White House considering release of democratic memo. TRANSCRIPT: 2/6/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 6, 2018
Guest: Tom Hamburger
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: On the dot, actually, like actually creepy like
at the start of the 9:00 turning into zero-zero!
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Like the rocket landing. I would say the
two most impressive thing that happened today, the rocket landing and me
hitting that on the dot.
MADDOW: Now if there were only two of you and that was happening
HAYES: That`s true.
MADDOW: Yes, got it. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks at home for joining us this hour.
Like Chris was saying, you know, it is one thing to see the thing going up,
that`s impressive enough. I`m not sure, though, that I will ever get used
to seeing it come down, at least not like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Ten, nine, eight, six, five, four, three, two, one –
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And it was up with the force of 18 747 aircraft combined. Tens of
thousands of people gathered on the Florida Space Coast to watch, the
biggest crowd since the last space shuttle flight. And then once this
thing was 37 miles up, 60 kilometers up in the sky, two of the booster
rockets, the two on the sides, they split off and they started a controlled
flight back to earth and it went a few more miles up, up to 90 kilometers,
56 miles up and then the core booster, the center booster, broke off, too.
Now, the core booster was supposed to come down on a drone barge in the
ocean. As it was coming down, we lost the feed of that one and we couldn`t
tell from the video whether the core booster, the central booster actually
landed or not. You could on the broadcast, you could hear a voice at one
point say “we lost the center core.” So, we thought that probably meant
the core booster, the center booster, the core booster was lost. Elon Musk
later confirmed that the center core booster did not survive the landing on
that drone ship.
But remember, there were three of them and those first two that broke off,
the side boosters that were supposed to come down not at sea but on land,
boy, did they come down beautifully. Right?
And you could see it before it happened, the two pictures in the bottom
here are camera shot from each of the side boosters. Shot on the upper
left shows you the view of Cape Canaveral, as they`re coming back to earth.
Now watch. Watch this.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: Reusable booster rockets. Incredible. You see them both standing
Both of these have flown in previous launches and if today`s perfect
landing is anything to go by, they will fly again in future launches as
well. So, it`s just incredible. I mean, this was Cape Canaveral. This
was the space coast in Florida, this actually was the exact same launch pad
used to send men to the moon 50 years ago. Now it`s being used to send a
billionaire tech guru`s personal red convertible into space to orbit the
sun. So, it`s different.
This is a national achievement but in a different kind of sway. SpaceX is
an American company founded by an immigrant from Africa. Elon Musk, born
in Pretoria in 1971, a U.S. citizen now since 2002. His company pulling
off this spectacular launch and the landing of the booster rockets today.
This was the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the world right now.
Even if you don`t care about space exploration, admit it, this was
legitimately thrilling to see. Didn`t even seem real.
And then very soon thereafter, the president announced today that he would,
quote, love to see a shutdown of the government this week if Democrats do
not agree to his anti-immigration demands. And then the White House chief
of staff explained that a lot of immigrants to this country are people who
are, quote, too lazy to get off their asses.
And then, seriously, “The Washington Post” reported that the president has
ordered the pentagon to plan a giant military parade for him in Washington.
The president reportedly went to the Pentagon and met with top military
officials about it in person because he`s serious, he wants a big military
parade for himself. He wants tanks and missile launchers in Washington.
He specifically wants them on Pennsylvania Avenue and so, that is
apparently what we are getting.
You know, we sometimes have military parades to mark the ends of wars. In
this case, it`s apparently just because the president wants to see all the
tanks and stuff. He just likes it. So, now, the military is working on
this and the White House has confirmed they`ve demanded it and the
taxpayers will pay many, many millions of dollars for it, including having
to rebuild Pennsylvania Avenue after the treads from 70-ton tanks churn it
up and turn it into rubble, so the president can have his parade.
So, today was in some ways a very inspiring day of the news. Other parts
of the news today may have created other feelings for you. Your mileage
But now, tonight, there is some breaking news from the “Washington Post.”
The White House right now is deciding whether or not to allow the release
of a classified memo prepared by Democrats on the Intelligence Committee
basically to rebut a classified memo the White House released last week
from Trump-supporting Republicans in Congress.
That Republican memo released on Friday, it did not go off like the bomb
they hoped and promised it would, but it did make clear that what the White
House and congressional Republicans think is their best shot at derailing
the Russia investigation, derailing Robert Mueller`s special counsel
investigation, they think their best shot at it is to try to tarnish the
FBI`s whole investigation of the Russia attack, to tarnish the whole
counterintelligence and criminal investigation of the Trump campaign for
its potential cooperation in that attack, they want to tarnish that
investigation, discredit it, and thereby try to make it go away by trying
to claim that the whole FBI investigation was based on information given to
the FBI by this guy, Christopher Steele, the former lead agent on Russia
matters for MI6 in Britain. Attacking him really appears to be the
centerpiece if not the whole game plan for what is now a Republican full
court press to try to save this presidency and stop the investigation into
him that has already brought – resulted in two guilty pleas and multiple
felony charges against two Trump campaign officials.
Now, in the House, Republican Devin Nunes has released his classified memo
that he now admits misstates how the FBI used Chris Steele`s information in
court to get a surveillance warrant. That`s what`s happening in the House
against Christopher Steele.
In the Senate, it`s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, along with
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. They are literally trying to get the
Justice Department to bring criminal charges against Christopher Steele.
And in the middle of this scrum with the president reportedly meeting in
person today at the White House with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
to discuss the Democrats` classified memo on this matter, with the White
House actively engaged in making its decision about releasing the
Democratic information or not, letting the Republican attacks on the FBI
and Chris Steele stand unanswered or not as they are in the middle of
making that decision with a five-day clock ticking and today is day two,
now in the middle of that, “The Washington Post” has just published a whole
bunch of new reporting we have never seen before about what actually
happened between this guy Christopher Steele and the FBI.
Quoting from the lead here: In the fall of 2016, a little more than a month
before Donald Trump was elected president, Christopher Steele had the
undivided attention of the FBI. For months, the British former spy had
been working to alert the Americans to what he believed were disturbing
ties Trump had to Russia. He`d grown so worried about what he learned from
his Russia network about the Kremlin`s plans that he told colleagues it
was, quote, like sitting on a nuclear weapon.
Well, he was now being summoned to Rome where he spent hours in a discreet
location telling American officials, some of whom had flown in from the
United States, about his findings. The Russians had damaging information
about Trump`s personal behavior and finances that could be used to pressure
the GOP nominee. What`s more? The Kremlin was now carrying out an
operation with the Trump`s campaign`s help to tilt the U.S. election, a
plot Steele had been told was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
The FBI investigators treated Steele as a peer, a Russia expert so well-
trusted he assisted the Justice Department on past case, he provided
briefing materials for British prime ministers and at least one U.S.
president. During intense questioning that day in Rome, they alluded to –
the FBI officials alluded to some of their own findings of ties between
Russia and the Trump campaign.
So, this is new information. By this point, by the fall, September or
October 2016, before the election, Christopher Steele had been a key source
for the FBI in its investigation of corruption in international soccer.
That was an investigation that led to 14 soccer executives getting charged
in the United States.
In private practice as an investigator in 2014 and 2015, he passed along
intelligence he gathered on Russia and Ukraine to the U.S. State
Department. Quote: He offered us that reporting free so we also could
benefit from it.
After he started working on the Trump research in 2016 where his initial
findings to him were so hair-raising that he sent the first memo in the
dossier by physical courier instead of trusting it to any form of
electronic transmission, when those initial findings were so disturbing to
him, he contacted an FBI official he knew who came to meet with him in
London in July. Later that month, he reached out to the U.S. State
Department, again, an organization, an agency to whom he had previously
provided intelligence from his private research work. The State Department
reportedly told him, this is the kind of thing that needs to go to the FBI,
Thereafter, he spoke with a Justice Department official, an official he had
worked with on the soccer case, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
Then after that, while he was ringing alarm bells wherever he could about
what he saw as the seriousness of what he was finding out, that`s when he
ended up meeting with those FBI agents in Rome. That`s where he reportedly
gathered that the bureau had independently developed information that
appeared to match some of his reports.
Soon thereafter we had the election, Trump won, after the election, Steele,
quote, quickly provided a full review of his findings for a senior British
official, a step he had told the FBI in Rome he would take in the case of a
Trump victory. Then in December, a former British diplomat who was fully
briefed on Steele`s findings, he arranged to meet with Republican Senator
John McCain on the sidelines of a security conference in Canada, again to
try to ring alarm bells here about the seriousness of Trump`s relationship
with Russia and how it may have affected the campaign.
Now, we`ve known that John McCain has been sort of read in on the Steele
dossier and that he had provided its content to the FBI directly to James
Comey after he received it from British officials. But now, thanks to “The
Washington Post,” tonight, for the first time, we`ve got an account of what
happened when they met in Canada.
Quote, Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia described
Steele`s research for McCain and told McCain he could arrange for him to
review it. McCain, he recalled, was visibly shocked. The senator
expressed interest in reading the full report, Wood said, recalling that
McCain responded: Thank you for seeing me, you did the right thing and I`m
grateful. My first thought has to be for my country.
My first thought has to be for my country, or for Chris Steele`s
perspective, my first thought has to be for your country. How else can I
sound this alarm?
Now, Republicans in Congress are trying to persuade the Justice Department
to bring charges against him for having done that.
Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke this latest news and gave
us all this new narrative detail about Christopher Steele, Tom Hamburger,
national reporter for the “Washington Post”.
Mr. Hamburger, congratulations on this really incredibly reporting. Thanks
for being with us.
TOM HAMBURGER, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks so much.
Good to be with you.
MADDOW: So, this report comes in the midst of a concerted attack on
Christopher Steele himself from Republicans in Congress. They`re alleging
he was basically peddling false information to try to take down Donald
Trump for political purposes. One of the things that you disclose in this
new reporting here is that there were at least a couple of meetings between
Christopher Steele and the “Washington Post” during the time that this
Given that, given that you at “The Post” met with him, that you guys knew
what he was working on for some time, how does it strike you, these attacks
that he was trying to sink Trump for political reasons?
HAMBURGER: Well, Rachel, it`s true that Christopher Steele visited “The
Washington Post” and other news organizations in 2016. We had a discussion
with him that was off the record and were not released from our off-the-
record agreement that we did get permission from Mr. Steele`s associates to
mention the fact that we had talked with him during the campaign.
One of the things – and because we had talked to him in September and
October of 2016, we thought that, obviously we`ve been following what he`s
had to say and read the dossier as everyone else did when “BuzzFeed”
published it some months later. We, like the rest of the country and many
investigators, have been wondering is this dossier with its salacious
detail about Donald Trump, could this be true? Can it be corroborated?
It`s a huge question.
What`s happened now, Rachel, is that Christopher Steele is sort of moved to
the center of the polarized fight that we`re seeing so you have the Nunes
memo from the House Intelligence Committee that suggests that the FBI
really didn`t appropriately alert the FISA court, the court that granted a
search warrant for monitoring Carter Page, that there was insufficient
disclosure of who Christopher Steele was. And Senator Lindsey Graham has
raised the question publicly and in his letters to the FBI saying, is
Christopher Steele an informant for the FBI or is he in fact a political
hired gun, an opposition researcher? And he asked the question, can you be
And so, Rachel, what we decided to do was to kind of dive into that
question and understand as best we can who is Christopher Steele, what were
his assignments, and how did he deal, and did he deal, with what would seem
to be an inherent contradiction? A guy who is talking to the FBI about
things he`s learned from Russia sources on the one hand and a man, a
professional, moved to the private sector, who feels he has obligations to
a private client who happens to be working in this case for a law firm that
represents Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
MADDOW: Tom, you mentioned Senator Lindsey graham there. There has been
this effort by Senator Graham and Senator Grassley to refer Christopher
Steele to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. And you have a
striking report on that tonight. You say – I`m just going to quote from
your article tonight: friends and former colleagues say that Steele has
been dismayed on the attacks on him, particularly about a criminal referral
about his actions that two U.S. senators made to the Justice Department.
The move was viewed by some British lawmakers and long time intelligence
officials as an affront to the special bond between the United States and
Could you talk about that, why the British are so affronted by what Senator
Graham and Senator Grassley are doing?
HAMBURGER: Well, I think Rachel, there are a couple things that we learned
in talking to some of Steele`s former associates in the British
intelligence community and we also talked with some members of parliament.
And one of the things we were struck by is how they seemed to be gathering
around Christopher Steele, a person that they know, his record is
considered quite credible during his many years, 22 years working for her
majesty`s secret intelligence service.
And so, the idea that a former intelligence official who has been – who is
considered both credible and reliable and did honorable service would be
charged or have a criminal referral just somehow seemed to be an affront.
And we talked with one member of member of Congress who said – sorry, one
parliament who said to us, you know, here we view Christopher Steele as
someone to whom we owe a debt of thanks because he helped warn not only the
United States as he saw it but also Britain because his dossier and the
word that he put out as circulated widely and he said he`s one of the first
who sounded the alarm and we should be thankful, not critical, and
certainly not, in his view, filing criminal charges.
MADDOW: Tom, let me ask you one last point that to me was just a very
intriguing point that you made here. You describe how Steele is struggling
with what he can do with this information that he`s found which he thinks
is very explosive, very dangerous, like sitting on a nuclear bomb was your
– the memorable quote that you had.
MADDOW: And at one point, he goes to his former boss, the former head of
MI6, Richard Dearlove, to ask for Dearlove`s advice about what he should do
with this information which he believes is very dangerous information he`s
getting about Trump.
Quoting from your article here: Dearlove said the situation reminded him of
a predicament he faced years earlier when he was chief of station for
British intelligence in Washington and he alerted U.S. authorities to
British information that an American vice presidential hopeful had once
been in communication with the Kremlin.
That`s an amazing piece of story telling in terms of the communication
between these two guys, but what`s the underlying story there?
HAMBURGER: So, Rachel, part of our assignment was to understand this guy
Christopher Steele who had these two assignments, one for a private sector
client in fact representing Hillary Clinton and her campaign and another, a
guy who felt he had an obligation as he described it to friends, an
obligation to tell authorities and to alert people to what he had found,
because he claims, at least to his friends and associates, that he was
dismayed by what he found. And we wanted to check this out, so we talked
to a guy who was basically his former boss at MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove,
and he told us that indeed Steele and his partner, Christopher Burrows, had
come to him during 2016 asking for advice, they unburdened themselves, in a
sense, he said, because they were in a difficult situation and were unsure
what to do.
Dearlove called on his own experience before he was head of MI6, he ran –
he was a significant figure in the British embassy in Washington and he
recalled without providing detail an instance in which British intelligence
had come across some artifact of information about a former vice
presidential hopeful some years ago. And what Dearlove told us he advised
these two former employees of his was: what I did at that time was to
recognize how sensitive this was. The most important thing is to get the
information out there.
And what Dearlove recommended was that the two go to a very senior British
official and have them convey it subtly to the FBI so that it would not
become an issue of Britain trying to blow the whistle. He recommended
handling it subtly and carefully. One of the things it appears is that
Steele and Burrows didn`t entirely follow his advice because rather than
going to a British official to subtly alert the FBI, they went – Chris
Steele went directly to an old friend, a colleague at the FBI whom he`d
known for years and told him what he had found while doing this work for
the Clinton campaign and the DNC`s law firm.
MADDOW: Sure, and then that incredible documented timeline of
communication between him and his – the person he knew at the FBI, those
four FBI agents who he met with in Rome, alerting the State Department as
well, his press contacts.
You fleshed this out more than anybody, even though we don`t know who the
vice presidential hopeful was who was in communication with the Kremlin,
you`ve also given us another very intriguing story to try to figure out.
Tom Hamburger, national reporter for “The Washington Post”, this is great
work. Thanks for helping us understand it.
HAMBURGER: Good to be with you. Thank you.
All right. Lots more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Her name is Ching Hai. She`s the leader of a religious cult. She
had her own fashion line. She had a big chain of international
restaurants. Her followers were so devoted to her that I kid you not they
used to buy her old socks.
You know, you get socks that wear out, you either like darn them or throw
them away, in her case, her old worn out socks, her followers would spent
lots of money to buy them and trade them amongst themselves like treasure.
In the late `90s, Ching Hai, they called her the supreme master of Zen, she
and a bunch of her many followers, they gave a really generous gift to the
president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: How would American followers of an obscure religious cult based
in Taiwan try to help Bill and Hillary Clinton pay their legal bills? A
cult with an odd blend of fashion, vegetarianism and Buddhist teachings.
NBC News has learned many of them were told to by cult leaders here in the
U.S., according to investigators. $640,000 much of it cult money, was
brought to the Clinton defense fund by Charlie Trie, a Democratic fund-
raiser and an Arkansas friend of the president`s.
It`s not clear exactly where the money really came from, Ching Hai
followers in America donated thousands. She says they acted on their own.
CHING HAI, CULT LEADER: They asked me if they can help Clinton, if it`s
political motivation or not, I say, OK, just help quietly, don`t blow
trumpet about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Just help quietly, don`t blow trumpet about it.
The Clintons ultimately returned the $640,000 of used sock money from the
religious cult. There were concerns that the money didn`t come voluntarily
from these followers who wanted to help President Clinton pay his legal
bills. Basically, there were worries that the cult was functioning as a
big money laundering scheme of some kind.
So, President Clinton gave that money back. But that is a hard thing about
legal defense funds. It can be hard to tell where that money is coming
from. In presidential scandals, one of the places where people tend to get
in trouble in terms of secondary scandals and in terms of legal troubles is
in terms of legal defense funds. It happens over and over again.
And we`ve got some very interesting news on that front coming up
exclusively here next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: – last week on a new Russia scandal legal defense fund that`s
been set up to help people on team Trump pay their legal bills in the
The first thing to know about this is that it`s interesting. The White
House still has made no announcement, no formal announcement whatsoever
about this Russia scandal legal defense fund. They appeared to have made
have made no effort to publicize it or even to let people know that this
fund is on its way.
We found it, we found draft papers for this Patriot Legal Defense Fund
Trust, we found the draft papers for it on the Website of the Office of
Government Ethics because the lawyers working on setting this thing up went
to OGE for advice for how to set it up. But you can see in these draft
documents, the whole fund is to pay for legal expenses that come from
dealing with the Russia investigation by either the special counsel or
committees in Congress.
The draft documents spell out who is eligible to get help from the Russia
scandal legal defense fund – employees, consultants, fund-raisers or
volunteers for the Trump campaign, the Trump transition or the Trump
administration. That said, you can`t get your legal fees paid for by this
fund if you are the president himself, or a member of his family. And that
means you, too, Jared, no spouses.
So we found this new legal defense fund, evidence of it, online. We
reported it late last week. Again, the White House still has not said
anything publicly about it. The lawyers who have been working on setting
this thing up are also not commenting on it at all. One lawyer for
president Trump wouldn`t even let one of our producers get a question out
of her mouth when she called to ask about it last Thursday.
She said, quote, we have a couple of questions to ask you, sir. Answer,
no, you can`t ask me anything. Good night.
That`s the president`s lawyer John Dowd answering our call. No, you cannot
ask me anything, good night.
Which also would be a pretty good signoff for nightly news shows. Good
Anyway, so they haven`t announced they`ve set up this legal defense fund,
they won`t answer any questions about it, but we reported that it exists
and now, this is starting to get reported out. And already a couple of
issues have bubbled up, including the question of the president`s own role
and own money here.
The idea for setting up a Russia scandal legal defense fund appears to have
come up after this sort of bizarre revelation that the national Republican
Party and the Trump campaign were using donors` money to pay Russia scandal
legal fees only for the president and his son Donald Jr., only Donald Trump
Sr. and Donald Trump Jr. were getting help paying their legal fees in the
Russia scandal. Everybody else was on their own, tapping the kids` college
Now, based on the press coverage that they got at the time they said they
were planning to create this fund, it`s clear that creating this fund was
supposed to kind of remedy that awkwardness. So, they were announcing that
the president, yes, the DNC – excuse me, the RNC and the Trump campaign,
these donors have been paying for his legal fees so far but the president
will start paying for his own legal fees and he will also pay the legal
bills of people who work for him as well. You see the headline there.
Trump to pay his own legal bills, set up fund to cover staff.
So,. that – if that is what they`re going to use the fund for, so the
president can help defray the legal costs of all of the people involved in
Trump orbit caught up in the Russia scandal, that may sort of help the
political problem, the strategic problem of him getting his bills paid for
but everybody else having to cover themselves. But there`s also an
awkwardness to that solution because if the boss is paying your bills, the
boss is the president, he`s offering to help you with your legal bills,
right, you`re a staffer deciding what you`re going to tell the special
counsel about the boss who`s now paying your legal bills, right, there`s an
awkwardness to that, too.
So, this remains an open question and an interesting one. Would the
president start personally paying the legal bills of staffers in the White
House who are being called to testify potentially for him or against him?
It seemed like that was what the fund was set up for, but sure enough, the
day after we first reported on the new existence of this Russia scandal
legal defense fund, CNN reported that the president is, quote, unlikely to
contribute to this fund because it will bankroll bills for multiple
officials, some of whom may still need to speak to special counsel
investigators at least while the investigation is going.
So, this is a sticky wicket, right? Money for the president? Yes, maybe
not. How do we deal with that with the fund? Sticky.
Well, where else could the money come from to fund these legal fees with
the Russia scandal legal defense fund?
On this point, on the point of where the Trump legal defense fund is going
to get its money, I have something that I would like to know, something
that I want more information about.
For several months, we`ve been reporting on and asking about a big
financial mystery concerning the Trump inauguration. The Trump inaugural
committee raised a record amount of money. They raised double the amount
of money that had been raised for the previous record which was the first
Obama inauguration in 2009. Trump folks raised over $100 million for an
inauguration that I`m sure was loads of fun but it really was not all that
For an inauguration many times smaller than the Obama 2009 inauguration,
the Trump folks raised more than twice as much money? This is like one
family buys a full scale, brand new rock star tour bus and their neighbors,
the neighboring family buys a second hand lawn tractor and then you find
out that the second hand lawn tractor family, they paid twice as much,
like, it doesn`t make any sense. It doesn`t make any sense.
The mystery that remains from day one of the Trump administration, from the
Trump inauguration, is that it would seem just based on what it costs to
produce the Obama inauguration and the size of the Trump one, it would seem
that the Trump inauguration likely has tens of millions of dollars left
And adding to the mystery and the sense of intrigue around this, they
really can`t figure out what it is they want to say about what happened to
all that money or how they`re accounting for it and what they plan to do
with it. In June, the inaugural committee told “The A.P.” that a full and
clean external audit has been conducted and completed, but they wouldn`t
give “The A.P.” a copy of that audit then. They never released one
publicly and we ask but they`re not giving us one now either.
The inaugural committee then said in September, they`d publicly disclose
their finances, including gifts to charity they would make from their
leftover money. They said they would do that in November. Come November,
that did not happen.
Committee said in September, they would wrap up the committee. The
committee would conclude in accordance with its charter in the next few
months. Well, as of January, no evidence that they had wrapped up and more
importantly no evidence of what happened to what we believe are their
leftover tens of millions of dollars.
They keep saying information is coming, there will be a full accounting,
there`s going to be disbursements to charity. They admitted they have lots
of extra money. But it`s been more than a year and everything they said
would happen hasn`t happened.
Despite what they`ve said and what they`ve promised over months and months
and months now, as far as we know the committee is still open and they
industrial a ton of money they`re sitting on. Their previous public
statements about it have not borne out. There is something going on with
the Trump inaugural committee and it involves a ton of money.
Here`s the thing to watch, though. If you are looking for a place for the
leftover tens of millions of dollars from the Trump inauguration to end up,
we now know one place that money could go is to the brand new not yet
announced Russia scandal legal defense fund that they just set up. It is
set up to allow for that.
The inaugural committee is a nonprofit that has to give its money away for
a nonprofit use. The Russia scandal legal defense fund is set up in a way
to fit that bill. Two different campaign finance lawyers have now told us,
yes, if they want to do it that way, the extra inaugural millions could go
I`ll tell you, we`ve also contacted the inaugural committee again to ask
about their plans, we still have no answer. So we have this open question
of where the legal defense fund is going to get its money, including
whether the president might end up contributing even though that`s very
awkward. Will the presidential inaugural committee end up doing the
And we do know from the previous bizarre revelation about Don Jr. and Don
Sr. getting their legal fees paid for while everybody else was personally
paying for their lawyers, we also know that there are other means by which
people can try to get their legal fees paid for, right? The Republican
National Committee and the Trump campaign have been paying some selected
Russia legal fees.
And that brings me to this one last point. We got the new financial
reports from the Trump campaign last week. The headline was about the
outsized amount that had been going to pay lawyers. Some of that Trump
campaign legal spending is going to a firm that also happens to represent
the president`s long-time personal lawyer in the Russia investigation,
Michael Cohen, the president`s lawyer, he has – the president`s lawyer has
a lawyer to represent him for the Russia matter.
That law firm got $214,000 from the Trump campaign last year. Now, this
pile of money from the Trump campaign stands out for a couple of reasons.
First is that Michael Cohen was never a part of the Trump campaign. So,
why is the Trump campaign paying his Russia legal bills? He is the
president`s personal lawyer and he does have a lawyer for himself in the
Now, Trump campaign money is going to this firm that happens to represent
the president`s personal lawyer, they`re called McDermott, Will and Emery.
They`ve got about $214,000 in all from Trump campaign donors.
Now, in real life, that firm lives in midtown Manhattan on Madison Avenue.
But in the Trump campaign papers, that firm lives in a totally different
place, a totally different address and this could be a wholly innocent
clerical error, right name for the firm but wrong address, oops. You can
see these crossed up addresses as totally an accident, except the wrong
address, the place where the campaign says they sent that check, that so
happens to be the exact office address of Michael Cohen whom McDermott,
Will & Emery represent in the Russia investigation.
I know Michael Cohen`s office building very well because it`s also this
building where I work. We`re work neighbors a few floors apart.
What happened here, we don`t know. On the one hand, it looks like the
Trump campaign could be paying the Russia scandal legal bills for the
president`s lawyer, making their campaign donors pay for that, even though
he wasn`t part of the campaign. On the other hand it looks like somebody
maybe just fat-fingered the wrong button. So much of this, from how the
legal defense fund is going to work to what will happen to the inaugural
committee money to this weird thing with the lawyer`s address being wrong,
so much of it could be cleared up if anyone involved would be willing to go
on the record and talk about it.
The silence is not helping anybody understand what is going on and what is
going on looks super weird.
MADDOW: He`s here in person, he`s here in studio. Joining us now is
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: I almost missed you there.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right.
MADDOW: I`m used to high fiving you through the satellite.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right, right. It`s a pleasure to do it here.
MADDOW: So, we have been following the story. We broke this story a
little bit in terms of the president setting up what appears to be a Russia
scandal legal defense fund and we were first to break the story on Thursday
night that the legal document setting this thing up had been posted online
apparently in dialogue with the Office Government Ethics. We`ve started to
figure out the sticky wickets around this, including this question of
whether the president`s inaugural committee left over money, of which there
appears to be a giant pile, whether that could be shuttled in that
The reason I want to talk to about this is because it is my general sense
that when there are presidential scandals, legal defense funds around those
scandals are like a magnet for trouble. That it`s a way that people get in
addition trouble. Is that true?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, that`s for sure, and you were talking about Charlie Trie
with the Clinton legal defense fund. That`s an example because,
oftentimes, people give to these legal defense funds for reasons that are
not just charitable and a wonderful feeling that you like to help out the
president. Sometimes, people want something from our president and that`s
one way to make them indebted.
But the other thing is maybe the two words of the night should be hush
money because –
BESCHLOSS: – and it takes us right back to Richard Nixon because 1973
when Nixon was faced with some of the Watergate culprits threatening to go
to the Feds and, you know, really blow this scandal wide open. Nixon
agreed to give people like Howard Hunt and other co-conspirators in the
Watergate scandal money to basically keep them quiet.
The night he fired Haldeman and Ehrlichman, April of 1973, that day he
actually said to them, I`ve got money. Bebe Rebozo, my friend, has got it,
and they keep his (INAUDIBLE) bank down in Florida, you know, this fund,
you can have the money. As it turns out, he never paid it. But there`s a
big tradition of – in the case of Nixon and other politicians using money
to try to silence aides who might be testifying against them.
MADDOW: And in that case was – either with Haldeman and Ehrlichman
specifically, or some of the other people who got what looked like hush
money from Nixon in that scandal, was he offering specifically to help them
with legal expenses? I mean, these are people who got charged with stuff.
That was the basis of those conversations.
BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. And if you look at the tapes, that`s exactly what
they`re talking about and Nixon is absolutely desperate to keep Haldeman
and Ehrlichman in line. He says to Haldeman, I love you like a brother,
keep the faith, and what he meant by saying the keep the faith was shut up
and don`t get me into trouble.
MADDOW: So, there`s a Clinton legal defense fund around Whitewater though
they handled it by giving the money back.
MADDOW: There`s the Nixon example. But then there was also Iran-Contra,
right? I mean, I know that with Oliver North who was one of the highest
profile figures in Iran-Contra, there was a gigantic amount of money in his
legal defense fund. Richard Secord, wasn`t there like a donation that we
still don`t know?
BESCHLOSS: That was amazing. Richard Secord was involved in the illegal
arm sales, illicit arm sales to Iran and he did it through a Swiss bank and
suddenly in the same Swiss bank that was used to transfer the money back
and forth to Iran suddenly appears half a million dollars supposedly no one
knows where that money came from.
MADDOW: The same bank from the illegal arms deal?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, absolutely the same bank, and someone knew, you know,
where to find the account of Secord, and so, this money appears and the
question does occur what was the motive of the person who was suddenly
putting this money into his account.
MADDOW: Into his legal defense fund.
MADDOW: Which ends up – I just feel like it`s the little place where you
plant a flag at the start of every scandal when you start to read about it
like watch the defense funds.
BESCHLOSS: That`s exactly right.
MADDOW: And now we finally got one in this scandal.
Michael Beschloss, NBC New presidential historian, great to see you,
Michael. Lovely to have you here in person.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Me too, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: – politics story that we`ve been following one way or another for
over a year. Since the last presidential election where Republicans did so
well and Democrats did so poorly, things have really turned around for
Democrats all across the country. There`s been a bunch of special
elections from a local level on up to congressional and even Senate races.
And in those races, even in places that are really, really, really red,
we`ve seen these races going a lot bluer and turns out that is happening
tonight as we speak in a very unexpected place. This is story that`s
developing right now. We`re going to have full details for you after the
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So heads up about a small thing that is happening tonight that
could end up being something quite important. In the great state of
Missouri tonight, polls closed just a short time ago in special elections
for four open state legislative seats there. All four of these seats were
seats that were previously held by Republicans. And all four of these
districts are places that went for Trump by huge margins, anywhere between
28 and 64 point margins for Donald Trump.
In these statehouse district races, these are such Republican districts, no
Democrat even bothered to run in any of these districts last year.
Republicans either ran unopposed or against an independent candidate.
Well, tonight, it looks like a different story. And we`ve seen this coming
for a little bit. For the last year or so, Democrats across the country
have been winning special elections or coming closer to winning special
elections that we`re seeing this year before in places that they had no
business competing yet alone winning.
But in Missouri, tonight, there are Democrats running in all four of these
special election races, even though, again, Democrats didn`t bother running
anybody last year. And now, check these out, one of these districts that
went wildly for Trump in 2016, it looks like a Democrat might have just won
These are unofficial results from the Missouri secretary of state`s office
right now. They still need to be certified by local election authorities
and by the secretary of state. But what I want you to know about this,
this state district 97, this is a district that went for Donald Trump in
2016 by almost 28 points. And tonight, it looks like it went to a
This is statehouse race in Missouri, a district just outside St. Louis.
Mike Revis is the Democrat who appears to have won there. Again, did I
mention this was a district only Republicans won and Democrats didn`t
bother to run somebody last year?
One other district, district 129, which is in Southwestern Missouri, in
that case, the Republican appears to have won there by a pretty good
margin. But I want to tell you something about this race, too. Trump won
this district by a margin of 67 points. This Democrat tonight has lost by
39 points. So, even though she lost by a lot, this is such a Republican
district, and it shows a 22 point swing towards the Democrats since
So, this could end up being a big deal for Democrats. Could be a big deal
for Republicans in Missouri who are trying to keep a super majority that
they`ve got in the state legislature. The Missouri Republican Party has
had some – had a bit of bumpy ride in recent years.
This is the party that brought us Todd Akin, who talked about legitimate
rape. If a woman is legitimately raped she can`t get pregnant. The female
body has a way to shut that whole thing down. Todd Akin was the Republican
nominee against Senator Claire McCaskill in 2012, and she beat him.
McCaskill is up again for reelection again this November. One of her
potential Republican opponents this year is Missouri`s Attorney General
Josh Holly, who just said the reason there`s sex trafficking is because of
the sexual revolution in the 1960s and `70s.
One of her other potential opponents is Courtland Sykes. He says things
like, I don`t buy into radical feminism`s crazed definition of modern
womanhood. They made it up to suit their own nasty, snake-filled heads.
So, Missouri Republicans have been having kind of a weird time of it even
before their Republican governor ended up under a grand jury investigation
involving something I don`t have time to explain right now. But, boy, look
But again tonight, Republicans in Missouri may have lost a seat that they
should have felt very, very comfortable about. We`ll stay on this through
Thank you for being with us.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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