Trump personally interviews U.S. Attorney candidates Transcript 10/20/17 The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: October 20, 2017
Guest: Sarah Chayes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re forgiven if you don`t. Don`t worry.
Get some sleep, my friend. Thank you.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY: OK, bye.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Happy Friday.
As per usual, because it`s Friday, and this is our life now, there`s a lot
of news, including some late breaking news tonight.
Tonight, a federal appeals court has ordered the Trump administration to at
least change the way it has been treating a 17-year-old girl who is in
federal custody and who wants to have an abortion. The girl is being held
under the Refugee Resettlement Office, which is part of the Health and
Human Services Agency.
The president appointed an official to run that office who didn`t seem like
a great fit when he was announced. Again, this is the Office of Refugee
Resettlement. The official that President Trump picked to run the Office
of Refugee Resettlement has no experience in refugees or resettlement of
What he has done is he`s a very prolific anti-abortion activist. And even
within that movement, he`s known as a real hardliner. He`s argued forcibly
that it is not enough for the pro-life movement to just try to make
abortion illegal in the United States. He argues that the pro-life
movement should also be opposed to birth control.
Now, why someone with a passion for that particular issue should be put in
charge of refugee resettlement with no experience in that field? Anybody`s
guess. But that choice by the Trump administration has turned out to be a
consequential thing for a lot of individual young women whose lives are
very much now subject to that one official`s directive.
Court filings in conjunction with this case about this one 17-year-old show
that as of March of this year, HHS believed that they had 38 pregnant girls
who were being held by this agency. According to the lawsuit over this
individual case, the head of this federal office, the guy who is in charge
of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he directed employees underneath him
in his agency to tell girls` parents about their pregnancies against the
girls` will. He`s directed federal employees to physically take girls to
Christian counseling centers in Texas so anti-abortion activists at those
counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.
And at least in this latest Jane Doe case, it appears this federal agency
under his control has been physically holding this girl in the child
immigrant facility where she`s being confined. And even though kids in
those facilities have a right to see doctors and get medical care,
obviously they have to, right, under the close supervision of the guy who`s
running that agency, this pregnant 17-year-old, they`ve apparently just
been refusing not just to take her to a doctor so she can have this
procedure, they`ve been refusing to allow anybody else, like an attorney or
anybody to take her to the doctor so she can`t go. They`re stopping her
She filed her own declaration with the court in which she said, quote: I
feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term.
So, on Wednesday this week, federal court ordered the government to stop
doing that. Ordered the government to get out of the way by tomorrow and
let the girl have this procedure. But now, tonight, the appeals court has
given the Trump administration another week and a half, given them to the
end of the month, to see if they can find somebody who the Trump
administration approves of who the government will then designate to take
this girl out of the child immigrant facility to have the abortion done.
If that seems like a job this agency might not perform with much enthusiasm
or alacrity, keep in mind that the timing here matters. The longer they
hold on to her and physically block this girl from being able to get this
legal, voluntary, constitutionally protected medical procedure that she has
the means to pay for – I mean, the longer they wait, the less likely it is
she`s going to be legally able to get one.
She`s being held by the federal government in Texas. Texas bans abortions
at 20 weeks. So tick tock for this teenage girl.
Depending on what happens with further appeals in this case, depending on
what HHS chooses to do here about this girl, it looks like the anti-
abortion activist who Trump appointed to run the Office of Refugee
Resettlement, looks like he may succeed by forcing this girl to give birth
by blocking her ability to see a doctor to end the pregnancy until it is
too late for her to do so. There were protests today outside the HHS
building in D.C., people protesting on behalf of this young woman, that she
should be allowed to have an abortion if she wants one.
This woman does have the right to do it. She`s in the United States,
right? But watch the space on this one. Obviously, there`s the critical
matter of what`s going to happen to this one teenager, but this case may
also be the best public window that we`ve got into what might be happening
much more quietly with what may very well be dozens of teenage girls who
are in the same circumstances.
As, again, from court filings, we know that as of March, HHS believed there
were nearly 40 teenage girls who were pregnant who were under the
supervision of this office. And at least in the case of this girl, about
whom this case is being fought, her doctor visits really are being blocked
by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the
kind of personal individual control over women`s lives and bodies that he
previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.
The official in question here, his name is Scott Lloyd. He`s the director
of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. But this case to keep an eye on has
been filed under the name Jane Doe, minor J.D., Jane Doe, for that pregnant
Tonight, we`re also watching Puerto Rico, at exactly one month since
Hurricane Maria made landfall. Electric power is still out in much of
Puerto Rico, and remarkably that is a statistic that is still getting
worse. The proportion of Puerto Rico without power yesterday was 21
Today – excuse me, the proportion of Puerto Rico with power yesterday was
21 percent. Today, it is 12 percent. It went from 21 percent with power
to 12 percent with power between yesterday and today.
Today parts of the capital city of San Juan went dark. And roughly a
million American citizens on the island of Puerto Rico are still without
running water. And as these intolerable circumstances have stretched on
for weeks now, we have been continuing to report on the mortal threat that
is no longer posed by the storm itself, which is long gone. Now, what
people have to survive is the ongoing circumstances on this island and the
phenomenally inadequate federal government response there.
Chief among the failures, obviously, is the inability to get people safe
drinking water. People can survive without food longer than they can
survive without water. But the dire lack of potable water has forced these
American citizens for a month now to do what they got to do, improvise
their own access to water however they can. That has led to repeated
reports of people tapping wells at superfund sites, people drinking from
creeks and streams and rivers. People collecting rain water and water from
Today, the death poll in Puerto Rico rose to 49. The latest death is
attributed to Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a disease you get from
having to rely on open air water sources that have also been contaminated
When the first two deaths from Leptospirosis were announced, officials in
Puerto Rico said there were four additional cases of possible Leptospirosis
that they were investigating. Well, today, Puerto Rico state
epidemiologist said the number of cases they`re investigating as of today
for potential Leptospirosis has jumped. It was four. It`s now 74.
Hurricanes don`t give you Leptospirosis. Lack of access to clean drinking
water because of a failed recovery effort after the hurricane, that`s what
gives you Leptospirosis. These are death – these are illnesses that will
be attributed to the failed response to the hurricane. Not to the
Now, we don`t know how much of these potential Lipto cases, again, they`re
investigating, 74. WE don`t know how many of these potential Lipto cases
are fatalities or are people who have been successfully treated or people
who are currently in treatment, but 74 cases being investigated is a very
alarming number if you are worried about the prospect that Puerto Rico is
evolving from a natural disaster into a public health catastrophe.
So, we`re going to have more on that story coming up this hour, including
some pretty remarkable new very specific details on the way the Trump
administration responded to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, versus the way they
are responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. So, that`s ahead.
Today has also been a day of surreal fallout from yesterday`s truly unusual
statement in the White House briefing room from White House Chief of Staff
John Kelly. John Kelly yesterday gave those very emotional remarks about
how he was notified about the death in combat of his son. In that very
intense emotional context, he defended Trump for the – excuse me, defended
President Trump for the president`s condolence calls he placed to military
But then John Kelly from the same podium went into an extended and
apparently prepared just pitiless critique of a Democratic congresswoman
named Frederica Wilson from South Florida.
Congresswoman Wilson had been physically with the family of Sergeant La
David Johnson, she`d been with his widow when Sergeant Johnson`s widow took
the condolence call from President Trump. Sergeant Johnson`s widow took
that call on speakerphone so other members of the family and the
congresswoman could hear the conversation.
In the conversation, President Trump used language, intentionally or not,
that the family found disrespectful and hurtful.
John Kelly yesterday criticized Congresswoman Wilson for having been on
that call. Now, that was an unusual line of attack from the chief of staff
because that decision to have Congresswoman Wilson on the call, that was a
decision made by Sergeant Johnson`s widow. And she seems like somebody who
doesn`t need to be attacked by anyone right now.
John Kelly then also criticized the congresswoman at length for comments he
said she made at an FBI ceremony in Miami in 2015. Comments he said he
remembered and that he and many other people found quite distasteful at the
time, although they said nothing to the press.
Now, I mentioned these sounded like prepared remarks from John Kelly. They
were certainly cogent remarks, well laid out. He appeared at times to
potentially be speaking from notes. The anecdote from Miami a couple of
years ago. That made up the bulk of the remarks he made yesterday and he
was speaking from the White House podium. And usually people prepare to do
But what John Kelly said about Congresswoman Wilson, the remarks he
attributed to her were not anything that she said. This event that he was
recounting was not that long ago, it was only 2015. It was a public event.
There were cameras there. There`s tape of her full remarks.
The tape shows her asking law enforcement personnel to stand up so she can
lead the room in thanking them. It shows her getting a standing ovation at
the end of her remarks. It shows her speaking at length and with some
passion about the deaths of the FBI agents for whom that building was being
renamed. Thanks to a renaming effort that she had led.
John Kelly accused her of having gotten up at that event, said nothing
about the agents and just bragged about how she got funding for the
Congresswoman Wilson didn`t get funding for that building. She never
bragged about or even brought up the issue of funding for that building.
And she absolutely did talk at length about those agents. And she got
their names right. He got their names wrong yesterday.
Confronted with that, confronted with the tape of her remarks today, which
absolutely contradicted what the White House chief of staff said about her,
the White House spokeswoman said today there would be no apology, that
General Kelly would not take back his remarks. They`re going to let it go.
White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that anybody looking
for the White House or the chief of staff to correct the record on this
matter would be behaving in a manner that was, quote, highly inappropriate.
She said that would be going after General Kelly. That would be getting
into a debate with a four-star marine general, and that would be highly
General Kelly is a four-star marine general. But what he said about
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is absolutely untrue. And that`s the sort
of thing that would usually cause resignations from the White House,
particularly if the White House refused to give an apology for the remarks.
But this is a different time.
What started this week of fighting and drama and lying on this very fraught
issue was the president`s still unexplained decision to not make any public
acknowledgment, not make any public pronouncement about the deadliest
combat incident of his presidency thus far. The loss of four U.S. Army
Special Forces soldiers on October 4th in Niger, in an ambush attack
carried out by Islamic militant groups, but so far, no group has claimed
Now, I reported here last night that one of the reasons the president might
be so reluctant to talk about the attack in Niger is the prospect that this
attack might have been carried out by a group linked to ISIS. The
president quite vocally is interested right now in getting credit for
eliminating ISIS. So, that doesn`t fit well with him having to explain how
an ISIS group may have claimed four American lives.
We also reported that the Trump administration enraged and bewildered the
government of the neighboring country of Chad. When it comes to the fight
against Islamic militancy in that part of the world, a place where
different Islamic militant groups have held major cities and large swaths
of territory, big chunks of Mali and Nigeria, a group claimed themselves as
the new province of the Islamic state in that part of the world at one
point. In that part of Africa, the military from Chad has often been the
lead, and many experts see them as the most effective regional military
force when it comes to fighting Islamic militant groups in that part of the
One of the outward facing signs of that is that so many of the
multinational task forces and ongoing military operations against Islamic
militants in that region are headquartered in the nation of Chad. Chad
itself does have some problems with Islamic militants carrying out attacks
in their own territory, but their problem with that is nothing like what
they have to deal with in the nearby countries of Mali and Nigeria and
Still, though, in all those countries, it has been troops and Special
Forces from Chad who have been in the forefront of the frontline fighting.
Even though they don`t have to deal with it as badly at home, they are very
active in the region, that front-line fighting and efforts to retake
territory from militant groups, these groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS
and Boko Haram and others.
Despite that track record in Chad, despite that demonstrated and proven
anti-terrorism capability and commitment from Chad, the Trump
administration reportedly ignored vehement protests from the U.S. Defense
Department and the U.S. State Department, and at the end of last month,
inexplicably, they listed Chad on the new travel ban. And really, nobody
“The Associated Press” reported yesterday that one of the reasons they
might have put Chad on the list is because Chad ran out of passport paper
recently, and therefore, they weren`t able to submit a fresh sample
passport to Homeland Security Department in time to avoid being put on the
list because of something that stupid.
So, the Trump administration made their travel ban announcement September
24th. Baffling everyone as to why Chad was on the list. It prompted Chad
to put out a statement expressing its, quote, incomprehension over the
Trump administration`s decision.
Many experts in the field – in fact all experts in the field joined the
government of Chad in expressing incomprehension for what the Trump
The following week, Chad started removing all of its troops from
neighboring Niger, where they had been deterring and fighting off
incursions from Islamic militant groups. The week after that, the week
after Chad started pulling its troops out of Niger, the week after that was
the ambush in Niger near the border with Mali, which claimed four American
And over the course of the day today, lots of people have been very upset
with me for reporting that last night, which is fine. I didn`t know you
But the upset over my reporting that last night doesn`t mean that anything
I reported wasn`t true. Everything I reported was true.
Now, this doesn`t – this also doesn`t mean that Chad withdrawing their
troops was necessarily the cause of what happened to those U.S. troops who
were ambushed. That ambush is being described by the Pentagon a shock, and
there`s an investigation into what went wrong there, how it was the
military had no idea what was coming and they were so unprepared for that.
But, honestly, if you are looking at the central domestic mystery here,
which is why didn`t the president even acknowledge those deaths in the
worst combat casualties of his presidency, he was asked today by NBC News
if he had ordered the mission that resulted in those deaths, and the
president just walked away without saying anything. He is not
acknowledging or speaking to or commemorating in any way the loss of those
soldiers. He`s made no public pronouncements about it whatsoever.
And if you are interested in the central mystery of why the president is so
reluctant to talk about that or take questions on that – well, it really
is true that his administration just took what is widely believed to be
absolutely inexplicable action to alienate and anger and insult the country
that has been our most effective military partner against Islamic militants
in the part of the world where these attacks just happened.
In terms of figuring out what happened in that ambush, NBC News reports
tonight that a congressional source briefed on the ambush called it a,
quote, massive intelligence failure on the part of the U.S. There was
reportedly no U.S. overhead surveillance, so no manned aircraft watching
over what the soldiers were doing, no drones, no way to get eyes on the
ground when things went bad.
There was also no American quick reaction force available to rescue the
troops if things went badly or to search for them if things went missing,
or if they went missing. “The Wall Street Journal” was first to report
alongside the Pentagon investigation of what happened, the FBI has now
joined the investigation.
Now, that is not unheard of in a military incident like this, but it
doesn`t happen every time. According to “The Journal”, quote, the FBI has
the authority to take over the investigation from the Pentagon. But it has
not yet done so.
So, it`s Friday. There`s a lot going on. I feel like a lot of the news
stories that broke today are things that are likely to break through this
weekend. On the Niger ambush story, it`s worth knowing that Sergeant La
David Johnson, the service member whose body was not recovered until two
days after the other three service members had their bodies taken off the
battlefield. He`s the one whose widow was with the congresswoman who the
White House is now attacking for having recounted what the president said
in his conversation to her.
Sergeant La David Johnson, his funeral is tomorrow in Florida. So that
alone will likely keep this story in the spotlight over the weekend. I
expect that we may also start to learn more about the preliminary results
of the investigation into this matter, which again now involves both the
Pentagon and the FBI, and Congress seems to be up on its hind legs pushing
for information on it as well.
So, expect that story in particular to develop over the weekend. But
here`s one last thing. In terms of what has gone on this week in the news.
When we look back on this week, weeks and months down the road, despite all
of the insane news that happened this week, we may find that the thing that
happened this week that has the biggest long-term impact on our politics is
something that really flew under the radar this week except in legal
This is about something that was identified publicly and widely discussed
as a potential crisis for the country right when Trump was sworn in, but
then because of everything else, it kind of faded from view. Thanks to
this court case this week, this issue has just come roaring back, and we`ve
got basically the world`s most qualified person here on set with us next to
talk about what this means.
That story`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So the village had been bombed out. It`s a small village right
next to the airport in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. This was early
on in the war.
One aide worker said what was left of the town looked like the surface of
the moon. You see this little boy sitting in the remains of his house.
That aide worker, American aide worker wanted to help people in the village
to rebuild. To rebuild they were going to need stone foundations for the
houses, because that`s how the houses were built around there. It`s first
Turns out the guy in charge of the stone didn`t want to give it to her. He
wanted her to buy cement instead, naturally, because what he wanted her to
buy was his cement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want a stone foundation, then it will be more
But if you use cement, it will be cheaper and better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only thing is we promised this village that we
would rebuild this village the way it was before, and they had stone
foundations before, and it`s just one village.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is plenty of stone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bricks and cement. Buy my cement.
That mountain has to be saved for using on cement from his (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) factory and nobody is allowed to have stone for foundations.
He`s cornering the market completely and he`s the governor and the part
owner of this new cement factory. So, he`s using his governmental power to
protect that monopoly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He`s using his governmental power to protect that monopoly. The
governor owns that cement factory, and the governor proclaims you shall use
cement to rebuild. Guess where you`re buying it from.
The angry woman in that clip is Sarah Chayes. Angry and articulate. In
the 1990s, she was the Paris correspondent for NPR. This clearly is not
In 2001, she went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan to cover the start of
the U.S. war there. By 2002, she decided to leave journalism and try to
help and rebuild and build up Afghanistan. She moved to Kandahar full
She did rebuild the homes in that blown-up village by the airport. She
worked for a Karzai family connected NGO for a time. She opened a factory
making soap and cosmetics to try to get people a way to make money on their
own terms and rebuild their economy on their own terms.
How does a random, solo white lady last in Kandahar when many women aren`t
allowed to leave their homes there? First of all, first rule, doesn`t
dress like an Afghan woman, dress like an Afghan guy. Also, be Sarah
The better part of a decade living and working in Afghanistan, working as a
journalist, working in NGOs, in business, ultimately becoming a high level
adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What Sarah Chayes
ended up becoming through all of that unexpectedly, what she ended up
becoming was one of the world`s leading experts on corruption.
Her central argument which she learned in Afghanistan and all over the
world is that you can`t get security now and then thereafter take care of
the governance issues and the corruption problems. Corruption turns out to
be like a really bad, bad, bad virus. It`s easy to get and it`s hard to
But if you`re a country, once you`ve got it, once you`ve got a bad case of
corruption, it not only saps a country of its ability to thrive. It
accelerates some of the most dangerous things on earth – radicalism,
conflict, unbridgeable division. She literally wrote the book on it
“Thieves of State.”
But she`s here tonight because she`s just written something else.
Three days after President Trump was inaugurated, the ethics watchdog group
CREW filed a lawsuit against the president, alleging that the president is
violating the Constitution by allowing his businesses to accept payments
from foreign governments while he still owns and benefits from those
This week, Sarah Chayes submitted this brief to the court as part of the
case, making the argument that the dangers of him taking foreign payments
go way beyond just classlessness and they go beyond the violation of what
was previously seen as obscure clause of the Constitution. Quote, numerous
violations of the emoluments clause by the president of the United States
erode and sullied the fundamental principles upon which our country is
founded and expose this nation to grave threats.
First, they raise the specter that foreign gives will influence
presidential policy. Second, they undermine citizen`s faith in the
integrity of their government. And third, they invite kleptocratic
practices typical of places like Afghanistan to infect our democracy. The
kleptocratic networks to which defendant, the president, is beholden engage
in a style of lieu that is antithetical to American democracy. Whether
they`re nominal democracies such as Indonesia or outright autocracies such
as the Philippines or the UAE, these are criminalized kleptocracies
distorting essential government functions to grossly enrich a ruling
Dismissal of the complainant`s case would help such practices gain
acceptance at home. And the character of American democracy would be
corrupted for decades to come.
It`s one thing to hear some schmuck on TV say that. A person like Sarah
Chayes is in a unique position to know of what she speaks.
Joining us now for the interview is Sarah Chayes. She`s now senior fellow
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She`s also the author,
as I mentioned, of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global
Sarah, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
SARAH CHAYES, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE SENIOR FELLOW:
Great to see you.
MADDOW: I am unnerved by seeing your scholarship and your life experience
about kleptocracies and endemic corruption in places like Afghanistan and
the Philippines and Honduras and all this stuff being something that you
see as directly relevant to American politics. I find it unnerving.
CHAYES: I do, too.
CHAYES: It`s been a kind of slow motion nightmare to watch sort of the
plays that we`ve been seeing since January 20th because I almost feel like
I know which one is coming next. It`s like it so familiar, but it`s
familiar from Honduras, from Azerbaijan, from Afghanistan.
MADDOW: You make the article in the brief, and I didn`t expect this until
I got into it, but you go through the president`s business involvement in
various countries like the ones I just mentioned in that excerpt,
Indonesia, Philippines, UAE, and you say essentially these governments are
corrupt in a way that we Americans should be able to understand.
They`re far away countries, we can understand this and see this when it
happens in other places. In order to be doing business in those countries,
you have to be participating in their graft.
CHAYES: That`s right. And it`s not just graft. It`s not just a
collection of venal things that a bunch of different people do. In fact,
what these governments do is kind of weave a network. And in different
countries, it`s going to be more tightly woven or less tightly woven. It`s
going to have more internal, you know, disruption or rivalry or whatever.
But these are networks that straddle the kind of sectors that we love to
keep separate in our minds. So, you`ve got private sector and public
sector, right, which we Americans love to fight about, which is worse for
your health, right, you know? But in these networks, they overlap.
Sometimes they`re identical.
In Azerbaijan, for example, the president`s family owns 11 banks. So they
like own the financial sector.
MADDOW: Financial sector.
CHAYES: That`s right.
In others, they`re a little bit more distinct, but what you have is this
constant exchange of favors. So like I make a law that`s a sweetheart deal
for electricity generated by a certain kind of electricity plant by like
biomass, let`s say. And then I get shares in the biomass company. So, you
have this constant exchange.
And then the criminal sector is almost always woven in, too. In
Afghanistan, that guy who what he was saying was, but stone is going to be
too expensive for you, you want to have cement, it`s cheaper. He was
running most of the opium in southern Afghanistan at that time.
CHAYES: So you have this overlap and you simply cannot do business in
especially I would say three sectors always come up, energy, lets – sorry,
energy, let`s do the next one, high-end real estate is the other, banking.
Energy, banking, and high-end real estate.
You can`t be in those three sectors in these countries without either being
a member of the network or engaging in this kind of exchange.
MADDOW: And why is that dangerous to us as Americans rather than just
being a potential legal liability for the president and his businesses or
just something that reflects poorly on him?
Don`t answer yet. We have to take a break. We`ll be right back with Sarah
Chayes right after this.
MADDOW: This week, a big lawsuit against the president got an important
federal court hearing. The president`s lawyers want it dismissed. The
people suing him, the ethics watchdog suing him say he should be held to
account that his business interests are doing lots of business with foreign
governments and that`s against the Constitution.
Sarah Chayes stays with us. Thank you for being here. Sarah Chayes has
filed a brief in this case I find absolutely chilling.
The basis of your argument is the president is involved with kleptocratic
regimes, corrupt regimes in terms of his own business practices in
countries around the world. Why is that not something personally bad about
him or potentially criminal about his business? Why is that dangerous for
us as a country?
CHAYES: So when the president of the United States is in business with a
regime like that, that`s like a stamp of approval, right? It doesn`t
matter what U.S. policy might be about corruption overseas. So, then what
happens is people subjected to systemic corruption react by going to
We`ve been seeing it for the last, you know, five, ten years. We`ve seen
them join extremist groups like Boko Haram, like the Taliban, like the
Islamic State. We`ve seen them have revolutions. Those revolutions have
devolved in ways that have made the world a lot less secure.
But for me, what`s most important is suddenly these practices start to get
kind of brushed off, like well, that`s just how you do business. Not only
over there. Remember this is the president of the United States doing
business in these ways. So, it`s reinforcing, it`s a stamp of approval on
Once you say it`s OK to do it in Indonesia and, by the way, it`s the
president of the united state`s organization that`s doing it in Indonesia,
then you`re kind of saying it`s OK for Americans. I`m afraid that these
practices will come to infect the United States of America.
Now, we`re the only country in the world founded on a set of ideals, right?
I mean, that`s our whole reason for existing. It was precisely to break
away from the venality and corruption of, you know, the British government.
That was one of the main rationales, not the only one, it was tyranny, but
it was also we don`t want to be venal and corrupt like the British crown
which is suborning the members of parliament who are supposed to be
representing the people.
That was – the constitutional debates were full of those arguments. And
so, the very pretext for even having a United States of America becomes
MADDOW: If in your living in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, in your
study of kleptocracy around the world and how corrupt regimes work, how
they`re structured, who they benefit, who they hurt, what kinds of
radicalism and division they cause, did you learn anything about how
countries who are on the precipice of a new era of corruption, a new type
of corruption, how we can stiffen our spines, how you can get better, how
you can fend it off?
CHAYES: What`s really interesting is it has to be institutional. In other
words, there`s a temptation to say, oh, if you could only have a knight in
shining armor, if you could only have an individual. And sometimes it does
take a reforming individual at the top, but often, it will take some fairly
sweeping measures at least at the beginning to sort of show that you`re
But I think we can look to our own history, right? I mean, if you go back
to the gilded age, it took a couple of decades but then it took a really
serious set of reforms. So, what we`ve been watching are norms, ways that
we expected government officials to behave, but that weren`t law, right?
And they`ve been slipping – this didn`t start on January 20th. The kind
of overlap that we now see in this country between private sector
interests, particularly, you know, energy, defense contracting, banking,
big pharma or the health industry.
I mean, we got four or five of these that have really been shaping decision
making in the United States for well before January 20th. But there were
still some basic things we expected public officials to do, things like
release your tax returns, things like, you know, don`t hire lobbyists to
actually regulate the industries they were lobbying on behalf of. We kind
of took those for granted.
It`s clear to me in this country, we are going to need a series of reforms
that are going to have to be made in law and not just in practice.
MADDOW: Yes, that don`t just count on sort of shame and public
embarrassment to be the corrective.
CHAYES: That`s right.
MADDOW: Sarah Chayes, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, the author most recently of “Thieves of State”, and
one of the most interesting people I`ve interviewed over the years –
really happy to you have back here tonight.
CHAYES: Great to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s really good to see you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to
confirm one of President Trump`s very first nominees to be a U.S. attorney,
a woman named Jessie Liu. And in Jessie Liu`s official statement at the
hearing, there was an interesting detail.
Quote: In March and April 2017, I attended formal interviews of the Justice
Department and also interviewed with representatives of the White House
counsel`s office, and then I met the president.
You what now?
That caught everybody`s attention because a candidate for U.S. attorney,
candidate for federal prosecutor meeting with the president before he
nominates her? That`s weird. I mean, it`s not illegal but that`s
Now, this week, “Politico” reports that the president has also met with two
other potential candidates for the role of U.S. attorney, one who is a
potential candidate for the eastern district of New York, which is based in
Brooklyn, one who is reportedly a potential candidate for the southern
district of New York, which is Manhattan. The southern district of New
York has jurisdiction over basically the whole financial world and it also
has geographic reach that includes Trump Tower, HQ for the president`s
business dealings, home base for the Trump campaign and the Trump
So, it`s a weird thing for a president to meet with potential nominees to
be federal prosecutors to be U.S. attorneys. But when you look at the
ones, we know that President Trump has met with, they would be the ones in
charge of prosecuting crimes in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan, and
Brooklyn, right? Very much the president`s home turf both in politics and
business, places where he might conceivably have skin in the game, meaning
if any federally prosecutable crimes arose in connection with the
president`s businesses or his families or the campaigns or transitions,
it`s those U.S. attorneys in New York and D.C. who`d be the ones to try
those cases, and those are the ones he`s meeting with personally?
Now again, this is not illegal. The president is within his legal rights
to meet with these people, but it`s unheard of.
Preet Bharara occupied the southern district role until the president fired
him in March. He said this week that it is neither normal nor advisable
for the president to have done this, and he`s in a position of which he
Another person in a position to know of what she speaks on this issue, a
person who had the occasion to talk to a whole bunch of U.S. attorneys
about this joins us next.
MADDOW: In his long testy hearing at the Judiciary Committee this week,
Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked a question about these new, very
unusual reports that the president taking personal meetings himself with
several candidates for U.S. attorney jobs. Now, presidents don`t usually
meet with potential U.S. attorneys.
Most presidents and the Justice Department tend to take care to keep law
enforcement away from anything that looks like a politician`s influence.
So why is President Trump taking these personal meetings? Here`s how the
attorney general responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not sure I remember whether he had
interviewed for New York, but if you say so, I assume so. And he has the
right to, but for sure, because he has to make an appointment and I assume
that everybody would understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See the attorney general`s not particularly concerned about any
untoward appearances in this matter.
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She`s former U.S. attorney from the
eastern district of Michigan. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
Barbara, thanks for being here. Thanks for joining us.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh my pleasure, Rachel. Nice to see
MADDOW: Thank you.
I am not a lawyer and I`m – I know people who are lawyers and I know
people who have worked in federal prosecutor`s offices but I still can`t
quite figure out if it`s a big deal that the president is meeting with
potential federal attorneys. There have been former Obama administration
officials who say that President Obama never did anything like this.
Is it clear that this is an unprecedented thing?
MCQUADE: Yes, it`s not illegal, but it`s definitely unheard of. You know,
I happen to be in Washington this week for a conference of former U.S.
attorneys. These are U.S. attorneys from Democratic administrations and
Republican administrations. So, I`ve been asking around whether anyone
ever met with or interviewed by the president who appointed them and the
answer is without exception, no. So, it is highly unusual.
MADDOW: And what`s concerning about it? As you say, it`s not illegal, but
it does seem to be absolutely breaking with precedent. When`s the reason
that a president typically wouldn`t do this?
MCQUADE: Well, it`s important to keep in mind that these are appointments
very different from other appointments like the president`s cabinet.
Prosecutors are – it`s very important that they be independent and that
they not only be independent but there`s the appearance of independence.
In fact, there`s a policy memo that prevents U.S. attorneys from having
direct communication with the White House. Only the highest levels of the
Department of Justice are even allowed to communicate and that is to
preserve that independence so that the public has confidence that
prosecutors are acting on facts and law and not political motivations.
MADDOW: There are reports that the people who the president has chosen to
speak to are from two districts in New York affecting places where he has
business interest, Brooklyn and Manhattan offices. Also the D.C. district
attorney where that`s quite relevant given what his current job is.
There`s also some unconfirmed reports that the president may have taken
personal interest and made personal contact with somebody who would be the
U.S. attorney where Mar-a-Lago is in that district in Florida. Is there
particular reason to be worried that the president seems to be seeking out
people who might potentially be looking at criminal matters where he has
MCQUADE: Well, I think it`s an special red flag, isn`t it, when he`s
looking at people who are in the jurisdictions where he does business,
where he lives, where he associates live, Washington, D.C., New York and
Florida. You know, if he said I want to interview everyone I appoint to
every position or at least every U.S. attorney that might still seem odd
and improper, but when he`s focusing on the very districts where he himself
could face criminal exposure I think raises a particular red flag.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the eastern district of
Michigan, thank you. Really helpful to have you here tonight.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Whether or not you watch baseball the rest of the year, everybody
becomes a baseball fan in October. In Houston tonight, the Yankees playing
the Astros for the chance to go to the World Series, game six. Games one
and two are also played in Houston.
And whether or not you care about baseball generally speaking, it is a
great and remarkable American news story that these games have been played
in Houston because Houston got slammed by Hurricane Harvey on August 25th.
In the wake of the storm there was, of course, historic flooding in
Major League Baseball did have to move a series of games between the Astros
and Rangers because of Houston`s ballpark not being in play. But now less
than two months after Harvey, Houston has recovered to the point where they
can host these big national sporting events and have that not be the main
thing to talk about the whole time, but that`s real progress and at least
some of that progress is thanks to the robustness of the response from the
federal government when it came to Texas. Three hundred and thirty-eight
thousand Texans were without power after the storm.
And the days after Harvey, 5,300 power workers from outside the region all
converged on coastal Texas to get electricity back on for almost everyone
within two weeks. And that`s awesome.
And when you compare that to what we have seen in Puerto Rico, it is not a
subtle difference. In Texas, thousands of repair workers rushed in to
restring power lines. In Puerto Rico, a few hundred electrical workers
from outside the island arrived to help.
Everything`s bigger in Texas, right? When it comes to disaster response,
that is a terrible truth about what`s happened in Puerto Rico. And the
need in Puerto Rico has turned out to be much, much greater.
The power outage in Texas was one tenth the size of the power outage in
Puerto Rico, yet Texas has had thousands of people there to help get the
lights back on. Puerto Rico has a couple of hundred. The power grid in
Puerto Rico was decimated. Nearly 3.5 million Americans in darkness for
more than a month.
In the past 24 hours, it`s actually gotten worse. Yesterday, 21 percent of
the island had power, tonight, 12 percent of the island has power, and the
death toll continues to rise. The number of Americans dying from treatable
and preventable infections is going up. The president is giving himself a
10 out of 10?
It`s not a question of whether or not we can do more. Clearly, we can. We
just showed what we can do. Other places like Houston saw it. Just for
whatever reason, not Puerto Rico, at least not yet, not one month in.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday when my guest
will be former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD”. Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence
Good evening, Ari.
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