The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/7/17 NSA denies Senate
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: June 7, 2017
Guest: Ron Wyden, Nancy Gertner
JESS MCINTOSH: – need to hang their career on something that unpopular
because Donald Trump is making it that unpopular. They can let him loose.
They cut him loose. They don`t need him.
SUSAN FERRECHIO: One thing that Republicans could run away from is the ad
campaign that the RNC has out tomorrow basically –
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: Bashing Comey.
FERRECHIO: Bashing Comey. That has political repercussions.
HAYES: All right. Susan Ferrechio and Jess McIntosh, thanks for making
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.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Anything going on in the news? This is one of those times.
After a presidential election, we the taxpayers pay for the person who has
just won that election to set up offices in Washington, D.C. Taxpayer-
funded offices to run their transition out of, to get their transition
efforts up and running because we have a national interest, we taxpayers
have an interest in there being a smooth transition from one outgoing
administration to the new incoming one.
I remember going to a briefing at the Obama transition offices in either
late 2008 or early 2009 before President Obama was inaugurated for the
first time. I remember going to that. It was, you know, just like generic
office space. I remember thinking it was kind of funny to see all these
regular-looking office folks who I didn`t recognize scurrying around doing
office things. And mixed in among them in shirtsleeves were like, you
know, look, it`s David Axelrod and, hey, there`s the president-elect, hey,
look it`s Joe Biden. He`s about to be vice president.
It was these very low-key offices, very busy, and right in downtown D.C.,
all taxpayer-funded. That is a standard thing now. Every president-elect
gets taxpayer-funded transition offices.
And after this last presidential election, it was no exception. Taxpayers
paid for the Trump folks to have low-key, big, centrally located transition
office space in Washington, D.C., just like every other modern president
What was different this year with this president-elect is that this
president-elect did not use those offices. We paid for him anyway, but
they didn`t really use them. They used Trump tower instead. Why not?
I mean, yes, there were some Trump folks who worked out of the taxpayer-
funded transition offices in D.C. during the transition in November and
December and into January before the inauguration, there were some people
there. But the candidate himself was not there and none of his top people
were there. None of the decisions about the transition and the new
administration were really being made at those taxpayer-funded offices.
And there were these insidery headlines at the time. Trump marginalizes
D.C. transition staff. You know, those few poor suckers who were actually
in D.C. thinking they were running the transition, ha, all the real work
was happening at the president`s apartment at Trump Tower in New York. We
should have seen those headlines as advance warning that we should throw
out the window any of our normal ideas about how a new presidential
administration gets set up.
But the – that interesting sort of novel thing about the way the Trump
folks handled the transition the abandonment of their D.C. offices, that
also had a really specific logistical consequence after the election, and
for setting up the new administration. It meant that anybody who wanted to
meet with the incoming president and his top advisors, anyone who wanted to
say, lobby for themselves getting a top job in the new administration,
unlike previous presidential transitions, this time with the Trump folks,
you couldn`t sort of do it in a low-key way, you couldn`t just slip off to
some low-key generic office space in Washington D.C. and meet with the
transition folks or even the candidate himself there. To do this with the
Trump folks, you had to come to Fifth Avenue in New York City, and you had
to find their way in to Trump Tower.
And for some people, I`m sure that was an added bonus. You know people who
were very happy to be seen making their Trump Tower pilgrimage, who made
sure to engage the reporters and everything, who are camped outside the
But not everybody wants to be seen doing those sorts of things. Some of
these other meetings are lower key. And for some of those other people who
might have preferred their – you know, pilgrimages to see the new
president-elect, their trip out of D.C. and up to New York City and into
that very public building, that ended up being an awkward thing,
particularly when I hit the newspapers.
Presidential election this past year, November 8th, that, of course, is a
Tuesday. We have our elections on Tuesdays. The following week, on
Thursday the week after the election, so nine days after the election, it
was actually a serving Obama administration official who turned up
unexpectedly at Trump Tower.
It was Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency. He
was apparently spotted at Trump Tower less than a week and a half after the
election and what was very strange about that is that Mike Rogers, head of
the NSA, he took personal leave from work, he took a personal day to go do
this, to leave Washington D.C., where he worked running the NSA, to travel
to New York presumably on his own dime to go visit a mutt candidate the
president-elect at Trump Tower.
Now, incidentally, Mike Rogers as an admiral in the Navy and head of the
NSA, he`s in the military chain of command, and he answers to the commander
in chief who at that point was Barack Obama. But, apparently, Mike Rogers
did not even tell President Obama or the Obama administration generally
that he was doing this, that he was taking a personal day to leave D.C. go
to New York to visit the president-elect.
It was “The Wall Street Journal” that was first to report on NSA head Mike
Rogers playing hooky that day. They were also first to report on why he
might have done it, the prospect that the president-elect might be about to
give Mike Rogers a big promotion, the prospect that Mike Rogers might get
promoted from not just being head of the NSA and head of the Cyber Command,
the prospect that he might be the new director of national intelligence.
Within days, we got news of just how remarkable a promotion that would be
for Admiral Mike Rogers, not just because it would be a big promotion but
because top defense and intelligence officials that he had served under in
the Obama administration all apparently at the time wanted him to be fired,
It was one of the stranger things about the Obama administration that we
learned about during the transition, this widely reported drama about
whether or not the head of the NSA was going to get fired during the
transition, whether the head of the NSA was going to get canned after the
election but before the new president was sworn in, and that would be
dramatic and strange enough even if at the same time, that NSA director was
not apparently taking off his uniform, or disregarding his uniform, and
taking a personal day to go secretly meet with the incoming president at
his penthouse apartment in New York to talk about maybe becoming the top
intelligence official in the whole government.
It was very strange. It was just this very strange story about this
important part of the intelligence community at an otherwise pretty
dramatic time. NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers had apparently been
recommended for firing by Obama`s Defense Secretary Ash Carter and by the
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, they reportedly thought he
had done a bad job at the NSA and at Cyber Command. NBC News reported at
the time that Admiral Rogers was, quote, extremely unpopular among the NSA
workforce at the time.
Would he be fired? Would Trump promote him even though Obama was maybe
about to fire him? The interesting question.
In the end, when all was said and done, what happened is that Mike Rogers
kept the NSA job into the new Trump administration. He did not get fired
from running the NSA, but he also didn`t get promoted to be the Director of
National Intelligence either. That job went to Dan Coates, former
Republican senator from the state of Indiana.
And now, today, on the eve of the first public appearance by the FBI
director since that FBI director was fired by President Trump, today, these
two figures, the controversial admiral who snuck out from his job without
permission from the Obama administration which wanted to fire him at the
time and the former senator job who got – the former senator who got the
top intelligence job despite Admiral Rogers going to those extraordinary
lengths apparently to lobby for it secretly during the transition, these
two unusual figures today opened a whole new unexpected sight in the
investigation into the Russian attack on our election last year, and the
question of whether the Trump campaign colluded in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Then, I`ll ask both of you
the same question, why are you not answering these questions? Is there an
invocation by the president United States of executive privilege? Is there
ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: Not that I`m aware of.
KING: Then why are you not answering our questions?
ROGERS: Because I feel it is inappropriate, Senator.
KING: What you feel isn`t relevant, Admiral. What`s – what you feel
isn`t the answer. The answer is – why are you not answering the
questions, is it an invocation of executive privilege? If there is, then
let`s know about it. If there isn`t, answer the questions.
ROGERS: I stand by the comment I`ve made. I`m not interested in repeating
myself, sir. And I don`t mean that in a – in a – in a contentious way.
KING: Well, I do mean it in a contentious way.
ROGERS: Yes, sir.
KING: I don`t understand why you`re not answering our questions. You
can`t –when you were – when you were confirmed before the Armed Services
Committee, you took an oath. Do you solemnly swear to give the committee
the truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
ROGERS: I do.
KING: You answered yes to that.
ROGERS: And I`ve also answered that those conversations were classified
and it is not appropriate in an open forum to discuss those classified
KING: What is classified about a conversation involving whether or not you
should intervene in the FBI investigation?
ROGERS: Sir, I stand by my previous comments.
KING: Mr. Coats, same series of questions. What`s the basis for your
refusal to answer these questions today?
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The basis is that what I`ve
previously explained, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to –
KING: What`s the basis? I`m not satisfied with I do not believe it is
appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. I want to – I want to
understand a legal basis. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth, and today you are refusing to do so.
What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?
COATS: I`m not sure I have a legal basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`m not sure I have a legal basis.
Today, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and the head of the
National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, said they would not tell the United
States Senate which is investigating this Trump-Russia affair and the
committee that oversees them in the Senate, the Intelligence Committee
oversees the intelligence community. The intelligence agencies have to
answer to that oversight committee.
Nevertheless, as the head of the NSA and the Director of National
Intelligence today, they said they would not tell their oversight committee
about their conversations with the president and whether the president ever
asked either of them if they would or could do anything to change the
course of the Trump-Russia investigation or try to change public
perceptions of that investigation. They would not answer.
Both men have been described in multiple press reports as having been asked
about or pressured on that issue by the president himself. But whatever he
expected them to say about it, I don`t think anybody expected what they did
today, and senators of both parties today clearly were flabbergasted that
both the head of the NSA and the Director of National Intelligence not to
mention the deputy attorney general and the acting FBI director just flat-
out refused to answer any questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Director Coats, I`ll just
say and with incredible respect that I have for you, I am not asking for
classified information. I`m asking whether or not you have ever been asked
by anyone to influence an ongoing investigation.
COATS: I understand but I`m just not going to go down that road.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So, you`re not
invoking executive privilege and obviously it`s not classified. This is
the oversight committee, why would it not be appropriate for you to share
that conversation with us?
Director Coats, you`ve said as well that it would be inappropriate to
answer a simple question about whether the president asks for your
assistance in blunting the Russia investigation. I don`t care how you
felt, I`m not asking whether you felt pressured. I`m simply asking, did
that conversation occur?
COATS: And once again, Senator, I will say that I do believe it`s
inappropriate for me to discuss that in an open session.
HEINRICH: You realize and, obviously, this is not releasing any classified
information, but you realize how simple it would simply be to say no that
never happened? Why is it inappropriate, Director Coats? You clear up an
awful lot of by simply saying that never happen.
COATS: I don`t share – I do not share with the general public
conversations that I have with the president or many of my administrative
colleagues within the administration that I believe are – should not be
HEINRICH: Well, I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question
KING: It is my belief that you are inappropriately refusing to answer
these questions today.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our default position is that when
there`s a Justice Department investigation, we do not discuss it publicly.
That`s our default rule so nobody needs to –
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Is that a rule for the
president United States as well?
ROSENSTEIN: I don`t – I don`t know what –
WARNER: Because that is what the questions are being asked about, reports
that none of any nobody has laid the rest here that the present United
States has intervened directly in an ongoing FBI investigation, and we`ve
gotten no answer for many of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t know that anybody had a clear expectation about what they
would get from an acting director the FBI, from the deputy attorney
general, from the head of the NSA, from the Director of National
Intelligence today, all of whom are somehow connected to these multiply
sourced reports that the president has tried to put his thumb on the scale
in effect when it comes to the Trump-Russia investigation, that he`s tried
to either shut that investigation down, get intelligence folks and law
enforcement folks to make public pronouncements about those investigations
to somehow try to exonerate him it`s change the public narrative about it,
I don`t know anybody – I don`t know that anybody knew exactly how they
would all answer as to their reported roles and what the president has done
on that investigation, but I don`t think anybody expected that I would all
just say, no, I don`t really feel like answering your questions.
So, welcome to the next stage of the investigation into the Trump Russia
affair, the part where apparently the administration gets its act together
to the extent that administration officials will now just stop answering
questions about it from Congress, whether or not those officials can
explain the basis on which they are refusing to answer.
I know there`s a lot going on, but this is new. This is being overshadowed
today by the anticipation surrounding FBI Director James Comey`s testimony
But what happened today, this no-I-won`t-answer and no-I-don`t-have-a-
reason-why, this is a really big turning point in the overall question of
whether we as citizens are going to get to the bottom of what happened
here. I mean, if administration officials just start saying, no, I`m not
going to answer, no, Congress has no authority to learn this stuff, no, the
American people just don`t get an answer to these questions, not because
they have any legal reason not to say but because I`m just not going to say
– that`s new one for this administration that`s new for this investigation
thus far it`s a big deal it`s the first sign of how the Trump
administration is going to fight this now that the president has his new
external legal counsel apparently coordinating this fight.
But if the answer is: no, you don`t get answers because we don`t feel like
answering your questions, I`m not sure Congress knows yet how it`s going to
fight back against that new strategy?
I don`t even know if Congress is going to fight back against it, but that
question is newly, newly important.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: What I`m going to do here is kind of a cheat sheet. It`s not like
cliff notes really, like it`s not like a summary of everything that
happened, but it`s just like, little cheat sheet, a little back of the
envelope notations that may be helpful over the next hours.
OK, tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, we`re going to hear from the
fired FBI Director James Comey. Today, he apparently are with the United
States Senate to release his opening statement for tomorrow morning a day
early, and I know you`ve heard about this statement today already,
hopefully, you`ve had a chance to read it. It`s not that long, six or
But whether or not you`ve had a chance to read it, I think here`s just a
few things to focus on, a few little back-of-the-envelope things to keep in
mind as top lines in terms of what the FBI director is letting us know and
what we`re going to expect to learn a lot more about tomorrow.
If Director Comey`s statement as released today is true and accurate and I
want to presume that it is, but if it is, we learned a few things from it
today that were some big things in some small things.
Here`s one, first, at what Director Comey says was their first in-person
meeting on January 6th, first meeting between Trump and Comey, the way
Comey describes it, he says, a number of intelligence officials were all in
the same room together briefing Trump on the Russian attack on the election
last year. But Comey says that it was him personally, it was James Comey
personally, who met one-on-one with Trump. They kicked everybody else out
of the room it was just Comey and Trump alone talking about the personally
sensitive and quote salacious allegations made against Donald Trump
presumably from the Christopher Steele dossier of unverified, supposed
Russian dirt against Donald Trump.
So, there were lots of intelligence officials briefing the president in
general on the Russian attack, but Comey says when it came to that part of
it, Comey says, the intelligence director at the time, James Clapper, said
that James Comey personally should do that part of the briefing one-on-one
with Donald Trump, instead of in front of everyone else, in part to spare
Mr. Trump any embarrassment that those allegations might cause. We`ve
never heard that before today. We learned that today from James Comey
Another thing that we learned today, Comey says that although he and Trump
had already multiple times discussed Comey staying on as FBI director,
Comey says now that at a one-on-one dinner that happened just a few days
after the inauguration, a one-on-one dinner in the Green Room at the White
House, Trump raised the issue of Comey holding the FBI director job again
as if they had never discussed it before. And the way that Comey describes
it, he says basically that Trump raised the question of him holding that
the FBI director job in a way that seemed like he maybe wanted to use it as
leverage against Director Comey.
Here`s how he described it. Quote: The president began by asking me
whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director, which I found strange because
he`d already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would
stay and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people
wanted my job and given the abuse I`d taken during the previous year, he`d
understand if I wanted to walk away. My instincts told me that the one-on-
one setting and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my
position meant that dinner was at least in part an effort to have me ask
for my job, to create some sort of patronage relationship that concerned me
greatly given the FBI`s traditionally independent status in the executive
Quote: Near the end of our dinner, the president returned to the subject of
my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay. He then said, quote, I
So, James Comey says in that one-on-one dinner with the president at the
White House, the president in essence set him up to beg for his job, to ask
for his job in a way that would make Comey seem beholden to the president.
The president then followed that up by saying, I need loyalty.
Now, this is important not just because you know people down the road are
going to need help writing the script for how this goes in the movie, if
there is still some movie industry then, right? But this is important not
just for the drama, it`s important because of intent, because of mindset in
case there`s any criminal implication here.
That issue about do you want your job and are you loyal to me, if those
things are connected, that goes right to the question of whether the FBI
director may have been inappropriately fired by the president for refusing
to do the president`s bidding, for refusing to be loyal in the president`s
eyes, because the president apparently did expect that from his FBI
director. And that brings us to the last two big revelations from the
Comey statement today.
We have heard this one from unnamed sources before. We`ve never heard it
on the record from the director of the FBI before, but Director Comey says
in his statement what`s going to be his opening statement tomorrow morning,
he says the president bluntly told him, urged him, sort of pleaded with him
to drop the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn. This was on February 14th.
There had been a briefing environment involving a lot of people in the Oval
James Comey says the president told everybody else to leave the Oval so he
and Jim Comey could speak alone. And then this is what James Comey says
happened, quote: When the door by the grandfather clock closed, grandfather
clock in the Oval Office, when the door by the grandfather clock closed and
we were alone, the president began by saying, I want to talk about like
Mike Flynn. Quote, He is a good guy and has been through a lot.
He then said: I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to
letting Flynn go. He is a good guy I hope you can let this go.
Comey then says: I replied only that he is a good guy. I did not say I
would, quote, let this go.
And if the president did ask the director of the FBI to let an ongoing FBI
investigation go for whatever reason and again, we`ve had these allegations
from unnamed sources and people close to Comey before that`s supposedly
what he described in these memos that he has supposedly written but we`ve
never seen, it`s all been reported out. But this is Comey saying it now,
and if what he`s saying is true, if we`ve got the president saying, stop
that FBI investigation, for whatever reason, then we are already in
uncharted territory in terms of presidential behavior.
I mean, I realize everybody is talking about Nixon too much, but honestly,
Nixon, got nailed for talking about asking the CIA to pressure the FBI
about an investigation. I mean, get rid of all the middlemen and talking
about it. If the president just personally pressured the FBI to drop an
investigation, personally told the FBI director: drop it, no matter what
the reason was, no matter what the investigation was, we are in uncharted
waters. We have never seen anything like this in terms of presidential
behavior in the history of the republic.
And, finally, last point, Comey says in his opening remarks which we`ll
hear from him tomorrow, says that the president pressured him in a phone
call on March 30th and in a follow-up phone call a week and a half later,
that Comey should, in the president`s words, lift the cloud that was
hanging over the presidency. Lift the cloud by publicly declaring that the
president himself was not a personal target of the FBI`s
counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the
investigation – sorry, in the election and whether or not the Trump
campaign colluded with it.
Lift the cloud – make a public pronouncement that I`m not under
investigation. Director Comey says in the statement that at least at the
time of those discussions, President Trump wasn`t an individual personal
target of the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation.
But the president wanted a public statement to that effect. He demanded
it. He pressed for it repeatedly. When he didn`t get it, he went back to
Comey and said, how come I didn`t get that?
And then, of course, Comey was fired by the president.
We will hear it all from Comey himself tomorrow morning, but if what he
says is true, the president has at least lied about several of these
matters in public multiple times. The president said bluntly, no, no, no.
That`s a quote: no, no, no. It`s easy to remember. The president said,
no, no, no when asked if he ever urged Director Comey to shut down the
The president also said bluntly, no, no, I didn`t, when he was asked just
last month if he ever asked James Comey for his loyalty.
So, the president is saying no on those things, James Comey is saying yes.
Either the president is lying about those things publicly, or James Comey
is about to lie about those things under oath tomorrow morning. That
itself is really important. Beyond that though, there is the question of
whether the behavior that James Comey is describing here by the president
Not an easy question to answer and the reason it`s not an easy question to
answer is fascinating, and that`s ahead.
MADDOW: Last night, right before we got on the air, “The Washington Post”
broke this story. “The Post” citing multiple sources saying that
Intelligence Director Dan Coats was not only asked by the president if he
could intervene with the FBI Director James Comey to try to get Comey to
stop the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn, not only did Trump ask that of
Dan Coats, but Dan Coats told people at the time that the president made
that ask of him that the president had made that asked of him.
Now, that`s important because it`s not just a damning allegation about the
president`s behavior, it`s also an indication about how that might be
corroborated. It`s one thing to have Dan Coats and the president have
different stories about what they discussed. It`s another thing if at the
time, Dan Coats told other people about the content of that conversation.
That`s the way witnesses get backed up like in court and stuff.
So, that was last night`s news in “The Washington Post”. Today, it was
news in the United States Senate.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Major capitals in Europe and discussing is the way –
RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You testify to the Armed
Services Committee that you are not aware of the president or White House
personnel contacting anyone in the intelligence community with a request to
drop the investigation into General Flynn. Yesterday, “The Washington
Post” reported that you had been asked by the president to intervene with
Director Comey to back off of the FBI`s focus on General Flynn. Which one
of those is accurate?
COATS: Senator, I will say once again I`m not going to get into any
discussion on that open area.
WYDEN: Both of them can`t be accurate, Mr. Director.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon doing his level best today
to try to get an answer from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
There`s a lot of that today. These four serving administration officials
from the Justice Department and the intelligence community saying they
could not or would not answer. They just didn`t feel it was appropriate to
answer. a lot of the senators questions. Tomorrow, that same committee
will start it again right and early. This time, their star witness will be
former FBI Director James Comey.
We something about what James coming will testify to because his opening
statement has been released. There is now a seems to me a new question as
to whether or not administration officials who continue to serve in the
administration will just refuse to answer congressional questions, whether
or not they`ve got a legal basis to refuse.
Joining us now is Senator Ron Wyden, member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, one of the questioners during today`s hearing.
Senator Wyden, thanks very much for your time tonight. I know this is a
very busy time.
WYDEN: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
And I think it`s been a very important point. Those officials this morning
made a mockery out of the oversight process. We have a legal obligation to
do vigorous oversight. And what they basically said is, so what?
And I can tell you, we are just not going to sit back and say this is
acceptable. And you ran the clip about my question to Director Coats. One
of those answers is false, and I`m going to get to the bottom of it.
MADDOW: So, that was – the important thing I think in that question that
you raised there is that this is not just competing news reports or
different people shading the same story differently depending on their
audience, what you asked the DNI today was about his previous testimony.
He testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee. So, again, testifying
to another oversight committee in the Senate, saying that he wasn`t aware
about any White House personnel contacting anybody in the intelligence
community to try to drop that Flynn investigation. “The Washington Post”
report does directly contradict that today, and yet, he wouldn`t answer
The thing I didn`t understand today, maybe – maybe you did, was he saying
that he would answer those questions, he would clear that up in a
classified session, in a closed session, he just wouldn`t do it in the
WYDEN: No. I don`t think there was a commitment to clear it up. And
that`s the problem.
I think that our job is to get to the bottom of these contradictory
accounts particularly when they go right to the heart of the central
question. And that is, was the president putting a lot of effort into
trying to restrict this investigation? And I think the evidence is just
piling up that he was.
MADDOW: We`ve seen Director Comey`s opening statement released ahead of
time today, so that we`ve all had a chance to review it before he makes
those remarks and faces questions tomorrow. If what Director Comey says in
his opening statement is true, if the president directly urged him to drop
the investigation into Mike Flynn, so that`s not even, that`s not –
WYDEN: Rachel, that is Watergate level material. That particular point
you`re making about Mike Flynn is just that serious.
MADDOW: In terms of, if the president did that directly, is it just
violating a norm of how things are generally done. Would it be illegal for
the president to do that?
WYDEN: Rachel, I`m sure the lawyers are going to dig into this, into the
obstruction of justice question in particular. I`ve come to feel – if it
looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it just may be a duck.
So, we`re just going to stay at it and that`s why tomorrow is so important.
MADDOW: What do you think is going to happen next in terms of your
committee`s investigation here? We heard after – for example, after NSA
Director Mike Rogers would not answer questions today about whether or not
he was pressured by the president to try to influence the FBI
investigation. We heard the ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator
Warner, talk about bringing in some other officials, other people who might
be able to corroborate that story.
Does that mean we should expect further open hearings, new witnesses we
haven`t heard from yet?
WYDEN: Open hearings, subpoenas and ability to declassify material is
right at the heart of it. What tomorrow I believe is going to be about, is
fleshing out some of the important statements that Mr. Comey has now made
in his written testimony. I mean, when he talks about his position almost
being treated like patronage, that`s not what public service is about.
Your obligation is to the law, is to the Constitution. It`s not a
patronage job the way he thinks the president was treating it.
MADDOW: If that patronage claim is born out, if it`s supported by the
evidence, if you`re able to substantiate what the director says and the
Senate broadly believes him, if – would that be potentially construed as
grounds for impeachment against the president, that point alone?
WYDEN: What I can tell you with respect to that, and, of course, it
originates in the House, I believe every member of Congress who takes an
oath has an obligation to put the Constitution first. That`s what I`m
going to do and that`s going to be the foundation of my work going forward
as we try to squeeze the truth out of a very, very reluctant
Apparently, the president seems to think he`s been vindicated by all of
this. I think that`s just ridiculous. He – there hasn`t been anything
that has contradicted what Mr. Comey has said in his testimony.
MADDOW: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat, member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee – big day today. Big day tomorrow. Sir, thanks for being with
WYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here`s the thing I think I understand but I`m not sure and I can
tell it`s important and so I want to check it. In his opening statement
tomorrow morning at the Senate, one of the things fired FBI Director James
Comey is going to say, we now notice they released a statement, one of the
things he`s going to say is that when the president repeatedly asked him to
lift the cloud over his presidency, by making a public statement about
President Trump not personally being a target of the FBI`s
counterintelligence investigation, when President Trump asked Director
Comey to lift that cloud and make that public statement, we now know that
Director Comey will explain tomorrow that he didn`t do, that he didn`t make
that public statement and he didn`t commit to the president that he would
make any statement like that for a specific reason.
This is what he`s going to say tomorrow, quote: I did not tell the
president that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to
make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump
for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to
correct should that change.
That is what Director Comey will say tomorrow. What does that mean, a duty
to correct should that change?
I think I know what that means it`s worth checking because it seems really
important. Joining us now is someone who knows. Matt Miller, former chief
spokesman for the Justice Department.
Mr. Miller, thank you.
MATT MILLER, MSNBC JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
MADDOW: What I believe Director Comey is saying here is at the time of
those conversations at least, President Trump was not personally
individually the target of the counterintelligence investigation. There
was a good reason that Trump should respect for not publicly saying that
because even if it wasn`t true at the time that public statement was made,
if he became a target of the investigation, the FBI would then have to
follow it up with a public statement saying, hey, the president`s now a
target of our investigation.
Is that what he`s saying?
MILLER: Yes, that`s exactly right.
MILLER: And that`s what Comey uses his reasoning for sending that letter
on the Hillary Clinton investigation. We can quibble about whether it
existed there, but that was his reason. And the reason it applies here,
And it`s not just that they would have a duty to correct, but put yourself
in the FBI`s shoes. Let`s say you come out and make that statement it then
leaks that the investigation has moved forward and they are looking at
Trump and Jim Comey gets asked again and he says, no comment.
MILLER: Well, that “no comment” confirms that they`re looking at the
president and that, of course, is what the FBI never wants to do is confirm
who they are investigating.
MADDOW: From this statement today – first of all, let me ask you if you
think it`s unusual or important in any way that this has been released in
advance of Comey`s oral testimony tomorrow.
MILLER: It`s not that unusual. It`s a little early in the day.
Oftentimes, the committee`s will release it. They do it in consultation
with the witness. I think they were trying to get even more attention than
they`re already getting into this hearing.
And Comey probably encouraged it, too, because I think he feels that the
president has lied about their conversations. He`s going to say under oath
tomorrow, I think, that the president lied about their conversations and he
wanted the testimony to be out there for many people to see and probably to
give the senators a little head start on what questions they ought to be
MADDOW: The president`s personal lawyer, private lawyer, put out a
statement today saying that the president feels vindicated by this planned
testimony, presumably in part because Director Comey is now saying overtly,
President Trump was not personally a target of this counterintelligence
investigation. Isn`t that a vindication for the president in some ways?
MILLER: No, that that was always a red herring. For the president asking
for this statement that I`m not personally under investigation, the
organization that he led was under investigation. The Trump campaign was
Whenever the Justice Department investigates any organization, whether it`s
a drug cartel or a major bank or a campaign, they look at wrongdoing
wherever that it is, and then they`re their M.O. is to go find people that
are targets, find evidence against them and then move up the chain as far
as they can.
MILLER: So, let`s say for example they have evidence on Mike Flynn.
They`ll take the strongest case they can to Mike Flynn in and say what do
you have to tell us about say Donald Trump? That`s how they work.
MADDOW: So in the drug cartel analogy, not having the head of the cartel
as the named target of the investigation for the beginning would be
expected would not be some sign of vindication for the head of a cartel.
MILLER: Yes, it means they don`t have any evidence right now that he
committed wrongdoing with respect to what happened in 2016. It doesn`t
mean they won`t ever get there and, of course, it has nothing to do with
whether he committed obstruction of justice in trying to end the
MADDOW: Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department –
I knew you would know. Thank you for helping us sort it out. Appreciate
MILLER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
We got more ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COATS: I have never been pressured, I have never felt pressure to
intervene or interfere in any way and shape – with shaping intelligence in
a political way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I never felt pressure to intervene or interfere, said the Director
of National Intelligence today.
He never felt pressure, but what if he was asked to intervene? What if he
was asked to interfere whether or not that made him feel pressured?
Is that asked still a legally relevant thing, a legally problematic thing
what if your interaction with the president was enough to make you feel
pressured? What if your interaction with the president was enough to make
you feel pressure, was enough to make you feel uneasy as former FBI
Director James Comey is preparing to say tomorrow? Does that count in a
legal sense? Is all of this just about people`s feelings and what`s
normal, or is any of this legally problematic for the president if these
allegations are proven out?
Joining us now is Nancy Gertner. She`s a former Massachusetts federal
judge, senior lecturer on law at Harvard Law School now.
Judge Gertner, it`s really nice to have you with us. Thanks for being
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL JUDGE: Nice to be here. Nice to be
MADDOW: Thank you.
Do you think that we are asking the right questions as to whether or not
there`s legal jeopardy for the president here in terms of these allegations
versus just violation of the way things are usually done?
GERTNER: No, no, there`s real legal jeopardy. I mean, the statute talks
about an act that obstructs or even endeavors, tries to obstruct justice.
It talks about that when you do something, the natural and probable
consequences of which are to obstruct justice and the context is important.
If you and I called up Comey and said, hey, would you lay off Flynn, it
would be one thing. But when the president says it, the natural and
probable consequences is to have something happen.
And the best measure of that is what Comey said. Comey who was the – who
was a U.S. attorney, who was the head of the FBI, understood what he was
saying that the natural and probable consequences of what the president was
saying was to get him to lay off Flynn. That is actionable, whether or not
that would be, you know, where it would be enough because it will be the
president`s word against Comey`s, and whoever else was asked to leave the
room when the relevant comments were made, whether or not it`s enough is
But whether or not this is actionable and, you know, in the zone of
obstruction of justice, it seems to me clear.
MADDOW: And that`s – that`s true both for the direct alleged pressure by
the president on the FBI director himself, but also the indirect pressure
that he apparently are allegedly tried to organize by other senior
officials asking them to speak to James Comey about the investigation.
Would that also be as clear to you as a potentially obstruction of justice?
GERTNER: Right. I mean, the issue is there`s an act here that is intended
to create an outcome, and the outcome is to stop the Flynn investigation,
and you have – right now, we have Comey`s account of what was said to him,
the comment about, are you loyal to me? And then you pair that with the
firing of Comey, so that loyalty actually had consequences.
And then the question is, what others – you know the whole ceremony of
asking other people to leave the room so we could talk to Comey alone is
itself concerning. And then the question is, will the investigation
confirm all of that with respect to others? You know, right now, it will -
- the president can deny it. And Comey, interestingly enough, has his
notes and has, by the way, so that he was debriefed, he debriefed with
other senior officials as soon as he left the room.
So, this may not be enough in any other sitting, you know, typically people
are paying off witnesses, or people are threatening. But for the president
to make these comments in the context that he made them is troubling.
MADDOW: And those notes that were made telling other people
contemporaneously at the time of those discussions, that would be seen as
corroborating evidence for witness statements?
GERTNER: Right, it`s not just that he took notes. He took notes as soon
as he walked out. He said he was on his computer and he was typing them in
the FBI car. He said he also talked to senior officials roughly
afterwards. So, you don`t have a Watergate situation, you don`t have a
tape machine, but you have Comey`s account of what went on under
circumstances where it is certainly worthy of belief.
MADDOW: Nancy Gertner, former federal judge from Massachusetts, now senior
lecturer at Harvard Law – thank you very much, Judge Gertner. I
appreciate you being here.
GERTNER: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Have you called in sick yet?
I am not that kind of doctor, but I hereby issue the entire country a
doctor`s note, so you can stay home and watch the testimony tomorrow
morning by fired FBI Director James Comey. You can watch it all happen
right here at MSNBC. Our coverage is going the start with Brian Williams
anchoring at 9:00 a.m.
That will go throughout the coverage. We will be breaking it all down
afterwards, including here tomorrow night on this show. You`re excused.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, my friend.
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