Government funding is set to expire at midnight. TRANSCRIPT: 2/7/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show

Eric Holder, Gregory Korte

Date: February 7, 2018
Guest: Eric Holder, Gregory Korte

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this 

hour. Very happy to have you here tonight.

We`ve got a big show tonight. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is
our guest this hour. He is a hard man to get on television. I am very
much looking forward to talking with him. Our live interview with Attorney
General Eric Holder is coming up in just a couple of minutes. Super
excited about that.

And you by now have also heard that there has been another very senior
White House official who has resigned suddenly, and under troubling
circumstances. This time it`s the White House staff secretary, a man named
Rob Porter. He`s out now or at least he`s on his way out now. He has

This is a person who has serve as right-hand man to Chief of Staff John
Kelly. He spends hours a day with the president. He sets the president`s
daily schedule. He controls the flow of paper across the president`s desk.
So, to a certain extent he controls the president`s access to information.

We learned today for the first time that Rob Porter has apparently been
doing that job all without being approved for a permanent security
clearance, which is itself probably a bit of a scandal for a person who is
seeing everything that crosses the president`s desk.

Now, the reason why he couldn`t get approved for a security clearance
reportedly has to do with serious allegations of domestic violence from
each of his two previous wives. These are allegations he denies but these
are also allegations the White House was aware of reportedly as early as
last fall. That`s when they reportedly learned he was rejected for his
security clearance. And the FBI had spoken to both of his ex-wives who
both reportedly described to the FBI of his alleged abuse.

So, that story, that surprise resignation is a big deal story. We`re going
to have more on that ahead tonight, including some troubling context in
terms of what this follows from other members of senior White House staff.

Today has also been an unusual day on Capitol Hill. This is the famous
footage from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” which is how anybody who
watches Turner Classic Movies thinks about the fact one thing senators can
do is they can filibuster in the Senate to block legislation. They can
talk and talk and talk until they can`t talk no more. And that is one
peculiar tactic we reserve for United States senators.

Today in Washington, the proverbial Mr. Smith was not a senator and not a
mister. Today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi set an all-time
congressional record for the longest amount of time that anybody has ever
held the floor in the U.S. House of representatives, the longest speech
anybody has ever given on the floor.

Now, this was not technically a filibuster because only senators can
technically do that. Effectively, though, it really was the same thing.
Nancy Pelosi took the floor at around 10:00 a.m. for what was supposed to
be a one-minute speech. Leaders of both parties are usually given a little
leeway in terms of how you count one minute. But in Nancy Pelosi`s case,
she just refused to yield back her time for an hour, and then two hours,
and then three hours, and then four hours and five hours and six hours
before she blew through the record.

Now, what this is about is that tomorrow night, Thursday night the
government`s set to run out of money again and to shutdown again if there
isn`t yet another short-term deal agreed upon to keep the government
funded. Now, it looks like another shutdown will probably be averted for
now, they probably will come up with a way to fund the government for now.

But the Dreamers, the people who registered under DACA for protected status
before Trump started threatening to deport them all anyway, they still not
have been taken care of. They are still in the middle of this mess
involving their legal status that the Trump administration has created.

Now, the last time we had a shutdown, which was only two weeks ago on the
one-year anniversary of Trump taking power, the last time we had a
shutdown, one of the things Senate Democrats did get in that fight was a
promise from the Republicans in the Senate that there would at least be a
vote on a deal to fix this mess that the Dreamers are in. That was one
concrete outcome that came out of that shutdown fight in the Senate side.
The Democrats got Mitch McConnell and the Republicans to agree, OK, we will
at least hold a vote on DACA, on the Dreamers. That`s only in the Senate,

In the House, Republican Speaker Paul Ryan has made no such promise. And,
you know, if they did vote on it, a bunch of Republicans would probably
vote for it and all the Democrats would vote for it, so Paul Ryan
definitely doesn`t want to do anything like that. In the House, though,
it`s not clear what leverage the Democrats have to get Paul Ryan to change
his mind on this.

And so, today, it apparently was time for a new tactic. This has never
been done before. A member of the House holding the floor. In this case,
she used her eight plus hours on the House floor to tell story after story,
personal stories of immigrants brought here as kids who have known any –
who have never known any other country besides this one and nevertheless
facing deportation now by the Trump administration, deportation to
countries they have never known.

She held the floor without a break, without being interrupted, without
sitting down for eight hours and seven minutes. She passed the record all
the way back at 3:20 this afternoon. But then she kept going for hours

Leader Pelosi`s office confirmed in response to questions from reporters
that, yes, she did do the whole thing in high heels, four-inch heels to be
precise. Four-inch heels which I measured on my own shoe. Can you see
that? We use a ruler so you can see. Four-inch heels.

I made myself some heels. So that`s a lot. I don`t know if I could do
that for eight minutes, let alone eight hours, but Nancy Pelosi first
female speaker of the House, longtime leader of the House Democrats,
perennially fending off calls from the peanut gallery that she is far too
old to stay in that job. Well, today, at age 77, she broke an endurance
record no young whippersnapper has ever taken a shot at even while wearing

Now, what this means in political terms I`m not sure we know yet. There
was no advance notice that Nancy Pelosi was going to do this today. She
just sort of sprung it on everybody. Now, the element of surprise may have
been key to the logistical success of her pulling this off, I don`t know.

But the surprise factor also meant for much of the day, there really wasn`t
any coordinated PR effort around what she was doing. Democrats didn`t
appear to be, you know, spending the day trying to promote the fact that
this was happening. A lot of the media was late to figure out this was
going on.

But, you know, this is novel, never done before, break through the noise
tactic to try to up the pressure on Paul Ryan to finally allow a vote on
the Dreamers, after all his happy talk on the subject and never actually
taking any action, this was a real concerted effort to up the pressure on
him about that.

This does reflect Democrat`s frustration that this problem isn`t getting
fixed for these 800,000 young people after all this time. And, yes, at its
heart it`s political. Democrats do not have the power to get this done on
their own or it would be done. If they can`t make it happen, they at least
want Latino voters and immigrants and people who support immigration and
the 87 percent of Americans who say this ought to get fixed, they want all
of those American voters to know that even if Democrats do not have the
power right now to fix this problem alone, they want to fix it and they
will at least pull out all the stops trying to get it done.

And yes, that – that is politics. That`s the PR part of this, right?
That`s the demonstration effect, part of this. But, yes, I mean, that`s
what politics is supposed to be like.

You know, you make a principled stand for a policy that you want and then
you fight like heck to get it done. And whether or not you get it done,
you persuade people to vote for you because they like what you are fighting
for and how hard you are fighting for it and they want to help you get it
done. That`s politics at its best.

I think some other important context for what happened up there today is
that Democrats right now, specifically Democrats today are on a bit of a
high in terms of what they think their chances are of getting back in
power, of winning the House, winning control in some of the states. And
that high is because of some elections that happened last night, elections
that swung in Democrats direction by surprisingly gigantic margins.
Margins big enough, I think the Democrats themselves didn`t quite know what
to make of it when the results came in.

Now, we closed out the very last few seconds of show last night watching
these results start to come in. These were four impossible seats for
Democrats to win that were all up last night. Four special elections for
four legislature seats in Missouri. These were all – all four of them,
all districts where Trump`s margin of victory wasn`t just big, it was
massive. This isn`t like that lower left-hand corner, that isn`t Trump
winning with 63 percent of the vote, that Trump`s winning in that district
by a 63 percent margin.

Right, these are seats so red that for, you know, obvious reasons,
Democrats didn`t bother trying to run someone in any of these districts in
the last election. They didn`t even try. But since Trump got elected,
since the 2016 election, something has been going on that`s making
Democrats give places like that a second look. Making Democrats take a
second look at places where it looked insane to even try just a couple of
years ago.

Last year, 2017, obviously not a national election year, but there were
still elections all the time, mostly special elections where a seat becomes
vacant for some reason and they have to hold a special election to fill it.
Special elections tend to be low turn out events. And as a general matter
of American political science, we know the lower the turn out, the better
Republicans` chances are.

So, as a general rule, special elections tend to go poorly for Democrats
even at the best of times, because they`re low turn out events and that
benefits Republicans. That`s not really the way it worked out last year,
though. Last year, there were 70 special contested special elections all
over the country, plus some regular statewide elections in New Jersey and

Looking at least year as a whole, there were four instances all year when a
Republican flipped a seat from blue to red. There were 34 times, including
with a U.S. Senate race when Democrats flipped a seat red to blue. And
even when Democrats didn`t win, special elections shifted blue last year on
average by a ton.

On average, Democrats running last year in races all over the country, they
did ten points better than Clinton did in the presidential race in 2016.
That`s average nationwide. So that includes very red states and very blue
states and places that are purple, too.

On average, you put it those 70 together, it`s a ten-point shift toward the
Democrats. Now – and remember Hillary Clinton did actually win the
popular vote in 2016. So, that was 2017.

So far this year in 2018, which is still a newborn baby as far as years go,
so far this year there have already been nine contested special elections,
heading into the four of them that happened last night in Missouri, the
average swing toward the Democrats this year so far was 23 points. Well,
now after Democrats turned in these results last night in Missouri on those
red, red states in Missouri, now, the national average swing for the
Democrats is even bigger. Special elections this year, it`s an average
swing of 27 points toward the Democrats.

Last night, the swing toward Democrats was so big in those four Missouri
races, it actually flipped one of those super safe Republican seats. In a
district that Trump won by 28 points, they had a 38 point swing in that
district, 31 point swing towards Democrats. And that was enough to flip
that seat, to install a new Democratic member of the legislator in

Mathematically, that looked impossible before Missouri Democrats did it
last night. Now, Democrats look at trends like that. They look at numbers
like that and they say, wow, no seat is safe for a Republican anywhere.
Not if there`s a 30-point swing in Democrats direction even in red states.
Right, that gets Democrats` blood really pumping.

Now, here`s the question. Does that really mean Democrats are doing so
well this year they`re going to win the House, maybe even the Senate?
Hugely important question, right? Among other things, that would mean
passing legislation that matters to Democrats rather than coming up with
new and creative ways to plead with Republicans to please allow votes on
those things.

Of course, if Democrats held the House and/or the Senate, that would make
all the difference in the world when it comes to the Trump administration
and the protection of the investigations at the special counsel office and
all the rest of that stuff. Now, the former president of the United
States, Barack Obama and the man who served for six years as his attorney
general, Eric Holder, in this climate, they have mounted a very specific
effort to target Democratic money and Democratic energy in 2018.

And it`s interesting, given this context, they`re looking at this
environment and they`re deciding on a strategy that does not count on a big
blue wave, making no seat safe anywhere for Republicans. They`re not
counting on some big Democratic shift nationwide being enough to for
Democrats to get done what they need to do.

Today, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is being
convened by President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, today,
they put out a target list of the 12 states they are targeting for
Democratic gains this year. And they`re being even more specific than
that. In North Carolina, for example, their targeting the state senate and
the state house. In Wisconsin, they are targeting the state senate and the
governor`s race.

In Ohio, they are targeting the state auditor`s race and the secretary of
state and yes, the legislature and the governor`s race. But they are also
targeting a ballot measure to try to un-gerrymand that state, to redraw
districts in Ohio so that Ohio no longer basically gives Republicans an
insurmountable head start in winning congressional seats.

Democrats really have been feeling giddy about their prospects in this
year`s elections. And their record in special elections over the last 15
months tells you a lot about why.

But President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are looking at that
set of same facts and they are pursuing a different kind of plan, a plan
that is not giddy and it does not depend on giddiness. It is really
specific, and it`s for a really specific reason.

Joining us now is former attorney general, now the chairman of the National
Democratic Redistricting Committee, Eric Holder.

General Holder, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being with us

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: It`s good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So let me ask if my setup does you justice in terms of the way
that you`re seeing this. I look at it plan you`re working on at the
National Redistricting Committee, and I see that as something that seems
technocratic almost in its approach, very specific. It seems you`ve got a
goal that doesn`t depend on there being a big blue wave.

HOLDER: Well, we certainly want to have substantial numbers of voters
participating in the process. We think that always will benefit Democrats.
But I think there is a structural problem that we have to deal with that`s
caused by the gerrymandering that was done after the census in 2011 that
has led what has been called a durable majority, seats that are just
uncontested for Republicans in the House at about 15 to 16 members, the
House of Representatives. And in the state legislatures, you see that
problem manifest in a whole variety of way.

So, there are structural things that we have to get through, and that`s
what the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is all about –
getting to a place where we have elections that are more fair, so that
people when they go to the polls and express their views actually end up
having a chance to elect a person who will reflect their policy choices.

MADDOW: So, how long a horizon is this? Obviously, the census year is
2020. 2021 is when legislatures would presumably start doing over –
legislative redistricting overhauls based on new census data. What kind of
time horizon do you have on this project?

HOLDER: Well, we are looking to impact elections in 2018. We worked in
2017 in Virginia and had, you know, a fair amount of success. Although I
think we learned a lesson in Virginia as well. We had in essence what was
a wave, a wave for Democrats in Virginia, but we were unable to take the
state assembly, even though there was a 10-point deferential with
Republicans and Democrats in terms of the number of votes, unable to
overtake the Republicans in the state assembly in Virginia, and that I
think is function of the way in which the lines were drawn.

2018, we`re going to be looking at, as you indicated, 12 states, eight
states we have on a watch list, and see where are those places that we can
make a difference, where is the place that we can support candidates that
will have an impact on the census in 2020. And then also with regard to
redistricting that will occur in 2021, the people we elect in 2018 to four-
year terms will be the very people who will draw the lines in 2021.

MADDOW: And in terms of making a difference, as you say, in those races,
are we really going to see you and President Obama out there stomping for
really local offices, like statehouse seats where there might be only a
couple of thousand votes cast in total? These are – a lot of these are
really local elections.

HOLDER: Yes, Democrats have got to go into the states. We`ve got to go
local. I will be in Wisconsin in April, probably the latter part of March.
There is a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat that is up, and I will be
campaigning there.

The president will be campaigning as well. He will be talking to us about
the kinds of places where we think his influence can have an impact. And I
would expect that you`ll see him doing things you might not expect of a
former president in terms of the level, the level at which he will become
involved, and the same thing for me.

MADDOW: Do Democrats get what you`re trying to do? I was trying to sort
of contrast, I think, the general Democratic feeling or at least Democratic
observer`s feeling with what`s going on right now with the specificity of
what you are trying to achieve here and why. Do you – do people get it?
Do you have the support you thought – I saw on “The Times” today that you
raised a $16 million out of $30 million target. I wondered if that meant
that you are where you want to be or behind or ahead of where you want to

HOLDER: We`re where we want to be in terms of fund raising. The $30
million that we want to raise is for the two-year cycle. We`re one year
into that cycle, and so, we are a little above where we think we ought to

And I think Democrats do get it. I think people`s consciousness has been
raised about gerrymandering. And you look at the state of Wisconsin where
in 2012, Democrats won over 26 percent of the vote and then you look at the
congressional delegation, Democrats only have one third of the seats. If
you look to at the legislature, Democrats only have one third of the seats.

And people are seeing there are problems with that, you know, that the
system is in fact rigged, that people`s votes in some ways don`t matter.
And people are upset about that. People want to come up with ways in which
they can rectify that situation. And I`m not being hyperbolic when I say
this. They want – people want to save our democracy and I think that`s
really what is at stake.

MADDOW: Mr. Attorney General, while I have you here, I would be remiss if
I did not ask you something about what`s going on right now between the FBI
and Justice Department and the White House. I also would be fired if I
didn`t ask you if you`re running for president.

So, can I ask you to stay right there and I will ask you both of those
things when we come back?

HOLDER: Sure, that`s fine.

MADDOW: Absolutely. All right. We`ll be right back with former Attorney
General Eric Holder.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: We`re back now with former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Mr. Attorney General, thank you again for doing this.


MADDOW: Today, you were at an event in Washington, D.C., and after your
remarks, you were asked by, a reporter for “Politico”, whether
you thought special counsel Robert Mueller has enough evidence to prosecute
President Trump for obstruction of justice. You told “Politico” today,
quote, is there a technical case there now? I think so. Now.

Why did you say that? What did you base that on?

HOLDER: Well, I think you`re talking about a technical case as opposed to
one that you might bring out. If ones looks at the dismissal of James
Comey and the reasons why the president told Lester Holt he did that. If
you look at the president`s attempts to try to get people who were the
heads of the intelligence agencies to get involved in this matter, if you
look at the president`s actions on the airplane with regard to that
statement, there are a variety of other things.

I think you technically have a case of obstruction of justice. I`m not at
all – I`m not saying that this is case that you would necessarily bring at
this point, and I don`t think what other evidence the special counsel has.
But I think just basis of what has been reported in the media and assuming
that that – those reports are accurate, I do think that you have a
technical case of obstruction of justice.

MADDOW: If you were an attorney general right now, you would be overseeing
Robert Mueller`s special counsel investigation the way that Rod Rosenstein
is right now, and as I understand it, that means that the special counsel
has to come to Mr. Rosenstein with important investigative decisions,
opening up new lines of investigation, also significant advances in the
case like bringing charges against somebody.

If you were in that oversight role, what kind of a process would you go
through? How would you evaluate what to do if the special counsel came to
you and said, I plan to charge the president of the United States with
obstruction of justice? How would somebody in that kind of an oversight
role decide whether or not that was a proper decision?

HOLDER: Well, I think you have to look at the relevant interpretation of
the various statutes and policies that exist within the Justice Department.
There are Office of Legal Counsel opinions to deal with the question of
whether or not a sitting president can be indicted. And so, you certainly
want to look at those.

But I also know there are opinions that take a contrary view that were
prepared by special counsel in the Watergate matter, Leon Jaworski, as well
as Ken Starr, I want to look at those as well. And ultimately make a
determination if the request from the special counsel was to indict, make a
determination on the basis of all the examinations that I would do as to
whether I would allow the special counsel to proceed in that way.

MADDOW: Is it your view that a president could be indicted?

HOLDER: It`s not settled law. And, you know, I`ve looked at all of those
– looked at all of those opinions, and it seems to me that there are, I
think, fairly – I think some fairly persuasive arguments that can be made
that a president can be indicted. Now, you know, either the controlling
opinion at least at this point is the one from the Office of Legal Counsel
which says that that, in fact, is not correct.

I`ve read that opinion, and I have some issues with it. But it is not
settled law at this point.

MADDOW: We are in some uncharted territory in terms of the relationship
between the president and the justice system. In the last few months, we
have watched the president and some of his supporters in Congress really
try to work to discredit the FBI around the investigations into the
president and his campaign but also sort of in general. In several cases,
they have called out in concerted efforts – they`ve called out by names
specific FBI officials.

The case of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, he was essentially pressured
out of bureau. He retired last month. He`s 49 years old.

There have also been concerted pressure campaigns against other named
senior Justice Department and FBI officials. When you`re in charge of the
Justice Department and something like that arises, I know you didn`t have
to face that same kind of thing, but is there something that an attorney
general or that other people in positions of authority can do to deal with
those kinds of attacks? Would there be – is there more that an attorney
general or anybody else could have done to shield the FBI and senior
Justice Department officials from the kind of pressure that they`ve been

HOLDER: That is the exact role an attorney general has. You are supposed
to shield your people from political pressure. And the thing – one of the
things that disturbs me the most is the fact that this attorney general has
for whatever reason been relatively silent.

When attacks are going against career people at the FBI, career people at
the United States Department of Justice, I have to think that the
leadership at the department knows that these are spurious attacks, that
they`re inconsistent with the reputations that these people have, the way
in which they`ve conducted themselves over the years. And those voices,
those leadership voices need to be heard in defense of the people who they

It`s a privilege to be the attorney general of the United States. What you
have to do if you are the A.G. is protect the values that define the
institution and the people who define that institution.

MADDOW: If the attorney general fails at that, is there a plan B in terms
of doing the most to uphold the rule of law, to uphold the independence of
law enforcement when an attorney general doesn`t take that heat? What else
– what are our other options as a country?

HOLDER: Well, you know, our institutions are strong. Our norms are being
tested, but they are also strong.

The people who work in the department, the people who work at the FBI are
strong. And they will continue to conduct themselves in appropriate ways.
They will make tough decisions and conduct investigations. But they do so
under a pressure that I think is in some ways unnecessary in the sense that
an attorney general might blunt some of it.

But, look – but the real problem here is the president. The president
going after named career people. The president saying things about the
integrity of those two institutions, the Justice Department, the FBI.

No other president has ever said those kinds of things, conducted himself
in that way. And he`s doing long-term harm to the reliability and
integrity of the Justice Department and to the FBI. Long after he`s gone,
we will see the impact of these attacks.

MADDOW: Would you make a better president? How is that? It`s pretty good
I snuck that in there, right?

HOLDER: That`s pretty good.


HOLDER: I think any one of my kids would make a better president than
Donald Trump. But, you know, I think there are a number of people who
would be a better president than the person we now have in the White House
who has, you know, as I said, broken through those norms, conducted himself
in a way that`s inconsistent with what`s best about this nation, you know,
labeled people in very inappropriate ways, used inappropriate terms when
talking about countries, turning his back on our immigrant heritage.

Yes, there are a number of people I think would be better president than
Donald Trump.

MADDOW: Are you going to think seriously about running this year, sir?

HOLDER: Well, I`m focusing on the NRDC, making sure that with regard to
redistricting, I`m focusing my efforts there. And I will make a decision
at the end of this year about what I want to do with regard to a higher

MADDOW: Eric Holder, former attorney general during the Obama
administration, now the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting
Committee, thanks for being with us tonight. I know you`re super busy,
sir. I really appreciate your time.

HOLDER: All right. Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Still ahead here tonight, the surprise resignation at the White
House today from a top presidential staffer who we learned today didn`t
have a security clearance for his entire time in office, and that may have
been because of the serious accusations from both of his ex-wives that he
engaged in domestic violence during those relationships, and that that
information was conveyed to the FBI. That story is next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: – there was a big political shakeup in the presidential campaign.
Donald Trump`s presidential campaign announced that Paul Manafort was out
and henceforth the new guy running the campaign would be the guy from the
Website He would be the new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. He
was announced to be the new head of the Trump campaign on August 17th.

The following week, on August 25th, “Politico” was the first to report that
Steve Bannon had been criminally charged in a domestic violence case
involving his former wife. The police report described in detail what
allegedly happened on New Year`s morning 1996.

Quote, she ran into the house with him following her. She told him she was
calling 911. She grabbed the portable phone. She headed into the living
room where the 7-month old twins were, she was dialing 911. When she got
to the twins, Mr. Bannon jumped over her and the twins to grab the phone
from her. Once he got the phone, he threw it across the room. She found
the pieces she found she couldn`t use it.

Bannon`s wife told police he hadn`t just hurt the phone, he had hurt her.
Bannon quote, reached up to her from the driver`s seat of his car, grabbed
her left wrist. He pulled her down as if he were trying to pull her into
the car, he pulled her down over the door. Mr. Bannon grabbed at her neck,
also pulling her into the car.

Police noted in their police report that they saw physical evidence to back
up his wife`s claims. The officer filling out the police report write,
quote, I saw red marks on her left wrist and red side of her neck. These
were photographed. Police officers put in their report that Mr. Bannon`s
wife described three or four previous arguments that had also become

That incident, that New Year`s Day incident resulted in criminal charges
being brought against Steve Bannon, domestic violence, battery and
dissuading a witness. Put a pin in that. Charges were filed against Steve
Bannon for that case, but when it came up for trial, the case ultimately
got dismissed because the alleged victim, Steve Bannon`s wife couldn`t be
located to testify, which may explain the dissuading a witness charge.

A couple of days after that bombshell report from “Politico”, NBC News got
ahold of a court filing from after the couple`s divorce where Steve
Bannon`s ex-wife explained her absence from that domestic violence trial
after he had been charged. She said that Steve Bannon`s defense attorney
told her to leave town so she couldn`t testify against him.

Quote: Respondent told me I had to leave town, that if I wasn`t in town,
they couldn`t serve me and I wouldn`t have to go to court. He also told me
that if I went to court, he and his attorney would make sure that I will be
the one who was guilty.

So, Steve Bannon when the story surfaced, he said through a spokesperson
that he has a great relationship with his ex-wife and his twin daughters.
But – and ultimately, the charges were dropped. But all these reporting
about these criminal allegations against Steve Bannon, they came out a week
after he was named the CEO of the Trump campaign.

And what happened as a result of that reporting was bupkis, nothing. He
didn`t resign from the campaign. He went on to serve in the campaign until
the bitter end, and then he then went on to serve as White House senior

As far as we can tell, the Trump campaign and the Trump White House never
even bothered to address whether they knew about this domestic violence
incident, when they decided to hire Steve Bannon, whether they vetted him
and found this out, but they didn`t care. It was OK with them.

But that has become a very difficult through line in the Trump
administration since. You might remember when the president nominated the
CEO of Carl`s Jr., Andy Puzder, to be secretary of labor. And it was then
once again “Politico” that first broke the news that his ex-wife had also
made serious allegations of domestic violence. She had appeared on a 1980
episode of Oprah titled “High class, battered women”.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He vowed revenge. He said, I will see you in the
gutter. This will never be over, you will pay for this.


MADDOW: Eight months after that appearance on the “Oprah Winfrey Show”,
Andy Puzder`s ex-wife retracted her allegations of abuse as part of a child
custody agreement. She has since said that actually he was not abusive.
Puzder himself has also denied the abuse allegations.

But after that story came out, Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for
labor secretary. He didn`t become a member of the cabinet. But the Trump
administration is even now considering finding a new role for him. The
president still likes him, likes him around, wants to give him a high
profile job despite the domestic violence stuff that messed up his would-be
appointment to the cabinet.

The president himself has also, of course, faced domestic violence
allegations. Journalist Harry Hurt obtained a copy of Ivana Trump`s sworn
divorce deposition and in his book, “Lost Tycoon”, he detailed an episode
of alleged violence and rape that is related in her sworn testimony. Ivana
Trump has since recanted those allegations against Donald Trump.

When “The Daily Beast” tried to report out that episode and figure out what
happened there not long before Trump announced his presidential bid,
Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen, told the daily beast there`s no such thing
legally of a man raping his wife. He told the publication, quote, you
cannot rape your spouse. There is very clear case law. That`s not true at

But then Michael Cohen started threatening the reporters from “The Daily
Beast” if they went ahead with their story. I will never forget these
threats. I have to say we`ve covered this a couple of times on the show, I
can almost read his off the top of my head now.

Michael Cohen said to “The Daily Beast” reporters, quote, I will make sure
we meet one day in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you
still don`t have and I will come after your “Daily Beast” and everybody
else that you possibly know. I`m going to mess your life up, for as long
you`re on this freaking planet. So, I`m warning you, tread very f-ing
lightly because what I`m going to do to you is going to be f-ing
disgusting. You understand me?

So, this is a sensitive issue for this White House. There`s some sensitive
history on this subject. Well, today, the White House staff secretary,
which doesn`t sound like a big job but it is, a very senior and influential
aide to President Trump announced plans to resign following a series of
reports by the U.K. tabloid “The Daily Mail” relating allegations of
physical abuse from his two ex-wives.

Rob Porter denies the allegations. He is calling them a coordinated smear
campaign. Mr. Porter`s first ex-wife told “The Daily Mail” that he choked
and punched her during their marriage. She shared photos of a black eye
she says Rob Porter gave her during a trip to Italy. She also detailed
what she said it was like when he choked her. She said, quote, it was not
hard enough for me to pass out but it was scary, humiliating and

They divorced. Porter then remarried. Porter`s second wife, now second
ex-wife, said she was walking on eggshells during their marriage because of
his explosive anger. She said he once pulled her naked from the shower by
her shoulders. According to “The Washington Post,” both of Rob Porter`s
ex-wives were interviewed by the FBI when he was selected for that senior
job in the White House. The standard procedure for White House staffer
seeking a security clearance, NBC News has confirmed that Rob Porter was
not in fact granted security clearance.

One of Porter`s ex-wives tells “The Washington Post” tonight that when the
FBI asked her whether Rob Porter might be vulnerable to blackmail, she
answered, yes, because of the number people aware of his abusive behavior.
She said, quote, I thought by sharing my story with the FBI, he wouldn`t be
put in that post.

For his part, Rob Porter, as I say, he denies these allegations. He said
in a statement, quote, I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years
ago, and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what`s being
described. I`ve been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but
I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.

So, that is Rob Porter`s response as he resigns from the White House. But
as for the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly released a statement
yesterday saying, quote, Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor
and I can`t say enough good things about him. He`s a friend, a confidante,
and a trusted professional. I`m proud to serve alongside him.

General Kelly then sent that same statement out again after the second
round of allegations were published today including a photo. But this is
going to be hard to explain away for the White House and for the White
House Chief of Staff John Kelly in particular. CNN is reporting that White
House officials including John Kelly have known about these abuse
allegations for months including the fact they were conveyed to the FBI.

Quote: By early fall, it was widely known among Trump`s aides including
Chief of Staff John Kelly both that Rob Porter was facing troubles in
obtaining his security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had
abused them.

Kept him on anyway and kept giving him more and more responsibility.

“Vanity Fair” reports tonight that White House staffers are deeply
frustrated and are questioning John Kelly`s judgment in deciding to support
Rob Porter on this issue. What remains to be seen how much this actually
matters in this particular White House, right, in the face of multiple
domestic abuse allegations including with photos. The instinct of the
White House chief of staff reportedly was to tell Rob Porter to stay and

I don`t know what kind of pressure, embarrassment or ethics makes you
change that, but there is movement on this. We actually just got a brand
new statement from John Kelly on this. We`ll have that for you next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: We have just gotten a new statement from White House Chief of
Staff John Kelly responding again to this fairly shocking news that a
senior White House official is resigning after allegations of physical
abuse from his two ex-wives, allegations which may have prevented him from
getting a security clearance for the full year he`s been working at the
White House in a very senior job. Staff Secretary Rob Porter has announced
his resignation while denying the allegations. He calls them simply false.

Now, the line from the White House has been that Rob Porter just made a
personal decision to leave that nobody asked for his resignation. In his
initial statements on this matter, the Chief of Staff John Kelly praised
Porter in over the top term, calling him a man of integrity and honor whom
he`s proud to serve alongside. The chief of staff has been sticking to
that line for a couple of days as these allegations have mounted, even as
this photo was released by one of Porter`s ex-wives showing what she says
is a black eye that her husband administered to her in 2006.

Now, I don`t know if it was the picture that may have finally been enough,
but now, tonight, we gotten a new statement from John Kelly in which he has
just stopped just defending and praising Rob Porter.

This is the new statement from the chief of staff, quote: I was shocked by
the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place
for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comment of
the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and
believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I
accepted his resignation earlier today and will ensure a swift and orderly

Joining us now is one of the reporters who has been following this in
Washington. Gregory Korte is White House correspondent for “USA Today”.

Mr. Korte, really appreciate your time. Thank you for being here.

Good to be on.

MADDOW: So, there are sort of two different tracks on which this story
continues to proceed. One is the facts about Mr. Porter`s previous
relationships, and these allegations made against him by his ex-wives. The
other track that is continuing to develop here is what the White House
knew, how senior a job he was in, how early the White House knew that there
were these serious allegations against him, serious enough that they
apparently prevented him from getting a security clearance.

What can you tell us how the White House is handling this news and coming
up with an explanation of how he lasted there had so long?

KORTE: Well, he`s obviously we are more than a year into the Trump
administration. Rob Porter was one of the senior people who has been there
from the beginning. He has a very senior role in the White House. It`s
not really a household name, the staff secretary, but it is a very
important job.

You will see him in these photo-ops and you`ve been showing some of these
pictures of every time President Trump signs a bill or an executive order,
there is Rob Porter there handing him the paperwork. He controls all the
flow of information to and from the president and coordinates the
policymaking throughout the White House. He had been working on a
temporary security clearance from the beginning based on this FBI
investigation, which we now know did speak to his two ex-wives, who
detailed these allegations of domestic abuse to the FBI.

Because of that, he did not receive a permanent security clearance. But a
permanent security clearance isn`t necessarily a prerequisite to getting
White House employment. You know, the security clearance is really at the
discretion of the president for these high level jobs. And so, he was able
to continue to operate.

Now, how long the White House had known about this, we know that they had
known for at least a matter of weeks or months that these allegations were
out there. But it wasn`t until this British tabloid last night published
these allegations that the White House took action.

MADDOW: In terms of the security clearance issue, I take your point
absolutely that this is something that`s within the president`s discretion.
The president, if he wanted to, could give somebody a security clearance,
could clear people to look at things, could unilaterally declassify things
if he wanted to. Famously, it`s been reported that his son-in-law Jared
Kushner with his broad portfolio of policy in the White House, he also has
been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance.

Is it clear at this point from the status of the reporting that the White
House was aware that these domestic violence allegations were the specific
hold up or at least part of the hold up for what was blocking Mr. Porter
from getting a clearance?

KORTE: Yes. Someone at the White House must have been aware, because
unlike other agencies, the Department of Defense and the intelligence
community, the White House polices its own security clearances through an
obscure office in the new executive office building, the Office of
Security. It`s part of the Office of Management and Administration. And
they are the ones who receive the FBI background reports and have to make
an ultimate judgment about whether or not somebody is cleared for a
security clearance.

Whether the chief of staff knew about that – remember, John Kelly was not
the chief of staff when Rob Porter came on on Inauguration Day.

MADDOW: Right, right. Good point.

KORTE: He was the secretary of homeland security. So, what did the chief
of staff know, and when did he know it? I don`t know. But as you have
been pointing out tonight, the chief of staff`s own statements have been
sort of slow to recognize the gravity of this until just a few moments ago
in that statement that you read where he says that domestic violence has no
place in society.

MADDOW: Greg Korte, White House correspondent at “USA Today” – thank you
for helping us understand this evolving reporting. Really appreciate your

KORTE: Yes, thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Tuesday? Tuesday next week, Tuesday, February 13th, day before
Valentine`s Day.

I can tell you right now, I`m going to be cuddling up with the annual
worldwide threats hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
They`ve got an all-star lineup. FBI Director Chris Wray, CIA Director Mike
Pompeo, NSA Director Mike Rogers, Director of National Intelligence Dan
Coats, they`re all testifying in open session on Tuesday. We just found
out today this is going to happen next week.

Here`s a thing to keep an eye on, do our intelligence chiefs in open
session, where we can watch, do they get grilled about their Russian
counterparts? Because it was going to be a secret from us until the
Kremlin let us know that all three of the top spy chiefs from Russia were
recently invited into the United States, including one banned for

It was the Russian news agency TASS which first spilled the beans about the
Russian chiefs coming over. “Reuters` followed up on that Russian
headline, quote, Russia`s foreign spy chief who is under U.S. sanctions,
met with U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National
Intelligence Dan Coats.

CNN then reported that CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with two top Russian
spy chiefs. Whether it was Pompeo or Coats, that meeting took place just
days before the White House announced that we wouldn`t be imposing new
sanctions on Russia for them messing with our elections despite a law
passed by Congress that they have to.

The timing, to say nothing about the open question of how a sanctioned
Russia spy chief was able to come to the FBI in the first space inspired
Senator Chuck Schumer to fire off a rocket to the DNI, to Dan Coats, asking
what happened, how these spy chiefs got in, who invited them, who they met
with, and who cleared the guy to get in here who is legally banned from
coming to our country?

So far as we know, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, has no
responded. CIA director Mike Pompeo did with his trademark wit.

Quote: We periodically meet with our Russian intelligence counterparts to
keep Americans safe.

Mike Pompeo will also be there in that open session on Tuesday. Even if
worldwide threat day is a bust, I have a feeling that`s going to be a very,
very, very good hearing.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.



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