The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/10/2017

Guests:
Charlie Savage
Transcript:

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 10, 2017
Guest: Charlie Savage

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us for
the next hour. Happy Friday.

So the wheels are coming off a little bit. If the wheels are not yet off
you are starting to hear the start of lug nuts stripping their threads and
pinging across lanes of traffic while the wheels start to wobble.

There`s a little bit of a freak-out going on right now in Washington and
we`re seeing it on two big stories that are developing tonight. Why is it
always Friday night?

All right. One of these two stories tonight, developing tonight that shows
this freak-out, one of them is about the administration itself. The other
one breaking tonight appears to be about the prospect of investigation into
the administration.

But we`re going to start at the beginning. We`re going to start with the
first one tonight that concerns Michael Flynn. Never before in the history
of our country has a national security adviser been fired after only 24
days in office. But Mike Flynn made that history, he didn`t make it to the
end of his fourth week in office, but he made it to the history books.

When Mike Flynn was fired, though, there were things about it that didn`t
make sense at the time that still don`t make sense, that still haven`t been
explained and are starting to become untenable.

Mike Flynn was fired ostensibly because he had contacts with the Russian
government during the transition. The transition between the Obama
administration and the Trump administration, Mike Flynn was talking to the
Russian government and he lied about the content of his communications with
the Russian government.

And there are a couple of mysteries that remain about the Russian
government contact. One is, why do we know about it? Why do we the
people, we the press, we the citizens of the United States, why do we know
about the content of his communications with the Russian government?

Michael Flynn reportedly was exposed as having lied about the content of
his calls to the Russian government because U.S. law enforcement or U.S.
intelligence agencies were listening in on at least one call that was
recorded and then transcribed. We have seen quotes and various newspapers
from multiple officials who say they have seen the transcripts, the
transcripts from Mike Flynn talking to a Russian government official.

Even though the transcripts have never been leaked or published, we have
been told what was in them. We have been told, it`s been reported, that
the transcripts show that Mike Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia
with the Russian government, even though he lied and said he didn`t. Now,
we still don`t know – and this is going to end up being important – we
still don`t know why Michael Flynn`s calls with a Russian official were
recorded and transcribed by U.S. officials, right?

If it was, you know, routine surveillance of foreign government officials
in the United States, they always listen in on the Russians. Well, OK,
that makes sense why a Russian government official would have been recorded
and had his communication transcribed, but that kind of routine
surveillance should not have included anything involving an American
person.

Right, if it was an official under routine surveillance, any American
getting on the line, that should not be included in that surveillance
because Americans cannot be surveilled just because they happen to speak
with foreign officials. If that listening, that surveillance, was done
under a national security warrant, under a FISA warrant, again, we would
expect any person captured in the communication would be what they call
minimized, would be excised out of the communication, wouldn`t be recorded,
wouldn`t be transcribed, we would haven`t access to what that U.S. person
said.

A communication involving a U.S. person is a different thing legally
speaking than a communication involving just foreigners. Why do we have
access to what Flynn and a Russian official were talking about? If there
was a warrant out on Michael Flynn himself and that`s why the call was
being recorded – well, that would explain why we`ve got a recording and a
transcript of what Mike Flynn said when he was talking to a Russian
official.

But there`s been nothing to indicate that Mike Flynn was the subject of a
criminal warrant or the subject of a national security warrant, you know, a
FISA warrant which in that case you`d only be able to get because you
suspected him of something very serious like espionage. We haven`t seen
anything that would indicate that there were warrants taken out to surveil
Mike Flynn specifically.

So, that`s one of the big things that`s still to be determined here. One
of the things we still need to understand if we are going to know what has
happened to our government and what`s going on with this new presidency and
particularly the Russian connection. We still do not know the
circumstances of how U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies came to
be monitoring and recording and transcribing calls between Russian
officials and Mike Flynn during the transition.

If you are waiting for shoes to drop in this particular news environment,
that one`s like a big freaking logging boot that`s going to fall off a ten-
story window sill at some point, right? Wear a hard hat. We are still
waiting for an explanation of that and we still don`t have one.

The other part of Mike Flynn`s firing that never made sense, though was its
timing. Now, Mike Flynn reportedly had multiple conversations with Russian
government officials during the presidential campaign which, of course, is
when Russia was interfering in our presidential election to hurt Hillary
Clinton and help Donald Trump, his multiple communications with Russian
officials. Incidentally, those also remain unexplained. What was he
talking to the Russian government about while the Russian government was
attacking our election? I would love to know.

That said, further non-explained data here, Michael Flynn apparently
continued his communications with Russian officials beyond the campaign
past Election Day and into the transition. His conversations with the
Russian ambassador that led to his firing, those happened during the
transition. They happened in late December around Christmas and New
Year`s.

Well, two weeks after that on January 15th, the vice president, Mike Pence
went on TV and assured the American public that Michael Flynn definitely
didn`t talk to the Russians about sanctions during the transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you about it. It was reported by David Ignatius
that the incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in touch with
the Russian ambassador on the day the United States government announced
sanctions for Russian interference with the election. Did that contact
help with that Russian – kind of moderate response to it – that there was
no counter reaction from Russia? Did the Flynn conversation help pave the
way for that sort of more temperate Russian response?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn
about that conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with
the United States` decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against
Russia.

What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those
conversations that happened to occur around the time the United States took
action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those
sanctions.

INTERVIEWER: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might
have been other conversations about the sanctions.

PENCE: I don`t believe there were more conversations –

INTERVIEWER: OK, let`s move on.

PENCE: – but I can confirm that those elements were not part of that
discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: What Mike Pence said there was not true. We now know that Michael
Flynn did discuss sanctions with the Russian government even though Mike
Pence said he didn`t.

So, there are two possible ways to explain that. One is that, you know,
Vice President Mike Pence was knowingly lying. He was straight up lying.
He knew what Flynn had actually done but he lied about it on TV. That`s
one possibility. That`s a very dark possibility.

The other possibility is that Mike Pence thought he was telling the truth.
He thought he was telling the truth but because Michael Flynn fed him a
B.S. story, Mike Pence innocently relayed that B.S. story to the American
people as if it was true even though he wasn`t in on the real facts of the
matter.

That latter story is what the White House decided to go with, right? Vice
President Mike Pence would never knowingly lie to the American people, he
passed on what Mike Flynn told him. That`s the story from the White House.

Mike Pence made those comments on TV January 15. Eleven days later,
January 26th, the then acting attorney general of the United States, Sally
Yates, we now know, she went to the White House with apparently the
information gleaned from those transcripts, those recordings of Mike
Flynn`s calls talking to the Russians. She brought that information to the
White House and said basically, “Hey, what you`ve been saying about how
Mike Flynn was communicating with the Russians and what he was and wasn`t
talking to the Russians about, what you`ve been saying is not true. Mike
Flynn absolutely did talk to the Russian government about the sanctions.
And we know because we heard it and then we wrote it down.”

I mean, what does not make sense here, what has never made sense here is
what happened after that visit from the Department of Justice, after that
visit from the acting attorney general, because what happened next after
she told them Mike Flynn was, in fact, talking about sanctions when he
talked to the Russians, what happened next after she told him that was
nothing. From January 26, all the way through the end of January, all the
way through the end of the first week through February, all the way to
February 13th, the White House did nothing in response. Their line for why
they had to fire Mike Flynn on February 13th is that they were so outraged
that Mike Flynn had lied to good old Mike Pence.

Look at Mike Pence. How dare you lie to him? How could you lie to
somebody like that? They were so outraged they had to fire Michael Flynn.

But you know what? They found out about Michael Flynn supposedly lying to
Mike Pence, they found about that almost three weeks before. And it
apparently took three weeks to start bothering them so much. What? It
didn`t bother them until it hit the news, until the news or the content of
those communications between Mike Flynn and the Russians until that hit the
news, and everybody found out that Mike Pence had talked about sanctions
with the Russian ambassador and had been lying about it, that`s when they
finally fired Mike Flynn.

It`s never made sense in the White House account of what happened to Mike
Flynn and how he was fired and why he was fired. It has never made sense
that the reason he had to go was that he lied to Mike Pence and nobody lies
to Mike Pence and gets away with it.

The White House sat on the news of that lie for three weeks, did nothing
about it before they finally got dragged into firing him because of public
exposure. The only thing that explains the time line of why they got rid
of him when they did is that his lies around his contacts with Russia
finally got publicly exposed.

So why did it happen that way? We know that what they are explaining about
how it happened makes no sense. What did it happen that way for real? Why
did they stick with Mike Flynn for all of that time, even though the
Department of Justice came to them and told them, you know what, he`s lying
publicly and unless Mike Pence is in on the lie, too, he`s apparently lying
to Mike Pence, he`s lying to the vice president. And in terms of what he`s
lying about, remember, the Department of Justice told the White House they
thought Michael Flynn as national security adviser might be vulnerable to
Russian blackmail, while he was serving as national security adviser.

But, still, they held on to him, they held on to him for another three
weeks. They held on through a lot of embarrassing stuff. I mean, there
was a profoundly negative bipartisan reaction to him being appointed a top
national security adviser to the campaign and them even more so to him
being appointed actual national security adviser to the president. I mean,
for somebody with such a distinguished military career, everything else
about what Mike Flynn – honestly, I don`t mean in the a mean way – it was
embarrassing.

His online statements, the tweets he deleted, the ones he didn`t, his son
who he employed at his consulting business who was embarrassing enough and
extreme enough that he has the rare distinction of being one of the only
people ever fired from the Trump apparatus for being too embarrassing even
for these folks.

Mike Flynn never had an explanation for why he took tens of thousands of
dollars from the Russian government through Russian state-owned television.
He never had an explanation for what he was doing not only taking their
money but sitting next to Vladimir Putin at that gala dinner for Russia
Today and standing up and applauding Putin at the end of Putin`s speech,
giving him a standing ovation, leading the standing ovation for Putin.

And then there was Michael Flynn being on the payroll for a foreign
government while he was advising Trump on the campaign and during the
transition. And that point, him being on another government`s payroll,
lobbying for another government while he was in the White House, right?
While he was just transition official, while he was running – that point
is what has really sent the lug nuts skittering off the wheels in
Washington tonight.

On Election Day, while Michael Flynn was serving as the top national
security advisor to the Republican candidate for president, Mike Flynn also
published this over-the-top op-ed in “The Hill” newspaper. The op-ed
praised the authoritarian leader of Turkey. It also called for the heads
of his dissidents and opponents. It was weird at the time. The timing
itself was weird because it was on Election Day but the content was weird.

And within days, first, `The Daily Caller” and then, “Politico”, they
confirmed this weird op-ed makes sense, he wasn`t just writing that out of
the goodness of his heart, actually Mike Flynn`s consulting group is being
paid to represent the interest of the government of Turkey. Quote,
“Retired General Michael Flynn, vice chair of the Trump transition, in the
running for a top national security post in the new administration, runs a
consulting firm that is lobbying for Turkish interests.”

This wasn`t like a rumor or like a secret. “The Daily Caller” reported it,
“Politico” reported it, CNN reported it, the “A.P.” reported it,
“Bloomberg” recorded it. On the 11th of November, some dumb cable show did
a big long story at the top of the hour at 9:00 eastern on MSNBC.

It was widely publicly known and discussed that Michael Flynn and his
consulting company were taking money to represent the Turkish government.
They were lobbying for the Turkish government`s interests while he was the
top of the national security apparatus in the Trump transition, while he
was advising Trump on national security matters, he was taking that money,
he`d been on the Turkish payroll during the presidential campaign.

Well, now this week, finally, Mike Flynn has finally retroactively
registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. He has admitted
that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for the government
of Turkey last year between August and November.

But again, this filing is retroactive. It`s like he`s filing now to say
he`s about to start taking money to lobby for the Turkish government. He`s
filing now to report that he was lobbying for the Turkish government last
year while he was also working for Trump.

Now, the White House said today that President Trump had no idea, no idea
that Michael Flynn was an agent of a foreign government while he was
advising the Trump campaign and leading the national security part of the
Trump transition. And honestly, while he was sitting in on the
presidential daily brief and all of the other things he did as part of the
Trump effort. And maybe, amazingly, that`s true that President Trump had
no idea Michael Flynn was a foreign agent while he was doing that because
maybe the president consumes no news and information that is publicly
available to the rest of us, maybe he didn`t notice anything on cable news,
maybe he didn`t notice anything on “The Daily Caller” or “Politico” or “The
A.P.” or CNN or Bloomberg or any of it, just didn`t notice.

But you know, just a week after we did that big segment that we did on
Michael Flynn working for a foreign government, just one week after that,
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote to the Trump transition team
to formally alert them to these credible news reports that the top national
security adviser to the transition and to the new president was lobbying
for Turkish interests, notification from Congress. And now, today, “The
Associated Press” has confirmed that the transition team beyond the letter
from Elijah Cummings, beyond the news coverage and public discussion, the
transition team was formally notified by Mike Flynn`s lawyers during the
transition that he was on the payroll of a foreign government.

Quote, “Lawyers for Flynn told Trump`s transition team that Flynn might
need to register as an agent of a foreign power.”

So, even if you believe this from Trump, even if you believe that President
Trump had no idea, never heard any of this, how did you guys find out about
this crazy story? Oh, it was in the “A.P.”?

Even if the president had no access to that publicly available information,
we know for certain the White House is actually tonight confirming that
even if they`re still saying the president didn`t know, they`re confirming
that the transition knew. The transition team was informed at the highest
levels that Michael Flynn may be needed to register as a foreign agent.
Even if you don`t – even if the president somehow was completely immune to
this information, the White House confirms the transition knew, that the
head of the transition was informed.

Who is the head of the transition? An incredibly honest looking gentleman
named Mike Pence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Michael Flynn has filed with the Department
of Justice as a foreign agent for making more than $500,000 as a lobbyist
essentially for Turkey. Your reaction to that considering that doesn`t
that mean, Mr. Vice President, that even if he didn`t lie to you about what
the Russian ambassador said or didn`t say, that you would have had to fire
him anyway?

PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of
it and I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for
General Flynn`s resignation.

BAIER: You`re disappointed by the story?

PENCE: The first I heard of it and I think it`s an affirmation of the
president`s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: First of all, Bret Baier at FOX asks the question perfectly,
right? He lays it out, lays it out accurately, let me get your reaction.
You know, basically saying is this not a significant scandal involving
General Flynn? How does Mike Pence respond to that? Just play that bit
again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of
it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was not actually the question you were asked. But – nobody
asked when you heard of it but twice Mike Pence volunteers that this is all
news to him. Never heard this before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: You`re disappointed by the story?

PENCE: The first I heard of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It is impossible that this is the first time Mike Pence has heard
of it. It`s impossible. Mike Pence was the head of the transition. While
all of those stories about Michael Flynn being on the Turkish government`s
payroll were breaking, he was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn
was being vetted for the national security adviser job, he was the head of
the transition when Congress formally notified the head of the head of the
transition that Mike Flynn appears to be on a foreign government`s payroll.
He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn`s personal lawyers came
and told the head of the transition that Michael Flynn maybe needed to
register as a foreign agent and now, Mike Pence`s explanation to this whole
story inexplicably is he`s never heard any of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of
it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That cannot be true.

There is something wrong in this story. There`s something wrong here. I
mean, it is – it`s one thing to pick somebody manifestly unfit for the job
of national security adviser to be national security adviser, that`s one
thing. It is another thing if you bring somebody on board to a top
national security position while they`re also on the payroll of a foreign
government, and you either don`t notice or you don`t care and you have them
sit in on the president`s daily brief and you have them receive and deliver
intelligence briefings while another government is paying them to represent
that foreign government.

I mean, that`s a second-level scandal here. But you know what? It`s a
third level of scandal when you start making utterly implausible denials
that you had any knowledge of this thing that not only happened in plain
view but you very clearly did know about it at the time that it was
happening and you were notified of it directly.

What`s going on with the Michael Flynn story and his links to foreign
governments? Honestly, it didn`t make sense why they hired him in the
first place. Their explanation for why he was fired makes no sense
whatsoever, especially if you believe that Mike Pence was the innocent
wronged party in that drama, then it really doesn`t make sense.

And now that we`ve got Mike Flynn apparently lawyering up or at least
starting to cover his legal tracks and retroactively filing as a foreign
agent from the time he was managing intelligence briefings for the new
president, now their explanation for that part of the story also makes
absolutely no sense and does not comport with the facts. Why can`t they
simply explain what happened here?

Mike Flynn`s gone, you can blame the whole thing on him, but you have to
make sense if it happened the way you said it did. Why are the denials and
explanations around him and his contacts with foreign governments, why are
the denials and the explanations around him and his contacts with foreign
governments, why are they getting more arcane, more incoherent and more
elaborate?

Nobody asked Mike Pence when he first found out Mike Flynn was a foreign
agent. Why is he repeatedly volunteering an implausible answer to that
unasked question?

On this one, the White House makes no sense. They appear to be trying to
protect themselves or position themselves, maybe in the event of further
questions here, further revelations here, maybe an investigation here? I
mean, we can see the freak-out happening. We do not yet know why they are
freaking out like this about this. But if they`re freaking out about the
prospect of a real investigation into this kind of stuff, then that
explains what else happened tonight. And that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Preet Bharara is a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, which means he
runs a big office, with hundreds of attorneys. He`s got jurisdiction over
what amounts to, among other things, an enormous portion of the American
economy headquartered in New York. Also, he`s got jurisdiction over a lot
of the most important terrorism and national security cases in the country.

The southern district of New York is the highest profile U.S. attorney job
in the country. Preet Bharara also has the reputation as a hellion when it
comes to public corruption prosecution. One example, on the day Donald
Trump asked Preet Bharara to stay on from the Obama administration to
continue his work as a U.S. attorney in into new administration, that exact
day, Preet Bharara was on Twitter crowing about the fact that it was the
one year anniversary of him locking up the speaker of the assembly in New
York state.

He has bicameral interests, though. He also incidentally nailed the leader
of the New York state Senate as well. He also nailed two of Governor
Andrew Cuomo`s top advisors recently.

Preet Bharara was appointed by Barack Obama there 2009 and it is not
unheard of for a prosecutor to stay on beyond their four year-term even
into a new presidency if the next president wants to keep them on. In this
case, when Donald Trump became the new president, he decided he want Preet
Bharara to say on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREET BHARARA, U.S. ATTORNEY: The president-elect asked presumably because
he`s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done
over the past seven years, asked me to discuss whether or not I`d be
prepared to stay on as the United States attorney, to do the work as we
have done it, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven
years. We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying
on.

I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to Senator Sessions who is, as
you know, the nominee to be the attorney general. He also asked that I
stay on. And so, I expect I`ll be continuing to work at the southern
district of New York. That`s all I have but thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was right around the end of November. So, after the
election, the early days of the transition “I agreed to stay on. That`s
all I have but thank you.”

I agreed to stay on, I was asked to stay on by Donald Trump, by Jeff
Sessions personally, I have agreed to stay on.

And now, something has happened and apparently, he`s out. Maybe he`s not
out, it looks like he`s out. Today in one fell swoop, the Trump
administration asked for the resignation of 46 Obama administration federal
prosecutors, U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department and I should tell
you, it`s not unheard of for a new president to clean house of all the U.S.
attorneys from the previous administration. It doesn`t always happen but
it`s not unprecedented. In 1993, President Bill Clinton`s new Attorney
General Janet Reno replaced all the U.S. attorneys across the country as
well.

But, honestly, nobody had any idea this was coming today. They had not
given any sort of signal that was going to happen. They just made this
unannounced decision to drop the hammer on all the remaining U.S. attorneys
all at once. They reportedly started calling people late today to tell
them to submit their resignations effective immediately and now, these U.S.
attorneys are gone tonight. Boom, boom, done.

The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the top Democrat in
the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, released this statement
tonight.

She writes, quote, “In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White
House counsel Don McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys
would be fired at once. Mr. McGahn told me the transition would be done in
an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly, this is not the case.
I`m very concerned about this unexpected decision on federal law
enforcement.”

They had previously said they wouldn`t do this, but then tonight, they
decided to.

Part of what remains here as a question is whether this applies to Preet
Bharara, too. Because he kind of had a special deal, right? He was asked
to stay on by the president, by the attorney general. He accepted.

Tonight, NBC News asked the Justice Department if this new order firing all
the U.S. attorneys applies to Preet Bharara, if they want him to stay on or
leave, and the Justice Department told NBC, “Ask the White House.” And NBC
called the White House to ask about Preet Bharara`s situation and the White
House said “ask the Justice Department.”

So, somewhere between the White House and the Justice Department maybe
somebody knows but we don`t know for sure either way.

I mean, the president has the power to fire Preet Bharara if he wants to.
He`s allowed to do that. But it would be a strange and dramatic decision
if he did it because there was an overt personally worked out deal admitted
publicly to keep him on.

What happened since then? Why have they decided Preet Bharara has to go?
Is there something to be afraid of?

In addition to Preet Bharara`s reputation for aggression in prosecuting
public corruption, it may be that his jurisdiction here matters. Being the
U.S. attorney for Manhattan doesn`t just mean that you cover, for example,
all of Wall Street. It also means in his case his jurisdiction includes
the headquarters of Trump Tower where you see him there the day he made his
deal to stay on.

I should tell you, two days ago, a letter was sent to Preet Bharara from a
few different ethics watchdog groups asking him based on his jurisdiction
in Manhattan to investigate whether the Trump Organization is receiving
illegal financial benefits from foreign governments that are redounding to
the president himself.

Quote, “We call on you as the United States attorney for the jurisdiction
where the Trump Organization is located to exercise your responsibility to
investigate and take appropriate action to ensure that the Trump
Organization and related Trump business enterprises do not receive payments
and financial benefits from foreign governments that benefit President
Trump.”

So, that letter was sent from ethics watchdog groups to Preet Bharara two
days ago. You`ve got jurisdiction here. If the president is getting
payments from foreign governments through his businesses because he`s not
divested, you have jurisdiction to investigate that. That letter went to
Preet Bharara two days ago.

Now, apparently, Preet Bharara has been fired two days later. What are you
so afraid of?

We`ve got a good guest on this subject coming up who may be able to shed
some light on what`s going on here, why this has happened. But I should
tell you that there is one previous example just in case this becomes
relevant, there is one previous example of a federal prosecutor in New York
resisting and saying no when a president tried to remove him.

His name was Robert Morgenthau. In 1969, he had the same gig Preet Bharara
has now. President Nixon called for Robert Morgenthau`s head and Robert
Morgenthau dug in his heels and said he would not leave. He would resist
being fired.

And it was very dramatic but the way it ended is he had to leave, too,
because the president can decide who`s in these jobs. The president has
this power.

Why a president chooses to use to exercise it at a time like this, making
an absolute U-turn from his previous decision without any advanced notice
and without any explanation, well, that`s a really interesting question
regardless of whether or not he`s got the power to do it. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, is setting off a flare
about the Trump administration firing more than 40 U.S. attorneys and one
fell surprise swoop. He`s raising alarm particularly about the federal
prosecutor in New York, whose jurisdiction includes Trump Tower and the
Trump Organization.

This is from Schumer tonight. Quote, “I`m troubled to learn of reports of
request for resignations from the remaining U.S. attorneys, particularly
that of Preet Bharara after the president initiated a call to me in
November and assured me he wanted Preet Bharara to continue to serve as
U.S. attorney for the southern district. By asking for the immediate
resignation of every remaining U.S. attorney before their replacements have
been confirmed or even nominated, the president is interrupting ongoing
cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice.”

The president, any president, can clean house like this, right? A
president can switch the U.S. attorneys out. But why tonight? Why so
abruptly? And why ask Preet Bharara to stay and then change your mind?

Joining us now is Charlie Savage. He`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington
correspondent for “The New York Times”. He`s been reporting on this latest
move by the Trump administration. He`s also the author of “Power Wars:
Inside Obama`s Post-9/11 Presidency”.

Mr. Savage, thank you very much for being here tonight. It`s nice to see
you.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oh, good to be back. Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW: Hi. So, it is obviously within the president`s power to appoint
new U.S. attorneys as many as he likes. Is this a sort of standard
operating procedure for a new administration? Is there anything unusual
about the timing, the fact that there was no announcement or the fact that
nobody has been nominated to replace these U.S. attorneys?

SAVAGE: So, the first point is absolutely a president can remove U.S.
attorneys at will. They serve at the pleasure of the president and it is
not unusual for a new president, especially when there`s been a change of
party, to replace the 93 top federal prosecutors in federal districts
around the country. Typically, it happens on a more rolling basis with
transition time and we`ll replace this guy and then we`ll replace that guy
and we`ll replace this woman.

Or as you mentioned earlier there was one precedent for a mass firing which
came from President Bill Clinton in March of – 1993. Even that was a
little different than this then however because the people weren`t all sort
of told to pack up their offices and get out by the close of business that
day.

I talked to one of President George H.W. Bush`s U.S. attorneys who was
there in January of 1993 when President Bill Clinton took over in McKay in
Seattle and – Michael McKay – and he told me well I was going to leave
but when this thing came down, they let me stay three weeks beyond that,
there was another guy he remembered who had had a big investigation open,
they let him stay.

So, this very abrupt get out is part of what`s unusual about this
unexpected mass firing which we did not expect to happen in one big gulp.
But we did expect to happen in slow motion over quite a lot of time.

MADDOW: And, Charlie, in terms of your reporting and your understanding of
the dynamics at work here, was there a beef? Was there a political
analysis that made this seem like an imperative? Was there a grudge
against the U.S. attorneys as a group?

SAVAGE: I don`t know about the U.S. attorneys, but for the last few weeks
as these various leaks have been coming out about Trump campaign officials
and Michael Flynn and contacts with Russia and chaos inside the Trump
administration, there`s been a sort of growing counter-narrative in
conservative circle which is that all these leaks are sabotage by leftover
Obama era officials who are sort of embedded in the government and are –
need to be purged.

We`ve had sort of a growing clamor of sort of conservative talk radio
people and some members of Congress and so forth, escalating last night
with Sean Hannity on FOX News saying it`s time for Trump to purge – his
word – all of these saboteurs, his word, which means every holdover Obama-
era official, he`s got to get them out. And Hannity in particular talked
about how Clinton had gotten rid of all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning
of his administration and it was no big deal, and Trump really needed to do
the same now.

MADDOW: Charlie, one quick last question for you, on the issue of Preet
Bharara specifically, obviously, there`s two things at work here. One,
he`s got jurisdiction geographically over what would include the Trump
Organization. Two, there was a public announcement he would stay on. Can
you shed any light for us on a particular dynamic at work there? That is I
think a particular point of concern for a lot of people looking at this
story tonight.

SAVAGE: Yes. Well, you know, we don`t know. Stuff may come out but in
from this vantage point at this moment in time, I think the most likely
explanation is that at the time that Trump made that deal with Preet
Bharara in November of last year, he was in a sort of moment of bromance
with Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic minority leader, he was like we
can work with this guy, we can find common ground when somebody people on
the left were saying scorched earth, Schumer was saying no, let`s find
things we can do together.

And this was a gesture towards Senator Schumer because Preet Bharara is a
long time. – prior to being U.S. attorney was counsel to Chuck Schumer,
Chuck Schumer was his patron, Chuck Schumer got him the position of being
U.S. attorney by telling Barack Obama he should nominate him. And so, that
was a gesture.

Since then, relations between President Trump and Chuck Schumer have become
increasingly toxic, Trump has insulted Schumer and Schumer in turn called
for an independent investigation into the Russia thing, he said that Jeff
Sessions should resign. They are not friends anymore and that may be why
this deal that sort of was thrown together capriciously in November when
things looked very different no longer was that attractive to Trump or to
Sessions.

MADDOW: If we ever find outs about the presence or absence of any Trump-
related investigations out of the U.S. attorney`s office, you`ll probably
be the guy who writes the amazing book about it. We look forward to
hearing it then.

SAVAGE: We`ll find out.

MADDOW: Charlie Savage, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington correspondent
for “The New York Times” – Charlie, appreciate it tonight. Thanks.

SAVAGE: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: All right. You know I love Friday nights, buckets of news every
Friday night, right? We`re just getting started.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, Donald Trump`s Colorado campaign
chairman, Senator Gardner, take it away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: We`re one week into President Trump`s administration. Is it
what you expected?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: You know, I think it`s just – it`s just
been a fire hose. It just seems the second you turn your head one way to
see what`s coming down that road, you have to turn your head this way to
see what`s coming down that road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: On point, Senator, on point. So what is your advice to your
constituents? Folks who experience this administration as an unmanned fire
hose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: There are people who are afraid right now about the
environment, about health care, ant immigration, education.

GARDNER: People shouldn`t be afraid, I don`t think, in this country. We
should be proud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Don`t be afraid. Be – it appears a lot of Senator Gardner`s
constituents are deciding to be proud, in part on his office doorstep.
They have mounted a long-standing and forceful effort to push Senator Cory
Gardner to say no to Trump plans and Republican plans on everything from
repealing the Affordable Care Act to the Muslim ban to the wall on the
Mexican border, Coloradans have been demanding time with their senator,
they have been pressuring him to hold town halls, they have been be doing
whatever they can to reach him. They have tried to get his attention
through prank missing poster signs. Try to initiate contact.

You see the small print there? If you have seen or heard from this man,
please inform his constituents.

They`ve tried flattery. Senator Gardner, will you make a date with
Colorado?

They have tried getting his attention by holding town halls without him
where they pose questions to a cardboard version of Cory Gardner.

They have made art installations of his face. That pressure has been
constant on Cory Gardner back home in Colorado and little by little, that
pressure is may be starting to move things. After the president`s first
Muslim ban took effect, Senator Gardner called on the president to change
it, says it goes too far. “I urge the administration to take the
appropriate steps to fix this overly broad executive order.”

On the subject of health reform, this week, he joined three other
Republican senators in saying he wouldn`t support the House Republican bill
to kill Obamacare if it didn`t help people who are covered under Medicaid.

And now, we have a bit of news to report on another thing that Senator
Gardner seems to be moving on, something his constituents have really been
pressuring him on back home, and he did it under cover of one of these
telephone town halls, one of these things that members of Congress set up
to save their constituency without having to be anywhere near them.

Luckily, somebody in the call had the foresight to record this
teletownhall. They posted the audio online, and it turns out, Senator
Gardner made some real news when he was talking to his constituents, made
on the subject of the border wall, something that the senator has been very
shy about commenting on for a while. It turns out, once he is confronted
by his constituents directly, he`s less shy when he talks to them about it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GARDNER: As far as the wall goes, I believe we have to have border
security. But I do think billions of dollars on a wall is not the right
way to proceed. I don`t support a tariff to pay for any kind of a wall.
If we need security on the border, whether that`s personnel, or whether
that`s something – we need security on the border, but that may mean
personnel, it may mean a fence, may mean an electronic fence. But we
shouldn`t just build a wall at billions of dollars because that`s what
somebody said should be done.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: We shouldn`t just build a wall just because somebody says it
should be done.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner coming out against spending billions on the
border wall and his constituents got him to do a town hall to say that and
when they got him to say it, they got him to say it on tape. The pressure
is working and so are the tape recorders.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GARDNER: We shouldn`t just build a wall at billions of dollars because
that`s what somebody said should be done.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: You may have heard the news this week that more U.S. troops are
going into Syria. So far, most U.S. troops in the region have been special
operations forces on the ground. And we`re now getting the first U.S.
conventional troops on the ground in Syria. The new deployment includes
teams of not just Army Rangers but also a marine artillery unit. They`ve
already arrived in country. That brings the total number of U.S. troops
who are in Syria to around a thousand.

In terms of the fight against ISIS, this week, we also got some devastating
images out of Mosul. This is the Mosul Antiquities Museum in Iraq. The
ankle-deep ash in this room is thousand-year-old rare books and manuscripts
that have all been burnt to ash. This was the museum that ISIS captured in
2014 and they showed the video of ISIS taking sledge hammers to priceless
ancient statutes and icons and frescos.

Well, after three years under ISIS control, that museum and everything in
it is now completely destroyed. Iraqi forces just recaptured the museum.
As they reentered it, all they were able to find were piecemeal remains of,
you know, Mesopotamian tablets and Assyrian statues, pieces of the super
rare ancient culture just destroyed.

In terms of what`s going to happen next, there`s one thing we`re told to
anticipate next in terms of the fight against ISIS to take back the rest of
Mosul. One other building besides that museum in Mosul made major
international news in recent years since ISIS has held it and it`s from the
one time that the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has ever been seen in
public since he declared himself the caliph of ISIS. The place where he
declared himself the caliph of Muslims around the world is in Mosul. It`s
the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. This is him giving that sermon, the last he`s
ever been seen.

Well, we are now told to expect that Iraqi troops are closing in on that
mosque now, that they are about to take it back from ISIS after all these
years.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: One thing to keep an eye on this weekend, we`ve been trying to
watch town halls and constituents getting in touch with their members of
Congress and their senators, in part because that sometimes is leading to
obvious change in the views and behavior of those members of Congress.

Darrell Issa, controversial and interesting Republican member of Congress
from California, had a town hall in his district during the congressional
recess that a lot of his constituents went to but he didn`t. He is
apparently going to be doing two town halls tomorrow. They are both
totally full up, oversubscribed. His office tells us they are looking for
larger venues.

But if you`re going to keep an eye on people pressuring their members of
Congress this weekend, watch those Darrell Issa town halls. They should be
hot. Is that the right word?

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

END

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