The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/13/17 Sen. Schumer on Sessions Testimony
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: June 13, 2017
Guest: Chuck Schumer
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel, on the not – on the dot.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was 9:00:00:00.
HAYES: Nailed it.
Thank you, my friend. Putting me to shame because I always run into 40
seconds, a minute and a half into Lawrence. My debt.
All right. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have
you here this fine Tuesday night.
Chuck Schumer is going to be joining us this hour. He`s the – arguably
the top Democrat in Washington. He is the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
He`s going to be here with us live tonight to give us basically the
Democrats` response to this blockbuster pounding the table testimony today
that we got under oath from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That`s ahead.
Chuck Schumer is going to be here live for the interview tonight. We`ve
got a big show tonight.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, his campaign manager for
that presidential campaign was a man named Bill Casey. William Casey. And
after they won that election and Reagan became president of the United
States, he appointed his campaign manager, Bill Casey, to be director of
So, the big jump, right? Campaign manager to CIA director? But that`s
what Reagan did, and Bill Casey served as CIA director until 1987 when he
died of complications from a brain tumor.
And when Bill Casey died, leaving that opening at the head of the CIA,
Reagan made an interesting decision. He didn`t bring in from the outside a
new head of the CIA. He decided instead to make an internal shift within
his administration to fill that crucial job at the CIA.
He decided he wouldn`t bring up somebody from inside the CIA. He wouldn`t
bring in somebody totally new. Instead, he moved over from the FBI the
director of the FBI to start being the head of the CIA to replace William
Casey after Casey died in 1987. That was an interesting decision that
Reagan made right at the end of his term in office in 1987.
That, of course, even though it filled the job at the CIA, it left an
opening at the top of the FBI, right? Move the FBI director over to the
CIA. Interesting for the CIA. But now a big hole to fill at the FBI.
And they are being an opening at the top of the FBI, that was a very, very
rare thing at the time. I mean, there haven`t been that many people who
have run the FBI. For almost the first half century of its existence, the
FBI had exactly one director, its founding director, J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover died in office in 1972 after being FBI director for more than 40
So, when Hoover died, Nixon got to appoint his replacement who was then the
only – only the second person to ever hold the job. His name was Clarence
Kelley. He was the second director of the FBI. He served in that job for
about five years.
Then the third director was William Webster. He was appointed by President
Carter in 1978. That, William Webster, that`s the guy who Reagan moved
over from the FBI to run the CIA after his campaign manager there got a
brain tumor and died.
And that meant in 1987, at the end of Ronald Reagan`s time in office, the
FBI needed a new director for only the fourth time in its entire existence.
It`s fascinating, right? This really late in our history for this to be
such a rare job opening. I mean, this is incredibly prestigious,
incredibly powerful and incredibly important job. And, by the end of the
`80s, only three people had ever held it in the history of our country.
So, he`s looking for the fourth FBI director ever. And for whatever
reason, Ronald Reagan had a heck of a time finding somebody to take that
He asked a federal judge in Oklahoma to become FBI director. That judge
said, no, I don`t want it. He asked a federal judge in San Francisco to be
FBI director. That judge said, no, I don`t want it. He asked a federal
appeals court judge to be FBI director. That judge said, no, I don`t want
He asked the former governor of Pennsylvania, would you like to be FBI
director? The former governor of Pennsylvania said, no, I don`t want it.
He then asked the freaking commandant of the Marine Corps, would you like
to be FBI director? He also said no, I don`t want it. Nobody wanted the
And so, finally, after months of looking and it becoming kind of an
embarrassing thing for the Reagan administration, all these different
increasingly high-profile people saying, no, no, no, they didn`t want the
job, finally, they found somebody, I think four or five months into the
process. Finally, they found somebody who told them yes.
It was a Texas lawyer. A Texas judge, actually, sort of a genteel country
club Republican type. He famously said even though he was from Texas, he
did not even own a pair of cowboy boots. But it`s – he did have a tough
reputation. He was famous in Texas for having handed down life sentences
to the two men who had murdered his own predecessor in the judge seat he
held in West Texas. That judge had been murdered in office.
William Sessions then took that judgeship following the murdered judge. He
oversaw the trial for the murder of his predecessor, and he saw both of the
perpetrators put away for life.
So, they have this interesting, sort of a tough guy reputation. And there
are a lot of interesting and dramatic, laudable things about William
Sessions and his career over the course of his life, up to and including
him becoming the fourth ever director of the FBI. Incidentally, he`s the
father of Texas Congressman Pete Sessions.
But despite everything else there is to know about William Sessions and his
career, culminating with him being appointed to run the FBI for Ronald
Reagan in 1987. Despite everything else you might know about his career,
one thing he will always be known for is that he was the first person in
U.S. history to ever be fired as FBI director. Before this year, he was
the only person in American history to have ever been fired as FBI
And whether, you know, you were a fan of William Sessions over the course
of his career or not, and he certainly had more friends than he had
enemies, you know, his firing as FBI director, it did cause a little bit of
a stir at the time. But it hasn`t gone down in history as a great
Reagan had appointed him in the first place, again, under those difficult
circumstances at the end of his presidency. And there were lots of other
people not wanting the job. William Sessions served as FBI director
through the very end of Reagan`s term. He served through the whole term of
George H.W. Bush`s time in office. By the time the 1992 election came
around, though, and George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in that election,
the justice department had started, by then, a big and ultimately sort of
embarrassing ethics investigation into William Sessions as FBI director.
And you know, I think it is fair to say that what ultimately brought him
down, this report that the Justice Department did into him, it was not the
world`s biggest scandal. It was not a hugely scandalous corruption probe
or something. It wasn`t like an espionage probe or something dramatic like
that. It wasn`t even a particularly big political fight over him. What
brought him down was a parade of little embarrassing stuff.
They accused him of using taxpayer funds to build a $10,000 fence at his
home in Washington, D.C. They accused him and his wife of manipulating
taxpayer-funded travel arrangements to go visit their friends and family.
They accused him of using a taxpayer funded car and driver for his own
personal use and not for FBI business. It was that kind of little stuff, a
whole list of that kind of stuff.
And William Sessions, you know, he contested the charges. He vehemently
denied any wrongdoing. But the Justice Department, in fact, did this
exhaustive ethics investigation of his tenure at the FBI. They produced
this report about what they concluded was him misusing powers and misusing
taxpayer funds on a relatively small scale.
And that report was sitting on Bill Clinton`s desk when he got sworn in as
president in January 1993. And indeed, within the first few months of his
presidency, Bill Clinton decided to fire him. And that`s how William
Sessions became the first, and until this year, the only person to ever be
fired as FBI director.
And again, it was not the biggest scandal in the world, and it was not
particularly political. At least it wasn`t partisan. William Sessions was
a Republican. He`d been appointed by a Republican president. He had
served under two Republican presidents.
Despite that, he was actually much more popular with Democrats on Capitol
Hill than he was with Republicans on Capitol Hill. So there was this real
mixed picture in terms of partisanship and partisan interests surrounding
There was also never any question about whether Bill Clinton might be
firing the FBI director to stop some FBI investigation or to twist the FBI
around into taking a more favorable view of his administration. It was
this small stuff. It was this picayune, petty, corruption and ethics
stuff. And before this year, that was the entire American history of
presidents firing FBI directors.
That`s why this president firing James Comey as FBI director was such a
big, freaking deal. I mean, before now, the only other time this happened
was the guy who helped himself to a fence that he should have paid for
himself. I mean, what happened this year, happened with James Comey is
nothing like that. And today, that became more clear than ever.
So far over this past month since they fired James Comey, this White House
has rolled out one, two, three different stories to explain why they fired
him. And today, with the attorney general under oath, that whole confused,
can`t get their stories straight strategy just absolutely fell apart.
I mean, if you`re going to fire the FBI director, especially right after
that FBI director confirms in public that the president`s campaign is the
subject of an ongoing and – open, ongoing FBI counterintelligence
investigation, when we now know that the FBI has an open criminal
investigation into one of the president`s top advisers, his former national
security adviser, if you`re going to fire the FBI director under those
circumstances, you really need to have your story straight about why you
did that because that is not normal American behavior. That does not
comport with U.S. history. That is not the way we do things. You better
have a good reason to explain why you`re doing that.
The White House instead has tried a few different reasons for why they did
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In regard to
the termination of the former FBI Director Comey, the president over the
last several months lost confidence in Director Comey. The DOJ lost
confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear
that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the
rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.
REPORTER: What give you such confidence that rank and file within the
bureau lost faith in the FBI director?
There`s a special agent inside who wrote us who said the vast majority of
the bureau is in favor of Director Comey. This is a total shock. This is
not supposed to happen. The real losers here are 20,000 front line people
in the organization because they lost the only guy working here in the past
15 years who actually cared about them.
So, what is your response to these rank and file FBI agents who disagree
with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?
SANDERS: Look, we`ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, the White House tried that one on for a while. The FBI, rank
and file, the FBI had turned against Director Comey. The FBI agents hated
him. The president himself tried that one on in an interview with Lester
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, he`s a showboat. He`s
a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that.
Everybody knows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Everybody knows that. That was one of the explanations they have
tried for this incredibly ahistorical thing they have done. One of their
explanations they tried, one of their explanations for why Comey had to be
fired is the FBI – everybody knows the FBI is in turmoil. FBI agents, the
rank and file hated him. He had to go.
You know, that is an empirical claim. That`s a claim that can be checked.
When checked with the current head of the FBI, it turns out that claim is
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We`ve heard in the
news that claims that Director Comey had lost the confidence of rank and
file FBI employees. You`ve been there for 21 years. In your opinion, is
it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported director Comey?
ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir. That is not accurate. I can
tell you, sir, that I worked very, very closely with Director Comey from
the moment he started at the FBI. I was his executive assistant director
of national security at that time, and worked for him running the
Washington field office. Of course, I`ve served as deputy for the last
I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard.
I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity
and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to
work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad
support within the FBI and still does to this day.
We are a large organization. We are 36,500 people across this country,
across this globe. We have a diversity of opinions about many things. But
I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI
employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that was the word from the FBI after James Comey was fired by
the president and the president and the White House tried to say the reason
they had to fire him was because the FBI hated him so much, because the FBI
was in turmoil under his leadership. The FBI itself has spoken by its
acting director, Andrew McCabe, under oath and says that was absolutely not
That was their first cover story. FBI hated James Comey. It was in
turmoil. That`s why he had to go. That explanation was basically blown
out of the water as soon as they tried it.
But they resuscitated it today. The attorney general today under oath
briefly tried to bring it back to life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I presented to the president my concerns
and those of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the ongoing
leadership issues at the FBI as stated in my letter recommending the
removal of Mr. Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Attorney General Jeff Sessions today claiming once, this was one
of his attempts at explaining it, claiming initially today that the FBI
Director James Comey had to be fired. You know, this remarkable,
unprecedented thing in American history. It had to happen because of what
he called leadership issues at the FBI.
Now, as we`ve just shown, that really did not fly when the Trump
administration tried it before. Today, it was also quickly blown out of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: One of the comments you
made in your testimony was that you`d reached this conclusion about the
performance of then Director Comey`s ability to lead the FBI. That you
agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein`s memo. The fact that you`d
worked with Director Comey for some time, did you ever have a conversation
as a superior to Director Comey, with his failure to perform or some of
these accusations that he wasn`t running the FBI in a good way or that
somehow the FBI was – is in turmoil?
Did you have any conversations with director Comey about this subject?
SESSIONS: I did not.
WARNER: So, you were his superior, and there were some fairly harsh things
said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise
those concerns before he was actually terminated by the president?
SESSIONS: I did not do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So only once before in the history of this country have we ever
fired an FBI director. He was fired because of improperly accepting a
fence. This one, you say, we had to fire him because he was so terrible at
running the FBI.
OK. You`re his boss. Did you ever speak to him about that? About him
being terrible at running the FBI and the FBI being in turmoil? The FBI
agents, the rank-and-file being against him? You were his boss. Did you
ever raise it with him?
No. Never. Not once. No, we never spoke of it. I never brought it up.
So, that is one of their attempted explanations for this remarkable thing
they did. One of their attempted explanations for why the president fired
the FBI director is that he was bad at running the FBI. They tried that
and abandoned it really early on after they fired him. The attorney
general under oath tried to bring it back today but he had no explanation
why his own behavior didn`t comport with that version of events.
One might reasonably surmise that that purported explanation for Comey
being fired has now been exhausted. But don`t worry. They have a couple
They have also tried another story to purportedly explain why the president
had to do this remarkable thing. Why he had to fire the FBI director. One
of the other explanations they`ve tried on was that James Comey had to be
fired because he mishandled the resolution of the whole Clinton e-mails
thing during last year`s campaign.
Since the firing of James Comey, the White House and Attorney General Jeff
Sessions today have tried to claim that they found James Comey`s statements
about the Clinton e-mail investigation to be so super egregiously
inappropriate, so shockingly bad that that`s why they had to fire him.
That purported explanation also does not make sense. It does not make
sense in part given how people like the attorney general talked about that
behavior by James Comey when it happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: You know, the FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he
found new evidence. He had no choice but to report to the American
Congress where he had under oath testified the investigation was over. He
had to correct that and say this investigation is ongoing now. And I`m
sure it`s significant or he wouldn`t have announced that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He did the right thing. He had no choice. He did the right
thing. That was right before the election. Today, that same person, Jeff
Sessions, tried to claim that he feels exactly the opposite about the way
James Comey handled that matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This was based on Mr.
Comey`s handling of the investigation involving Hillary Clinton in which
you said that he usurped the authority of prosecutors at the Department of
SESSIONS: Yes, that was part of it. And the commenting on the
investigation in ways that go beyond the proper policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, his comments on the investigation.
You know, it was either absolutely necessary and the right thing that James
Comey say the things he said about the Clinton investigation or it was
absolutely inappropriate and the wrong thing and a cause for him to be
fired. It can either be absolutely the right thing or cause for firing.
It can be one or the other depending on your take but you can`t have both
You can`t pick both of those answers. You can`t pick it was the right
thing and it was a firing offense. It was an appropriate thing and it was
a totally inappropriate thing. You can`t hold both of those views if you
are the same Jeff Sessions as you were in November.
It is a huge and remarkable thing in American history that the president of
the United States fired the director of the premier law enforcement agency
in the federal government. That the president fired the director of the
FBI after the FBI had opened up what we now know is an ongoing criminal
investigation into one of the president`s top advisers, his national
security adviser. After the FBI director confirmed publicly that the FBI`s
conducting an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the
president`s campaign and the Russian attack on our country last year.
It is absolutely unprecedented in American history that the president would
fire the FBI director full stop, let alone that the president would fire
the FBI director in those fraught circumstances. There really has only
been one other FBI director fired ever before, and it was for nothing like
They struck out in saying that James Comey was fired for the turmoil at the
FBI. There does not appear to be turmoil at the FBI.
They struck out saying James Comey was fired for talking about the Clinton
e-mails investigation last year. The people who supposedly fired James
Comey for that, including the president, including the attorney general,
they are on record as expressing their delight with James Comey for him
talking about the Clinton e-mails investigation last year. So, it`s
neither of those things.
The only other explanation they`ve put forward for this remarkable decision
for the president to fire the FBI director is the one the president himself
gave on camera after those other explanations had already been put forward
and tried and immediately fell apart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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)
MADDOW: This is the third explanation that the White House, the president
have given as to why the FBI director was fired. The other explanations
were trotted out again today by the attorney general, but they remain
implausible and disproven. They continue to not stand up under scrutiny.
If this third one is – if the president did fire the FBI director because
of the Russia investigation that he was overseeing, honestly, I think most
rational observers would believe there`s likely no legal exit ramp for the
president. Or for anybody who abetted him in doing that.
And the attorney general, under oath, confronted with that possibility just
decided to start digging.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you concur with
the president that he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation
because the problem was the Russian investigation?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I guess I`ll just have to let his words speak
for himself. I`m not sure what was in his mind explicitly when we talked
FEINSTEIN: Did you ever discuss Director Comey`s FBI handling of the
Russia investigations with the president or anyone else?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, that would call for a communication between
the attorney general and the president. I`m not able to comment on that.
FEINSTEIN: You are not able to answer the question here, whether you ever
discussed that with him?
SESSIONS: That`s correct.
FEINSTEIN: And how do you view that since you discussed his termination.
Why wouldn`t you discuss the reasons?
SESSIONS: Well, I – those were put in writing and sent to the president.
And he made those public. So he made that public, not –
FEINSTEIN: So, you`ve had no verbal conversation with him about the firing
of Mr. Comey?
SESSIONS: Well, I`m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the
nature of private conversations that I may have had with the president on
this subject or others.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Did the question of the
Russian investigation ever come up?
SESSIONS: I cannot answer that because it was a communication by the
president, or if any such occurred it would be a communication that he has
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is a remarkable thing that the president fired the FBI
director. Was he fired because of turmoil at the FBI? No.
Was he fired because of statements he made about the conclusion of the
Clinton e-mail investigation? Plainly, no.
Was he fired because of the Russia investigation? I`d prefer not to answer
That`s apparently the strategy now. Legally, it would appear that that
cannot stand. But that can be figured out, actually, and that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEINRICH: My understanding is that you took an oath. You raised your
right hand here today and you said that you would solemnly swear to tell
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And now, you`re not
answering questions. You`re impeding this investigation.
So, my understanding of the legal standard is that you either answer the
question. That`s the best outcome.
You say this is classified. Can`t answer it here. I`ll answer it in
closed session. That`s bucket number two.
Bucket number three is to say I`m invoking executive privilege.
There is no appropriateness bucket. It is not a legal standard. You are
obstructing that congressional investigation by not answering these
questions. And I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats,
like the silence of Admiral Rogers, speaks volumes.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: Before I recognize
Senator Blunt, I would like the record to show that last night, Admiral
Rogers spent almost two hours in closed session with the – almost the full
committee, fulfilling his commitment to us in the hearing that in closed
session he would answer the question. And I think it was thoroughly
answered. And all members were given an opportunity to ask questions.
I just want the record to show that with what Senator Heinrich stated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was a very interesting moment in the middle of this big
hearing today. It`s like a news break in the middle of the hearing with
Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Last week, the same committee had testimony from the head of the NSA,
Admiral Mike Rogers, and from the director of national intelligence. And
at that hearing last week, Admiral Rogers told the senators repeatedly that
he wouldn`t answer their questions about whether or not President Trump
asked him to intervene in the FBI`s Russia investigation. He said he
wouldn`t talk to them about it in open session because he considered those
sessions classified but he said he would tell them about it in a classified
So, we got this little news break in today`s hearing where Chairman Burr
announced that, in fact, last night, Admiral Rogers came back and briefed
them in a classified setting. He briefed members of the Senate
Intelligence Committee at a secure SCIF on Capitol Hill for almost two
hours and presumably told them what he wouldn`t tell them last week in open
Here`s the interesting part, though. At that same hearing last week, where
senators heard from the NSA Director Mike Rogers and he said, I won`t talk
to you, all that stuff is classified, they also heard from the director of
national intelligence, Dan Coats. At that hearing, Dan Coats also wouldn`t
answer any of their questions about whether the president had talked to him
and asked him to intervene in the FBI Russia investigation.
But he didn`t give the same justification why. He didn`t say, no, my
answers are classified. I`ll only tell you in a classified session. He
just said he didn`t want to answer their questions on that subject because
he didn`t feel right about it. He didn`t feel it was appropriate for him
to do so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: 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 don`t feel it`s
appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. 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`re 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 was his explanation.
Now, I`m not a lawyer and statistically speaking, neither are you, but I
don`t believe it`s appropriate is not a thing on the list of legal defenses
that you can properly offer when you`re under oath testifying before an
Oversight Committee in the United States Congress about a thing you`re
suppose to answer to them about. I don`t have a basis doesn`t last as a
reason not to hand over information. So, that`s been interesting.
One of the things that we`ve been watching for this week is whether or not
Dan Coats is going to have to come back to brief the senators behind closed
doors or whether they`re going to do something else to try to get this
information out of him. They`re asking him, did the president ask you to
intervene in the FBI`s Russia investigation? He`s like, I don`t want to
So, Admiral Rogers said I don`t want to answer. It`s classified. He went
back and testified in classified session.
Dan Coats, we don`t know what`s going to happen. And the Dan Coats we
don`t know what`s going to happen route, that`s the route that Jeff
Sessions, the attorney general, took today. He said repeatedly today at
every opportunity, that he would not answer senators` questions about his
conversations with the president.
And he said it was based on longstanding practice. A practice that he
thinks is in effect but he`s not sure. Maybe it`s written down somewhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEINRICH: Can you share those policies with us? Are they written down at
the Department of Justice?
SESSIONS: I believe they are because that`s a longstanding –
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Sir, I`m just asking
you about the policy you refer to.
SESSIONS: – a policy that goes beyond just the attorney general.
HARRIS: Is that policy in writing somewhere?
SESSIONS: I think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I think so. Maybe it`s a policy? This is the new thing that
Trump administration folks are doing now when they get really pushed.
Especially on the question of whether there was obstruction of justice in
the Russia investigation. Dan Coats was an appointee of President Trump.
He refused to answer questions without offering any legal justification.
Jeff Sessions also an appointee of President Trump refused to answer
questions without offering any legal justification other than DOJ rules
that he could not cite but he thought might exist.
If Trump appointees at high levels are just going to refuse to answer
questions without legal justifications for those refusals, how is Congress
going to deal with that?
Top Democrat in the Senate joins us next.
MADDOW: Joining us now for “The Interview” is Senator Chuck Schumer of New
York. He is the top Democrat in the United States Senate.
Senator Schumer, thanks very much for being with us tonight. It`s nice to
have you here.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Good evening. Good evening,
MADDOW: Thank you.
Let me ask you, top line for your reaction tonight to the sworn testimony
today from the attorney general. Did he set anything to rest in terms of
the Russia collusion question or the prospect that the investigation into
that has been obstructed?
SCHUMER: No. I think he raised more questions than he settled. When you
compare his testimony to Director Comey, Director Comey was forthright,
even on occasion when some people thought it might have hurt him, but he
told the whole truth and nothing but. He didn`t hold anything back.
Jeff Sessions seemed to be avoiding almost every question, few exceptions.
And when the president, when the people around him, like Jeff, say (ph),
why do people suspect us? Well, if you had done nothing wrong, the obvious
conclusion is you`d be happy to talk about things. But if you`re worried
you might have done something wrong, then the conclusion is you better
And this idea when these – the information is not classified and when the
president hasn`t previously called for executive privilege, that a cabinet
official should not answer questions is bunk. Cabinet officials have been
talking for months about their conversations with President Trump on a
whole variety of issues. It seems the only time that they don`t want to
discuss their discussion – their conversations with President Trump is
when it`s about Russia. And that has no factual basis, no legal basis, and
Sessions is in dereliction of his duty.
I`d say one more thing about this, Rachel. He now has refused to appear
before the committee that has oversight into Justice Department spending.
He seems unwilling to appear before the Judiciary Committee, although we
don`t have a direct answer yet. They are the committee with direct
oversight over the Justice Department.
If he`s unwilling to appear there and only willing to appear before the
Intelligence Committee, which is about Russia but about nothing else, then
it seems he can`t do his job and he ought to step down.
MADDOW: Senator, is there anything that can happen in terms of next steps
in the United States Senate for cabinet officials, including the attorney
general, refusing to answer these questions? Obviously, you think that
it`s a major problem. Can you do anything to compel them to testify?
SCHUMER: Well, you know, there is the issue of contempt of Congress. It
is legally complicated. It takes a very long time. It`s fought out in the
courts for a very long period of time.
So, in terms of getting answers in the near future, it is not an answer.
And it is the legal ramifications, the legal justifications are
complicated. There`s no clear-cut answer on that. But that is something
that I`m sure the intelligence committee and the other committees might
MADDOW: Senator Schumer, we`ve just in the last couple of minutes received
the transcript of a gaggle, an off-camera gaggle that a White House
spokeswoman did with reporters. We don`t have footage of this, but we do
have the transcript.
This was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she asked if the president is considering
firing special counsel Robert Mueller, Robert Mueller. She replied, while
the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so. She then
followed up after another question from a reporter and said that Robert
Mueller was, in fact, interviewed by this White House for the possibility
of coming back to be FBI director again, and that interview with the White
House happened the day before he was appointed special counsel in this
Some of the president`s allies have raised that as possibly a conflict or a
reason that the White House might have – the president might have a reason
to fire him as special counsel. Do you have any response to that?
SCHUMER: Yes, it`s convoluted reasoning. First of all, when Mr.
Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, he explicitly said he had not informed
the White House. He just went ahead and did it, to his credit.
But second, the fact that Mueller is considered for these positions speaks
to his integrity, and many people, including Jeff Sessions himself said
that Mueller is of the highest integrity. And this is just shooting the
messenger. Anytime, we`ve had two people now who have devoted themselves
to law enforcement, to the country for most their lives, most of their
professional lives. First Comey, now Mueller.
When they – when Comey does things the president doesn`t like, when
Mueller, who seems that he will pursue this investigation no matter where
it leads gets under the skin of some people, they say, maybe they`ll fire
him. That is just such, such a dereliction of the separation of powers.
So against what the Constitution is like.
If he were to fire Mueller, first, it would cause a constitutional crisis.
Rosenstein said today he would not fire Mueller. So, we`re getting echoes
of Richard Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre that will have to go deep
into the Justice Department to find someone who would do such a pernicious
and despicable act of failing Mueller.
And second, it will backfire, because I believe in that case, there would
be such a reaction not only of Democrats but of Republicans in Congress
that what Adam Schiff said, that we would resurrect the independent counsel
law and have judges appoint an independent counsel beyond the president`s
reach. Hopefully, Mueller once again would take effect, would happen.
So, this is absurd. It is, again, if the president – I`d say this to the
president and all the people around him. If you`ve done nothing wrong, why
are you so afraid of people looking into it?
MADDOW: Senator Schumer, I have more than I want to ask you about,
including the other big thing that`s happening simultaneously in the Senate
right now alongside this Russia investigation. Can you stick around for
just a minute, sir?
SCHUMER: I will stick around.
MADDOW: OK, Senator Chuck Schumer. We`ll be back with him in just a
moment. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back live with the top Democrat in the Senate, Senator
Thank you for staying with us, sir. Appreciate you being here.
I also wanted to ask you about – just straight up, basic question about a
huge issue that is playing out right now in the Capitol silently.
Is it your impression that Senate Republicans are about to repeal the
Affordable Care Act? Are they working on that in such a way that we should
expect a snap surprise vote?
SCHUMER: Well, they`re desperately trying, but they`re having trouble.
The bill is such a nasty bill, that they`re having people – they`re having
trouble getting people to vote for it.
First, let`s look at what they`re doing Rachel. They are having no
hearings, no amendments. They`re going to try to rush it through in ten
hours of debate.
This would be one of the greatest acts of legislative malpractice in the
long history of the Senate and Senator McConnell would not – I don`t think
– could look in the mirror in the same way after he did something like
When we had the ACA bill, the Obama bill, there 170 amendments, Republican
amendments by people like Grassley and Hatch were added to the bill, lots
of hearings, long debate on the floor.
Why are they trying to hide this bill? Very simple, they are ashamed of
this bill. They can`t – they know that the American people will hate it.
So they want to hide it. Today, they even tried for a while to ban cameras
from the halls of Congress.
And they`re ashamed of the bill for very simple reasons, what it does –
taking millions off health care, making it harder to get covered with pre-
existing conditions, removing money from opioid treatment, making it harder
for young families to keep their parents who need it in nursing homes, over
and over again.
And all because they want huge tax cut for the very, very wealthy.
Everyone else will suffer. Everyone else will pay more for premiums and
get less healthcare, so they can give a tax break to the richest of people,
which is really why the hard right wants this bill. So, they`re ashamed of
it and – there`s such an outcry that even in a group like Republicans
which tend to march in an army and not descend, they`re having trouble
getting the votes.
They said – the talk last Friday was, oh, they can get it done in two
weeks now. Now, it`s three weeks, maybe into the July break and I would
just urge your listeners, mobilize. This is red alert. This is not just a
warning. This is the real deal. We`re a vote or two away from defeating
this bill and if the public really makes their views known and puts a lot
of heat on these Republican senators, we could well defeat it.
MADDOW: And, Senator, because of those process issues that you`re talking
about, I mean, whether or not people care about various norms in terms of
legislative processes, one of the logistical facts about the fact that this
has happened without hearings, it`s happened very quietly. The text of the
bill is secret and all that, is that it`s been hard to cover. It`s just
been hard to follow journalistically.
We did hear today, though, that the president told Republican senators that
he considered the bill to be mean – as in mean-spirited.
MADDOW: Does that maybe the White House and Republican senators are also
splitting on this?
SCHUMER: Well, the White House is realized this is a hot potato. And from
time to time, they`ve under cut their own Republicans, and then the next
day, they sort of whip them and say, you better – you better pass this
But the bill is mean. The president`s right. It`s one of the few times I
agree with him. I`m sure there are 217 Republican congressmen just
squirming that they voted for a mean bill and they know that`s going to be
brought up to them in the campaigns in 2018. So, they`re not relishing
The bill is mean. And what the president next ought to say, if he were to
follow things in a logical coherent way, would be, OK, let`s not repeal it
the only result of repeal is meanness. Let`s work with the Democrats and
improve Obamacare. We`re ready to do that once he abandons repeal.
But the hard right ideologues who so much want that big tax break for the
rich people are not letting the Republican senators, the Republican House
members and frankly the president do that.
MADDOW: Senator Schumer, before I let you go, I have to ask you about a
former staffer of yours, Preet Bharara –
MADDOW: – who went on to be U.S. attorney in southern district of New
MADDOW: Famously, he was told he could stay on before the attorney general
and the president reversed course without explanation fired all the U.S.
MADDOW: President`s personal lawyer, according to a report in “ProPublica”
today is bragging that he told the president to fire Preet Bharara, telling
the president that Bharara was, quote, going to get him.
Do you know why Preet Bharara or any of the U.S. attorneys was fired?
MADDOW: Do you know anything about that report today?
SCHUMER: No, I do not.
Let me just say this – I didn`t tell the president I wanted him to hire
Preet Bharara, although he was very glad I did. I said to the president
when he called me he says, I like Preet Bharara. I`m thinking of
appointing him, reappointing him. I said, Mr. President, if you were to do
that, I didn`t him want to get it. I would be happy to support him.
And then he did, and somebody must have told him to do something. Preet
Bharara is totally befuddled by why he was fired. I am totally befuddled.
But again, the odds that there was a good explanation, a positive
explanation are minimal. What this person said, I have no basis to know
it, in fact, but would seem kind of logical that at least they would be
worried about a fearless prosecutor like Preet Bharara, the way they were
worried about a fearless prosecutor like Comey and they waited now seemed
to be worried about a fearless prosecutor like Mueller.
MADDOW: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the United
States Senate, thank you for talking to us tonight, sir. I appreciate your
SCHUMER: Thanks, Rachel. Have a nice evening.
MADDOW: You too. Thank you.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: All right. We are wrapping up here for the night. I should tell
you that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota is going to be on live with
Lawrence O`Donnell. He was referenced repeatedly and in a controversial
way in today`s testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the United
I do want to just hit one thing before we go, though. And that is that
last question that I just raised with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
The president has his personal lawyer now, an outside lawyer who is
apparently defending him on the Russia issue. It`s a New York, basically,
business and real estate lawyer named Marc Kasowitz, who`s neither done
anything like this defense of the president on a constitutional issue, like
he`s dealing with now.
“ProPublica” reports today that Marc Kasowitz has bragged that he`s the one
who got the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet
Bharara, fired as U.S. attorney, despite the fact that the president and
attorney general had both told Preet Bharara that he can stay in his job.
“ProPublica” is sourcing this to four people they say are familiar with
They say that Kasowitz has been bragging that he told Trump, quote, this
guy, meaning Preet Bharara, is going to get you, with the implication of
being that Trump should then fire Bharara, so Bharara cannot come get him.
If that is why Preet Bharara was fired, that raises it`s whole – a whole
new set of questions about the behavior, improper or otherwise of this
administration for people who might be in a position to investigate this
president and that`s the president`s lawyer stepping in that without even
being asked. His lawyer is going to need a lawyer soon.
But that does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tonight.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the