The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/30/2017
Show: The Rachel Maddow Show
Date: March 30, 2017
Guest: Shane Harris, Jim Himes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us for
the next hour.
We are following the breaking news tonight that fired national security
adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who was fired from the
Trump administration after only 24 days on the job, tonight, he is asking
for immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony in the Trump -
Now, General Flynn has reportedly approached the congressional committees
in both the House and the Senate, as well as the FBI – more on that point
in a moment. And he has reportedly offered that he will testify to all
three of those bodies, both investigatory committees and the FBI, as long
as he has given personal immunity from criminal prosecution himself.
Now, it is not known at this hour how the FBI or the intelligence
committees will respond to this offer and this request from General Flynn.
But it was “The Wall Street Journal” who broke this story tonight. The
lead author of their scoop is reporter Shane Harris. Shane Harris will
join us live momentarily.
Since “The Journal” published this scoop tonight, a lawyer for Mr. Flynn
has released a slightly melodramatic statement explaining General Flynn`s
offer in his own words or at least in his lawyers own words. Here`s how it
It says at the top, “Statement by Robert Kelner, counsel to Lieutenant
General Mike Flynn.” And then the first line is this, “General Flynn
certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the
circumstances permit. Out of respect for the committees, we will not
comment right now on the details of discussion between counsel for General
Flynn and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees other than to
confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it`s important to
acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring.”
The statement then goes on to include a detailed summary of the general`s
impressive long military career and the various awards he received for his
military and intelligence work.
And then that statement ends with this sort of, this call to arms. Quote,
“Notwithstanding his life of public service, the media are awash with
unfounded allegations outrageous claims of treason and vicious innuendo
directed against him. He`s now the target of unsubstantiated public
demands by members of Congress and other political critics that he be
criminally investigated. No reasonable person who has the benefit of
advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly
politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair
Again, this is the statement from General Mike Flynn`s lawyer tonight
explaining with a dramatic flourish that he certainly, quoting, “certainly
has a story to tell” but also defending why the general only wants to tell
that story if he`s granted immunity from prosecution.
Now that is worth knowing in terms of understanding how General Flynn is
framing his offer. It`s worth knowing in terms of what our expectations
should be for how the FBI and the congressional committees may look at that
offer in terms of the way that it`s being couched.
It`s also worth knowing, given Mike Flynn`s previous statements about what
it means when somebody asks for immunity from prosecution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MIKE FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I mean five people
around her have had have been given immunity to include her former chief of
staff. When you are given immunity, that means that you`ve probably
committed a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now that Mike Flynn himself is asking for immunity, we don`t know
if that means he`s, you know, implicitly confessing to having committed
crimes. But if he does come forward and freely speak about what he knows,
I don`t know what that will lead us to in terms of the Trump Russia scandal
overall, but him speaking freely, facing difficult questioning that would
likely go some distance toward answering some of the big obvious unanswered
questions that have surrounded him and his role in the Trump administration
and in this scandal specifically from the beginning.
I mean, literally, from the beginning of his appearance in this tale there
were questions as to why he was brought on board at all at the Trump
campaign in the first place. Mike Flynn did have a very distinguished
military career, including long deployments overseas, but his time in
Washington thereafter was the opposite of distinguished.
In 2014, General Flynn was fired at the Defense Intelligence Agency after
what was widely considered to be a disastrous tenure there. Before the
Trump campaign officially brought him on board in 2015, there was his
inexplicable but fairly widely publicized appearance in Moscow at a gala
for Russian state-run television where he sat next to Vladimir Putin and he
personally led the standing ovation for the Russian president.
By the time Mike Flynn had come on board the Trump campaign, investigative
reporters like Michael Isikoff were already at the Republican national
convention here asking about that trip to Russia asking whether he`d been
paid by the Russian government for making that appearance. It has since
emerged incidentally that Mike Flynn was paid tens of thousands of dollars
in addition to a free, all expensive paid trip to Moscow for himself and
his son in exchange for showing up at that gala and sitting next to Putin.
In addition to that money from the Russian government media – government-
supported media outlet RT, in addition to that money, he also receives two
other five figure payments from two other Russian companies after he was
fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency. But nevertheless, the Trump
campaign brought him on board.
By Election Day, it was clear that General Flynn was on the payroll of
another foreign government. He was on the payroll of the government of
Turkey while he was advising the Trump campaign. Now, he was not
registered as a foreign agent, but it was widely reported that he was, that
he was he was taking money from a foreign government – from Turkey – to
advance that country`s interests in the United States while he was
simultaneously advising the Trump campaign.
I mean one of the unexplained things, one of the things that the official
announcement about him just makes no sense, right, one of the things that
doesn`t make sense about Mike Flynn is how on earth he made it through the
vetting process in the first place to become national security adviser,
right, after the trip to Russia with those undisclosed payments by RT and
by Russian firms, with the then undisclosed work as the agent of another
government, he was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the
government of Turkey and actively working to promote that government`s
interest in the United States, while the administration was supposedly
vetting him to be national security adviser?
He`s an unregistered foreign agent, getting paid all that – I mean, they
didn`t pick that up in the vetting?
It wasn`t hard to vet that about him. It was like lots of news stories
about it. I mean, that didn`t trip any wires from him? That has never
made any sense. It`s never made any sense.
Then he gets into the job, then he becomes national security advisor. As
national security advisor, Mike Flynn, or the White House speaking on his
behalf they repeatedly misstated the facts when it came to Flynn`s contacts
with the Russian government. They had to repeatedly revise the number of
calls and contacts they admitted that Mike Flynn had with the Russian
government and the Russian ambassador. Flynn reportedly also downplayed
the content of those communications, and the White House backed him up on
that. It was only after the inauguration when the Acting Attorney General
Sally Yates and another DOJ official came to the White House to tell the
White House that Mike Flynn, national security advisor, wasn`t being honest
about the content of his communications with the Russian government. He
was in fact discussion U.S. sanctions on Russia even though he said
publicly that he wasn`t.
The Department of Justice came to the White House, those officials came to
the White House and we are told that what they told the white House is a
pretty lurid story. They came to the White House and told the white House
that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was compromised by a foreign
power. He was vulnerable to blackmail and that`s obviously a serious,
serious matter for somebody who had access to the kind of national security
and intelligence information that he had access to as national security
And after they received that blockbuster information from the Department of
Justice, after they got that message at the White House, it still to this
day remains unexplained that the White House having been advised to that
fact, they nevertheless kept him on kept my plan on in his national
security advisor job for almost another three weeks.
When they did finally fire him their explanation was that they had to fire
him because Mike Flynn had lied about those Russian government contacts to
Vice President Mike Pence. That explanation is the official explanation
from the White House that we`re supposed to believe about what happened
with Mike Flynn. That explanation makes no sense and it never has.
After the White House learned that Mike Flynn had lied to the vice
president about the contact – content of his communications with the
Russian government after the White House definitively learned that
information, they waited almost three weeks before firing Mike Flynn. That
delay is unexplained and, in fact, the vice president`s role in this saga
at multiple points on the timeline just doesn`t seem plausible in terms of
the White House explanation of events, right? It doesn`t make sense that
when had to go because he lied to Pence, when once they learned that, they
didn`t do anything about it for almost three weeks. That makes absolutely
Also, Mike Pence had been the head of the Trump transition. As such, he
would have been intimately involved with the selection and vetting process
for a job as important as national security advisor. Nevertheless, Vice
President Mike Pence has professed absolute ignorance of any of the
scandals, any of the allegations of foreign payments and foreign contacts
and all the rest of it surrounding Mike Flynn.
Pence was the leader of the transition. As the leader of the transition,
he was notified in writing by members of Congress about Flynn`s apparent
financial ties to the government of Turkey. The transition was also
apparently notified in person twice by Flynn`s own lawyers about his
financial relationship with the government of Turkey. But nevertheless,
Vice President Mike Pence says he had no idea about any of that, never
heard about any of it, never – what? That shock – never heard any of it
until weeks after he was fired.
Until weeks after he was fired, Mike Flynn belatedly registered as a
foreign agent, just a few weeks ago, admitting retroactively that yes he
had been on a foreign government payroll while sitting in on the
president`s daily brief and all the other high-end intelligence matters and
national security matters he was privy to in the new administration.
Vice President Mike Pence claims he had absolutely no idea of that despite
him being notified about it on the record multiple times and it being a
matter of considerable public discussion. Mike Pence`s role in the Mike
Flynn scandal is flashing like a red beacon for anybody who sees him as the
normal Republican in this set in this setting, right?
There are two people about whom there are the most obvious unanswered
questions and areas of concern when it comes to how the White House has
explained itself throughout this whole debacle. One of them obviously is
former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The other one is Mike Flynn.
And “The Wall Street Journal” reports tonight that he`s making an offer, if
he can get immunity Mike Flynn says he is ready to tell his story. I
believe it when I see it, but the man who reported this story tonight for
“The Wall Street Journal”, along with his colleagues Carol Lee and Julian
Barnes is Shane Harris.
And Shane Harris joins us now tonight.
Shane, thanks very much for being with us tonight congratulations on the
SHANE HARRIS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL SENIOR WRITER: Thanks, Rachel.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, you`re reporting is that Flynn has made this offer. He`s
spoken to both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence
Committee. And also, you report that he approached the FBI with the same
offer that he would testify in exchange for immunity.
Now, I`m putting a sort of a fine point on that because the statement from
Flynn`s lawyer tonight mentions the House and Senate Intelligence
Committees, but he doesn`t mention the FBI. Are you quite sure of that
point that he went to the FBI with this same offer?
HARRIS: Yes, our sources have confirmed that to us and I trust these
individuals in particular. It would not be surprising by the way for him
to approach law enforcement with that offer as well. In fact, I mean we
don`t know the exact sequence of it, but it wouldn`t surprise me if it was
the FBI first, then you go to Congress. Getting immunity from Congress
would actually be I think more difficult for him than getting it from the
FBI, because there`s a whole lot of procedures at the Congress has to go
through to give him that immunity.
But clearly, as his lawyer said, he has a story to tell.
HARRIS: And he feels that he needs protections in order to do that and it
makes perfect sense as the lawyer said that he would seek those before he
gives that testimony to investigators.
MADDOW: And, Shane, what can you tell us about how offers like this are
weighed. You mentioned there that it may be a very different calculus for
the committees, the congressional committees, than it is for the FBI. But
there obviously is an exact president precedent for something quite like
But how would the FBI and how would those committees decide whether or not
to take this offer?
HARRIS: In general, what investigators are weighing is how important is
the information that that witness has to give us and it is – is it so
valuable or do we need to get to it so quickly that we`re willing to give
that grant of immunity? And there`s different kinds of immunity you can
give. Limited immunity, which is kind of more narrowly focused around
certain issues, that kind of limited immunity that was given to some of
Hillary Clinton`s aides in exchange for information or access to a laptop
computer in one case.
But, generally, the basic weighing that you`re doing here is, is it worth
it to get that information? And is there perhaps no other way we can get
that information? So, if we`re seeing potentially not many takers for Mike
Flynn`s offer, that could be an indication that these investigators feel
that they can obtain this information from other means. They could, of
course, also the congressional committees could subpoena him and he could
take the Fifth, but they may have other avenues that they can get at
without having to actually go ahead and take that, you know, pretty
remarkable step of immunizing him from any future prosecution.
MADDOW: And, Shane, do we have any word tonight in terms of either the
president himself or the White House more broadly, having any sort of
response to this? I mean, part of the way I think we assess the
seriousness or the likelihood of this coming to pass is whether or not the
White House seemed shaken by the offer?
HARRIS: Yes, we haven`t heard anything from the White House on this at
this moment earlier as we were going to press tonight. I would expect
that, of course, Sean Spicer will be asked about this in the briefing
tomorrow and that`s gonna be very telling because obviously if Mike Flynn
says he has a story to tell, it is about his story working for Donald Trump
presumably for those many months that he was an adviser and then his brief
stint as the national security advisor.
So we`ll find out I would suspect tomorrow if not before the briefing what
the White House thinks of Mike Flynn`s offer.
MADDOW: Shane Harris, senior national security writer for “The Wall Street
Journal” – congratulations on this scoop tonight. It`s a big deal.
HARRIS: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. This is – you know, on the one hand, as big a news – as big a
night for news in this country as we as we`ve had in a long time. It also
just sort of feels like Thursday like days that end in “Y” have scoops like
this in them these days. But there`s a lot to get to tonight and we`ve got
a bunch of guests here.
Stay with us
MADDOW: Senator John McCain has memorably described the Trump Russia
scandal as a centipede where every day, we`re not just waiting for the
other shoe to drop every day we just watch one by one as the other 99 shoes
drop one after the other.
The biggest one that dropped today is the news that former national
security advisor, fired national security advisor Mike Flynn is offering to
testify in exchange for immunity he`s obviously in a position to know a lot
about the worst case scenarios within this scandal and so that is a very
big deal, only something that big a deal could overshadow one of the other
shoes that dropped today which was reported by “The New York Times” this
afternoon, when “The New York Times” named to Trump administration
officials who allegedly funneled classified information to Devin Nunes,
head of the intelligence committee.
The man you see here works in the White House counsel`s office. He was
formerly a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee working for Devin
Nunes. His name is Michael Ellis. The other figure named by “The New York
Times” today is the controversial young intelligence chief at the National
Security Council now.
He`s controversial not because he`s famous but because after Mike Flynn was
fired as national security advisor and H.R. McMaster ultimately took over
that job, it was widely reported that McMaster was given free rein to staff
up the National Security Council as he saw fit. He would not be
micromanaged by the White House nor would he be stuck with Mike Flynn`s
leftovers on the National Security Council. That promise apparently led
General McMaster to believe he would be safe, he would be fine in firing
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who had come in with Mike Flynn and two reportedly was
the source of strong objections from the intelligence agencies,
particularly from the CIA.
H.R. McMaster, newly hired his national security advisor, he tried to fire
that kid, but according to “Politico”, this young Mike Flynn protege when
he found out that the national security advisor wanted to fire him, he
appealed directly to Jared, to the president`s son-in-law and to Steve
Bannon, appealed to those two men and told him he should be allowed to hold
on to his job and they agreed. And so, General McMaster was apparently
brushed back and told he had to keep this guy, even though he didn`t want
“The New York Times” now describes him and the guy from the White House
counsel`s office, he used to work for Devin Nunes, that describing the two
of them as having played a role in providing this mysterious information to
Devin Nunes about Trump transition officials being caught and named in
intelligence intercepts of foreign targets. So, “The New York Times” named
Then, tonight, “The Washington Post” added to it. They confirmed “The New
York Times” reporting about those two names. They then also added a third
name to the mix of White House officials that according to “The Washington
Post” were involved in the handling of this data and getting it to Devin
Nunes. They added to the list of names this man, John Eisenberg, who is
the top lawyer at the National Security Council.
So, out of all this news today, if you`re on one of those committees, if
you`re part of the investigation of this scandal, it seems to me like there
are two big questions for you that we had no idea needed to be asked before
today. Number one, how are you going to handle Mike Flynn`s request for
immunity in exchange for his testimony?
I mean, literally part of that question is, you know, what`s the logistics
of that? How does that work? How do you assess how good is information is
when you`re deciding how much an immunity you`re gonna give him? How do
you decide? What are the factors? Who makes the call? How do you
question him and his lawyers about that?
So, that`s one, dealing with Mike Flynn in this offer of immunity. Here`s
the other new question we didn`t have before this morning, before tonight
even, and this was raised by national security investigative reporter named
Bart Gellman today who`s a genius as far as I`m concerned. We`ve posted a
link to his analysis at MaddowBlog.com. You should read it for yourself.
But it`s a – it`s a big – it`s a big conclusion here, it`s a big
question. What were White House officials, if “The New York Times” and
“The Washington Post” reporting is right that Devin Nunes got this stuff
from White House officials, these three guys what were White House
officials doing reading raw FBI intercepts of foreign surveillance that
involved Trump transition officials and then asking for those names to be
unmasked? How on earth would that have come up in there the normal course
of their duties in the National Security Council or in the White House
I mean, think about that what were they doing monitoring who the FBI was
listening in on, right? What`s the remedy here if what “The New York
Times” reported and what “The Washington Post” reported is true?
And what it means is that the White House appears to be tracking – the
white House appears to be listening in on. The White House appears to be
monitoring the FBI`s investigation of the White House. The White House is
tracking that investigation by listening in on intelligence intercepts,
obtaining those intercepts, obtaining those transcripts and then
selectively leaking that information to try to pervert the course of the
If the White House has its claws into the FBI investigation of Trump and
Russia, if they have penetrated it are they`re tracking it in that way and
taking parts of it and putting them out into the body politic to try to
throw smokescreens out there, if that`s happening, how do you fix that?
What`s the remedy there?
A member of the House Intelligence Committee joins us next.
MADDOW: So, we`re continuing to follow what has been a sort of a wild ride
of breaking news about the Russian attack on the U.S. election last year
and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign colluded or
cooperated in that attack. The Senate Intelligence Committee this morning
held their first open hearing on that subject in which one of their experts
dropped jaws around the room and around the country frankly when he
testified that part of the reason Russian active measures were so effective
in our election is because the Trump campaign and Donald Trump himself
amplified Russian active measures and repeated them. Mr. Trump helped the
Russians in what they were doing in terms of their public attack.
Since that hearing this morning, there`s been multiple news stories that
have broken in this in this field, including “The New York Times” and then
later “The Washington Post” confirming that there are White House officials
who can be named people whose job titles we understand who may have been
involved in getting classified information into the hands of the House
Intelligence Chairman Devin which he then gave a press conference about and
ran back into the White House as if he needed to notify the White House of
this information that came from the White House in the first place.
We`ve got three named White House officials named by “The New York Times”
and “The Washington Post” who may have been involved in that. And then
tonight, “The Wall Street Journal” broke the story that former National
Security Advisor Mike Flynn has offered to testify on this subject if he`s
granted immunity from criminal prosecution.
If you`re a member of one of these intelligence committees conducting these
investigations right now, how do you deal with the news day like today?
Not a rhetorical question. Jim Himes, congressman from Connecticut, member
of the House Intelligence Committee, joins us now.
Congressman Himes, thank you so much for being with us. Really appreciate
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, a lot to deal with, a lot on your plate right now that wasn`t
even there when you woke up this morning. What can you tell us about
General Flynn reportedly offering to testify in exchange for immunity?
HIMES: Well, interestingly, when I last checked in, which was a couple of
hours a actually nobody on the intelligence committee had actually received
a communication from General Flynn. So, you know, we`ll need to wait to
see if that comes in.
And then, of course, what we`re what we`re going to need to think about is
it is true that Congress or a congressional committee can offer immunity
from prosecution. Obviously, when law enforcement does this they usually
do this because the individual granted immunity has a story to tell which
implicates higher-ups. You know, you arrest the corner drug dealer, you
give that individual immunity so that you can go after the kingpin.
Here, we`ll really have to think about and coordinate in particular with
law enforcement and the reason I say law enforcement is because you don`t
ask for immunity, of course, unless you feel like you`re in legal jeopardy.
So, we have to be very careful here that the Congress or my committee
doesn`t give immunity in such a way as to damage the ability of law
enforcement, FBI, whoever it might be, that is putting Michael Flynn into
legal jeopardy, that it doesn`t damage that case, whatever that might be.
MADDOW: In terms of your own experience, your own background and also your
experience on this particular committee, when the committee is weighing
this offer, if it doesn`t fact come through to the House Intelligence
Committee, do you expect that as part of those negotiations, you`d have
basically a more specific offer from Mike Flynn as to what he`s able to
testify about, as to what the character is of this story that he says he`s
so eager to tell? Would that be part of the negotiation?
HIMES: Well, of course, that`s the essential part of the negotiation, you
know, around immunity. You really need to know what it is that the – in
this case, Michael Flynn, but the witness might actually say and whether
it`s valuable information. Look, you`re not going to grant somebody who
potentially committed a crime immunity unless you really think you`re gonna
get something of a very real value.
And again, we need to be – this isn`t just one committee being asked for
immunity. It is possible that law enforcement might be interested here and
so, you know, my committee can`t just go off and say, “yes, no problem,
General Flynn, we`ll give you immunity” without closely coordinating with
whatever law enforcement agency my be in the back of Michael Flynn`s mind
as possibly creating some legal jeopardy for him.
MADDOW: Let me ask you congressman about this other news today from “The
New York Times” and then added to by “The Washington Post” this evening,
that there were White House officials, named White House officials who
provided this mysterious classified information to your chairman, which he
then held a couple of press conferences about and then ran that information
back into the White House to notify them about this information, which
apparently came from the White House in the first place? What do you make
of that? Are you concerned that White House officials were involved and
that they were they were tracking this information for some reason?
HIMES: You know, I keep thinking of that “Alice in Wonderland” line,
curiouser and curiouser because nothing about this whole story is in any
way shape or form by the book.
I mean remember that the National Security Council, this is a group of
people who advise the president on national security. They`re not the ones
deep in the basement in some building outside of Washington looking at raw
intelligence and intercepts. They`re the people who are really thinking
strategically. So, it starts out being a little strange that there`s
people scrutinizing raw intercepts and that sort of thing.
And then, of course, you know these are these are not necessarily
professionals. Some of the individuals named and I should I should be very
clear up front that I don`t know if that story is true or not, but these
individuals are recent arrivals at the National Security Council, and then
the mystery of mysteries, of course, is who does the NSC work for? The NSC
works for the president of the United States.
So, why if this is all true individuals at the NSC would say, hey, instead
of going to our boss with this information that we think is really
important, maybe compromising, who knows, you know what we`re going to do,
we`re going to call up one member the chairman of a congressional
committee, of a totally separate branch of government and share it with him
not with the president? And then, of course, we get into part one of the
story, which we`ve been dealing with for a little while, which is that you
know the chairman decides not to share this with his committee.
So, again, none of this makes any sense. None of this is by the books and
fortunately as you probably know, both the ranking member Adam Schiff and
the chairman have been invited to the White House next week to actually
look at this stuff and hopefully get – hopefully get to the bottom of it.
MADDOW: Intelligence Committee member, Congressman Jim Himes of
Connecticut – thank you for your time tonight. This is – it feels like a
complex story, but you`re exactly right. At the heart of it, it`s stuff
that doesn`t make sense and so we have to keep pushing until it – until it
MADDOW: Thank you, sir. Appreciate your time.
HIMES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do keep an eye on this question about the National Security
Council staffers and White House counsel staffers. If they really were
reviewing raw FBI intercepts of foreign surveillance involving members of
the Trump transition, why were they reading that stuff? And is it possible
that the White House has been tracking the FBI probe into the Trump-Russia
scandal? Using the intelligence community`s capacities, using the
surveillance capacities of the U.S. government in order to track the
investigation into themselves. If so, I really don`t know what the fixes
A lot still to come. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DEAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: To one who was in the White House
and became somewhat familiar with its inner workings, the Watergate matter
wasn`t an inevitable outgrowth of a climate of excessive concern over the
political impact of demonstrators, excessive concern over leaks, an
insatiable appetite for political intelligence, all coupled with a do-it-
yourself White House staff regardless of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John Dean was the chief White House counsel during the Nixon
Watergate scandal. The Senate Watergate Committee that was investigating
that scandal, they granted him immunity from prosecution in exchange for
his testimony in Watergate.
But you know what? John Dean still ended up going to prison for his own
role in that scandal.
Immunity from prosecution – immunity from prosecution in a presidential
scandal is complicated, and it has some mind-bending historical precedent,
as we now face some of those same questions with Michael Flynn offering to
testify in the Trump-Russia scandal in exchange for immunity himself.
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC news presidential historian.
Michael, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Why did John Dean go to prison for Watergate even though
congressional investigators did grant him immunity?
BESCHLOSS: Well, he got an immunity to testify before the Senate Watergate
committee, which meant that things he said in his testimony could be not be
used against him in a trial. But the prosecutors did not give him immunity
and the result was that went to prison for four months for obstruction of
justice, he pled guilty.
MADDOW: So, there`s that – and this was but we`re talking about this
earlier with Shane Harris who broke this story at “The Wall Street
Journal”, with Jim Himes, who`s on the investigative committee in the House
that`s looking at this.
There`s a difference between getting immunity from Congress and immunity
from prosecutors. It can make all the difference in terms of whether or
not you go to prison. They also have to weigh those competing imperatives
when they`re deciding whether or not to grant it.
In terms of history of things like this, how willing has the Justice
Department – how willing have prosecutors been willing to go along on
request for immunity.
BESCHLOSS: Well, they`re oftentimes not very willing. Archibald Cox, the
special prosecutor and Watergate was against doing it for John Dean. And
then later on in the Iran-Contra scandal, Ronald Reagan, John Poindexter
who had the same job that Mike Flynn did, national security advisor, got
immunity for his testimony before Congress, but later on was prosecuted.
He was convicted of a number of things, including lying to Congress. That
was thrown out by an appeals court that said that somehow the trial used
material that was from his testimony and therefore that undermined his
So, you`re absolutely right. It is really complicated.
MADDOW: In terms of the history here – I mean, what is – are informed by
that history Watergate history and other presidencies and other scandals.
What do you think we should be watching for right now in terms of White
House reaction to what Mike Flynn is offering and what else is going on in
this scandal, in terms of what effect this may have on the White House?
What should we be looking for?
BESCHLOSS: Signs of the cover-up in the White House, that`s what we saw
very much in Watergate and finally, that`s what brought Richard Nixon down.
But the big test of what we`re seeing with Mike Flynn is going to be the
same test with John Dean and John Poindexter in the 1980s with Reagan,
which was were they able to say things that implicated the president
directly in the scandal? John Poindexter did not do that with Iran Contra.
John Dean said in the first – and he was the first high official to do
this, he said President Nixon has committed offences. He said, I hope that
he will be excused and that that he`ll be forgiven for these, but that led
directly to Nixon`s resignation. Dean`s testimony led to the revelation
that Nixon had taped his secret conversations. If you didn`t have those
tapes, Nixon probably would have served for eight years.
MADDOW: Yes, and exactly the right lane to put those in. Poindexter
didn`t implicate Reagan. Reagan survived narrowly Iran-Contra.
MADDOW: Dean did implicate Nixon and he was gone.
NBC News –
BESCHLOSS: And we could be asking that question tonight about Mike Flynn.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly.
Michael Beschloss, NBC presidential historian – thank you as always, my
friend. Nice to see you.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. You too. Be well.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My question is, first,
why did he think he could get away with it this time? This is not new for
the Russians. They`ve done this for a long time across Europe, but it was
much more engaging this time in our election. Why now? Mr. Watts?
CLINTON WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think this answer is very
simple and is what no one is really saying in this room, which is part of
the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the
commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at time against his
opponents. On 14 August, 2016, his campaign chairman, after a debunked –
LANKFORD: When you say his, who`s his?
WATTS: Paul Manafort –
WATTS: – cited the fake Incirlik story as a terrorist attack on CNN and
he used it as a talking point.
On 11 October, President Trump stood on a stage incited a what appears to
be a fake news story from Sputnik News that disappeared from the Internet.
He denies the intel from the United States about Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was part of the Senate Intelligence Committee in their open
hearing today, fairly simple and devastating in terms of the bottom line,
right? What we can observe even through open sources about the Russian
attack on our election, part of the reason they worked well is because the
Trump campaign and the candidate himself helped them with their attacks.
This particular scandal feels like an existential thing for this
administration. It feels like if this stuff is proven they`re over. That
very well may not be the case and the implications of that are next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: You know, there`s basically like a menu of scandal to choose from.
It`s not like a waffle house menu where it`s picture based and there`s not
all that many choices and so you just point out the things that you want
and how many of them you want on your plate. It`s not that kind of menu.
The scandal menu right now is like one of those menus that`s a binder, with
tons of pages, too many choices and you can`t narrow it down. I mean, just
start – just start anywhere. Start anywhere.
Start with Carl Icahn who has been tasked by the new administration with
advising them on regulations. What Carl Icahn has been advising the new
administration is that the administration should kill a regulation that
will result in nearly a quarter billion dollar-a-year windfall for a
company in which Carl Icahn has an eighty-two percent ownership stake.
When the administration did an across-the-board regulation freeze right
after the inauguration, mysteriously, the one new regulation they didn`t
freeze was one that would positively affect Carl Icahn`s eighty-two percent
stake in that same company for tax purposes.
The Carl Icahn thing alone is a capital-S scandal. That just the Carl
Icahn thing, that is as big a scandal as like say the one that made Vice
President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973.
If you don`t like that one, may I interest you in the Scott Pruitt special
today? He`s the former attorney general in Oklahoma. He`s now having his
law license reviewed by the state of Oklahoma because he overtly, simply,
clearly lied to the United States Senate under oath during his confirmation
when he was questioned about whether or not he ever conducted government
business on his personal email accounts.
He did conduct government business in Oklahoma on his personal email
accounts. He lied about that. He told the Senate that he did not.
Yes, who cares about email? Well, who cares about lying to the Senate?
And Scott Pruitt isn`t a humdrum who cares member of the Trump
administration. Scott Pruitt may be the most radical cabinet secretary
Trump has appointed to any agency.
Today, Scott Pruitt took the almost unprecedented step of throwing out the
window the EPA`s scientific findings that one particular pesticide is
unsafe and should be banned in this country. Today, Scott Pruitt took that
scientific finding, threw it out the window, said, screw it, don`t care,
and on his own safe so, he decided that that pesticide will now be legal.
Forget the process of determining whether or not it`s safe. Forget what
the scientists concluded in his own agency, which is that it`s not safe.
He threw that out the window said it`s legal on his own say so.
So, it`s not like Scott Pruitt is an obscure or uncontroversial figure in
the new administration. He`s doing his best to make himself as highly
visible as possible by being a real radical when it comes to policy. But,
you know, even if you like what Scott Pruitt is doing in terms of policy,
he really did lie to the United States Senate. He might lose his law
license for having done so.
If anything like that had happened to a cabinet official in the Obama
years, that would have been enough to keep the lights on at FOX News
through like seven seasons of “Fox and Friends”.
Even beyond Washington, there`s stuff going on right now that in any other
time would be huge point to focus for the whole country. The governor of
Alabama is probably going to be impeached next week. Arkansas is planning
to execute eight men in 10 days. They`re planning on four double header
executions, doubleheaders back-to-back, four of them, using drugs they`ve
never used before.
The U.S. military has now launched investigations into the second,
apparently, terribly botched military operation of the young Trump era.
The first one was the catastrophic raid in Yemen, which the new president
apparently approved over a dinner with Jared.
The second was a massive air strike in a civilian populated area of Mosul
in Iraq, the U.S. and Iraqi forces had dropped leaflets reportedly in that
neighborhood, telling civilians to definitely stay in their homes to not
leave, and then U.S. planes came in and apparently bombed that exact same
neighborhood. There are reports of as many as 200 men, women and children
all civilians killed in their homes after the United States reportedly told
them to stay in their homes and then bombed their homes.
So take your pick from this scandal menu, right? That`s even setting aside
any issues about self-dealing and conflicts of interest and the president
appointing his children to high-ranking sensitive government positions and
the question of whether the president is profiting from the presidency or
even receiving payments from foreign governments through his businesses
from which he is not yet divested – I mean even if you set that – set
that stuff aside, the self-dealing stuff, we are already changed as a
country, because before now, any one of these scandals that I just
mentioned in Washington, around the country, would be nationally riveting,
right, would be a source of seething outrage, if not bipartisan outrage
then at least partisan outrage.
But in this new American era, what we`re doing instead is kind of
cataloging that stuff in the background, assuming we`ll get to it at some
point. But in the meantime what we`ve been doing every day is watching the
unfolding of the one Trump scandal that seems existential, the one Trump
scandal vet it seems like might undo this presidency, by revealing this
presidency as basically the product of a crime – at least the product of a
foreign actor acting with American confederates.
Every day, it is these ongoing revelations which keep getting worse and not
better about the Russian government attacking the election, attacking the
process by which we got this new president, and the prospect that it wasn`t
just an attack. It was a collaborative or at least coordinated effort
between that foreign government and our president`s campaign.
The news today that we may get testimony in exchange for immunity from
fired National Security Advisor Mike Flynn who is in a position potentially
to know more about the scandal than anybody else, that news today revs this
scandal up into higher gear that we didn`t even know we had in our national
transmission, and you know, we will – we here at the show and I think on
this network, we will cover this as aggressively as anybody. I think it`s
been fair to say we have been as aggressive as anybody on this story
already and that will remain the case.
But I want to just plant this flag here – there remains the possibility
that the president and his campaign are innocent. There remains the
possibility that the president and his campaign are not incident – not
innocent, but that this scandal does not prove to be an existential
presidency-ending conflagration, even if they are found to have committed
very bad acts. There remains the possibility that at the end of this, even
if these investigations continue to go as badly as they have for the
president thus far, there remains the possibility that the end of all of
it, he`s still president and then for the sake of our democracy, we have to
figure out how we are going to regain our in tolerance for corruption and
scandal and throwing our American ethical and political norms out the
One of the consequences already of the Russia attack and it`s aftermath is
that what otherwise would be presidency ending scandals in any presidential
administration are like, whoo page 15, if you get there, man. I mean, when
all this is over and who knows how it ends, if we are ever to regain our
previous standing as a liberal democracy, right, there`s going to have to
be consequences for, you know, the Carl Icahn stuff for the lying to the
Senate stuff, for the personal ethics stuff, for the nepotism. Even for
the political radicalism that we now see is definitely no big deal because
at least it`s not treason.
Whether or not the Russia scandal brings down this presidency and it might,
the point of the Russia attack was to knock America down a few pegs in the
eyes of the world. They win and we lose if the outcome of all of this –
regardless of this presidency – is that we become a country that lets all
this other stuff slide, right, we`re even rank corruption becomes normal or
too small potatoes for us to worry about it. We cannot let ourselves be
the American generation where the standard slipped that badly, right, where
that happened. At some point, we`re going to have to get back to zero in
terms of being able to be shocked by corruption, nepotism and crime in
government. We`re going to have to get back to zero when it`s all done.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD”. Joy Reid sitting in for Lawrence
Good evening, Joy.
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