make news in front of their constituents.  These town

halls are not just about seeing senators and members of Congress look like

they want to crawl out of their skins in front of people they represent. 

 

One Florida congressman last night decided in front of his constituents

that by golly, he does want to see Donald Trump`s tax returns.  OK.

 

When they`re forced to stand and account, when they`re forced to give

answers for their stance, sometimes they change their stance, sometimes

they make news.  And that news should be known, even if it comes in the

form of home video of a cordless phone sitting motionless on that nice

desk. 

 

Rodney Frelinghuysen constituents, any of you guys got more tape?  Please?

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  So, tomorrow, tomorrow is election day.  There are two elections

tomorrow that in normal years nobody would care about, but this is not a

normal year.  So, right now, they`re both kind of a big deal. 

 

First one is in the great and mighty state of Delaware.  Tomorrow, they`re

going to be deciding who controls the state Senate.  There`s a special

election to fill an empty seat that was vacated by somebody who went on to

be lieutenant governor.  It`s a Senate seat to decide on.

 

If a Republican wins the Senate seat, that gives Republicans control of the

Senate there for the first time in 40 years.  So, Democrats trying to hang

on to their majority.  It all depends on this race tomorrow.  They`ve

called in the big dog on behalf of their candidate, former vice president,

Delaware favorite son Joe Biden has been knocking on doors and taking

selfies with voters in this state Senate race.  Polls open at 7:00 a.m.

tomorrow in and around Newark, Delaware, for that Senate race.  So, that`s

one to watch. 

 

Other race to watch tomorrow is for the top job in the Democratic Party. 

The two front-runners are Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and former

Labor Secretary Tom Perez.  If last year`s Democratic Party schisms still

apply and mean anything anymore, which I`m not sure they do, then you might

find it helpful to know that Keith Ellison is backed by Bernie Sanders and

Tom Perez is backed by the Obama administration. 

 

That said, the only people allowed to cast votes in that election tomorrow

for Democratic chair are the members of the Democratic National Committee,

477 people who are members of the DNC.  Right now, nobody really seems to

know who`s going to win.  The Hill did a whip count which says that Ellison

is leading with 105 votes and the “A.P.” says Democratic strategists have

Tom Perez ahead with 205 votes. 

 

But either way, that means that neither of them have the 224 votes you need

to win this thing.  So, we`ll see.  Election Day tomorrow in a small but

serious way. 

 

That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow – no, see you

again Monday. 

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”. 

 

Good evening, Ari.

 

 

 

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

BE UPDATED.

END   

 

Copyright 2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>