The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/2/17 Russia probe widening
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: June 2, 2017
Guest: Eric Tucker, Nick Akerman, Barbara McQuade, Timothy O`Brien
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Rachel is still under the weather.
But we have some big news breaking tonight, so big that we will be hearing
from Rachel herself. That`s in a few moments.
It is Friday night and the “A.P.” is reporting the Russia probe is
widening. Special counsel Robert Mueller including in his Russia inquiry a
one separate criminal probe into Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign
chairman, and that probe could include Trump`s Justice Department if
necessary. We have more on that unusual detail in a moment.
But as for Manafort, his foreign political work has, of course, been widely
reported. NBC, for example, confirming the prosecutors have reviewed his
advocacy for pro-Kremlin forces in Ukraine, and that came before he linked
up with Trump in 2016. Manafort`s once secret foreign payments from a pro-
Putin dictators party surfaced right before he split with the Trump
campaign. The “A.P.” now reporting that Mueller will include that review
of Manafort into this wider Russia probe.
Now, that`s not great news for the White House but it does not
automatically undercut their argument that Trump has eliminated his ties to
Manafort and that this review might have little to do with the core of the
2016 campaign for president.
The other part of “A.P.” report does name check current senior Trump
officials, however, including the man who just picked Mueller for this job.
Take a look at this tonight. The “A.P.” reporting that the special counsel
here, Mueller, may expand his inquiry to include the top two DOJ officials,
Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. They sent that now discredited letter
recommending that Trump fire Jim Comey for one reason, that Comey was
allegedly unfair to Hillary Clinton, which President Trump later said was
not the real or only reason he fired Comey.
Rosenstein wrote a memo and both he and Sessions discuss that had firing
with Trump, despite Sessions` pledge to recuse himself from the Russia
probe. Trump officials suggested that letter caused the firing, but then,
Trump, of course, admitted that was not true in an interview with NBC`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Did you ask for a recommendation?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I did is I was going to
fire Comey. My decision. It was not –
HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room.
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. I – there`s no good time to do it, by
the way. They –
HOLT: Because in your letter, you said, I accepted their recommendation.
So, you had already made the decision?
TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation. He made
He is highly respected. A very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats
like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation.
But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there
was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I
said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia
is a made-up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that interview, when you listen to it, it did more than just
throw the Justice Department under the bus. It made the Justice Department
vulnerable at least to an allegation that it was part of an effort to
mislead the whole nation about the first firing of an FBI director without
cause in American history. That`s a big deal. And a lot of that is still
As you know, within days, Rosenstein responded to that by appointing
Mueller as the special counsel and then he gave a very unusual private
briefing to that bipartisan gathering of the Senate and then he went quiet.
No press releases, no speeches, definitely no media interviews until
Rod Rosenstein spoke to the media for the first time since this all blew
up. He spoke about Russia and he spoke about whether the man he picked to
run this inquiry has the authority to potentially him, Rod Rosenstein.
Here`s what Rosenstein tells the “A.P.” tonight. Quote: I`ve talked with
Director Mueller about this. He is going to make the appropriate decisions
and if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation
then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there`s a need for me to
recuse, I will.
A spokesman for Mr. Mueller in the article declined to comment.
But here`s why this matters, even if this is – to be clear – a
hypothetical point. Mueller has independence but Rosenstein currently
oversees him. Rosenstein was involved, and as I was just mentioning, that
unusual rollout of a law enforcement firing that at least some people think
should be investigated as potential obstruction of justice. But if Mueller
goes down that road, can Rosenstein limit his authority? Even if he
doesn`t, how do you really clearly and forthrightly investigate your own
Well, tonight, the news here on the record for the first time in an
interview, is Rosenstein saying he will get out of the way. He will recuse
himself if need be.
Now, maybe the Russia probe will die down and none of this stuff that
they`re putting out will be relevant. Maybe Rosenstein wants a secondary
kind of a public reason not to talk about any of this again. And by
calling up the “A.P.” on a Friday night and putting this on the record,
maybe he thinks that allows him to then say later, for example, to
Congress, that this is a matter under potential investigation and he can`t
discuss it. We`ve heard those defenses before.
Or maybe this is the first of many rounds in the shadow boxing over this
increasingly sticky probe as Mueller makes clear right now that he has a
broad mandate, basically daring his boss to disagree. And Rosenstein is
saying apparently the right thing before what? Before what we know is
coming. The big days of testimony on Capitol Hill. From James Comey next
week and soon after from Sessions and Rosenstein.
Or maybe, I don`t know, maybe it`s a combination of all those dynamics.
But after weeks of letters about espionage, anonymous leaks and complaints
about those underlying leaks, tonight, what we have are – at least one
major player speaking out under his own name in the light of day.
Joining us now, I`m happy to say, is Eric Tucker, the Justice Department
reporter for the “A.P.” who broke this story.
Thanks for joining tonight.
ERIC TUCKER, ASSOCIATED PRESS, BROKE STORY ON EXPANDING INQUIRY: Thank you
for having me, Ari. I appreciate it.
MELBER: You broke this story. It is significant for many reasons. Can
you tell us more about how it came together and how it was that Rod
Rosenstein basically gave you this first on the record interview about this
TUCKER: So actually, Rod spoke with a colleague of mine, Sadie Gorman, and
it was a conversation – a sort of a wide reaching conversation about some
of his priorities as the deputy attorney general. And during the course of
that conversation he was asked about the scope and the purview of special
counsel Mueller`s mandate, and he acknowledged very honesty that Bob
Mueller has a very broad that could include anything that he potentially
did, it can include anything that the attorney general did, and he said as
you indicated a few minutes ago, that if there is anything that Rod
Rosenstein himself did, that it`s considered to be relevant to the
investigation, he said he`ll go ahead and recuse himself.
MELBER: Eric, that is different than the view of some people inside the
Trump White House who publicly opposed any special counsel and certainly
have taken the position, that whatever the Russia probe is, it should not
go into the firing of James Comey.
TUCKER: Right. So when you look at the one page mandate that was issued
several weeks ago by the Justice Department, it clearly gives a fairly
sweeping mandate to Bob Mueller and I think everybody who knows Bob Mueller
anticipates that he`s going to pull all the relevant strings he wants to.
Clearly, at the sort of focal point of this investigation is potential
collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign but that also looks at any
potential associates of President Trump which would include his campaign
chairman, Paul Manafort, and it could certainly include allegations of
perjury, obstruction of justice, or anything of that sort.
MELBER: In this “A.P.” interview, did you get into Jim Comey`s coming
MELBER: Let me ask you about the Manafort piece of it. What do you see is
significant about that? Because, you know, for our viewers, a lot of folks
have tracked different people connected to Trump at different times under
review. What does that say to you based on your reporting and your wider
knowledge that this is now under Mueller`s purview?
TUCKER: Well, it`s interesting because as you noted, the Manafort
investigation long predates the campaign, it long predates the collusion
investigation, it is truly operating on a separate track of a criminal
financial fraud type investigation. And so, clearly, as they`re building
up their team, as they`re developing their resources, as they`re gathering
steam as part of this investigation, they`re looking at all these different
sort of outstanding threads and trying to figure out what are the potential
ties or connections that unite all of them under a single person and a
single leadership. So, in a lot of ways, it`s actually not that
MELBER: When you look toward James Comey`s expected testimony this
Thursday, for you, what is the biggest question you would have for him or
want to hear from him on?
TUCKER: So, I think we`re going to hear about his encounters with
President Trump in the weeks and months that predated his firing. One
thing that`s really important, interesting about Jim Comey, is he is known
to have kept actual memos, formal written memos that he would write up
after exchanges or encounters that made him uncomfortable. And we know,
for instance, that did he this in February after an Oval Office meeting in
which he says that President Trump asked him if he would consider ending
the investigation into Michael Flynn who was, of course, President Trump`s
first national security adviser.
I think the Senate is going to be very interested in that and I think
Director Comey – former Director Comey is going to have a lot of interest
in recounting that from start to finish.
MELBER: Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter and part of that team
that broke the story for the “A.P.” tonight – thank you.
TUCKER: Thank you.
MELBER: We turn now to Nick Akerman, a former Watergate special
prosecutor, with quite a bit of experience in these kinds of cases which
are not the normal kind of case.
What jumps out to you about this reporting?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I think it is not surprising.
I would have expected the Manafort piece would be part of this. I would
have expected that Rod Rosenstein would be considered at least a witness in
this case. He was part of the whole process that created that pretext for
Trump to fire Comey in the first instance.
They used his memo as an excuse as to why they were firing Comey, when in
fact, Trump later admitted that was not the actual reason for firing him.
In fact, it was the Russian investigation that he wanted to get rid of.
So, in a way, they were using Rosenstein and using his memo as pretext in
order to fire Comey and keep it away from the Russian investigation. So
just on that basis alone, Rod Rosenstein is a key witness in this case.
MELBER: So, when you say Rod Rosenstein is a witness and Mueller`s Russian
investigation, you`re saying he is a witness to how President Trump fired
Jim Comey and why?
AKERMAN: And because it all the resulted in an obstruction of justice. If
you look at the entire pattern of what occurred from the time that the
Trump White House was warned about Michael Flynn, and the fact that he was
subject to bribery and blackmail by the Russians, the fact that Trump sat
on that for 18 days until the press finally put the heat on him, and then
at that point he fires him. The next day, he meets with Comey and asks
Comey to back off the investigation.
And then, when Comey asks for more resources to put into this
investigation, and announces that there`s an investigation before the U.S.
Senate, what does Trump do? He fires him.
MELBER: You`re a prosecutor. You know if you`re going to make a case, you
need a statute and you need a target. So, when you say there`s an
obstruction case, who is the target?
AKERMAN: The target would be the president of the United States and
anybody else that was involved in that decision to fire Jim Comey. It
could be Jared Kushner who admitted that he was involved in the decision to
fire Jim Comey. The statute is Section 1503 of Title 18, an endeavor to
obstruct justice, which includes FBI investigations.
Clearly, the only issue here is, what was the president`s intent in firing
Comey? He is basically admitted on national television to Lester Holt that
he wanted to get rid of the Russian investigation. So, all of this comes
back to the Russian investigation, what did the Trump campaign have to do
with the WikiLeaks that related to the break-in with the computers at the
Clinton campaign. And two, to what extent did the campaign, the Trump
campaign, collude with the Russian government with almost to the data
mining and the micro-targeting of voters in order to suppress the vote
Hillary Clinton, and to increase the vote for Donald Trump.
MELBER: Mr. Akerman, when you were a Nixon Watergate special prosecutor,
when you worked on that team, the view of the Justice Department then as
now was that you can`t indict the sitting president for this kind of crime.
So, when you reference that statute, if Mueller is looking at liability –
criminal liability in this kind of case, does he have to find someone in
your view someone other than the president?
AKERMAN: Well, I think his investigation has to include everybody.
Certainly, Donald Trump was part of the Trump campaign. He has to find out
what the facts are.
Now, it may be that he`ll come up and conclude at the end which appears
likely will happen that Donald Trump was engaged in an obstruction of
justice. I don`t believe at this point in time he could ask the grand jury
to return an indictment on a sitting a president.
MELBER: Right, legally.
AKERMAN: Legally. But that doesn`t mean there aren`t other coconspirators
that were involved in that decision, for the exact same reason, to ditch
that FBI investigation. If that`s so, those people can be indicted and
they can be brought to justice. In the same way that it was done with the
Watergate investigation, there`s no reason why all of these facts relating
to the president of the United States can`t be turned over to the House and
then be part of any kind of impeachment proceeding. If, in fact, that`s
where the evidence leads.
Look, we have not at this point seen the memo that Jim Comey has written.
We don`t know exactly what his testimony is going to be. Everything we`ve
heard has been secondhand.
AKERMAN: But if you take all of that, and you take into account what the
president himself has admitted, it just doesn`t paint a pretty picture at
MELBER: Right. And that is why although the “A.P.” was very careful in
its wording, that Mueller is talking about, or reportedly his aides are
speaking about what he may do, and what he may include, I think it`s fair
to say from your experience, if it may include the attorney general, that
is a significant deal. Although as we always note, we have to wait for the
evidence to come in.
Mr. Akerman, as always, appreciate –
AKERMAN: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: I really appreciate it.
Former assistant U.S. attorney in New York, as well as a former Watergate
Now, when all these things do come together at the end of a week like this,
it does make me wonder what Rachel Maddow would make of this. She joins us
next and I`ll ask her.
MELBER: Welcome back to another Friday night of what seems like
extraordinary news from the Trump-Russia inquiry, beginning with “Reuters”
reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is taking over the grand jury
inquiry into Michael Flynn and the lobbying Flynn did for Turkey without
registering as the agent of a foreign government, which is required under
law. The “A.P.” then, with that report that Mueller could expand the probe
to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod
Rosenstein for their roles in the firing of the FBI director, if Mueller
wants to go in that direction, the deputy A.G. as we were just discussing
says Mueller has room to run.
The “A.P.” reporting Mueller also taking over the criminal probe involving
the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The Manafort probe, of
course, predates the whole Trump campaign and goes back to 2014 with the
downfall of a kleptocratic pro-Putin president of Ukraine who rose to
political power with the help from Manafort. Now, as of tonight, all of
that going back years before the Trump campaign has been rolled up into
Robert Mueller`s apparently widening, perhaps bottomless portfolio.
And we are now joined by a journalist who has been connecting that
investigation into Manafort and Ukrainian payments with the Trump-Russia
probe for quite a while now. As you know, she is also the host of this
show, the ultimate dot connector, Rachel Maddow.
How are you?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST (via telephone): Hey, Ari. I am – you probably
can tell from my voice, I am still not exactly myself. I am still
recovering from this thing. But I am super happy that I am able to be with
you guys tonight.
And this is, I mean, talk about dot connecting, this is a – I feel like
this is one of those moments when we`ve been bushwhacking through the
forest for a long time and, all of a sudden, we just came out into a
clearing and we can see where we are. It`s really sort of a landmark
moment in terms of this investigation, I think.
MELBER: Yes. When you see this confirmation that the special counsel is
now overseeing the Manafort inquiry, what do you think that means?
MADDOW: You know, it – you covered it very well, I thought, in the A
block, in terms of what we understand about why this came about and what it
might mean, whether it is expected or not. I mean, I – for me, it raises
a few different things. First of all, I think it raises some factual
questions which are knowable things, which eventually we will get answered.
And it`s really practical stuff, but I think it could be consequential.
And that is, OK, well, does this mean then that the resources of that FBI
inquiry which we`ve been talking about on the show since the second week of
May, I think that is the first time we talked about this as being related
to the Trump-Russia collusion. If that FBI sot of kleptocracy
investigation into the Ukraine has been going on for years, it`s a big
investigation. They`ve got FBI agents stationed in Kiev.
You know, it is a large scale international kleptocracy and fraud
investigation. A practical question: does that mean the resources of that
investigation and the agents assigned to it now get moved over into
Mueller`s inquiry? They get folded into Mueller`s inquiry.
It is the same thing with the reports that the Mike Flynn foreign payments
from Turkey investigation which has been headed up out of the eastern
district of Virginia, there are now reports that that is also going to be
taken over by Mueller, practical answerable questions about that. Does
that mean that the investigators and the prosecutors who have been working
on that, including that specialist espionage investigator who has been
leading that investigation into Flynn in Virginia, do all those people get
folded into what Mueller is doing? How big an investigation? How well
resourced an investigation? And what caliber people –
MADDOW: Are you still there?
MELBER: I`m here. Are you still there? I just heard some dialing.
MELBER: You know, that`s live television for you. Go ahead.
MADDOW: Yes, all right.
MADDOW: OK. Let`s hope that`s done. I think –
MELBER: I hear you.
MADDOW: OK. So, practical consequences as to whether or not those
prosecutions, the resources of those other prosecutions and investigations
are getting folded in because those are – to a certain degree, you know,
the FBI Kiev one is a big mature investigation. I think we will get the
answers about that. I think one way or another, we`ll find out if, you
know, that espionage prosecutor from the Flynn thing that was working for
Mueller, we`ll find out if those FBI agents in Kiev now answer to Mueller.
That would be interesting.
I think there are also factual questions that it raises that we maybe won`t
get answers to. I mean, the remit from Mueller says he can investigate
Trump-Russia collusion and things that arise from that investigation.
Well, if he`s taking over the Flynn payments, Flynn foreign payments
investigation, and he is taking over the Ukrainian kleptocracy
investigation, does that imply that he believes those things are related to
the Trump campaign and the Russian attack on the 2016 election?
MELBER: Right, that they`re linked.
MELBER: The other thing I want to ask you, sort of part political, part
legal, which is – there`s this refrain that, you know, nothing seems to
matter in this Trump era, or government lies don`t matter. But with all of
this coming out, I wonder whether you think there is some potential
accountability for false statements about Russia or Jim Comey`s firing that
could haunt this White House.
MADDOW: Yes. I mean, we`ll find out. It is now being described sort of
matter of factually that Mueller is not just looking into, you know, the
Trump campaign Russia collusion. He is also looking into obstruction of
justice, perjury, intimidating witnesses, and all that stuff, that`s being
stated as a matter of fact by observers here and by people who are familiar
with this stuff.
But we don`t have any confirmation of that from Mueller. So, we`ll have –
I sort of want to wait on that until I hear it from the horse`s mouth. We
can surmise if that`s true. But I do think there is one really, really
important and so far overlooked consequence of the Manafort thing being
folded into Mueller, which is that, Ari, we were – we were first to report
that Jeff Sessions as attorney general was refusing to state whether or not
he considered himself to be recused from any matters involving Paul
If this in fact is true, and all Manafort matters are now being handled by
Mueller, that takes away the worry that any, you know, Trump Justice
Department interference might get in the way of the Manafort part of this
investigation. And that to me seems like a really important advance here.
MELBER: That`s a great point. Because I work here, Rachel, I happen to
know that you are resting up and coming back soon.
MELBER: But while you`re out, are you going bonkers not covering all this
news this week?
MADDOW: Yes, Ari, I am.
MADDOW: I am – I am watching NBC instead – I am watching MSNBC instead
of helping make MSNBC coverage. You have been doing an amazing job, as has
all the producing staff there at TRMS. But I am desperate to get back into
this, because I just keep thinking it`s going to die down and we keep
getting these landmark moments.
MELBER: I`m familiar with the amazing job they do –
MELBER: – because they`re here every day and every night.
Rachel Maddow, thank you so much for calling. I hope you get well soon and
you`re back at this chair and at this desk where you are, of course,
MADDOW: I will be – I will be back soon, Ari. Thank you so much. You`re
doing an awesome job, my friend. Thanks.
MELBER: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you so much.
MELBER: Still ahead, the White House now says it`s looking into something
that could prevent former FBI Director Jim Comey from doing that big
testimony next week. That`s still ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Today, after a long legal battle, seven of the president`s
secret tapes were given to Judge Sirica. The president`s lawyers asked
that all or parts of three of the tapes be withheld from the grand jury on
grounds of executive privilege.
Here`s more from Carl Stern (ph).
CARL STERN, REPORTER: After four months of legal squabbling, the
presidential tape-recordings were finally delivered today to the Chief
Judge John Sirica.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Executive privilege. It is what Nixon tried to use in 1973 to
stop those infamous tapes you saw on the screen from getting out. It
didn`t work and we all know how that rest of that story went. Executive
privilege is, though, an established modern right of presidents to protect
certain deliberations in government and to resist subpoenas or testimony
requests for staff about things that reach too far into the president`s
But it is not absolute. You can`t typically use the privilege to cover up
a crime, like the Nixon tapes about Watergate. And the limits of executive
privilege are obviously back in the news because of this countdown to
Thursday when Jim Comey is supposed to testify.
Now, he no longer works for this administration. That`s one reason he`s
testifying. But Washington has lately been obsessed with whether Trump
might follow other presidents and take a broad reading of this privilege to
try to limit what Comey says. And today the White House indicated it is
reviewing the option, according to Bloomberg News, and in fairness to this
White House, it`s really the job of any decent White House lawyer to review
if privilege claims are legally possible for such sensitive testimony and
then consider whether they`re in the public interest.
But here`s the thing about presidents. They love their executive powers
and they push them way past the breaking point, because a privilege for
secrets only works for secrets. Not for essentially public matters or, you
know, things you`ve been tweeting all about.
President Obama even learned the limits of executive privilege the hard way
when a court rejected his attempt to use it for some Justice Department
materials. The judge said that his own officials had already publicized
too much of that stuff to then claim it was a secret. And that was if case
where the Obama officials had disclosed materials in, we could say, a
measured way – a contrast to the loud, even chaotic presentation by
President Trump about his dealings with Jim Comey.
President Trump himself blabbing about it on Twitter, talking it up in TV
interviews, even allegedly to the Russians in the Oval Office. That`s
according to sources in Trump`s own administration who spoke to the “New
So, joining us now to give us a deeper tutorial is Barbara McQuade, a
former U.S. attorney.
Great to have you back with us.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR EASTERN DISTRICT OF
MICHIGAN: Thanks. Glad to be here, Ari.
MELBER: How much does Donald Trump`s style of public rhetoric affect his
potential claims to executive privilege regarding Jim Comey?
MCQUADE: Well, he may have doomed any claim of executive privilege on this
matter with his public comments. You can`t assert privilege if you`ve
already talked about it in the public sphere.
We`ve seen tweets where he said, Jim Comey better home there are no tapes
of our conversation. He told Lester Holt he was thinking about the Russia
thing when he fired Jim Comey. In the very letter that he wrote to Jim
Comey firing him, he said, thank you for telling me on three separate
occasions that I`m not the subject of investigation.
So, I think those public comments may constituent waiver of the privilege.
MELBER: And if the White House were to assert it, how would it go down?
MCQUADE: Well, it`s interesting because this is scenario that`s a little
different from the usual. Usually, as you mentioned the Obama example,
it`s the White House that wants to prevent documents or a member of its
administration from testifying. Here we have, I presume, a willing witness
in Jim Comey who would like the come forward and tell his story.
So, if the Trump White House were to assert the privilege, it is not clear
whether they have the power to do so with a willing witness. You know,
this is an area of the law that is not very well developed.
MCQUADE: Because usually when these matters occur, some compromise is
worked out. So, it will be interesting to see whether they can assert with
it a willing witness like Jim Comey.
MELBER: Yes, and you mentioned compromise, which is a sort of an inter
branch thing with the Congress. Here`s a new letter out tonight, just this
hour from some Democrats in Congress saying: We write to the White House to
remind you, any such assertion of privilege is almost certainly baseless.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to counsel the president
If you`re sitting in the White House counsel`s office, is there room for
what you mentioned as compromise for some effort to try to go at things
that the president maybe hasn`t already exposed? Some narrower versions of
his conversations with Comey about national security in Russia?
MCQUADE: That might be an effective strategy in this case, because another
reason that the privilege might not be as effective here, you mentioned,
it`s not absolute. There could be a finding that it is in the best
interests of justice to have Jim Comey testify.
So, if I were advising the president, I would try to narrow the areas of
testimony. You can talk about these things but not these other things,
MELBER: And, finally, our viewers who watch a lot of this stuff are
familiar with watching Jim Comey bob and weave. He takes certain questions
and then he doesn`t take others.
In your view, what are the actual DOJ rules on him when he comes forward?
MCQUADE: Well, I don`t think he can really talk about the substance of the
Russia investigation. That is an ongoing pending investigation. He should
not talk about that. And also, anything that is classified material, he
could not talk about.
But his conversations with the president, whether he was asked to give his
pledge, his loyalty to the president, whether he was asked to drop the
investigation, I think those matters are all fair game.
MELBER: Right. And which is, as we were just discussing on the show,
something that may or may not come up in the underlying inquiry, which is a
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, thanks for your time.
MCQUADE: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Still ahead, we`re going to hear directly from presidential
historian Michael Beschloss on the importance and the wider historical
context of this breaking news about where this special counsel inquiry
could go, as well as some new questions on meetings between Jared Kushner
and a prominent Russian banker.
MELBER: Welcome back.
You know, one of the reasons that tonight story in the “A.P.” is such a big
deal is that you have the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein,
basically speaking out on the record for the first time since Jim Comey was
fired, something he was still intimately involved with, and then on top of
that, he confirms basically in conjunction with Mueller`s investigation,
the guy he appointed, that the inquiry, quote, could expand into Attorney
General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein`s own rules in that decision to form -
- fire former FBI Director Jim Comey.
Now, there have been many who question about just how wide the scope of
this inquiry is. How much rope would Mueller be given and whether the
deputy A.G. or Congress or the president would at some point reel him in.
Now, Rosenstein made it pretty clear if wasn`t already that Mueller is on
his own. And if that means the deputy attorney general has to step aside
and recuse, he`ll do it.
This is important historically because there`s always been a distinction
between investigating one item of government misconduct versus the actual
management of an entire presidential administration. Think about
investigating the Watergate burglary versus the wider investigation of that
cover-up. Well, the investigations of the Iran Contra foreign policy deal
versus wider investigations over whether there were deliberate efforts to
mislead Congress or lie to the American people.
So, we`re no longer talking about the speculations and the what-ifs. We`re
reporting really on what is being said right out of DOJ. And this
investigation basically saying, we are looking at certain people and
history shows when a special counsel or a prosecutor looks at people, it
It doesn`t tell us the end but it does tell us we are an important part,
perhaps an early chapter of this history. We might be able to benefit from
a history lesson. I`m happy to say tonight we have just the guy – NBC
presidential historian, Michael Beschloss.
As always, great to see you, Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thanks. Great to see you,
Thank you. Without prejudging anything we know tonight, we discussed the
reporting, and where this goes, we don`t know. I wonder with historical
lens, that`s why you`re here, what does history say about what has happened
when there are wider inquiries into the running of an administration?
BESCHLOSS: Well, what has happened is if there was an offense, it will
likely be found out. That`s one reason why Richard Nixon went after
Archibald Cox. Because Archibald Cox expanded his investigation into
various abuses of power which in the end included the obstruction of
justice for which Nixon was driven out of office.
And so, for Donald Trump to find out if he`s finding out tonight, that this
investigation is going to go beyond, you know, the original focus of it,
that`s not great news for him.
MELBER: So interesting you say that, because you`re referring to, in the
Watergate time line, which many observed took so much longer, it appears
that both publicly, but as you just said, within government, the
understanding of how wide the scope was came later. So, do you infer
anything as a matter of best practices, or abundance of caution, all the
legal mumbo jumbo that comes out of there, that Mueller is drawing some
lessons from that history?
BESCHLOSS: I think that`s right. This has really sped up because as you
said, the Watergate process took a lot longer. But we`ve got at least, you
know, shadows on the wall of investigations of collusion with the Russians
and perhaps financial crimes, perhaps obstruction of justice and perhaps
some connection among all of those things.
And, you know, to leap from chapter 1 to chapter 16, if and we`re a long
way from that, but if Mueller finds that there is a connection, for
instance, between collusion and taking money in some way, and obstruction,
you know, that could lead the way that Richard Nixon led. We`re a long way
from having evidence of any of this. But the Constitution says that the
grounds for impeachment are treason and bribery and other high crimes and
MELBER: Historically why did so many presidents shy away from rushing to
use the pardon power, even when they were upset about investigations?
BESCHLOSS: They have shrunk from using the pardon power because it looks
terrible and also, it is essentially a confession of guilt. When Richard
Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford, you know, some people said, why didn`t
Ford make Nixon issue a greater statement of contrition. And Nixon said, I
think this was not enough, but Nixon said by accepting a pardon, I was
NBC presidential his historian, Michael Beschloss, as always – appreciate
BESCHLOSS: And I hope we don`t come to seeing a pardon.
MELBER: Well, and I think – I mean, that`s one of the questions, is a lot
of these things involve following norms. And I think one of the questions
is, what stamina do norms have right now? We don`t know.
BESCHLOSS: And that`s why we all have to hold those in power accountable.
MELBER: Michael Beschloss, thank you as always.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: Up next, some new questions about why Jared Kushner had that
secret meeting with the Russian secret banker.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIER SIMMONS, NBC NEWS: You`re the subject of intense scrutiny in America
because of your meeting with Donald Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
SERGEY GORKOV, CHAIRMAN, VNESHECONOMBANK: I will not – have any comments
about that. So, now have a session about Blockchain.
SIMMONS: I know you do, but the thing is there is some confusion about
what exactly happened.
GORKOV: Sorry. Sorry.
SIMMONS: Were you talking about business or were you talking about
GORKOV: No comments, please.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Sergey Gorkov, the CEO of the Russian state controlled VEB Bank
continues to avoid questions from reporters about what he discussed during
that secret meeting with Jared Kushner back in December, a meeting now also
of interest of federal investigators.
Now, remember, this was the second known meeting with Russian officials
that Kushner failed to disclose. Back in early December, the president`s
son-in-law met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at which he
reportedly proposed setting up that controversial secret backchannel with
the Kremlin, even possibly using Russian diplomatic facilities to do it.
Now, as to why Kushner met with Gorkov later that month, we do not know.
The public explanations before offered by both sides still don`t actually
match. The White House saying it was a diplomatic meeting while VEB Bank
said it was a business meeting with Kushner because of his role as the head
of his family`s real estate empire.
Either explanations brings up its own problems, a diplomatic meeting with
the Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence days after Kushner was
reported to be seeking what we now know was called a potential secret
Kremlin backchannel, or if it were a business meeting with the CEO of the
Russian bank, under sanctions at a time when Kushner was looking for
investors to help pay off some ballooning debts. Over a billion dollars
the Kushner`s company has borrowed to buy that flagship real estate
property, 666 Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. And it must
be paid back over the next two years.
Now, for months, there is a journalist who has been saying investigators
must look at Kushner`s real estate troubles as at least a potential reason,
an avenue of inquiry for why Kushner was taking these apparently risky
Joining me now is that journalist, Tim O`Brien. He is the executive editor
of “Bloomberg View”. He is the author of “Trump Nation: The Art of Being
Donald”, which led him to be sued unsuccessfully at the time by Donald
Thank you for being here.
TIMOTHY O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, “TRUMPNATION: THE ART OF BEING THE DONALD”: It`s
great to be here, Ari.
MELBER: Given everything that has come out, how you view this all now?
O`BRIEN: The 666 fifth? Well, I think it`s hanging over the White House
now like a specter. It`s brought the investigation full force into the
Oval Office. It possibly implicates one of those powerful people in the
office, the president`s son-in-law.
And I think it`s added a new element to this. It`s moved beyond simply a
political collusion investigation. Did the Kremlin collude with the Trump
campaign to tip the campaign into Trump`s favor? Into was there trading of
financial favors possibly in exchange for policy decisions?
MELBER: Right. So, you have reporting on this. This is interesting,
because when I was thought the primaries covering candidate Donald Trump,
many of his supporters said they loved that he wouldn`t owe anyone, that he
was independently wealthy, that he would be different than politicians for
O`BRIEN: That he`d drain the swamp.
MELBER: And drain the swamp. But drain the swamp`s policy. They were
more saying that his ledger and the people he would bring in, he wouldn`t
Your reporting seems to suggest the opposite.
O`BRIEN: Well, clearly, the reporting is built on the shoulders of a lot
of other great reporters.
O`BRIEN: “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post” and “Bloomberg News”.
But when you connect these dots, you have a property on Fifth Avenue. It`s
a skyscraper. It`s a jewel in the Kushner real estate crown that`s
staggering under unmanageable debt.
And Jared Kushner begins having talks with Chinese financiers in the summer
of 2016. And those progressed through the end of 2016 and early 2017 until
reporting came out that he may get a favorable deal from the Chinese. And
the deal I think blew up because of that.
During the same time period, he is also meeting with the Russians. And he
meets with a Russian banker during the same period. Now, we don`t me what
they discussed. But for some reason, the Russian ambassador to the United
States decided to broker a meeting between the president`s son-in-law and
the head of a major Russian bank.
MELBER: Would VEB Bank be the kind of institution that would put money
into the Fifth Avenue property?
O`BRIEN: Well, the bank is very close to the Kremlin. It`s board of
overseers includes Dmitry Medvedev, the former president of Russia. Sergey
Gorkov trained at an espionage school in Russia. So, it`s very closely
embedded in the Russian government itself.
MELBER: So you`re saying it might for foreign policy reasons, not for
O`BRIEN: Maybe for both. I think what you`re seeing here is a possibility
that the Russians said we can put some money to work in the United States.
And in exchange, get sanctions lifted on both our banking system and the
MELBER: Tim O`Brien, it is fascinating. A thread to keep pulling on.
Thanks for being here.
O`BRIEN: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: I appreciate it.
We – still ahead, some news on what the White House is doing on domestic
policy while a lot of attention has been elsewhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can`t let Trump
and his allies be a diversion. They are a threat. And they have been
effective up until now.
So, Twitter is a perfect example. You`re going to drive up the numbers.
You`ve got more people chasing rabbits down rabbit holes. You`ve got all
kinds of stuff happening. Why?
To divert attention. It`s the circus, right? It`s what a classic
authoritarian does. It`s not just about influencing your institutions,
your values. They want to influence your reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Hillary Clinton this week criticizing overreactions to
Donald Trump`s tweets. And this week`s reality did feature some substance
to be sure – news on the Trump Russia inquiries and climate change policy.
The Trump campaign tonight is now pitching a new chance they say to hold a
political rally about it outside the White House. Some are calling that a
distraction. After all, why do you need a weekend rally for something the
president already did?
But the administration also did another significant thing this week that
many have overlooked. It involves your rights and your health care. The
context came from that executive order. This was from last month
originally, with President Trump signing what he called the religious
liberty executive order, telling federal agencies to work out a new rule,
quote, to address conscience-based objections to the preventative care
That was build as a way to help religious organizations like, say, the
Little Sisters of the Poor, who have refused to cover contraception for
their employees` health care. Now, this week reports the administration is
about to finish that rule. Right now behind the scenes, it`s been pitching
it as a way to exempt those religious groups from having to cover
contraception. The stated goal being to, quote, respect employers` rights
to religious freedom, even when the decisions involve their employees.
Now, a draft of that rule has leaked, and this new rule as interpreted
gives away the game. Because it gives away the fact that this rule isn`t
really about employers` rights, whatever you think of that argument. It`s
actually much broader. It is about preventing access to health care writ
large. In this case, obviously, health care for women.
The Trump administration is writing that they plan to, quote, expand
exemptions for religious beliefs, and this is key, moral convictions.
Moral convictions. That is new broad language that can suggest any
employer can now opt out of the federal requirement to cover contraception.
Here is how one law professor explained it to Vox. Quote: it`s a very,
very, very broad exception for everybody. If you don`t want to provide it,
you don`t have to provide it.
So, any company or organization that you work for could argue under this
reading that they have a, quote, moral problem with contraception or moral
problem with, say, you or anyone in your family not getting pregnant. And
the Trump administration then would be able to let them off the hook for
what is a mandate under law currently to cover your contraception.
The proposed rule as it reads under this argument could potentially deny
contraception to hundreds of thousands of people in this country, of women
in this country. Quote: These interim final rules will result in some
enrollees in plans of exempt entities not receiving coverage or payments
Oh, and one more thing. The rule will take effect as soon as it`s
published in the federal register, which could happen literally any day.
In this case, it`s not what they say on Twitter or in the Rose Garden. It
is about what they do.
And that does it for tonight. I also hope you will consider joining me for
a special edition of my show “THE POINT” this Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
I have an exclusive with a woman who was editor-in-chief of Jared Kushner`s
newspaper. She says he`s never had a, quote, realistic view of his own
capabilities. And also we have a report on Russia with the director of the
FBI Special Agents Association.
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD.” Joy Reid is in for Lawrence tonight.
And, Joy, as we say around the building, Rachel says hi.
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