Trump expected to approve release of Nunes memo. TRANSCRIPT: 2/1/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 1, 2018
Guest: Rebecca Ballhaus, Jim Himes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It`s been a big Thursday and Thursday night of news. I`m glad you`re here
So, there are four Trump campaign officials who have been criminally
charged by Robert Mueller`s team of prosecutors in the special counsel`s
office. Two of the four have pled guilty and are now cooperating
witnesses, helping the prosecution. And the other two have pled not
guilty, and they`re due to go to trial.
Now, a few days ago, there were some intriguing reporting that suggested
that one of those last two, one of those last two is expected to go to
trial might be jumping sides. That Robert Mueller`s team might actually be
able – might be about to flip a third cooperating witness in addition to
George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn who he`s already got. This intriguing
reporting the other day suggested that the new cooperating witness for
Mueller`s team might be Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates.
An eagle-eyed CNN legal correspondent noticed a new lawyer, a famous
Washington lawyer repeatedly appearing at Robert Mueller`s offices,
apparently to talk to Mueller`s team about Rick Gates. Now, this is
important and interesting for a few reasons.
If Mueller is about to get Rick Gates as a cooperating witness, that could
be a really big deal. Rick Gates was Manafort`s business partner for
years, including in his business dealings with Putin-linked oligarchs and
politicians. Rick Gates was Trump`s deputy campaign manager. He stayed on
the campaign in a leadership role even after Paul Manafort himself got
pushed out because of his Russia ties. Rick Gates was in the transition.
He was deputy chair of the inauguration. He was seen frequently at the
Trump White House during the early days of the administration, he helped
start a pro-Trump group where lots of campaign people went after the
He is a through-line. He is a potential gold mine if, in fact, he is
flipping to help the Mueller prosecution. So, that`s one thing that makes
that reporting about Gates potentially becoming a cooperating witness
really interesting reporting. But then there was also just the intrigue
So, there`s this new, very famous new white-collared defense lawyer
apparently working on Rick Gates` behalf, apparently negotiating something
about Gates` case at Mueller`s offices in D.C., but he has never been
announced as one of Gates` lawyers. His name doesn`t show up anywhere,
listing him as one of Gates` lawyers. In court so far, Gates has had a
whole other legal team that was representing him. What about them?
Well, tonight, all of those lawyers for Rick Gates just quit. In a very
short court filing, the three lawyers for Trump deputy campaign manager,
Rick Gates, who have been representing him in court all along since he has
been charged, all three of them announced that they are withdrawing from
representing him. Why are they withdrawing from representing Rick Gates?
Quote, for the reasons set forth in Exhibit 1, which is the subject of a
motion to be filed under seal.
We`re not allowed to know why they`re withdrawing. Sealed. In the movie,
this is one of the exciting parts. So, we are waiting for the other shoe
to drop on that.
Meanwhile, I should tell you tonight we`ve got our own mini scoop coming up
in a couple of minutes on something important that`s going on with the
Trump legal defense. This is something nobody else has reported, but we
got it tonight and that is coming up in just a minute.
Here is where we start tonight, though. Chuck Schumer, he is, of course,
is a leader of the Democrats in the Senate. He`s very familiar figure.
He`s been around in the U.S. Senate since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
But because of that, it`s easy to forget that this is actually the first
session of Congress for which Chuck Schumer is the Democratic leader.
Before him for 12 years, the Democratic leader in the Senate was Harry
Reid. Harry Reid retired from the Senate after the 2016 elections. But,
you know, we knew for a long time in advance that he was going to retire,
that he was going to leave the Senate. We knew as early as the spring of
2015. So, that was a really long lead time for him to give, where he`d
still be around but we knew he wasn`t going to be standing for re-election.
He wasn`t still going to be in the Senate after the 2016 elections.
That turned out to be very valuable time, though. There`s a sort of magic
pixie dust that alights on members of Congress when they announce they`re
retiring, when they know they`re not going to stand for re-election,
they`re not going to have to face voters again, but they`re still there for
the time being, serving out their last term. That can be kind of a magic
Knowing that this is their last hoorah, they have a salutary effect on
members of Congress. It sometimes makes them willing to speak hard truths.
It sometimes makes them more willing to rock the boat. And right before
the presidential election in 2016, in October of 2016, Harry Reid, knowing
he`s not coming back to the Senate, knowing he`s in his last days, he
He put himself out there with the kind of thing you only expect to see from
a lawmaker who had to answer to nobody, who knew he was on his way out. He
was going to say his piece, no matter what. In October 2016, right before
the election, Harry Reid sent this letter to the FBI. And it went off like
a roman candle.
Dear Director Comey, in my communications with you and other top officials
in the national security community, it`s become clear that you possess
explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald
Trump, his top advisers and the Russian government, a foreign interest
openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every
opportunity. The public has a right to know this explosive information.
Now at the time, that letter was seen as a very controversial thing, even a
wacky thing for Harry Reid to have done. October 30th, right before the
election. But we now know, at least in part, that what he was talking
about in that letter, was this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Did you meet Sergey Kislyak in Cleveland?
Did you talk to him?
CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I`m not going to deny that I talked
HAYES: So you did talk to him?
PAGE: Although I will say – I will say that I never met him anywhere
outside of Cleveland, let`s just say that much.
HAYES: The only time that you met him was in Cleveland?
PAGE: I may have met him, possibly, might have been in Cleveland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Speaking of wacky, you know, we spend a lot of time on the show
trying to document and keep track of the massive turnover in the Trump
administration. In their one year in office, they have cycled through more
senior officials than any other modern presidency. They`re throwing people
out of high-ranking positions at more than triple the rate of the Obama
administration at this time, right?
And that`s an unusual thing about the Trump administration, but that fact
about the Trump administration was foreshadowed on the campaign, where they
had the same kind of turnover, even at the highest levels of the campaign.
They went through people. No other presidential campaign had a Corey
Lewandowski, and then a Paul Manafort, and then a Steve Bannon and
Kellyanne Conway all running the campaign.
But it wasn`t just right at the very top. In September before the
election, it was sort of a mini kerfuffle. I don`t even know if it counts
as a scandal. What counts as a scandal anymore?
There was – there was a happening September before the campaign, where the
Trump campaign distanced itself from one of its own advisers. They tried
to pretend that they had never known this guy. He had never been part of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He`s not part of our
national security or foreign policy briefings. We have a number of people,
fabulous people, men and women as part of our national security foreign
policy and foreign policy team and he`s not among them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He`s not among them. He`s definitely – he is not – who said he
was a foreign policy adviser to us? Who told you that?
Kellyanne Conway in September before the election, denying there had ever
been a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign named Carter Page.
Parter cage, who, what?
Hope Hicks at the same time said the same thing. She said Carter Page was
just an informal adviser. He certainly doesn`t speak for the Trump
campaign. Jason Miller was a Trump campaign spokesman at the time, one of
the people who has since been thrown off the carousel. He said at the time
Carter Page has no role in the campaign. This is despite the fact that now
President Trump had, himself, announced Carter Page as one of Trump`s top
foreign advisers. Basically they`re trying to disappear him.
Jason Miller said, quote, we are not aware of any of his activities, past
or present. We`re not even aware if he`s a real boy. Can you prove it?
Who? The reason they tried to disappear him, the reason they pretended,
before the election, that they had definitely never met this guy, he had
definitely never been announced by Donald Trump at a “Washington Post”
editorial meeting as one of Trump`s top five foreign policy advisers – the
reason they tried to pretend that didn`t happen is because Carter Page
became a problem. He had this big, obvious, Russia problem.
In 2013, we now know, and the FBI has always known, that he was targeted by
a Russian spy ring operating in New York City. There was a criminal
complaint filed in court about that Russian spy ring, two of the Russian
spies with famously caught on a wiretap describing Carter Page as, sadly,
an idiot, but did say that they were the liked he was so enthusiastic.
These were spies who were apparently working on sanctions issues. They
were trying to get secret intel or at least native American insight into
what sort of sanctions Russia might expect from the United States in the
So, in their efforts to collect economic intelligence in the United States,
they targeted Americans to try to make them into Russian assets and they
targeted Carter Page and Carter Page was, according to the FBI, very happy
to meet with them and to give them information and to give them documents.
The FBI was monitoring the activities of that spy ring. In the course of
their investigation of that spy ring, FBI counter intelligence agents paid
Carter Page a personal visit to talk to him about those friendly Russians
he had been spending all this time with, and to whom he had been giving
The FBI was monitoring that spy ring. They monitored him for a couple of
years, watching them operate. In 2015, they busted it up, made their
arrests. Members of the spy ring, including the ones who had been meeting
with Carter Page, who`ve been describing him as an idiot, they named those
Russians as agents of the SBR, Russian foreign intelligence agency. Six
months after that spy ring that ensnared Carter Page, six months after it
got busted up, arrests and announced indictment by the FBI, six months
later, Carter Page joined the Donald Trump for president campaign.
January 2016, he started meeting with the campaign in March. That was when
Donald Trump announced him, by name, as one of his five foreign policy
advisers for his presidential campaign. He made that announcement at an
editorial meeting with “The Washington Post”. That was in March.
In July, now as an announced senior foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump,
Carter Page took a trip to Moscow. And he gave what was basically an anti-
U.S., pro-Vladimir Putin speech in Moscow at a Putin-connected university.
He denounced U.S. sanctions on Russia.
He would later admit that while he was there, he met with high-ranking
Russian officials, including the deputy prime minister of Russia, as well
as at least one official from the Russian gas company Rosneft. He later
admitted that he had those meetings when he went to Moscow that July,
although he had initially denied them.
That kind of visit to Moscow, let alone that kind of speech in Moscow would
tend to attract attention from U.S. counterintelligence, right? In the
case of Carter Page`s trip to Moscow in July 2016 for those meetings and
for that speech, he reportedly attracted attention from U.S. embassy
officials in Russia and that, in turn, renewed U.S. counterintelligence
interest in him. And I say renewed because this was only a couple years
out from his time meeting with FBI counterintelligence officials about his
involvement in a Russian spy ring here in the United States.
So, summer of 2016, a new counterintelligence investigation into Carter
Page was apparently opened. That eventually included the FBI presenting
evidence to a judge of what they said was their reasonable belief that he
was acting as a witting agent of a foreign power. The initial FISA warrant
on Carter Page was obtained, by some accounts, in the summer of 2016, in
other accounts in the fall of 2016.
I don`t have any independent way to confirm either of those. So we`re not
exactly sure. But it seems clear that a FISA warrant on Carter Page was
approved before the election in 2016. We also now know that by the time
that warrant was issued, U.S. intelligence officials were already briefing
high-ranking members of Congress about Carter Page. U.S.
counterintelligence officials were briefing high-ranking members of
Congress about counterintelligence concerns specific to this guy, Carter
Michael Isikoff was first to report it in September 2016 for Yahoo News.
It was before the presidential election. Quote, U.S. intelligence
officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman
identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened
up private communications with senior Russian officials, including talks
about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee
The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page have been discussed with senior
members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by
Moscow to influence the presidential election. After one of those
briefings, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James
Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser, reference to
Page, and high-ranking sanctioned individuals in Moscow over the summer.
He cited them as evidence of significant and disturbing ties between the
Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Some of those briefed were taken aback when they learned about Page`s
contacts in Moscow, viewing them as backchannel to the Russians that could
undercut U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials in the briefings indicated
that intelligence reports about Page`s talks with senior Russian officials
close to Putin were being actively monitored and investigated. A senior
law enforcement official did not dispute that characterization when asked
for comment, quote, it`s on our radar screen, said the official about
Page`s contacts with Russian officials, it`s being looked at.
So, Michael Isikoff reporting September 2016, just a few weeks before the
presidential election in November 2016. And with these reports about
Carter Page`s ties to Russia, contacts he has been sort of denying,
counterintelligence officials in the United States, briefing high levels
members of Congress on the counterintelligence concerns about this guy.
Finally, the Trump campaign starts to disavow him. Reid had sent a warning
letter in August. He sent that explosive follow-up warning letter in late
October. There were these public reports which had been subsequently
confirmed that U.S. intelligence agencies were actively monitoring him,
including surveillance of him apparently approved by a judge in a FISA
warrant. That`s all going on in fall before the election. The Trump
campaign is like, we don`t know this guy!
Then the election happens. Donald Trump gets elected and what does Carter
Page do to celebrate? He flies back to Moscow. This was the headline in
the “New York Times” December 8th. Quote, Carter Page, ex-Trump adviser
with Russian ties visits Moscow. Lovely in December.
Page would later admit on that trip, right after the election, he again met
with some of the same Russian government and Rosneft officials that he had
met with before. Continuing scrutiny of Carter Page`s ties to the Russian
government meant that even during the presidential transition, the soon-to-
be Trump administration still had to go out of their way to disavow him, to
pretend like he had never been announced as one of Trump`s five foreign
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Carter Page is an
individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice
months ago by the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was January 2017 before the inauguration.
And, you know, we can piece together from the timing that that is probably
around the time when the FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page was being
renewed. FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days. In order to
renew them, U.S. investigators, law enforcement – they have to show a
judge that there has been continued production of useful intelligence from
the existing warrant. They have to show that there`s been continuing or
even fresh indications that the target of the warrant is, in fact, acting
as a knowing agent of a foreign power.
So, that FISA warrant for Carter Page was initially granted in either the
summer or the fall. It`s hard for us to tell. We know that it was renewed
multiple times. We think probably one of the times it was renewed was in
January, right after Carter Page took his post election trip to Moscow and
Sean Spicer walked up to that podium and said Donald Trump definitely
doesn`t know him.
And we now know that in the spring of 2017, after the inauguration, once
the Trump administration was sworn in, the FBI went back to the judge, went
back to the FISA court judge again, with whatever evidence they had, that
this warrant was continuing to be productive, there was reason to renew it
again. And the judge okayed it. The judge signed off on that warrant in
the spring. It was either the third time or the fourth time that a judge
had looked at the evidence about Carter Page and signed off on continuing
surveillance of him as a potential foreign agent.
And that story, that`s what this dumb memo is all about. This memo you`ve
been hearing so much about, the memo that is apparently going to be
released tomorrow over the vehement objections of the Justice Department
and FBI because it contains classified information about how FISA court
works, and how FISA court warrants are adjudicated and what kind of work
the government does on targets that they believe are foreign agents, that
memo that has been the focus of so much media attention and so much
excitement on the right over the past few weeks, what`s that memo about?
That memo is a House Republican effort to try to make you believe that
either the third or fourth renewal of that surveillance warrant against
Carter Page is a terrible scandal. How could anybody approve that? There
are multiple reports that Donald Trump believes this memo is what he needs
to end the Mueller investigation, because this memo will make America
believe that only terrible, like, what, Clinton stooges would support a
third or fourth renewal of a foreign agent surveillance warrant on the guy
who`s been on the FBI`s counter intelligence radar since at least 2013 when
he played a starring role as the enthusiastic idiot in a convicted Russian
spy ring in New York who then later turned up multiple times in Moscow
denouncing the United States, praising Vladimir Putin and trying to get
Russian business deals for himself with Russian state-run companies, while
meeting with Russian government officials.
If Russian intelligence mounted its operation against our presidential
campaign in part because they wanted to try to undo U.S. sanctions on
Russia, this is the guy from the Trump campaign who says that during the
campaign, yes, he was in Moscow, meeting with high-ranking government
officials about getting rid of U.S. sanctions on Russia.
If it is a scandal that that guy would have a surveillance warrant against
him renewed, then, yes, this memo tomorrow from house Republicans is going
to blow your socks off. Of all the ways they have tried to undermine or
just block the Mueller investigation, the story of this guy? This guy is
not the guy you think they would try to hang that whole strategy on.
MADDOW: If you have not been reading “The Wall Street Journal” today, you
might want to get on the stick. From morning until night, really, right
through just about an hour or so ago, they have just been a battering ram
of news today. One of the articles that they broke today pieced together
the trail that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page left for
intelligence agents when it came to his dealings with Russia.
The surveillance warrant against Carter Page, specifically its renewal
during the Trump administration during the spring of 2017 is reportedly the
subject of this House Republican memo due to be released tomorrow, which
the president reportedly believes will be so scandalous it will free him
from the Russia investigation once and for all.
Joining us now, one of the reporters from “The Wall Street journal” who
broke this news today, Rebecca Ballhaus.
Ms. Ballhaus, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on this.
REBECCA BALLHAUS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks
for having me.
MADDOW: So, you report that the Trump campaign says it was unaware at the
time they hired Carter Page for the campaign that he had already, by that
point, had past dealings with U.S. counterintelligence over his dealings
with Russia. Is this a new detail that we`re learning from the Trump
BALLHAUS: This is a new detail. I think what`s important to remember
about Carter Page is that he was someone who was brought on to the campaign
at a time when they were under enormous amount of pressure to show who was
advising the president or the candidate at that point on national security
and foreign policy matters. So, Trump, in March of 2016, announced Carter
Page, along with about five other people as the group that was, in fact,
advising him on those matters.
But this was a group that we had been told over and over again since then
was not vetted, had very little information researched about their
background and really the campaign didn`t seem to look into whether there
might be any suspect issues, such as past dealings with Russia. It`s also
interesting to note that also in this group was George Papadopoulos who, of
course, we know, pleaded guilty to investigators, to lying to FBI
investigators about his contacts with Russia.
MADDOW: It is a remarkable ratio if have you five announced foreign policy
advisers and one of them ends up pleading guilty and becoming a cooperating
witness over lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia and the other
ends up subject to a foreign intelligence surveillance warrant because of
his ties with Russia. It was a weird list to begin with but that`s a very
weird way – that`s a high proportion of those advisers to end up sort of
in the barrel on that specific subject.
Let me actually ask you about a timing issue that I don`t have clarity on.
Do you, at “The Wall Street Journal,” have clarity on when the surveillance
warrants, these foreign agent surveillance warrants, FISA warrants for
Carter Page were first applied for, when they initially went and got one
for Carter Page?
BALLHAUS: Our reporting shows that that happened around October 2016. And
what`s also interesting to note is that that was about a month after Carter
Page had, in fact, left the Trump campaign because of these reports about
his ties to Russia. So, I think in some of these allegations that
Republicans are making that this FISA warrant began out of political
motivations, trying to go after the Trump campaign, it`s interesting to
note that he wasn`t even part of that effort anymore at that time.
MADDOW: And in terms of the timing, we know from Michael Isikoff`s
reporting in 2016 that a counterintelligence investigation about Mr. Page
was already open and that counterintelligence concerns about him were
already being briefed to members of Congress. If your reporting is right
that they didn`t get the FISA warrant until October, which is after those
briefings to Congress had happened, that means it was just one tool that
they used in what was, by then, an already ongoing and fairly ripe
counterintelligence investigation of him.
I realize they`re going to try to problematize that third or fourth renewal
of the FISA warrant tomorrow when they release this memo, but this timeline
Rebecca Ballhaus of “The Wall Street Journal” – thank you very much for
helping us understand your reporting tonight. Thanks for being here.
BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We got a lot more to get to tonight including that
little mini scoop we`ve got on Trump legal defense. We`ve got that
exclusively here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: – nothing about Watergate, one thing that everybody knows for
sure about the Saturday night massacre in Watergate, one thing that
everybody knows is that it happened on a Saturday night, right?
This was “NBC Nightly News” on the Friday night right before the Saturday
night massacre. It was a very suspenseful Friday nigh night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All day today, Washington waited for the president`s
lawyers to take the next step in the great and historic case of the nine
disputed secret White House tapes. Today was the deadline for the
president to appeal to the Supreme Court a lower court ruling on the tapes,
which went against him. But for a reason as yet unexplained, the
president`s men have not filed the appeal.
Here is more from Carl Stern.
CARL STERN, NBC REPOTER: Because of late business connected with Supreme
Court`s Friday conferences, the clerk of the court will be here until 9:00
tonight, giving the White House extra hours to meet the deadline. The
president`s lawyers were in meetings all day but the two persons who seemed
most likely to work out a deal, Attorney General Richardson and Special
Prosecutor Cox, haven`t met for three days, increasing the prospect that
the historic confrontation between the president and the courts will have
to be resolved here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the Friday night suspense, the night before the Saturday
night massacre. It was a legal showdown. Everybody thought it was going
to be settled at the Supreme Court.
Special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox, had subpoenaed
tapes from the Oval Office. Nixon didn`t want to hand them over. And all
that Friday into that Friday night, everybody was waiting on the Nixon
White House to file their appeal at the court.
We`ll have the clerk here until 9:00 p.m. We`re waiting. We`re all
waiting, expecting that appeal.
But then Nixon decided to do something else entirely. Nixon decided he had
a genius plan that would keep the whole thing out of court and decide
everything in his direction. We`re living that again. Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Senator John Stennis, who is a Democrat from Mississippi, who was
elected to the Senate in 1947. He`s widely respected on both sides of the
aisle, served in the Senate for a long time, more than 40 years. But in
1973, Senator Stennis got held up on the street. He got shot. And he
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator John Stennis was shot in a Washington holdup a
week ago. Early today, doctors became concerned over his recovery. They
performed a 45-minute exploratory operation, but didn`t find what they
thought was wrong. The hospital said that the operation made Senator
Stennis` condition worse. The prognosis is now grave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was February 1973. Senator John Stennis got shot twice in a
mugging outside his home in D.C. He almost died. But after a long
recovery, he did eventually make his way back to the Senate.
NBC reporters noted at the time that he looked thin, he wasn`t walking as
briskly as he used to. Senate John Stennis was also notoriously kind of
deaf. Senator Ted Kennedy said once that John Stennis was, quote, known to
be a man who was hard of hearing.
But just two months after his return to the Senate, after his near-death
experience, Senator John Stennis, hard of hearing senator who just got back
to work after being shot twice, and having an operation that made it worse,
he got an important assignment related to Watergate from the White House,
an assignment to review the Nixon Oval Office tapes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While special prosecutor Cox is getting ready to fight
President Nixon`s plan to release summaries of the tapes, White House
officials say some of those summaries have been prepared already. If he`s
prepared to go ahead with his proposal, the president intends to have
Senator John Stennis of Mississippi read the summaries and then go over the
tapes themselves to verify the summaries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stennis s says he`s been promised a free hand, but he
doesn`t get kno-how. He`ll go about his job.
SEN. JOHN STENNIS (D), MISSISSIPPI: Based on evidence I have, though, as
of now, I think they are authentic. I have no reason to the contrary. If
I am convinced it`s a fake in any way, I would quit the business. I
wouldn`t want to be a party. I don`t believe, though, that these tapes are
a fraud in their present condition. And – but that`s a good point to
raise. And that`s the way I feel about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was October 1973. White House called up 72-year-old Senator
John Stennis to help the president get out of a jam.
Special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox wanted the White
House to turn over tapes from inside the Oval Office. The president
refused to turn over those tapes. It started a legal fight that went all
the way to the Supreme Court. But while Nixon and Cox were fighting about
those tapes, the White House proposed a way off the standoff. Let`s just
make a deal like gentlemen here.
Nixon said, I will not turn over the recordings to you, but I will turn
over, in his own words he said, quote, a statement prepare bid me,
personally, a full disclosure of everything contained in those tapes that
has any bearing on Watergate.
So, Nixon wouldn`t turn over the tapes to the judge but would listen to
them himself and then he would just tell us what was on them. He`d tell us
for sure whether there was anything that incriminated him on those tapes,
Now, who wouldn`t take a deal like that? Nixon had to know nobody would
agree to that. So, his offer had one more component to it. The Stennis
compromise. Yes, he, himself, would be writing up the summaries of
anything relevant to Watergate on the tapes.
But the linchpin to his whole plan was John Stennis. They would have
Senator Stennis read Nixon`s summaries of what was on the tapes and Senator
Stennis alone would be allowed to listen to the tapes, to verify that the
written statements of the tapes were accurate, and that would prove to
everyone that there was definitely nothing hiding in those tapes that would
incriminate Nixon. That`s how the country could be sure that Nixon wasn`t
lying about whatever was on them.
And the whole thing is cuckoo, right? Instead of responding to the
subpoena, giving the tapes over, we`ll play this elaborate game of
telephone about what`s on the tapes and the guy on the other end of the
telephone is a 72-year-old half dead hard of hearing guy who just got shot
twice, the guy who`s famous for having to ask people to repeat things over
and over again because he can`t hear what they`re saying, even in the
course of normal business. He would be the authenticator of all the audio
tapes. I`m sorry, what was that again?
That is the guy who they picked to be the one to listen to the Nixon tapes
and make sure that Nixon`s summaries of the tapes were correct.
Special prosecutor Archibald Cox said, yes, no. No. And that`s why, on
Saturday, Nixon ordered Archibald Cox to be fired. And his attorney
general said no, I won`t fire him. Then he quit. Then the deputy attorney
general said no, I won`t fire him. And then he quit.
And then, finally, the number three official in the Justice Department
said, OK, I`ll fire him. T was the Saturday Night Massacre.
What led to the Saturday Night Massacre was this amazing gambit by the
White House, right? Don`t hand over the tapes. Just provide what the
president says is on the tapes. Sure, that will be fine. Yes. Sure.
The Trump legal team has already tried one version of this. On January
8th, which feels like ten years ago now, NBC was the first to report that
the president`s legal team was in talks with special counsel Robert Mueller
about negotiating for the president to be interviewed by Mueller for his
The laugh out loud detail in that NBC News story was the part where one
person familiar with the president`s legal strategy said one possibility of
the president`s legal team liked the idea of would be to forego the
president`s interview with Mueller all together, but instead they had
something to offer. They would give Robert Mueller, quote, an affidavit
signed by the president, affirming that he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Sure. Well, who could possibly reject that offer? Why question him if he
can just sign something that says, dear Robert, I`m totally innocent.
Believe me. Love, the president.
Right? That should do it. Who could argue? They actually tried that.
And now, it`s possible they are trying it again, a different version of
We got Congressman Jim Himes from the Intelligence Committee here next.
But as House Republicans appear ready to release their classified memo
tomorrow, the one they say must be revealed because it will exonerate the
White House, both the House Republicans who put their name on this and the
White House are now refusing to answer questions as to whether or not this
shocking memo exonerating the Trump White House was actually written by the
Trump White House.
And why wouldn`t you trust the president to give you all of the information
you need about what the president did and when he did it?
Congressman Jim Himes joins us next.
MADDOW: – Democrat of Connecticut, he`s a member of the House
Intelligence Committee, Congressman Himes, thanks very much for joining us
tonight. I really appreciate your time, sir.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Great to be with you,
MADDOW: We don`t know for sure if this is going to happen tomorrow, if the
House Republicans are going to release this classified memo. But the
president has been described in multiple news reports as anticipating that
this classified memo release will provide him the pretense that he needs to
fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein who is overseeing the
Mueller investigation. Again, that`s multiple news reports. I don`t know
if that`s true or not.
Are you expecting that?
HIMES: I would certainly hope that wouldn`t be the case. This memo is a
transparent, political hit job. When it is released, if it is released,
people like you and many other journalists and the people who are named,
and the institutions that are named like the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the Justice Department, will have an opportunity to point
out what a second-rate piece of work it is.
Now, individuals are named, I suppose could be used since it alleges bias
at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. I suppose it could be used as
a pretext to fire the deputy attorney general.
But, remember, this is the guy that the president hired, who wrote a memo a
little unusual for a deputy attorney general justifying the firing of Jim
Comey. He is a Republican. Firing Rosenstein cannot be done based on any
sort of partisan or allegation of bias. It would be a pretty clear attempt
to sabotage the investigation, the Department of Justice and FBI
investigation. I would be a little shocked if that happened.
MADDOW: I feel like your argument there makes sense to me, makes sense to
me as a legal matter even though I`m not a lawyer, just thinking about
obstruction of justice and what I know about it and how these things get
pursued. I do feel like the president and conservative media, pro-Trump
conservative media are sort of locked in a bit of a folly adieu on this
where they are talking to each other, in some cases literally. They have
convinced one another that American will rise up against the Mueller
investigation and indeed against the FBI and Justice Department when this
information comes out and that will give the president all the backing he
needs to do this without fear of repercussion.
That`s what I see happening on the right. And we won`t know until it
happens. But as far as you know, is there a plan? Do you think there
would be any response in Congress, for example, if the deputy attorney
general is fired?
HIMES: Well, if that were the plan, it wasn`t executed flawlessly in as
much as Speaker Ryan today and yesterday said this memo is not about the
Mueller investigation. And he warned Republicans in the Congress not to
confuse the allegations in the memo, which are allegations of bias towards
the DOJ and the FBI, he explicitly warned them not to conflate this with
the Mueller investigation and, in fact, said that the Mueller investigation
Now does that mean that that`s what`s going to happen? No. This memo is
very clearly the latest installment in a series of efforts that Chairman
Nunes has been making since James Comey announced the existence of the
Russia investigation and the question of whether there was collusion
starting with the midnight run to the White House to get the allegations
that Trump was being spied on, continuing with the allegations that Susan
Rice and Samantha Powers amongst others were inappropriately unmasking
Americans, all of which turned out to be complete baloney.
This is the next step and what`s going to happen if and when this memo is
made public is that the American public is going to see it for the really
shoddy work it is, even if they don`t get a chance to see the Democratic
rebuttal of that memo.
MADDOW: Two questions on that, do you think there will be release of the
Democratic memo rebutting it? And do you yet have any clarity, do you and
other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have any clarity as to
whether or not the White House actually helped produce this memo?
HIMES: We don`t have clarity on the second question. And in fact,
Congressman Quigley in the meeting this was presented to us out of the blue
for the authorization to provide to other members of Congress, he asked the
chairman precisely that question and the chairman refused to answer it.
So, none of us really know.
If it were true, it wouldn`t be inconsistent with the chairman`s back and
forth with the White House on this overall effort to cloud the waters
around this investigation. But I do not know.
To answer your question about the Democratic memo, the Democratic memo is
actually a 10-page memo going point by point through the Republican memo
and pointing out how the timelines in the Republican memo don`t work out,
pointing out that each allegation is at best cherry picked and at worst not
at all indicative of the bias that the Republicans are trying to allege.
Now, what`s interesting is the president under this procedure for
declassification, the president, just as he`s looking at the Republican
memo would have to approve the release or would have the opportunity to
object to the release of the Democratic memo. What do you think Donald
Trump is going to do with a 10-page repudiation of the Republican memo?
MADDOW: I have a feeling that`s one thing no one will take a bet on.
Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, member of the Intelligence
Committee, thank you for your time tonight, sir. Very helpful. Thanks.
HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got one more story here tonight. As I mentioned
earlier, a little bit of a mini-scoop about the president`s legal defense.
This is exclusive. We`ve got it next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Found this today on the Office of Government Ethics Website.
Check this out. It`s called the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust. You can
see on Monday, the Office of Government Ethics weighed in on this and said
they don`t approve or disapprove of legal defense funds but they said the
ones in the papers would comply with the federal laws about how government
workers can be paid and about gifts for them or their bosses.
This fund, the Patriot Legal Expense Fund is reportedly to help with legal
fees incurred by employees, consultants, fund raisers or volunteers for the
Trump campaign, Trump transition or Trump administration when it comes to
the Russia investigation by the special counsel or committees in congress.
Aha, finally, we found it. We have reported this awkward truth about the
Trump defense on the Russia investigation. One that created some weird
incentives for people who found themselves caught up in those
investigations. That is that the Trump campaign and the Republican Party
initially spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying the Russia-related
legal fees for two people and two people only – Donald Trump and Donald
Recognizing that was a little weird, the president`s lawyers announced
months ago that the president planned to set up some kind of mechanism,
using his own money to help staffers pay their bills, too. Ticklish
proposition, though, right? How do you reconcile the boss, the president,
dangling help with your legal bills while you the staffer consider how
you`re going to handle questions from the special prosecutor about the boss
who`s helping you with your legal bills?
A Trump lawyer told NBC News in late November that the future legal defense
fund would be for the benefit of witnesses, staffers and campaign workers
forced to incur extraordinary legal expenses merely because they were
witnesses. It doesn`t include any indictees or current targets.
So, the fund would cover a broad swath of people but it would leave out
indicted people like campaign deputy Rick Gates or Mike Flynn, who pled
guilty to lying to the FBI. So, we got that information, that statement
from a Trump lawyer just before Thanksgiving.
Since then, there`s been nothing. No more information. But today, we
believe we found the legal defense fund for Trump staffers that we`ve been
hearing about for a few months now. We believe we have found that it`s on
This Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust looks like this might be how they`re
going to do this. We are the first to report this, who exactly will get
help from the Patriot Legal Defense Funds? We don`t know. None of the
lawyers listed in these papers have responded to our questions yet. The
papers do say money won`t be given out based on whether somebody`s
involvement in the investigations was beneficial to the president. For
example, as for people who are in trouble, quote, the manager shall avoid
payments arising from the defense of any charge or indictment for
dishonest, fraudulent or criminal activity until the manager determines and
the manager saw with absolute discretion that the acts forming the basis of
such charge or indictment were undertaken by the recipient on behalf of or
directly in support of the campaign, the transition or administration in
good faith and without knowledge that such acts were prohibited by law.
You can`t do what?
So they`ve left themselves some room to work on that one in terms of who
might get their legal fees paid for. We asked campaign finance lawyer
Craig Holman of Public Citizen whether the president himself could donate
to this fund. Mr. Holman said, yes, the president in his reading may give
to this. So maybe the Presidential Inaugural Committee which we believe
that has tens of millions of dollars left over, maybe they could do so too.
That means this little scoop of ours also poses a quandary in terms of
where the money comes from and where the money goes, right?
Here`s quandary numero dos. Trump campaign yesterday closed out the books
on 2017, toting up the money the campaign got from donors and the people
who bought the red hats with the campaign slogan on them. The campaign
listed all that on their federal report, along with how much they spent and
what they spent it on.
If you bought a red Make America Great Again hat, that was a campaign
donation. You may or may not happy to know that roughly one out of every
four dollars spent by the campaign last year, including your donation, went
to legal fees. And we now know that includes large sums for law firms
which happen to represent the campaign and various individuals in dealing
with the Trump-Russia investigation.
“The New York Times” today notes a significant expense paid to the firm
that so happens to represent the president`s long-time personal lawyer,
Michael Cohen, in the Russia investigation. That firm got over $200,000
from the Trump campaign, donors money.
Now, there`s no way to know for sure what that money or any of the Trump
campaign legal fees got used for and whether in fact it was related to the
Russia investigation or whether it was campaign business. The Trump
campaign apparently didn`t respond when asked whether they are covering
Michael Cohen`s legal costs.
But this is a simple question. I didn`t know Michael Cohen was on the
campaign. Is the Trump campaign paying Michael Cohen`s legal fees related
to Russia? Is that what they`re doing with their campaign donors` money?
The Trump campaign should be able to answer that. So far, they`re not.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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