The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/9/2017

Guests:
Matt Zapotosky, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elijah Cummings
Transcript:

Guest: 

Guest: Matt Zapotosky, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elijah Cummings

 

CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST:  That is “ALL IN” for this evening. 

 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

 

Good evening, Rachel.

 

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

 

Thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour.  What a day, huh? 

 

You have been seeing live images of a plane sitting on a tarmac now moving

down a taxiway in Los Angeles.  This is a private plane of some kind.  It`s

not unusual for federal agencies, especially big ones like the department

of justice or the FBI to have private planes at their disposal. 

 

Director Comey was in Los Angeles for, I think, what was supposed to be a

recruiting event today, an event that was canceled.  There was some

logistical question once he was fired today by the White House as to what

would physically happen to him in the immediate aftermath of his firing. 

He was removed effective immediately. 

 

So, right now, he is no longer the director of the FBI.  What we believe

that Director Comey is on that plane, which is now taxiing down the runway

in Los Angeles, presumably they`ll be flying back to the east coast,

presumably, the FBI headquarters in Washington.  He`ll be heading back to

Washington.

 

But all of this is unscripted at this point.  All of this is unprecedented. 

There are historical parallels to what happened today, but there`s never

been anything like this before.  One instance previously in U.S. history in

which an FBI director has been fired by as president. 

 

That was a very different circumstance.  It was President Bill Clinton at

the time.  The FBI director who was fired was William Sessions.  There

were, in effect, abuse of office concerns that had been documented against

him by the Department of Justice.  Things like using a Department of

Justice aircraft to fly to see his family.  Things like using department

resources to build a fence around his house that didn`t seem to have any

security purpose.  And maybe was just because he wanted a fence at this

house. 

 

Those kind of concerns that led to Sessions leaving.  William sessions

being fired by president Clinton in the `90s.  That`s the only precedent

we`ve got for an FBI director being fired. 

 

We`re left as we watch these remarkable scenes and we wonder what`s going

to happen next here with James Comey – we`re left to find other context,

other analogies that make this make sense. 

 

In 1972, there was a tape made in the Oval Office.  It was made on June

23rd, 1972.  In that tape, the then-President of the United States, Richard

Nixon, and his chief of staff, H.R. Halderman, they talked about how they

would cover up what they knew about the Watergate break-in, which the Nixon

administration had orchestrated.  And there they were on tape talking about

how to beat the investigation into it, how to cover it up. 

 

And that tape was released to the public on August 5th, 1974.  The Supreme

Court had ordered the president to release that tape and ultimately, he

relented and released that tape. 

 

By then, by the time that Watergate tape, that Oval Office tape was

released, the Watergate scandal was quite ripe.  Impeachment proceedings

were well under way already.  There were 11 Republicans on the House

Judiciary Committee who voted against impeaching Richard Nixon. 

 

But when that tape came out, that August, all of the 11 Republicans on that

judiciary committee had said they would not impeach Nixon.  They all said

hearing that tape, that they would change their votes.  That they would

vote to impeach. 

 

And three days after that tape came out, August 8th, 1974, the president of

the United States resigned.  The reason those tapes ever came into the

public domain is because of a man called Archibald Cox.  Archibald Cox was

the special prosecutor who was brought in to investigate the Watergate

case.  He was the one who demanded those tapes from the White House and the

White House refused and then Archibald Cox subpoenaed those tapes and the

White House refused and he brought the White House to court, and the court

ruled against Nixon and told him to release those tapes and Nixon refused. 

 

And then what Nixon did is he came for Archibald Cox.  He told Archibald

Cox to lay off about these White House tapes, and Archibald Cox looked the

president in he eye and would not do that.  No, I`m not going to lay off. 

 

And so, President Nixon told the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox and

the attorney general said no and resigned.  And so, then Nixon told the

deputy attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, and the deputy attorney

general, he, too, said, no, and he resigned.  Eventually he had to get the

solicitor general to fire Archibald Cox and that became known as the

Saturday night massacre. 

 

But Archibald Cox, yeah, he did get fired.  Ultimately, he did get fired

but you know what?  He got the president fired, too.  He is the reason

those damning tapes eventually had to be released.  And Nixon`s presidency

was over less than three days after those tapes came out. 

 

So, fire the investigators?  Sure.  Nixon proved you can do that.  But

Nixon also proved the consequences of doing that in the end for a president

who has something to hide from those investigators. 

 

Today, President Trump fired the director of the FBI, James Comey.  And we

will have reaction to that from a number of people who are in a position to

know, or in a position to see how serious this is, what is likely to happen

next here. 

 

But just put this in context for a second.  How do we get to this point

tonight where we saw this private plane take off in L.A. for points unknown

with a newly fired FBI director on board and nobody having any idea what`s

going to happen next?  How do we get here tonight? 

 

It`s a very direct timeline.  New president was sworn in 109 days ago,

sworn in January 20th.  Four days after he was sworn in, his national

security adviser got questioned by the FBI.  We believe he was questioned

by the FBI about his connections with foreign governments, specifically

Russia.

 

Two days after that FBI interview, still, the first week of this new

administration, the acting attorney general of the United States went to

the White House to alert them that there was something wrong with the

national security adviser.  That they were serious, national security

concerns about the national security adviser, related to his contacts with

the Russian government.  That first urgent warning to the White House from

the acting attorney general came in the first week of this administration,

came on the first Thursday that this new president was president. 

 

By the following Monday, she was gone, fired by the president, in a dispute

over the constitutionality of his Muslim ban.  A couple weeks later, the

national security adviser was gone.  Under circumstances that are, frankly,

still murky and unexplained. 

 

Soon, though, we got word from the FBI director.  The FBI director

announcing in an open hearing in the House of Representatives that the

Trump campaign is the subject of an open, active counterintelligence

investigation by the FBI to determine whether the Trump campaign

collaborated with Russia in Russia`s attack on the U.S. presidential

election last year.  There has never been anything like that in the history

of the American presidency. 

 

And that announcement, an active counterintelligence investigation into the

president, that lands like the bombshell that it is, the House Intelligence

Committee hears that testimony on a Monday, on March 20th.  Then the

following week, March 28th, they are due to hear from that acting attorney

general who got fired a few days after she warned the White House that

there was something dangerous and wrong going on with the national security

adviser Mike Flynn when it came to his contacts with Russia. 

 

FBI Director James Comey announces the counterintelligence investigation of

that hearing on March 20th.  Sally Yates was due to tell her part of the

story.  The Mike Flynn part of the story just eight days later on March

28th.  But that did not happen. 

 

After the FBI director made his bombshell announcement at Devin Nunes`

House Intelligence Committee hearing, Chairman Nunes got weird.  He decided

to blow the whole thing up without explanation – there has still been no

explanation for this – he canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  And he got

himself thrown off the investigation altogether. 

 

A strange stunt at the White House where he claimed to be rushing secret

documents to the White House, even though it turns out he got the documents

from the White House in the first place.  Specifically, he got them

apparently from one of his own former staffers and from a former protege of

national security adviser Mike Flynn who had been left behind at the

National Security Council, even after Flynn left and despite efforts by the

new national security adviser to get rid of that guy. 

 

But Devin Nunes canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  Got himself taken off

the investigation altogether.  He`s now under investigation by the House

Ethics Committee for potentially having disclosed classified information. 

That was the House Intelligence Committee. 

 

Then, it went to the House Oversight Committee.  They decided they`d look

into a very specific part of it.  They`d look specifically into Mike

Flynn`s payments from foreign sources.  And despite their very narrow focus

on just that piece of it, the House Oversight Committee appears to have

stumbled on to something unexpectedly rich.  Their inquiries turned up the

theory that Mike Flynn had apparently not disclosed his foreign payments

from Russia, even though he`d been told explicitly and in writing that he

needed to do that. 

 

The Department of Defense inspector general`s office announced that they

had started an independent investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House

remarkably – remarkably refused to hand over any documents to the House

Oversight Committee about Mike Flynn.  They would not hand over a single

document, a single piece of paper about Mike Flynn. 

 

And that`s a – an important stonewall there.  And the Democrats on that

committee reacted the way you`d expect.  They were not happy with that

refusal.  Democrats on that committee said their chairman, Jason Chaffetz,

should demand to get those Flynn documents from the White House.  He should

subpoena those documents from the White House if necessary to which

Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz replied: I quit. 

 

At that point, Jason Chaffetz quit abruptly and with no notice.  He just up

and bolted from Congress, altogether.  He announced he was leaving

Washington.  Just as soon as his committee stumbled onto the Mike

Flynn/Russia investigation and specifically the White House telling them,

no, we`re not giving you a single document about it.  As soon as that

happened, instantly, surprise, no notice.  Jason Chaffetz says: I quit. 

 

Something about the way this story has unfolded.  Something about the way

this scandal is going freaks people out along the way. 

 

We`ve been seeing it already, but then you get to now.  Yesterday in the

United States Senate, the former acting attorney general did finally

testify, and now we know maybe why Devin Nunes was so not psyched to hear

what she had to say. 

 

She testified in addition to giving us the tick tock about her warning to

the White House, she testified that there was something about Mike Flynn`s

underlying behavior when it came to Russia that was problematic from the

point of view of the Justice Department.  Not just him lying about his

actions, which is the purported explanation for why he had to go. 

 

She says in addition to him lying about his actions, there was something

else problematic about his underlying behavior that he was lying about. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The first thing we did was to

explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had

engaged in was problematic in and of itself. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  What was that underlying conduct?  We do not know what Mike

Flynn`s underlying conduct was that led to this urgent, see me today, trip

from the acting general attorney up to the White House to say you`ve got a

problem here. 

 

We do not know what his underlying conduct was that was so problematic,

according to the Justice Department, but we know the Justice Department has

it.  They`ve got it, whatever it is. 

 

At that same hearing yesterday, the former director of national

intelligence also said a couple of things that could have made the White

House shiver its timbers over the last 24 hours.

 

Number one, James Clapper testified that when he previously asserted that

he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,

he says he was saying – he wasn`t saying there was no such evidence, that

there was no evidence of collusion, said he was speaking from ignorance. 

He`d been walled off from.  He didn`t know about the ongoing FBI

counterintelligence investigation of that matter when he made that previous

statement. 

 

So, to the extent the White House and president have been counting on James

Clapper saying, I haven`t seen evidence of collusion, yesterday, he

clarified, oh, but if there was evidence of collusion, I wouldn`t have seen

it.  That was one. 

 

Second thing James Clapper said that may have freaked out the White House a

little bit was this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Over the spring of 2016, multiple

European allies passed on additional information to the United States about

contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is this accurate? 

 

YATES:  I can`t answer that. 

 

FEINSTEIN:  General Clapper, is that accurate? 

 

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI:  Yes, it is, and it`s also quite sensitive. 

 

FEINSTEIN:  OK.  Let me ask you this. 

 

CLAPPER:  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  The specifics are quite sensitive.  The question was, over the

spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information

to the U.S. about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is

that accurate?  Yes.  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

 

So, confirmation yesterday from the former director of national

intelligence when he was in a position to know because he was director of

national intelligence then through 2016.  He confirmed yesterday that

multiple European allies passed information to the U.S. last year about

contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Confirmed.  Gulp. 

 

James Clapper also had this to say when he was asked about the president`s

business interests in Russia. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  General Clapper, during your

investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a

Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern? 

 

CLAPPER:  Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence

community assessment. 

 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

 

GRAHAM:  At all?  Any time? 

 

CLAPPER:  Senator Graham, I can`t comment on that because that impacts the

investigation. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Something about the president`s Russia business ties impacts an

investigation.  And so, therefore, cannot be discussed in open session. 

That was yesterday. 

 

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that they have sent a

request to the Treasury Department to the financial crimes unit in the

Treasury Department asking for information that agency may have about

President Donald Trump, or associates of President Donald Trump. 

 

Now this is the office of the Treasury Department that, among other things,

investigates international money laundering.  So, Senate intelligence told

that office today at the Treasury Department that they want anything that

they`ve got related to the president.  That request went into the Treasury

Department as of today, right after the director of national intelligence

said in an open hearing that Trump business ties in Russia cannot be

discussed in an open hearing because they relate to an ongoing intelligence

investigation.  That was today. 

 

And you know, day after tomorrow, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey was

due to be back in the Senate in open session testifying on the Trump/Russia

investigation.  That will not happen. 

 

Today, the president fired the FBI director at the direction, he says, of

the attorney general.  And if that timeline of events that I just laid out

doesn`t make it clear enough exactly what`s going on here and how desperate

a moment this is for this White House, the piece of it that puts this in

the category not just of another Trump scandal, not just of another law

enforcement or national security firing that can`t be explained by this

administration.  What puts this in the category of history tonight is

whodunit. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The staff recommended recusal.  They said

that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in

any campaign investigation.  I have studied the rules and considered their

comments and evaluation.  I believe those recommendations are right and

just. 

 

Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump

campaign.  That exact language of that recusal is in the press release that

we will give to you.  I`ve said this, quote, I have no decided to recuse

myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in

any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Recused.  I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or

future investigations of any matter relate in any way to the campaigns for

president of the United States.

 

In what world can you both be recused from an investigation and then take

it upon yourself to fire the person who is leading that investigation?  The

FBI director, by his own admission, by his own statement, in public, the

FBI director was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into

the Trump campaign and its potential ties with Russia.  The attorney

general, despite that recusal, just fired the FBI director in the middle of

that investigation. 

 

But, wait.  The justice department says they are not firing the FBI

director over the Trump/Russia investigation.  They are firing him over

another matter.  They say they are firing him over the handling of the

Clinton e-mail investigation.  Specifically, his comments on the Clinton e-

mail investigation that he made last July. 

 

Now what`s incredible, what`s literally not credible about that is that

those comments from James Comey were made last July.  Why would they be

firing him for that now?  Or what he did last July. 

 

I`ll also tell you there`s a Department of Justice inspector general

inquiry into what he said last July.  What he said last year about the

Clinton e-mail inquiry.  There`s an inspector general inquiry into that. 

If the Trump administration were so concerned about that, presumably, they

would wait for that inspector general inquiry to finish before they acted

on it. 

 

So, if it`s about the Clinton e-mail investigation, it all sense – in many

senses of our timeline here, it makes no sense they`d be firing him now

over that.  But, even if you think, despite the timeline, oh, that must be

why they`re firing him, what is even more incredible about that assertion

from the White House is that Jeff Sessions is also recused from anything

related to a Hillary Clinton investigation. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SESSIONS:  With regard to Secretary Clinton and some of the comments I

made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question.  I`ve

given that thought.  I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to

recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations

that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, or

could be otherwise connected to it. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of

investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the

campaign, could be otherwise connected to it. 

 

The FBI director was fired today without warning, suddenly, summarily,

effective immediately.  FBI director fired today at the direction of the

attorney general.  The White House says it`s over a matter related to

Hillary Clinton that was raised during the campaign.  The attorney general

is recused from matters related to Hillary Clinton that were raised in the

campaign. 

 

The attorney general is also recused from matters related to the

Trump/Russia investigation.  An investigation the FBI director is now

leading, or was now leading. 

 

The Nixon White House had a case to make that the Oval Office tapes

shouldn`t be turned over.  They had a case to make about that.  They had an

argument.  They lost that argument.  They lost that case. 

 

And then they tried for a while to defy the law, to fire their way and

intimidate their way into getting away with it anyway.  And it worked for a

hot minute.  But it also laid bare what they had to be afraid of. 

 

Firing Archibald Cox was the first shovel into Richard Nixon`s political

grave.  And it always, always works like that. 

 

Joining us now from “The Washington Post” newsroom is Matt Zapotosky, who

covers the Justice Department for “The Post”. 

 

Mr. Zapotosky, thanks very much for being here.  I know this is an

incredibly busy day and night.  Thanks for being with us. 

 

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It is.  Thanks for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  So, I`ve covered the basics here in terms of the big picture,

what`s happened, and what I see as the relevant timeline and context.  Can

you update us on what else has happened today in terms of the new FBI

acting director being appointed and anything else we expect to happen next? 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, just as I was sitting down, I was seeing that the deputy

director had taken over leading the agency, Andrew McCabe, who really was

mixed up in a lot of the same Clinton problems that Comey was that the

attorney general and the deputy attorney general highlighted as reasons for

his following. 

 

You know, what we`re really looking at now is what was going on in the

Russia investigation at this moment and did that have any – did that

contribute here at all?  And we don`t know that.  I mean, the stated reason

is this firing was related to the Clinton probe and how James Comey handled

the Clinton probe.  And I think most people would agree he did not handle

that well. 

 

But the timing is very weird.  We`re months away from that.  So why now? 

And I think more importantly, what was going on in that Russia case as we

speak. 

 

MADDOW:  And, Matt, in terms of the way this happened – obviously, the

deputy attorney general, the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod

Rosenstein, they published his recommendation to Attorney General Jeff

Sessions on this.  They also published Attorney General Jeff Sessions`

letter on this.  Also the letter that President Trump wrote to Director

Comey actually effectuating the firing her here. 

 

Is it a complicated factor that Jeff Sessions is supposed to be recused

from matters released to ether Hillary Clinton, issues that were raised

during the campaign like the e-mail concern, or to the Trump/Russia

investigation itself? 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, that`s a really interesting point.  I mean, Trump is the

one to fire Comey.  It isn`t Jeff sessions who fires James Comey.  But

Trump relies on a recommendation from Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions relies

on the word of his deputy attorney general who talks all about the Clinton

case. 

 

Well, you raised earlier a great point.  Isn`t Jeff Sessions supposed to be

recused from the Clinton case?  I mean, he said that when he took office

and, look, Jeff Sessions on the campaign trail talked a lot about the

Clinton case.  There were good reasons for him to be recused. 

 

It is an interesting issue.  How can he endorse those findings from Rod

Rosenstein if he`s supposed to be, you know, recused from the case? 

 

MADDOW:  Matt Zapotosky, covering the Justice Department for “The

Washington Post” on what is a remarkable day to be covering the Justice

Department for “The Washington Post.”  Your paper has done a lot to –

almost more than anything to increase our understanding of this as a

country.  I`m sure you`re proud to be working there tonight but also

incredibly busy. 

 

Thanks for being with us, Matt. 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

 

Joining us is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.  He`s

on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will have to approve the next FBI

director before he or she gets a full up or down vote in the Senate. 

Senator Whitehouse also had a prominent role in yesterday`s hearing with

the former director of national intelligence and former Acting Attorney

General Sally Yates.

 

Senator Whitehouse, thank you for being here. 

 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  My pleasure. 

 

MADDOW:  I`ve seen your written statement today, but let me just get your

personal reaction to what happened today and how big a deal you think this

is? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it`s a very big deal.  At one level, this is a story

of Rod Rosenstein coming in and in an incredibly heartfelt and powerful and

compelling memo going through all the things that Comey did wrong that

violated prosecutorial protocol and summarizing it in a document that I

think will live on in the department`s history and legacy as you don`t do

this.  And that would be all very understandable. 

 

But then you have the problem of Jeff Sessions getting involved in this

given his recusal.  And then you have it going up to the White House and

the guy being formally fired by a president who he has said he is

investigating.  And, of course, Don McGahn was the center of the hearing

yesterday and White House counsel is probably involved. 

 

So it`s hard to know until we see where this began.  But certainly the

passion of Rosenstein`s memo suggests there was an enormous amount of pent-

up frustration and emotion about what Comey had done that basically

exploded across the pages of that memoranda. 

 

MADDOW:  Can I ask you about that, though?  I mean, if this is about what

Rosenstein`s memo is about, which is concerns about Comey`s behavior around

the Clinton investigation, that`s the subject of the Department of Justice

inspector general inquiry right now.  If that –

 

WHITEHOUSE:  It is, but it`s also something where the deputy attorney

general who is running presumably a lot of the work the Department of

Justice given the recusal, he needs to have confidence in his FBI director,

and he could have said, looking at all of that, having been a career guy,

look, this guy is breaking rule after rule after rule. 

 

Not only is he getting away with it, he`s inventing these retroactive

justifications.  He`s talking about things that aren`t true.  He`s out of

control.  He makes no sense.  We have to get rid of him. 

 

If that were where this began, then it`s a very different story than if it

began in the fevered confines of White House counsel`s office or the Oval

Office with them saying, my God, we`ve got to get rid of this guy and

they`re getting really close to us.  And both would be true. 

 

MADDOW:  Why would the attorney general be able to make this recommendation

to the president, a formal recommendation which they`ve made public if he`s

formally recused from the matters they say was the basis of the firing? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  It`s hard to explain. 

 

MADDOW:  Is it illegal? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I doubt it`s illegal.  I think that – and particularly when

you consider the 96 percent of the FBI`s business with the Department of

Justice is not the stuff that he`s recused from.  So, one could say you

kind of worked your way around this and that that wasn`t the basis.  But

they are saying that it`s the basis.

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Put Sessions right back in the spotlight again. 

 

So, the combination, first of all, as you pointed out, the whole echo of

Watergate is very strong here.  Second, you`ve got a president under

investigation by an FBI director firing that FBI director.  Third, you`ve

got a recused attorney general recommending to the president that he fire

the FBI director, regarding the matter as to which he`s recused, and then

underlying all of that this truly passionate, I think well thought through

and sincere and real takedown of Comey`s behavior by a clearly infuriated

and frustrated Rod Rosenstein. 

 

And how that all stacks up?  TBD. 

 

MADDOW:  The – the thing I`m trying to ask you about is the timing here,

because, obviously, you don`t have insight into why Rod Rosenstein acted

when he did.  The timing of it related to the Russia investigation has a

flashing red siren on top of it that is screaming suspicion in terms of the

Trump/Russia investigation.  If this was driven by those things he put in

his memo. 

 

If it was driven by the handling of the Clinton investigation, what

explains them doing is today?  Especially given they know that we`d all see

the connections to all the Russia –

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes, I don`t know – 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Rosenstein hasn`t been there long.  So he comes in.  He takes

a little time to sort out what`s going on.  He`s furious.  He`s building

up. 

 

It could have been the straw that broke the camel`s back was Comey`s

testimony and the public disclosure that he had testified falsely to

Congress and God knows what the conversation was between Rosenstein and

Comey about how the department was going to clean that up.  But whatever

happened in that exchange might have been the straw that broke the camel`s

back.  But in addition to the top down story of potential suspects and

targets of an FBI investigation involved in getting rid of the director and

a recused attorney general getting involved in the matter from which he`s

recused, don`t forget this underlying piece – which is that, in some

respects, at long last, the department has said something honest and true

about all of Comey`s misbehavior through all of this. 

 

MADDOW:  Whether or not it`s true about why they fired him? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes.  But, clearly, that was piled up. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I mean, this – that is a venting of emotion out of

Rosenstein.  That`s a vindication of the department`s values against their

abuses through this whole process. 

 

MADDOW:  The Deputy Director McCabe has now been named the acting director

of the FBI.  Part of the reason he`s been in the news in the Trump era is

because of that strange circumstance we had where the White House contacted

the head of the Intelligence Committee in the House and the head of the

intelligence committee in the Senate, both of whom are leading

investigations into the Trump/Russia connection and told them to call

reporters on the White House`s behalf to quash a story that said there had

been contacts under investigation between Trump campaign officials and

Russian officials. 

 

The person from the FBI who the White House credited for that – credited

basically with the impetus for those calls was Deputy Director McCabe. 

Should he be recused because he`s already been involved in the White House

doing public relations work essentially with members of Congress and with

the press on that subject? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I`d want to know more before I made that call, but it`s

certainly not a good sign.  I think the only good sign in all of this is

the department through Rod Rosenstein going back to its basic principles

and saying, look, we do not divulge derogatory investigative information

about people we haven`t charged.  And then we do not go up to Congress and

talk about that derogatory investigator information and we do not tell

Congress that we`ve reopened investigations adding more derogatory

investigative information about somebody still not charged.  That is

prosecution and investigation 101. 

 

And Comey`s repeated violation of that and his repeated refusals to come

clean and these wild assertions of trying to justify what he did, I think

that that was sending off a lot of real alarms all through the department

and this at least sets that part right. 

 

MADDOW:  While raising lots of other questions. 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  While raising so many, questions. 

 

MADDOW:  Senator Whitehouse, do you expect we`ll see more investigation

with follow-up to Yates and Clapper?  Obviously, a lot of questions raised

there that couldn`t be answered in open session. 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Absolutely.  Lindsey and I are sitting down shortly to plot

next steps. 

 

MADDOW:  Tell him I said hi and ask him if he`d like to be on THE RACHEL

MADDOW SHOW.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I will do.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you sir.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you for having me.

 

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.

 

All right.  We`re going to bring in to the conversation now, Congressman

Elijah Cummings, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and

Government Reform Committee. 

 

Congressman Cummings, thank you very much for being with us on short notice

tonight.  I really appreciate you joining us. 

 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me get your reaction to this news that the White House has

fired the FBI director tonight on the recommendation of Attorney General

Jeff Sessions. 

 

CUMMINGS:  Rachel, I was shocked.  But not really surprised. 

 

After hearing Sally Yates yesterday and, by the way, a – that`s the

epitome of a public servant, a person that I know well, phenomenal

integrity, to come forth and say the things she said.  It`s interesting

that today, now we move to this subject.  I thought she laid out a very

clear case.

 

And I`ve got to tell you, Rachel, the timing is interesting.  It seems as

soon as there is a situation where there is some negative evidence coming

forward with regard to the president, suddenly, there is what I call a

hocus-pocus move.  We then move to another subject. 

 

And this one is, without a doubt, not only explosive, but I think it also

goes to the heart of our democracy. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Cummings, you have been very outspoken about the fact

that the White House refused to hand over any documents, even a single page

of documentation related to Mike Flynn`s vetting to be national security

adviser and his tenure as national security adviser after your committee,

you and Congressman Chaffetz asked them for information about Flynn`s

tenure, and his vetting, his security clearance application process. 

 

What`s the status of that now? 

 

CUMMINGS:  Chairman Chaffetz, I asked him – first of all, Rachel, we have

still not gotten one single syllable from the White House.  That`s very

unusual, particularly when you have a bipartisan request. 

 

And I`d ask Chairman Chaffetz about now subpoenaing those records and he

has basically said he would not do that.  And that leads me to another

point, Rachel.  President Trump, there is absolutely no accountability with

regard to this president.  He basically seems to be able to do whatever he

wants.  And our Republican friends are aiding and abetting that situation. 

 

We look at the emoluments situation.  Family members making all kinds of

money, off the presidency and I could go on and on.  But the idea that the

White House would not give us one syllable is very unusual. 

 

Normally what would happen if there was a dispute, we would get some

documents and then we would walk – sit down with the White House.  That is

the Democrats and Republicans on the committee, and try to work out, you

know, issues as to whether there`s executive privilege or whether there are

problems that they say.  And usually, we`re able to get some documents. 

 

Let me tell you something, Rachel, if this were Hillary Clinton, the

Republicans would be trying to impeach her right now.  I`m telling you. 

Keep in mind that Chairman Chaffetz in a matter of maybe two or three weeks

back a few months ago, before we went out of session, held six emergency

hearings over a course of two or three weeks dealing with records,

subpoenas, things of that nature trying to get more information from

Secretary Clinton. 

 

And so, what I have said to the Republicans is that we are to act as a

check and balance with regard to the executive branch.  We have a job to

do.  This is not a Republican issue, a Democrat or independent.  This is an

American issue. 

 

And I am hoping that they will come around.  But we don`t even know who the

chairman of our committee is going to be.  Look what happened with Nunes. 

I mean, that was a fiasco.  He – running around, hiding documents,

claiming he got them from somewhere else.  This is a major investigation. 

 

And so, going – coming back to Comey, he was the one independent person

who I thought would lead an investigation that might lead us to the kinds

of facts we`re looking for. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve called for immediate emergency hearings to

hear testimony from him, from now former FBI Director James Comey and from

the attorney general and from the deputy attorney general. 

 

Do you think there`s any chance that you`ll get that? 

 

CUMMINGS:  I think there`s a possibility.  I think basically, but, Rachel,

come on now.  The only way we get that is people like the speaker of the

house say that I`m going to put country before party and be a true leader. 

That the folks over at McConnell, over at the Senate do the same thing. 

 

We have to have their cooperation.  Rachel, you know this.  They – when we

are not in power, that is Democrats are not in power, we don`t call for the

– we can`t call for – we don`t have the power to do it, call for these

hearings. 

 

So – and we can`t make them happen.  But if the Republicans would stop

circling the wagon around this president and circle the wagon around the

United States of America, so that we can preserve our democracy, so that

generations yet unborn might experience what I experienced as a young man

coming up, that is a true democracy, then that will happen.  But until

then, until they move off of that plateau that they seem to be on, not

wanting to look into this and kind of backing off, whenever we seem to be

getting close and new evidence comes forward, it will never happen.

 

So, then you`ll have a presidency where there is no accountability.  And as

President Trump said during the campaign, and he was very, very clear, when

he talked about Hillary Clinton saying lock her up, him along with Flynn,

they said that nobody is above the law.  And they are absolutely right. 

 

There`s another thing.  One of the reasons why we want to bring everybody

in, the deputy attorney general, and I know Rod Rosenstein because he

served here in Maryland for over ten years as our U.S. attorney. 

 

But, Rachel, we`ve got Sessions who says that he recused himself.  Now,

wait a minute.  Am I missing something?  You said you recuse yourself from

anything to do with Hillary Clinton.  You say you recuse yourself from

anything to do with Trump and – President Trump and the Russians. 

 

Well, wait a minute now.  You now just, as I read the documents that were

put forth by the president – he says that the deputy attorney general and

the Attorney General Sessions advised him to fire Mr. Comey.  That doesn`t

sound like recusal to me. 

 

And one of the things we have to be about, it`s not just what we do.  It`s

what we do says about us.  In other words, we want a transparent

government.  We want one with honesty and integrity. 

 

And if anybody wants to know what that integrity looks like, all they have

to do is look at Clapper and Sally Yates.  Those are the kind of people who

will bring us to where we need to be. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House

Oversight Committee – sir, thank you very much for being with us tonight. 

I know you joined us on short notice.  I appreciate it. 

 

CUMMINGS:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  I want to bring in NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 

 

Michael, it`s great to have you here.

 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Good to see you, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  Whenever I talk about Watergate or anything like that, I get my

Michael Beschloss phone dialing hand just starts acting on its own.  For

me, obviously, the – I`m trying to find historical context here that helps

me understand the magnitude of what this means. 

 

We only have one previous example of an FBI director being fired.  Under

very different circumstances, William Sessions fired by President Clinton

essentially over minor abuse of office claims.  The more salient precedent

to me seems like, because of the active counterintelligence investigation

into this president, seems to me like Archibald Cox who was the special

prosecutor at Watergate. 

 

Is that how you are thinking about it?  Does that seem apt to you? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.  You know, if you and I were talking back in October of

1973 at the – on the evening that Nixon fired Archibald Cox, I would have

said what I would say tonight that one of the cardinal principles of

American democracy is no American is above the law, and that principle has

been jeopardized tonight.  Same thing in October of 1973. 

 

Cox was conducting an investigation of Nixon with Watergate.  He was

pressing for the Watergate tapes that Nixon had made that ultimately showed

his guilt..  Nixon had told him stop doing this or else – and the or else

was he fired Cox.  The FBI was ordered to seal Cox`s offices.  Possibly

confiscate the evidence that Cox had gathered and shut down the Watergate

special prosecution force –

 

MADDOW:  They physically came to his offices. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  They physically came to his offices and sort of throw out some

of the people working there and said we`re in charge now.  It had very much

of an air of an authoritarian country. 

 

MADDOW:  And then was Nixon`s intention, obviously, he ended – there ended

up being another special prosecutor after Archibald Cox. 

 

That wasn`t Nixon`s intention to – 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

BESCHLOSS:  No, Nixon`s intention and look at the parallel tonight, Nixon`s

intention was to shut down the investigation totally and not have another

special prosecutor with a big staff that was looking into the Watergate

scandal along with these tapes.  And what happened was there was so much

outrage from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and across the

country, there were demonstrations, people were very angry.  It was the

first time that people said maybe Nixon seriously should be impeached. 

 

The outrage was so great.  The pressure on Nixon that Nixon felt compelled

not only to appoint a new special prosecutor but to appoint a very tough

guy, Leon Jaworski of Texas. 

 

MADDOW:  Who ended up taking it home.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Indeed, and ultimately, the tapes were sued for and the Supreme

Court said, yes.  And as a result, they showed that Nixon had obstructed

justice.  Had tried to stop the investigation of the Watergate break-in and

had to resign. 

 

MADDOW:  Michael, the issue here in terms of finding historical parallel

comes back to me to that point you made at the outset, the question of

being above the law. 

 

The president now in terms of people who are in some way either directly

connected or potentially connected to the Trump/Russia investigation who

have been fired, or who have left.  Mike Flynn in some ways is seen as a

potential villain in the Trump/Russia investigation.  He – whether or not

we ever find out about what he did, he certainly is in a position to

potentially know if anything else broader than his own actions happened

within the campaign.  He resigned. 

 

We sometimes describe him as having been fired but his resignation was

accepted. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

 

MADDOW:  Sally Yates who warned the White House about Mike Flynn, she was

fired by the White House over – in a conflict over the Muslim ban. 

 

There was also shortly thereafter a strange action by the White House where

all the U.S. attorneys were fired.  It`s within the power of the president

to fire all the U.S. attorneys but they didn`t seem to have any

replacements lined up, and there was reported – there were reports that it

was possible that some of the U.S. attorneys, particularly southern

district of New York, U.S. attorney might have been involved in an

investigation or two –

 

BESCHLOSS:  That is exactly right. 

 

MADDOW:  – that touched on the administration.  Now, we got the FBI

director being fired. 

 

That sort of a pattern, we describe that as a Nixonian pattern. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

 

MADDOW:  Is – is it?  Is it a Nixonian pattern? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Sure, there is.  It`s a danger to democracy because you have a

president who was obviously afraid of an investigation that might find

connections between him and his entourage and the Russians that might

endanger his presidency and you have to assume that these widespread

firings are intended to squelch that investigation and also scare others in

the government who might investigate other things that are connected to

that. 

 

MADDOW:  The Nixon library today, did you see the tweet they put out that

said fun fact.  Nixon ever even fired an FBI director. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, he did other things that were equally chilling to

democracy. 

 

MADDOW:  But that is a fun fact. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  It is a fun fact. 

 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, thank you, my friend. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks for keeping your sense of humor.  I`m not sure we all

have it. 

 

MADDOW:  It`s gallous humor at this point.

 

BESCHLOSS:  It`s gallous humor.

 

MADDOW:  Yes, it is.

 

Joining us now is Tom Brokaw.  He`s NBC News special correspondent,

longtime anchor, of course, of “NBC Nightly News”, White House

correspondent during the Watergate scandal. 

 

Mr. Brokaw, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being

here. 

 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you, Rachel.  It`s good

to be here. 

 

I rarely disagree with my very close friend Michael Beschloss, but I – to

some degree I do tonight.  I think that the Saturday night massacre was an

entirely different dimension.  We were very deep into Watergate at that

point and it was a summary firing by the president of the United States who

was under investigation. 

 

In this case as we`ve been hearing during the course of this day, Director

Comey had a lot of self-inflicted wounds.  And so, they used that as a

cover from the White House to go after him.  And as you said quite

correctly, Attorney General Sessions put his name on that, even though he`d

recused himself from that.  Nonetheless, Comey had made a number of

mistakes, right up to the last 24 hours or so before we got to this place. 

 

So, the one thing I learned during Watergate, everybody take a deep breath. 

Let`s deal with the facts as we know them and go from day-to-day to day and

see how they stack up. 

 

The thing most interesting in the president`s letter to Comey today was

this line: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate

occasions that I am not under investigation – and then nonetheless, I

would like to get rid of you.  He was plainly trying to make his case

before the public which had nothing to do with why he was firing Comey,

according to the outline.  So it`s very much on his mind. 

 

It`s a very complex situation as these almost always are, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  And, Tom, to that point, obviously, that jumped out of the letter

just as a strange thing you wouldn`t expect to see in a letter like that. 

Also, a very blunt assertion but the president given the fact that the FBI

director has said in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee

that there is an active counterintelligence investigation that includes the

question of whether or not Trump`s campaign cooperated with Russia and

their attack on the United States.

 

Is that – do you think the president is trying to imply that investigation

is closed or is that he trying to draw a distinction between an

investigation into his campaign versus him personally? 

 

BROKAW:  I think what he has said repeatedly about the possibility of that

investigation, it`s fake news.  That`s his favorite phrase these days.  He

keeps throwing that out there.  Plainly, it was on his mind when he wrote

that letter to get rid of the attorney general who was in charge of that

investigation.  And this is not unusual. 

 

If you have known Donald Trump and how he operates, as most of us in New

York have over the years, he has his own sphere of reality, as it were.  He

always has a way of defending or defining what he was doing that may not

have anything to do with the facts at all.  And so, we`re seeing that here

again tonight. 

 

But, again, the important thing is, brick by brick, let`s see where this

leads us and then act on that.  That`s the important thing.  There are a

lot of troubling aspects tonight for the administration.  It`s a

continuation of the chaos from the first day that he took the oath of

office. And then, tonight, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence

Committee and this firing of the attorney general during these

circumstances. These are bricks that are beginning to stack up, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw – Tom, thank you so much for

being with us on this historic night.  I really appreciate you being here. 

 

BROKAW:  Always a pleasure, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

All right.  Joining us now is Matthew Miller.  He`s former Department of

Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.

 

Mr. Miller, thanks for being with us.  Appreciate it.

 

MATTHEW MILLER, NBC NEWS JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST:  Of course.

 

MADDOW:  What was your reaction to this today?  I`ll preface it by saying,

as soon as we heard that this news was breaking before it was actually

confirmed by the White House, we started calling people who we know senior

officials, senior Justice Department officials in previous administration,

anybody who had been sort of at ranking, that kind of ranking limber of

national security establishment to contact this. 

 

And so, because we were breaking by making our booking calls, and to a one,

everybody was shocked to the point of disturbed.  Nobody said, oh, I knew

it was coming or it happened today.  Everybody seemed absolutely floored by

it. 

 

That was my – our experience as a show in the moment.  What was your

experience? 

 

MILLER:  It was the exact same.  I found out from a booker and I was

immediately on the phone with Justice Department colleagues, former

colleagues of mine who are all astonished.

 

I mean, this is – I think this is a crisis for the country, but it is a

tragedy for the Department of Justice.  If you look at Rod Rosenstein`s

letter, you know, his memo, everything he laid out is right about Jim

Comey.  Jim Comey did violate a number of department rules.

 

But there is one fundamental rule that Department of Justice that is more

important than any other, that`s the independence of the Department of

Justice and FBI to conduct investigations free from political interference

– free from political interference from the White House, from Congress,

from anyone.  And this is just a flagrant act by the White House to try to

shutdown that investigation. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the attorney general`s role here, that is –

obviously, we`ve got this memo from the deputy attorney general, from Rod

Rosenstein.  We`ve got the letter from the president asserting that he`s

not under investigation.

 

MILLER:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  But in between there, we`ve got the attorney general, writing to

the president and making this recommendation and the president saying, he

is firing the director on the recommendation of the attorney general. 

 

The attorney general is recused, says he is recused from all matters

related to the matters related to the Trump-Russia investigation, or to any

matters related to Hillary Clinton that may have been arisen during the

campaign.  Either from what it looks like, which is that this is about

Trump-Russia, or from what they say it`s about, which is that this is about

Hillary Clinton and the e-mails, he should be recused in either case. 

 

Are we just putting too much emphasis on the word “recused”?  Does it not

really mean anything?

 

MILLER:  It`s supposed to mean something.

 

The entire process is a farce.  Both of those memos are a farce.  Look at

the dates of the memos, both dated today.  Let me tell you, the way the

Department of Justice works, it`s deliberate, it`s slow. 

 

If this was Rod Rosenstein`s idea, he would have worked on this memo.  He

would have sent it up through the chain of command, to the attorney

general.  They were going to slow deliberation. 

 

The fact that they`re both dated today, the same day he`s fired, all of it

leads you to believe this was an outcome they predetermined.  You can

imagine the White House saying, we need to get rid of Jim Comey we can`t

control him.  They worked out a way with Jeff Sessions to do it, and Rod

Rosenstein seems to have gone along with it. 

 

MADDOW:  Matt, in terms of the next steps here.  First of all, is there any

remedy on the recusal issue with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what would

be the appropriate response to something like that.  And what do you expect

to have happen now with the deputy director of the FBI being elevated into

the acting director role now?

 

MILLER:  In terms of remedy, there`s no immediate remedy, he can be

investigated by the attorney general`s office, Jeff Sessions can for not

following this recusal.  But the fundamental problem here is that Jeff

Sessions cannot oversee the Justice Department while it`s – you know, an

investigation of the Trump campaign. 

 

And let`s be clear: even if with his recusal, Rod Rosenstein is meeting

every day with Jeff Sessions, you can see how clearly these issues all

become intermeshed just today with this firing.  Rod has to appoint a

special counsel.  I think for other consequences, Jeff Sessions and Rod

Rosenstein need to be on the Hill by the end of the week explain how this

happened, what they talked about with the White House, did the president

request this, did he bring up the Russia investigation when he request it? 

They need to say all of that on the record under oath to Congress. 

 

MADDOW:  Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesmen during the

Obama administration – Matthew, I appreciate – I appreciate you being

here. 

 

MILLER:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

I want to dip into some of the reaction tonight from Capital Hill.  This is

a little bit of what Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had to say. 

Watch this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Earlier this

afternoon, President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director

Comey.  I told the president, Mr. President, with all due respect, you`re

making a big mistake. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaking today in the

Senate. 

 

It`s been interesting, the Democrats have responded in the way you just

heard, the way we heard Sheldon Whitehouse speaking earlier.  Democrats

have responded, I think, in large part by being shocked about the timing of

this and the circumstances related to the Russia investigation, and I think

they`re a little bit in all of the map in terms of the stated rationale for

this firing, which has to do with Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail

investigation last year, which was a matter of active investigation by the

Department of Justice inspector general. 

 

In terms of the Republican response, though, there`s also been some

interesting Republican response, alluded to a moment ago by Tom Brokaw. 

But we`ve been watching that come in over the course of the evening

tonight, some Republican members of the Senate, Republican elected

officials expressing their own levels of concern, or at least the need for

more disclose sure about exactly what happened here. 

 

Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea

Mitchell, the host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” here on MSNBC. 

 

Hi. 

 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well –

 

MADDOW:  Hi. 

 

MITCHELL:  Take a deep breath, everyone. 

 

MADDOW:  Yeah. 

 

So, let me – let me ask your – not what your reaction was to this, but

how big a deal this seems to you in the grand sweep? 

 

MITCHELL:  Huge.  Enormous. 

 

This was the investigation of the president and his colleagues, according

to the FBI director himself.  The interesting thing as you`ve just alluded

to is that Clinton world, and many other Democrats, have mixed feelings. 

I`ve been talking to a lot of people tonight.  They have mixed feelings

because they agree with many of the complaints laid out in Rod Rosenstein`s

letter today. 

 

They agree that Comey broke so many of these procedures and rules.  They`ve

been terribly concerned, you heard Hillary Clinton blaming her defeat on

Comey, even those who don`t agree with her do blame Comey for contributing

to that.

 

That said, there is tremendous distress because they believe, now, that

this does jeopardize the investigation.  And the fact that you`ve got both

Senators Warner and the Republican chairman of intelligence, Senator Burr`s

comments were so interesting, this further confuses an already challenging

investigation.  They`re acknowledging that the Senate Intelligence

Committee, which is the main actor here, already had a really hard job

ahead of him.  And they were relying on Comey to back them up. 

 

They don`t have professional prosecutors.  There`s been a lot of criticism

quietly and openly that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff was very

good at going up the torture report, at following an email trail, at going

through documents. 

 

MADDOW:  Dedicated full time staff who were investigators and lawyers. 

 

MITCHELL:  Full time staff.  But they are not trained to do a spy

investigation. 

 

MADDOW:  Right. 

 

MITCHELL:  To go and find, you know, the source of the dossier and all of

that and go to Moscow –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MADDOW:  But also to be clear: those on the torture report, those were full

time investigators, people who were assigned just to that investigation. 

In this case, it`s part-timers.  It`s all people who have other

responsibilities. 

 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t hired up. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t done it. 

 

MADDOW:  So the investigatory power here is in the FBI.  It`s not in the

committees.

 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

 

And I`m told at headquarters today, tonight, agents are very loyal to

Comey, despite all of his errors and other criticism of him, that they`re

devastated by this.  And that there`s going to be a huge morale problem

there.

 

And people are asking, what is recusal mean?  You just asked that question. 

The fact that the new acting director of the FBI was also involved in

briefing Reince Priebus inappropriately about a “New York Times” report. 

 

MADDOW:  Helping them manage public relations and the press around this

story. 

 

MITCHELL:  Really?

 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

 

MITCHELL:  And what does the FBI – what does attorney general`s recusal

really mean? 

 

MADDOW:  If he can fire the person who is leading the investigation. 

 

MITCHELL:  Why was he even involved in that. 

 

MADDOW:  From which he is supposedly recused. 

 

MITCHELL:  The whole thing is extraordinary, the way it was done.  He –

Comey was addressing the FBI agents.  He had come from a police briefing. 

Miami, he was in L.A.  He was in the room addressing them in their control

center.  It`s up on the TV screen, cable news breaking the story, he

thought it was a prank. 

 

MADDOW:  Literally the TV screens are breaking the news behind him while he

is speaking in front of a crowd and I think it was a joke. 

 

MITCHELL:  So, they did not give him a courtesy of waiting until he was

back in D.C. tonight and letting him know personally. 

 

MADDOW:  I will say – I hear from Democrats.  We heard it from Sheldon

Whitehouse tonight.  They do have mixed feelings and the criticism about

the handling of the Clinton investigation is one they have been

articulating for months and they think it`s very consequential.  It may

have been the difference in the response of the election. 

 

To me, it defies belief that this is the basis of this firing because of

the timing, because there`s an active inspector general investigation

underway, that they`re not waiting for the response to and because of the

urgency and apparently, the alacrity with which it`s carried out all of a

sudden at a crucial moment in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

 

MITCHELL:  And speaking of Russia, who is going to be at the State

Department tomorrow and then possibly at the White House with the

president, unless that gets cancelled?  Sergey Lavrov.  The Russians are in

town witnessing this craziness, so what they have – the string they first

started pulling with the e-mail hack, has come completely unraveled in

front of their own eyes. 

 

MADDOW:  NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell –

Andrea, thank you for joining us tonight. 

 

MITCHELL:  You bet.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you very much. 

 

What a day to be alive. 

 

All right.  That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow. 

 

Our coverage of this incredible day and evening continues now with Lawrence

O`Donnell, on “THE LAST WORD”. 

 

Good evening, Lawrence.

 

 

END

 

                                                                                                               

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CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST:  That is “ALL IN” for this evening. 

 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

 

Good evening, Rachel.

 

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

 

Thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour.  What a day, huh? 

 

You have been seeing live images of a plane sitting on a tarmac now moving

down a taxiway in Los Angeles.  This is a private plane of some kind.  It`s

not unusual for federal agencies, especially big ones like the department

of justice or the FBI to have private planes at their disposal. 

 

Director Comey was in Los Angeles for, I think, what was supposed to be a

recruiting event today, an event that was canceled.  There was some

logistical question once he was fired today by the White House as to what

would physically happen to him in the immediate aftermath of his firing. 

He was removed effective immediately. 

 

So, right now, he is no longer the director of the FBI.  What we believe

that Director Comey is on that plane, which is now taxiing down the runway

in Los Angeles, presumably they`ll be flying back to the east coast,

presumably, the FBI headquarters in Washington.  He`ll be heading back to

Washington.

 

But all of this is unscripted at this point.  All of this is unprecedented. 

There are historical parallels to what happened today, but there`s never

been anything like this before.  One instance previously in U.S. history in

which an FBI director has been fired by as president. 

 

That was a very different circumstance.  It was President Bill Clinton at

the time.  The FBI director who was fired was William Sessions.  There

were, in effect, abuse of office concerns that had been documented against

him by the Department of Justice.  Things like using a Department of

Justice aircraft to fly to see his family.  Things like using department

resources to build a fence around his house that didn`t seem to have any

security purpose.  And maybe was just because he wanted a fence at this

house. 

 

Those kind of concerns that led to Sessions leaving.  William sessions

being fired by president Clinton in the `90s.  That`s the only precedent

we`ve got for an FBI director being fired. 

 

We`re left as we watch these remarkable scenes and we wonder what`s going

to happen next here with James Comey – we`re left to find other context,

other analogies that make this make sense. 

 

In 1972, there was a tape made in the Oval Office.  It was made on June

23rd, 1972.  In that tape, the then-President of the United States, Richard

Nixon, and his chief of staff, H.R. Halderman, they talked about how they

would cover up what they knew about the Watergate break-in, which the Nixon

administration had orchestrated.  And there they were on tape talking about

how to beat the investigation into it, how to cover it up. 

 

And that tape was released to the public on August 5th, 1974.  The Supreme

Court had ordered the president to release that tape and ultimately, he

relented and released that tape. 

 

By then, by the time that Watergate tape, that Oval Office tape was

released, the Watergate scandal was quite ripe.  Impeachment proceedings

were well under way already.  There were 11 Republicans on the House

Judiciary Committee who voted against impeaching Richard Nixon. 

 

But when that tape came out, that August, all of the 11 Republicans on that

judiciary committee had said they would not impeach Nixon.  They all said

hearing that tape, that they would change their votes.  That they would

vote to impeach. 

 

And three days after that tape came out, August 8th, 1974, the president of

the United States resigned.  The reason those tapes ever came into the

public domain is because of a man called Archibald Cox.  Archibald Cox was

the special prosecutor who was brought in to investigate the Watergate

case.  He was the one who demanded those tapes from the White House and the

White House refused and then Archibald Cox subpoenaed those tapes and the

White House refused and he brought the White House to court, and the court

ruled against Nixon and told him to release those tapes and Nixon refused. 

 

And then what Nixon did is he came for Archibald Cox.  He told Archibald

Cox to lay off about these White House tapes, and Archibald Cox looked the

president in he eye and would not do that.  No, I`m not going to lay off. 

 

And so, President Nixon told the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox and

the attorney general said no and resigned.  And so, then Nixon told the

deputy attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, and the deputy attorney

general, he, too, said, no, and he resigned.  Eventually he had to get the

solicitor general to fire Archibald Cox and that became known as the

Saturday night massacre. 

 

But Archibald Cox, yeah, he did get fired.  Ultimately, he did get fired

but you know what?  He got the president fired, too.  He is the reason

those damning tapes eventually had to be released.  And Nixon`s presidency

was over less than three days after those tapes came out. 

 

So, fire the investigators?  Sure.  Nixon proved you can do that.  But

Nixon also proved the consequences of doing that in the end for a president

who has something to hide from those investigators. 

 

Today, President Trump fired the director of the FBI, James Comey.  And we

will have reaction to that from a number of people who are in a position to

know, or in a position to see how serious this is, what is likely to happen

next here. 

 

But just put this in context for a second.  How do we get to this point

tonight where we saw this private plane take off in L.A. for points unknown

with a newly fired FBI director on board and nobody having any idea what`s

going to happen next?  How do we get here tonight? 

 

It`s a very direct timeline.  New president was sworn in 109 days ago,

sworn in January 20th.  Four days after he was sworn in, his national

security adviser got questioned by the FBI.  We believe he was questioned

by the FBI about his connections with foreign governments, specifically

Russia.

 

Two days after that FBI interview, still, the first week of this new

administration, the acting attorney general of the United States went to

the White House to alert them that there was something wrong with the

national security adviser.  That they were serious, national security

concerns about the national security adviser, related to his contacts with

the Russian government.  That first urgent warning to the White House from

the acting attorney general came in the first week of this administration,

came on the first Thursday that this new president was president. 

 

By the following Monday, she was gone, fired by the president, in a dispute

over the constitutionality of his Muslim ban.  A couple weeks later, the

national security adviser was gone.  Under circumstances that are, frankly,

still murky and unexplained. 

 

Soon, though, we got word from the FBI director.  The FBI director

announcing in an open hearing in the House of Representatives that the

Trump campaign is the subject of an open, active counterintelligence

investigation by the FBI to determine whether the Trump campaign

collaborated with Russia in Russia`s attack on the U.S. presidential

election last year.  There has never been anything like that in the history

of the American presidency. 

 

And that announcement, an active counterintelligence investigation into the

president, that lands like the bombshell that it is, the House Intelligence

Committee hears that testimony on a Monday, on March 20th.  Then the

following week, March 28th, they are due to hear from that acting attorney

general who got fired a few days after she warned the White House that

there was something dangerous and wrong going on with the national security

adviser Mike Flynn when it came to his contacts with Russia. 

 

FBI Director James Comey announces the counterintelligence investigation of

that hearing on March 20th.  Sally Yates was due to tell her part of the

story.  The Mike Flynn part of the story just eight days later on March

28th.  But that did not happen. 

 

After the FBI director made his bombshell announcement at Devin Nunes`

House Intelligence Committee hearing, Chairman Nunes got weird.  He decided

to blow the whole thing up without explanation – there has still been no

explanation for this – he canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  And he got

himself thrown off the investigation altogether. 

 

A strange stunt at the White House where he claimed to be rushing secret

documents to the White House, even though it turns out he got the documents

from the White House in the first place.  Specifically, he got them

apparently from one of his own former staffers and from a former protege of

national security adviser Mike Flynn who had been left behind at the

National Security Council, even after Flynn left and despite efforts by the

new national security adviser to get rid of that guy. 

 

But Devin Nunes canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  Got himself taken off

the investigation altogether.  He`s now under investigation by the House

Ethics Committee for potentially having disclosed classified information. 

That was the House Intelligence Committee. 

 

Then, it went to the House Oversight Committee.  They decided they`d look

into a very specific part of it.  They`d look specifically into Mike

Flynn`s payments from foreign sources.  And despite their very narrow focus

on just that piece of it, the House Oversight Committee appears to have

stumbled on to something unexpectedly rich.  Their inquiries turned up the

theory that Mike Flynn had apparently not disclosed his foreign payments

from Russia, even though he`d been told explicitly and in writing that he

needed to do that. 

 

The Department of Defense inspector general`s office announced that they

had started an independent investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House

remarkably – remarkably refused to hand over any documents to the House

Oversight Committee about Mike Flynn.  They would not hand over a single

document, a single piece of paper about Mike Flynn. 

 

And that`s a – an important stonewall there.  And the Democrats on that

committee reacted the way you`d expect.  They were not happy with that

refusal.  Democrats on that committee said their chairman, Jason Chaffetz,

should demand to get those Flynn documents from the White House.  He should

subpoena those documents from the White House if necessary to which

Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz replied: I quit. 

 

At that point, Jason Chaffetz quit abruptly and with no notice.  He just up

and bolted from Congress, altogether.  He announced he was leaving

Washington.  Just as soon as his committee stumbled onto the Mike

Flynn/Russia investigation and specifically the White House telling them,

no, we`re not giving you a single document about it.  As soon as that

happened, instantly, surprise, no notice.  Jason Chaffetz says: I quit. 

 

Something about the way this story has unfolded.  Something about the way

this scandal is going freaks people out along the way. 

 

We`ve been seeing it already, but then you get to now.  Yesterday in the

United States Senate, the former acting attorney general did finally

testify, and now we know maybe why Devin Nunes was so not psyched to hear

what she had to say. 

 

She testified in addition to giving us the tick tock about her warning to

the White House, she testified that there was something about Mike Flynn`s

underlying behavior when it came to Russia that was problematic from the

point of view of the Justice Department.  Not just him lying about his

actions, which is the purported explanation for why he had to go. 

 

She says in addition to him lying about his actions, there was something

else problematic about his underlying behavior that he was lying about. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The first thing we did was to

explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had

engaged in was problematic in and of itself. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  What was that underlying conduct?  We do not know what Mike

Flynn`s underlying conduct was that led to this urgent, see me today, trip

from the acting general attorney up to the White House to say you`ve got a

problem here. 

 

We do not know what his underlying conduct was that was so problematic,

according to the Justice Department, but we know the Justice Department has

it.  They`ve got it, whatever it is. 

 

At that same hearing yesterday, the former director of national

intelligence also said a couple of things that could have made the White

House shiver its timbers over the last 24 hours.

 

Number one, James Clapper testified that when he previously asserted that

he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,

he says he was saying – he wasn`t saying there was no such evidence, that

there was no evidence of collusion, said he was speaking from ignorance. 

He`d been walled off from.  He didn`t know about the ongoing FBI

counterintelligence investigation of that matter when he made that previous

statement. 

 

So, to the extent the White House and president have been counting on James

Clapper saying, I haven`t seen evidence of collusion, yesterday, he

clarified, oh, but if there was evidence of collusion, I wouldn`t have seen

it.  That was one. 

 

Second thing James Clapper said that may have freaked out the White House a

little bit was this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Over the spring of 2016, multiple

European allies passed on additional information to the United States about

contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is this accurate? 

 

YATES:  I can`t answer that. 

 

FEINSTEIN:  General Clapper, is that accurate? 

 

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI:  Yes, it is, and it`s also quite sensitive. 

 

FEINSTEIN:  OK.  Let me ask you this. 

 

CLAPPER:  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  The specifics are quite sensitive.  The question was, over the

spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information

to the U.S. about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is

that accurate?  Yes.  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

 

So, confirmation yesterday from the former director of national

intelligence when he was in a position to know because he was director of

national intelligence then through 2016.  He confirmed yesterday that

multiple European allies passed information to the U.S. last year about

contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Confirmed.  Gulp. 

 

James Clapper also had this to say when he was asked about the president`s

business interests in Russia. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  General Clapper, during your

investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a

Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern? 

 

CLAPPER:  Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence

community assessment. 

 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

 

GRAHAM:  At all?  Any time? 

 

CLAPPER:  Senator Graham, I can`t comment on that because that impacts the

investigation. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Something about the president`s Russia business ties impacts an

investigation.  And so, therefore, cannot be discussed in open session. 

That was yesterday. 

 

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that they have sent a

request to the Treasury Department to the financial crimes unit in the

Treasury Department asking for information that agency may have about

President Donald Trump, or associates of President Donald Trump. 

 

Now this is the office of the Treasury Department that, among other things,

investigates international money laundering.  So, Senate intelligence told

that office today at the Treasury Department that they want anything that

they`ve got related to the president.  That request went into the Treasury

Department as of today, right after the director of national intelligence

said in an open hearing that Trump business ties in Russia cannot be

discussed in an open hearing because they relate to an ongoing intelligence

investigation.  That was today. 

 

And you know, day after tomorrow, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey was

due to be back in the Senate in open session testifying on the Trump/Russia

investigation.  That will not happen. 

 

Today, the president fired the FBI director at the direction, he says, of

the attorney general.  And if that timeline of events that I just laid out

doesn`t make it clear enough exactly what`s going on here and how desperate

a moment this is for this White House, the piece of it that puts this in

the category not just of another Trump scandal, not just of another law

enforcement or national security firing that can`t be explained by this

administration.  What puts this in the category of history tonight is

whodunit. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The staff recommended recusal.  They said

that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in

any campaign investigation.  I have studied the rules and considered their

comments and evaluation.  I believe those recommendations are right and

just. 

 

Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump

campaign.  That exact language of that recusal is in the press release that

we will give to you.  I`ve said this, quote, I have no decided to recuse

myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in

any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Recused.  I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or

future investigations of any matter relate in any way to the campaigns for

president of the United States.

 

In what world can you both be recused from an investigation and then take

it upon yourself to fire the person who is leading that investigation?  The

FBI director, by his own admission, by his own statement, in public, the

FBI director was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into

the Trump campaign and its potential ties with Russia.  The attorney

general, despite that recusal, just fired the FBI director in the middle of

that investigation. 

 

But, wait.  The justice department says they are not firing the FBI

director over the Trump/Russia investigation.  They are firing him over

another matter.  They say they are firing him over the handling of the

Clinton e-mail investigation.  Specifically, his comments on the Clinton e-

mail investigation that he made last July. 

 

Now what`s incredible, what`s literally not credible about that is that

those comments from James Comey were made last July.  Why would they be

firing him for that now?  Or what he did last July. 

 

I`ll also tell you there`s a Department of Justice inspector general

inquiry into what he said last July.  What he said last year about the

Clinton e-mail inquiry.  There`s an inspector general inquiry into that. 

If the Trump administration were so concerned about that, presumably, they

would wait for that inspector general inquiry to finish before they acted

on it. 

 

So, if it`s about the Clinton e-mail investigation, it all sense – in many

senses of our timeline here, it makes no sense they`d be firing him now

over that.  But, even if you think, despite the timeline, oh, that must be

why they`re firing him, what is even more incredible about that assertion

from the White House is that Jeff Sessions is also recused from anything

related to a Hillary Clinton investigation. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SESSIONS:  With regard to Secretary Clinton and some of the comments I

made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question.  I`ve

given that thought.  I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to

recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations

that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, or

could be otherwise connected to it. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of

investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the

campaign, could be otherwise connected to it. 

 

The FBI director was fired today without warning, suddenly, summarily,

effective immediately.  FBI director fired today at the direction of the

attorney general.  The White House says it`s over a matter related to

Hillary Clinton that was raised during the campaign.  The attorney general

is recused from matters related to Hillary Clinton that were raised in the

campaign. 

 

The attorney general is also recused from matters related to the

Trump/Russia investigation.  An investigation the FBI director is now

leading, or was now leading. 

 

The Nixon White House had a case to make that the Oval Office tapes

shouldn`t be turned over.  They had a case to make about that.  They had an

argument.  They lost that argument.  They lost that case. 

 

And then they tried for a while to defy the law, to fire their way and

intimidate their way into getting away with it anyway.  And it worked for a

hot minute.  But it also laid bare what they had to be afraid of. 

 

Firing Archibald Cox was the first shovel into Richard Nixon`s political

grave.  And it always, always works like that. 

 

Joining us now from “The Washington Post” newsroom is Matt Zapotosky, who

covers the Justice Department for “The Post”. 

 

Mr. Zapotosky, thanks very much for being here.  I know this is an

incredibly busy day and night.  Thanks for being with us. 

 

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It is.  Thanks for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  So, I`ve covered the basics here in terms of the big picture,

what`s happened, and what I see as the relevant timeline and context.  Can

you update us on what else has happened today in terms of the new FBI

acting director being appointed and anything else we expect to happen next? 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, just as I was sitting down, I was seeing that the deputy

director had taken over leading the agency, Andrew McCabe, who really was

mixed up in a lot of the same Clinton problems that Comey was that the

attorney general and the deputy attorney general highlighted as reasons for

his following. 

 

You know, what we`re really looking at now is what was going on in the

Russia investigation at this moment and did that have any – did that

contribute here at all?  And we don`t know that.  I mean, the stated reason

is this firing was related to the Clinton probe and how James Comey handled

the Clinton probe.  And I think most people would agree he did not handle

that well. 

 

But the timing is very weird.  We`re months away from that.  So why now? 

And I think more importantly, what was going on in that Russia case as we

speak. 

 

MADDOW:  And, Matt, in terms of the way this happened – obviously, the

deputy attorney general, the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod

Rosenstein, they published his recommendation to Attorney General Jeff

Sessions on this.  They also published Attorney General Jeff Sessions`

letter on this.  Also the letter that President Trump wrote to Director

Comey actually effectuating the firing her here. 

 

Is it a complicated factor that Jeff Sessions is supposed to be recused

from matters released to ether Hillary Clinton, issues that were raised

during the campaign like the e-mail concern, or to the Trump/Russia

investigation itself? 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, that`s a really interesting point.  I mean, Trump is the

one to fire Comey.  It isn`t Jeff sessions who fires James Comey.  But

Trump relies on a recommendation from Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions relies

on the word of his deputy attorney general who talks all about the Clinton

case. 

 

Well, you raised earlier a great point.  Isn`t Jeff Sessions supposed to be

recused from the Clinton case?  I mean, he said that when he took office

and, look, Jeff Sessions on the campaign trail talked a lot about the

Clinton case.  There were good reasons for him to be recused. 

 

It is an interesting issue.  How can he endorse those findings from Rod

Rosenstein if he`s supposed to be, you know, recused from the case? 

 

MADDOW:  Matt Zapotosky, covering the Justice Department for “The

Washington Post” on what is a remarkable day to be covering the Justice

Department for “The Washington Post.”  Your paper has done a lot to –

almost more than anything to increase our understanding of this as a

country.  I`m sure you`re proud to be working there tonight but also

incredibly busy. 

 

Thanks for being with us, Matt. 

 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

 

Joining us is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.  He`s

on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will have to approve the next FBI

director before he or she gets a full up or down vote in the Senate. 

Senator Whitehouse also had a prominent role in yesterday`s hearing with

the former director of national intelligence and former Acting Attorney

General Sally Yates.

 

Senator Whitehouse, thank you for being here. 

 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  My pleasure. 

 

MADDOW:  I`ve seen your written statement today, but let me just get your

personal reaction to what happened today and how big a deal you think this

is? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it`s a very big deal.  At one level, this is a story

of Rod Rosenstein coming in and in an incredibly heartfelt and powerful and

compelling memo going through all the things that Comey did wrong that

violated prosecutorial protocol and summarizing it in a document that I

think will live on in the department`s history and legacy as you don`t do

this.  And that would be all very understandable. 

 

But then you have the problem of Jeff Sessions getting involved in this

given his recusal.  And then you have it going up to the White House and

the guy being formally fired by a president who he has said he is

investigating.  And, of course, Don McGahn was the center of the hearing

yesterday and White House counsel is probably involved. 

 

So it`s hard to know until we see where this began.  But certainly the

passion of Rosenstein`s memo suggests there was an enormous amount of pent-

up frustration and emotion about what Comey had done that basically

exploded across the pages of that memoranda. 

 

MADDOW:  Can I ask you about that, though?  I mean, if this is about what

Rosenstein`s memo is about, which is concerns about Comey`s behavior around

the Clinton investigation, that`s the subject of the Department of Justice

inspector general inquiry right now.  If that –

 

WHITEHOUSE:  It is, but it`s also something where the deputy attorney

general who is running presumably a lot of the work the Department of

Justice given the recusal, he needs to have confidence in his FBI director,

and he could have said, looking at all of that, having been a career guy,

look, this guy is breaking rule after rule after rule. 

 

Not only is he getting away with it, he`s inventing these retroactive

justifications.  He`s talking about things that aren`t true.  He`s out of

control.  He makes no sense.  We have to get rid of him. 

 

If that were where this began, then it`s a very different story than if it

began in the fevered confines of White House counsel`s office or the Oval

Office with them saying, my God, we`ve got to get rid of this guy and

they`re getting really close to us.  And both would be true. 

 

MADDOW:  Why would the attorney general be able to make this recommendation

to the president, a formal recommendation which they`ve made public if he`s

formally recused from the matters they say was the basis of the firing? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  It`s hard to explain. 

 

MADDOW:  Is it illegal? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I doubt it`s illegal.  I think that – and particularly when

you consider the 96 percent of the FBI`s business with the Department of

Justice is not the stuff that he`s recused from.  So, one could say you

kind of worked your way around this and that that wasn`t the basis.  But

they are saying that it`s the basis.

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Put Sessions right back in the spotlight again. 

 

So, the combination, first of all, as you pointed out, the whole echo of

Watergate is very strong here.  Second, you`ve got a president under

investigation by an FBI director firing that FBI director.  Third, you`ve

got a recused attorney general recommending to the president that he fire

the FBI director, regarding the matter as to which he`s recused, and then

underlying all of that this truly passionate, I think well thought through

and sincere and real takedown of Comey`s behavior by a clearly infuriated

and frustrated Rod Rosenstein. 

 

And how that all stacks up?  TBD. 

 

MADDOW:  The – the thing I`m trying to ask you about is the timing here,

because, obviously, you don`t have insight into why Rod Rosenstein acted

when he did.  The timing of it related to the Russia investigation has a

flashing red siren on top of it that is screaming suspicion in terms of the

Trump/Russia investigation.  If this was driven by those things he put in

his memo. 

 

If it was driven by the handling of the Clinton investigation, what

explains them doing is today?  Especially given they know that we`d all see

the connections to all the Russia –

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes, I don`t know – 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Rosenstein hasn`t been there long.  So he comes in.  He takes

a little time to sort out what`s going on.  He`s furious.  He`s building

up. 

 

It could have been the straw that broke the camel`s back was Comey`s

testimony and the public disclosure that he had testified falsely to

Congress and God knows what the conversation was between Rosenstein and

Comey about how the department was going to clean that up.  But whatever

happened in that exchange might have been the straw that broke the camel`s

back.  But in addition to the top down story of potential suspects and

targets of an FBI investigation involved in getting rid of the director and

a recused attorney general getting involved in the matter from which he`s

recused, don`t forget this underlying piece – which is that, in some

respects, at long last, the department has said something honest and true

about all of Comey`s misbehavior through all of this. 

 

MADDOW:  Whether or not it`s true about why they fired him? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes.  But, clearly, that was piled up. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I mean, this – that is a venting of emotion out of

Rosenstein.  That`s a vindication of the department`s values against their

abuses through this whole process. 

 

MADDOW:  The Deputy Director McCabe has now been named the acting director

of the FBI.  Part of the reason he`s been in the news in the Trump era is

because of that strange circumstance we had where the White House contacted

the head of the Intelligence Committee in the House and the head of the

intelligence committee in the Senate, both of whom are leading

investigations into the Trump/Russia connection and told them to call

reporters on the White House`s behalf to quash a story that said there had

been contacts under investigation between Trump campaign officials and

Russian officials. 

 

The person from the FBI who the White House credited for that – credited

basically with the impetus for those calls was Deputy Director McCabe. 

Should he be recused because he`s already been involved in the White House

doing public relations work essentially with members of Congress and with

the press on that subject? 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I`d want to know more before I made that call, but it`s

certainly not a good sign.  I think the only good sign in all of this is

the department through Rod Rosenstein going back to its basic principles

and saying, look, we do not divulge derogatory investigative information

about people we haven`t charged.  And then we do not go up to Congress and

talk about that derogatory investigator information and we do not tell

Congress that we`ve reopened investigations adding more derogatory

investigative information about somebody still not charged.  That is

prosecution and investigation 101. 

 

And Comey`s repeated violation of that and his repeated refusals to come

clean and these wild assertions of trying to justify what he did, I think

that that was sending off a lot of real alarms all through the department

and this at least sets that part right. 

 

MADDOW:  While raising lots of other questions. 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  While raising so many, questions. 

 

MADDOW:  Senator Whitehouse, do you expect we`ll see more investigation

with follow-up to Yates and Clapper?  Obviously, a lot of questions raised

there that couldn`t be answered in open session. 

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Absolutely.  Lindsey and I are sitting down shortly to plot

next steps. 

 

MADDOW:  Tell him I said hi and ask him if he`d like to be on THE RACHEL

MADDOW SHOW.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I will do.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you sir.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you for having me.

 

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.

 

All right.  We`re going to bring in to the conversation now, Congressman

Elijah Cummings, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and

Government Reform Committee. 

 

Congressman Cummings, thank you very much for being with us on short notice

tonight.  I really appreciate you joining us. 

 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me get your reaction to this news that the White House has

fired the FBI director tonight on the recommendation of Attorney General

Jeff Sessions. 

 

CUMMINGS:  Rachel, I was shocked.  But not really surprised. 

 

After hearing Sally Yates yesterday and, by the way, a – that`s the

epitome of a public servant, a person that I know well, phenomenal

integrity, to come forth and say the things she said.  It`s interesting

that today, now we move to this subject.  I thought she laid out a very

clear case.

 

And I`ve got to tell you, Rachel, the timing is interesting.  It seems as

soon as there is a situation where there is some negative evidence coming

forward with regard to the president, suddenly, there is what I call a

hocus-pocus move.  We then move to another subject. 

 

And this one is, without a doubt, not only explosive, but I think it also

goes to the heart of our democracy. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Cummings, you have been very outspoken about the fact

that the White House refused to hand over any documents, even a single page

of documentation related to Mike Flynn`s vetting to be national security

adviser and his tenure as national security adviser after your committee,

you and Congressman Chaffetz asked them for information about Flynn`s

tenure, and his vetting, his security clearance application process. 

 

What`s the status of that now? 

 

CUMMINGS:  Chairman Chaffetz, I asked him – first of all, Rachel, we have

still not gotten one single syllable from the White House.  That`s very

unusual, particularly when you have a bipartisan request. 

 

And I`d ask Chairman Chaffetz about now subpoenaing those records and he

has basically said he would not do that.  And that leads me to another

point, Rachel.  President Trump, there is absolutely no accountability with

regard to this president.  He basically seems to be able to do whatever he

wants.  And our Republican friends are aiding and abetting that situation. 

 

We look at the emoluments situation.  Family members making all kinds of

money, off the presidency and I could go on and on.  But the idea that the

White House would not give us one syllable is very unusual. 

 

Normally what would happen if there was a dispute, we would get some

documents and then we would walk – sit down with the White House.  That is

the Democrats and Republicans on the committee, and try to work out, you

know, issues as to whether there`s executive privilege or whether there are

problems that they say.  And usually, we`re able to get some documents. 

 

Let me tell you something, Rachel, if this were Hillary Clinton, the

Republicans would be trying to impeach her right now.  I`m telling you. 

Keep in mind that Chairman Chaffetz in a matter of maybe two or three weeks

back a few months ago, before we went out of session, held six emergency

hearings over a course of two or three weeks dealing with records,

subpoenas, things of that nature trying to get more information from

Secretary Clinton. 

 

And so, what I have said to the Republicans is that we are to act as a

check and balance with regard to the executive branch.  We have a job to

do.  This is not a Republican issue, a Democrat or independent.  This is an

American issue. 

 

And I am hoping that they will come around.  But we don`t even know who the

chairman of our committee is going to be.  Look what happened with Nunes. 

I mean, that was a fiasco.  He – running around, hiding documents,

claiming he got them from somewhere else.  This is a major investigation. 

 

And so, going – coming back to Comey, he was the one independent person

who I thought would lead an investigation that might lead us to the kinds

of facts we`re looking for. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve called for immediate emergency hearings to

hear testimony from him, from now former FBI Director James Comey and from

the attorney general and from the deputy attorney general. 

 

Do you think there`s any chance that you`ll get that? 

 

CUMMINGS:  I think there`s a possibility.  I think basically, but, Rachel,

come on now.  The only way we get that is people like the speaker of the

house say that I`m going to put country before party and be a true leader. 

That the folks over at McConnell, over at the Senate do the same thing. 

 

We have to have their cooperation.  Rachel, you know this.  They – when we

are not in power, that is Democrats are not in power, we don`t call for the

– we can`t call for – we don`t have the power to do it, call for these

hearings. 

 

So – and we can`t make them happen.  But if the Republicans would stop

circling the wagon around this president and circle the wagon around the

United States of America, so that we can preserve our democracy, so that

generations yet unborn might experience what I experienced as a young man

coming up, that is a true democracy, then that will happen.  But until

then, until they move off of that plateau that they seem to be on, not

wanting to look into this and kind of backing off, whenever we seem to be

getting close and new evidence comes forward, it will never happen.

 

So, then you`ll have a presidency where there is no accountability.  And as

President Trump said during the campaign, and he was very, very clear, when

he talked about Hillary Clinton saying lock her up, him along with Flynn,

they said that nobody is above the law.  And they are absolutely right. 

 

There`s another thing.  One of the reasons why we want to bring everybody

in, the deputy attorney general, and I know Rod Rosenstein because he

served here in Maryland for over ten years as our U.S. attorney. 

 

But, Rachel, we`ve got Sessions who says that he recused himself.  Now,

wait a minute.  Am I missing something?  You said you recuse yourself from

anything to do with Hillary Clinton.  You say you recuse yourself from

anything to do with Trump and – President Trump and the Russians. 

 

Well, wait a minute now.  You now just, as I read the documents that were

put forth by the president – he says that the deputy attorney general and

the Attorney General Sessions advised him to fire Mr. Comey.  That doesn`t

sound like recusal to me. 

 

And one of the things we have to be about, it`s not just what we do.  It`s

what we do says about us.  In other words, we want a transparent

government.  We want one with honesty and integrity. 

 

And if anybody wants to know what that integrity looks like, all they have

to do is look at Clapper and Sally Yates.  Those are the kind of people who

will bring us to where we need to be. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House

Oversight Committee – sir, thank you very much for being with us tonight. 

I know you joined us on short notice.  I appreciate it. 

 

CUMMINGS:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  I want to bring in NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 

 

Michael, it`s great to have you here.

 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Good to see you, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  Whenever I talk about Watergate or anything like that, I get my

Michael Beschloss phone dialing hand just starts acting on its own.  For

me, obviously, the – I`m trying to find historical context here that helps

me understand the magnitude of what this means. 

 

We only have one previous example of an FBI director being fired.  Under

very different circumstances, William Sessions fired by President Clinton

essentially over minor abuse of office claims.  The more salient precedent

to me seems like, because of the active counterintelligence investigation

into this president, seems to me like Archibald Cox who was the special

prosecutor at Watergate. 

 

Is that how you are thinking about it?  Does that seem apt to you? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.  You know, if you and I were talking back in October of

1973 at the – on the evening that Nixon fired Archibald Cox, I would have

said what I would say tonight that one of the cardinal principles of

American democracy is no American is above the law, and that principle has

been jeopardized tonight.  Same thing in October of 1973. 

 

Cox was conducting an investigation of Nixon with Watergate.  He was

pressing for the Watergate tapes that Nixon had made that ultimately showed

his guilt..  Nixon had told him stop doing this or else – and the or else

was he fired Cox.  The FBI was ordered to seal Cox`s offices.  Possibly

confiscate the evidence that Cox had gathered and shut down the Watergate

special prosecution force –

 

MADDOW:  They physically came to his offices. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  They physically came to his offices and sort of throw out some

of the people working there and said we`re in charge now.  It had very much

of an air of an authoritarian country. 

 

MADDOW:  And then was Nixon`s intention, obviously, he ended – there ended

up being another special prosecutor after Archibald Cox. 

 

That wasn`t Nixon`s intention to – 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

BESCHLOSS:  No, Nixon`s intention and look at the parallel tonight, Nixon`s

intention was to shut down the investigation totally and not have another

special prosecutor with a big staff that was looking into the Watergate

scandal along with these tapes.  And what happened was there was so much

outrage from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and across the

country, there were demonstrations, people were very angry.  It was the

first time that people said maybe Nixon seriously should be impeached. 

 

The outrage was so great.  The pressure on Nixon that Nixon felt compelled

not only to appoint a new special prosecutor but to appoint a very tough

guy, Leon Jaworski of Texas. 

 

MADDOW:  Who ended up taking it home.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Indeed, and ultimately, the tapes were sued for and the Supreme

Court said, yes.  And as a result, they showed that Nixon had obstructed

justice.  Had tried to stop the investigation of the Watergate break-in and

had to resign. 

 

MADDOW:  Michael, the issue here in terms of finding historical parallel

comes back to me to that point you made at the outset, the question of

being above the law. 

 

The president now in terms of people who are in some way either directly

connected or potentially connected to the Trump/Russia investigation who

have been fired, or who have left.  Mike Flynn in some ways is seen as a

potential villain in the Trump/Russia investigation.  He – whether or not

we ever find out about what he did, he certainly is in a position to

potentially know if anything else broader than his own actions happened

within the campaign.  He resigned. 

 

We sometimes describe him as having been fired but his resignation was

accepted. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

 

MADDOW:  Sally Yates who warned the White House about Mike Flynn, she was

fired by the White House over – in a conflict over the Muslim ban. 

 

There was also shortly thereafter a strange action by the White House where

all the U.S. attorneys were fired.  It`s within the power of the president

to fire all the U.S. attorneys but they didn`t seem to have any

replacements lined up, and there was reported – there were reports that it

was possible that some of the U.S. attorneys, particularly southern

district of New York, U.S. attorney might have been involved in an

investigation or two –

 

BESCHLOSS:  That is exactly right. 

 

MADDOW:  – that touched on the administration.  Now, we got the FBI

director being fired. 

 

That sort of a pattern, we describe that as a Nixonian pattern. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

 

MADDOW:  Is – is it?  Is it a Nixonian pattern? 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Sure, there is.  It`s a danger to democracy because you have a

president who was obviously afraid of an investigation that might find

connections between him and his entourage and the Russians that might

endanger his presidency and you have to assume that these widespread

firings are intended to squelch that investigation and also scare others in

the government who might investigate other things that are connected to

that. 

 

MADDOW:  The Nixon library today, did you see the tweet they put out that

said fun fact.  Nixon ever even fired an FBI director. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, he did other things that were equally chilling to

democracy. 

 

MADDOW:  But that is a fun fact. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  It is a fun fact. 

 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, thank you, my friend. 

 

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks for keeping your sense of humor.  I`m not sure we all

have it. 

 

MADDOW:  It`s gallous humor at this point.

 

BESCHLOSS:  It`s gallous humor.

 

MADDOW:  Yes, it is.

 

Joining us now is Tom Brokaw.  He`s NBC News special correspondent,

longtime anchor, of course, of “NBC Nightly News”, White House

correspondent during the Watergate scandal. 

 

Mr. Brokaw, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being

here. 

 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you, Rachel.  It`s good

to be here. 

 

I rarely disagree with my very close friend Michael Beschloss, but I – to

some degree I do tonight.  I think that the Saturday night massacre was an

entirely different dimension.  We were very deep into Watergate at that

point and it was a summary firing by the president of the United States who

was under investigation. 

 

In this case as we`ve been hearing during the course of this day, Director

Comey had a lot of self-inflicted wounds.  And so, they used that as a

cover from the White House to go after him.  And as you said quite

correctly, Attorney General Sessions put his name on that, even though he`d

recused himself from that.  Nonetheless, Comey had made a number of

mistakes, right up to the last 24 hours or so before we got to this place. 

 

So, the one thing I learned during Watergate, everybody take a deep breath. 

Let`s deal with the facts as we know them and go from day-to-day to day and

see how they stack up. 

 

The thing most interesting in the president`s letter to Comey today was

this line: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate

occasions that I am not under investigation – and then nonetheless, I

would like to get rid of you.  He was plainly trying to make his case

before the public which had nothing to do with why he was firing Comey,

according to the outline.  So it`s very much on his mind. 

 

It`s a very complex situation as these almost always are, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  And, Tom, to that point, obviously, that jumped out of the letter

just as a strange thing you wouldn`t expect to see in a letter like that. 

Also, a very blunt assertion but the president given the fact that the FBI

director has said in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee

that there is an active counterintelligence investigation that includes the

question of whether or not Trump`s campaign cooperated with Russia and

their attack on the United States.

 

Is that – do you think the president is trying to imply that investigation

is closed or is that he trying to draw a distinction between an

investigation into his campaign versus him personally? 

 

BROKAW:  I think what he has said repeatedly about the possibility of that

investigation, it`s fake news.  That`s his favorite phrase these days.  He

keeps throwing that out there.  Plainly, it was on his mind when he wrote

that letter to get rid of the attorney general who was in charge of that

investigation.  And this is not unusual. 

 

If you have known Donald Trump and how he operates, as most of us in New

York have over the years, he has his own sphere of reality, as it were.  He

always has a way of defending or defining what he was doing that may not

have anything to do with the facts at all.  And so, we`re seeing that here

again tonight. 

 

But, again, the important thing is, brick by brick, let`s see where this

leads us and then act on that.  That`s the important thing.  There are a

lot of troubling aspects tonight for the administration.  It`s a

continuation of the chaos from the first day that he took the oath of

office. And then, tonight, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence

Committee and this firing of the attorney general during these

circumstances. These are bricks that are beginning to stack up, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw – Tom, thank you so much for

being with us on this historic night.  I really appreciate you being here. 

 

BROKAW:  Always a pleasure, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

All right.  Joining us now is Matthew Miller.  He`s former Department of

Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.

 

Mr. Miller, thanks for being with us.  Appreciate it.

 

MATTHEW MILLER, NBC NEWS JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST:  Of course.

 

MADDOW:  What was your reaction to this today?  I`ll preface it by saying,

as soon as we heard that this news was breaking before it was actually

confirmed by the White House, we started calling people who we know senior

officials, senior Justice Department officials in previous administration,

anybody who had been sort of at ranking, that kind of ranking limber of

national security establishment to contact this. 

 

And so, because we were breaking by making our booking calls, and to a one,

everybody was shocked to the point of disturbed.  Nobody said, oh, I knew

it was coming or it happened today.  Everybody seemed absolutely floored by

it. 

 

That was my – our experience as a show in the moment.  What was your

experience? 

 

MILLER:  It was the exact same.  I found out from a booker and I was

immediately on the phone with Justice Department colleagues, former

colleagues of mine who are all astonished.

 

I mean, this is – I think this is a crisis for the country, but it is a

tragedy for the Department of Justice.  If you look at Rod Rosenstein`s

letter, you know, his memo, everything he laid out is right about Jim

Comey.  Jim Comey did violate a number of department rules.

 

But there is one fundamental rule that Department of Justice that is more

important than any other, that`s the independence of the Department of

Justice and FBI to conduct investigations free from political interference

– free from political interference from the White House, from Congress,

from anyone.  And this is just a flagrant act by the White House to try to

shutdown that investigation. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the attorney general`s role here, that is –

obviously, we`ve got this memo from the deputy attorney general, from Rod

Rosenstein.  We`ve got the letter from the president asserting that he`s

not under investigation.

 

MILLER:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  But in between there, we`ve got the attorney general, writing to

the president and making this recommendation and the president saying, he

is firing the director on the recommendation of the attorney general. 

 

The attorney general is recused, says he is recused from all matters

related to the matters related to the Trump-Russia investigation, or to any

matters related to Hillary Clinton that may have been arisen during the

campaign.  Either from what it looks like, which is that this is about

Trump-Russia, or from what they say it`s about, which is that this is about

Hillary Clinton and the e-mails, he should be recused in either case. 

 

Are we just putting too much emphasis on the word “recused”?  Does it not

really mean anything?

 

MILLER:  It`s supposed to mean something.

 

The entire process is a farce.  Both of those memos are a farce.  Look at

the dates of the memos, both dated today.  Let me tell you, the way the

Department of Justice works, it`s deliberate, it`s slow. 

 

If this was Rod Rosenstein`s idea, he would have worked on this memo.  He

would have sent it up through the chain of command, to the attorney

general.  They were going to slow deliberation. 

 

The fact that they`re both dated today, the same day he`s fired, all of it

leads you to believe this was an outcome they predetermined.  You can

imagine the White House saying, we need to get rid of Jim Comey we can`t

control him.  They worked out a way with Jeff Sessions to do it, and Rod

Rosenstein seems to have gone along with it. 

 

MADDOW:  Matt, in terms of the next steps here.  First of all, is there any

remedy on the recusal issue with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what would

be the appropriate response to something like that.  And what do you expect

to have happen now with the deputy director of the FBI being elevated into

the acting director role now?

 

MILLER:  In terms of remedy, there`s no immediate remedy, he can be

investigated by the attorney general`s office, Jeff Sessions can for not

following this recusal.  But the fundamental problem here is that Jeff

Sessions cannot oversee the Justice Department while it`s – you know, an

investigation of the Trump campaign. 

 

And let`s be clear: even if with his recusal, Rod Rosenstein is meeting

every day with Jeff Sessions, you can see how clearly these issues all

become intermeshed just today with this firing.  Rod has to appoint a

special counsel.  I think for other consequences, Jeff Sessions and Rod

Rosenstein need to be on the Hill by the end of the week explain how this

happened, what they talked about with the White House, did the president

request this, did he bring up the Russia investigation when he request it? 

They need to say all of that on the record under oath to Congress. 

 

MADDOW:  Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesmen during the

Obama administration – Matthew, I appreciate – I appreciate you being

here. 

 

MILLER:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

I want to dip into some of the reaction tonight from Capital Hill.  This is

a little bit of what Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had to say. 

Watch this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Earlier this

afternoon, President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director

Comey.  I told the president, Mr. President, with all due respect, you`re

making a big mistake. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaking today in the

Senate. 

 

It`s been interesting, the Democrats have responded in the way you just

heard, the way we heard Sheldon Whitehouse speaking earlier.  Democrats

have responded, I think, in large part by being shocked about the timing of

this and the circumstances related to the Russia investigation, and I think

they`re a little bit in all of the map in terms of the stated rationale for

this firing, which has to do with Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail

investigation last year, which was a matter of active investigation by the

Department of Justice inspector general. 

 

In terms of the Republican response, though, there`s also been some

interesting Republican response, alluded to a moment ago by Tom Brokaw. 

But we`ve been watching that come in over the course of the evening

tonight, some Republican members of the Senate, Republican elected

officials expressing their own levels of concern, or at least the need for

more disclose sure about exactly what happened here. 

 

Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea

Mitchell, the host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” here on MSNBC. 

 

Hi. 

 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well –

 

MADDOW:  Hi. 

 

MITCHELL:  Take a deep breath, everyone. 

 

MADDOW:  Yeah. 

 

So, let me – let me ask your – not what your reaction was to this, but

how big a deal this seems to you in the grand sweep? 

 

MITCHELL:  Huge.  Enormous. 

 

This was the investigation of the president and his colleagues, according

to the FBI director himself.  The interesting thing as you`ve just alluded

to is that Clinton world, and many other Democrats, have mixed feelings. 

I`ve been talking to a lot of people tonight.  They have mixed feelings

because they agree with many of the complaints laid out in Rod Rosenstein`s

letter today. 

 

They agree that Comey broke so many of these procedures and rules.  They`ve

been terribly concerned, you heard Hillary Clinton blaming her defeat on

Comey, even those who don`t agree with her do blame Comey for contributing

to that.

 

That said, there is tremendous distress because they believe, now, that

this does jeopardize the investigation.  And the fact that you`ve got both

Senators Warner and the Republican chairman of intelligence, Senator Burr`s

comments were so interesting, this further confuses an already challenging

investigation.  They`re acknowledging that the Senate Intelligence

Committee, which is the main actor here, already had a really hard job

ahead of him.  And they were relying on Comey to back them up. 

 

They don`t have professional prosecutors.  There`s been a lot of criticism

quietly and openly that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff was very

good at going up the torture report, at following an email trail, at going

through documents. 

 

MADDOW:  Dedicated full time staff who were investigators and lawyers. 

 

MITCHELL:  Full time staff.  But they are not trained to do a spy

investigation. 

 

MADDOW:  Right. 

 

MITCHELL:  To go and find, you know, the source of the dossier and all of

that and go to Moscow –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MADDOW:  But also to be clear: those on the torture report, those were full

time investigators, people who were assigned just to that investigation. 

In this case, it`s part-timers.  It`s all people who have other

responsibilities. 

 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t hired up. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t done it. 

 

MADDOW:  So the investigatory power here is in the FBI.  It`s not in the

committees.

 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

 

And I`m told at headquarters today, tonight, agents are very loyal to

Comey, despite all of his errors and other criticism of him, that they`re

devastated by this.  And that there`s going to be a huge morale problem

there.

 

And people are asking, what is recusal mean?  You just asked that question. 

The fact that the new acting director of the FBI was also involved in

briefing Reince Priebus inappropriately about a “New York Times” report. 

 

MADDOW:  Helping them manage public relations and the press around this

story. 

 

MITCHELL:  Really?

 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

 

MITCHELL:  And what does the FBI – what does attorney general`s recusal

really mean? 

 

MADDOW:  If he can fire the person who is leading the investigation. 

 

MITCHELL:  Why was he even involved in that. 

 

MADDOW:  From which he is supposedly recused. 

 

MITCHELL:  The whole thing is extraordinary, the way it was done.  He –

Comey was addressing the FBI agents.  He had come from a police briefing. 

Miami, he was in L.A.  He was in the room addressing them in their control

center.  It`s up on the TV screen, cable news breaking the story, he

thought it was a prank. 

 

MADDOW:  Literally the TV screens are breaking the news behind him while he

is speaking in front of a crowd and I think it was a joke. 

 

MITCHELL:  So, they did not give him a courtesy of waiting until he was

back in D.C. tonight and letting him know personally. 

 

MADDOW:  I will say – I hear from Democrats.  We heard it from Sheldon

Whitehouse tonight.  They do have mixed feelings and the criticism about

the handling of the Clinton investigation is one they have been

articulating for months and they think it`s very consequential.  It may

have been the difference in the response of the election. 

 

To me, it defies belief that this is the basis of this firing because of

the timing, because there`s an active inspector general investigation

underway, that they`re not waiting for the response to and because of the

urgency and apparently, the alacrity with which it`s carried out all of a

sudden at a crucial moment in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

 

MITCHELL:  And speaking of Russia, who is going to be at the State

Department tomorrow and then possibly at the White House with the

president, unless that gets cancelled?  Sergey Lavrov.  The Russians are in

town witnessing this craziness, so what they have – the string they first

started pulling with the e-mail hack, has come completely unraveled in

front of their own eyes. 

 

MADDOW:  NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell –

Andrea, thank you for joining us tonight. 

 

MITCHELL:  You bet.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you very much. 

 

What a day to be alive. 

 

All right.  That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow. 

 

Our coverage of this incredible day and evening continues now with Lawrence

O`Donnell, on “THE LAST WORD”. 

 

Good evening, Lawrence.

 

 

END

 

                                                                                                               

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