Kelly has offered to resign over Porter issue. TRANSCRIPT: 2/9/2018. Maddow
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 9, 2018
Guest: Benjamin Wittes, Beth Reinhard, Jim Himes
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: You see, you just got 9000 on the dot again.
HAYES: Again, I just thought I wouldn`t mention it, but I definitely
MADDOW: It`s just now normal that`s like the bar now.
HAYES: It`s not, sadly.
MADDOW: Well done, Mr. Perfect. Have a good weekend.
HAYES: Have a good weekend.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It is Friday,
which means that the news has gone insane again. I thought for sure this
week we would get a reprieve from Friday insanity because we had so much
Thursday insanity with last night`s overnight inexplicable government
shutdown, which happened between midnight and 5:20 in the morning.
I figured all the people whose job it is to make insane news on Friday in
the Trump era, I figured they would be tired. They were up all night,
This has been an incredible news day, particularly into this evening. We
got a lot to get to tonight.
Some of the latest breaking news this evening is that the White House
deputy chief of staff is leaving that job. His name is Jim Carroll. He`s
been deputy chief of staff to John Kelly in the White House. He hasn`t
been there I think like two or three months but he`s already leaving.
The news about the deputy chief of staff comes amid disputed reports that
the chief of staff himself may be on his way out, as well. The news about
John Kelly having offered resignation comes just after the, in fact,
resignation of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, who worked very
closely with John Kelly. Rob Porter`s resignation followed news reports
which made public the reason why Mr. Porter had been unable to obtain a
permanent security clearance during his 13 months in the White House
handling all papers that crossed the president`s desk.
Domestic violence allegations against Porter by his two ex-wives,
allegations he denies, the allegations were conveyed to the FBI as part of
the background check procedure for the security clearance application,
along with corroborating evidence from Porter`s ex-wives that included an
emergency protective order that was taken out against him in Virginia by
his second wife and photographic evidence from the first wife of injuries
that she says were inflicted on her by her then husband.
That is exactly the kind of thing that can keep you from getting a
permanent security clearance, not having a permanent security clearance is
exactly the kind of reason why you shouldn`t be able to have that
particular job of being White House staff secretary handling classified
information as a routine matter every day in close contact with the
Nevertheless, once that information about those allegations from his ex-
wives was given to the FBI, that information was then reportedly conveyed
to the White House, both to the White House counsel, Don McGahn. Don
McGahn is now emerging as the Selig of every Trump administration scandal.
Honestly, he`s in the middle of all of them. Everything from Mike Flynn
and the Russians to firing James Comey to trying to fire Bob Mueller, to
the domestic abuse staff secretary guy and everything in between, Don
McGahn is in all of it.
So, the allegations from Porter`s ex-wives that were made to the FBI, those
allegations were conveyed to White House counsel Don McGahn because he is
the human sieve through which all Trump administrations must flow. That
information from the FBI was also reportedly conveyed to White House Chief
of Staff John Kelly who has now, according to “The New York Times” and ABC
News, he has now reportedly offered to resign from the White House.
Now, as I mentioned, those are contested reports. John Kelly himself
denied to NBC News` Kelly O`Donnell tonight that he had offered his
resignation but there are multiple source reports that he has offered that
resignation. Clearly, his continuing tenure in the White House is very
much in question. Including some unusual and direct evidence obtained by
“The Washington Post” today that at least someone from – who is a senior
staff member in the White House is trying to shove hard to get John Kelly
out of there.
We`re going to be talking with Beth Reinhart from “The Washington Post” a
little later on in the hour tonight about that knife in the back reporting
that “The Washington Post” has just done.
Honestly, we had thought the possible resignation of yet another White
House chief of staff was going to be our big political news story of the
night, but like I said, it`s Friday. Don`t count your chickens after they
are hatched and laying eggs of their own and raising baby chicks. No
counting. It`s never over. Not if it`s Friday.
I should tell you that this news that the deputy chief of staff is leaving
the White House, John Kelly`s deputy chief of staff leaving the White
House, that makes him actually the third deputy White House chief of staff
to leave the Trump administration and they only got there 13 months ago. I
think – have we tried to even – did we make – did we try – look, we
squeezed them in in yellow front there.
So, deputy – White House chief of staff, that was Reince Priebus, deputy
White House chief of staff, another deputy White House chief of staff and
now yet another deputy White House chief of staff. We need a bigger wall.
Anyway, while we await news of whether the president is about to fire
another chief of staff, as well, yet, another deputy White House chief of
staff is gone, and no sooner did that news arrive that “The Washington
Post” broke news tonight that another White House staffer resigned this
evening and in his case, it is the second White House staffer in two days
to have resigned because of domestic abuse allegations.
Now, this is not the same story as Rob Porter, the White House staff
secretary who left office yesterday. This is a new White House staffer who
you may not have known of before tonight. His name is David Sorenson.
He`s a relatively young member of the White House staff. We think he`s in
his early 30s. He was previously a spokesman for the Republican Party in
Maine. He was a top policy advisor to Republican Governor Paul LePage in
Maine before they recruited him to the come to the White House. “Portland
Press Herald” describes him as having a, quote, reputation as an aggressive
and sometimes combative political operative.
But when he came to the Trump White House, it was in the role of a
speechwriter. According to “The Washington Post”, Mr. Sorenson`s ex-wife
claims he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent two
and a half year marriage and that specific allegations are startling and
dark. Sorenson allegedly, quote, ran a car over his ex-wife`s foot, put
out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall, grasped her menacingly
by the hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off
Maine`s coast in an incident she said left her fearing for her life.
“The Washington Post” says that Sorenson`s ex-wife, quote, gave “The Post”
a photo of her hand bearing the scar she said was from the cigarette burn.
Now, as was the case with Rob Porter, whose ex wives shared their
allegations of domestic violence with the FBI as the FBI was conducting a
background check, Mr. Sorenson`s ex-wife says she too described her ex-
husband`s alleged behavior to the FBI last fall as the FBI was conducting a
background check of Mr. Sorenson for his White House job.
Now, again, according to “The Post”, Mr. Sorenson vehemently denies these
allegations and, in fact, he says that he was the victim here. He was the
victim of domestic violence in the marriage, not the perpetrator. But
despite those allegations, those counter-allegations and his denial he did
anything wrong, Mr. Sorenson has now resigned today, just after another
senior White House official Rob Porter resigned under similar
What else is going to happen before the end of this hour? I can`t tell
you, but we`re not even to the biggest news of the night yet.
The White House also put out word late tonight within the last couple
hours, and they released this letter from White House counsel Don “Selig”
McGahn to announce it. And this letter says that the White House will
block the release of a classified memo created by Democrats on the
Intelligence Committee to rebut those allegations that were made by
Republicans in the House last week about the FBI`s counterintelligence
investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the
Again, the bottom line here is that the Republicans prepared a classified
memo about the investigation to try to make the investigation look bad.
The White House took the totally unprecedented step of declassifying that
memo and releasing it to the public. That was a week ago today. After the
Republicans did, the Democrats said, well, we would like to have our say on
this matter, too, because we think what the Republicans are saying about
this classified information isn`t true and it`s misleading and we can
explain the real truth here.
So, the Democrats produced their own classified memo about the same subject
matter that had to go through the president, as well, if it was going to be
released to the public, had to go through the same channels. The president
did decide to release the Republican memo. He made the evaluation tonight
on the Democratic memo and that one is a no.
So, yes to the Republican classified memo. No to the classified Democratic
one. And, you know, that memo started to seem like a shade show, right?
Forgive me, it has even started to seem, if you don`t mind me saying, it
has started to seem like a stupid story, right?
A week ago, we got to see what the Republicans were so excited about having
declassified it and releasing it to the public. And there were lots of
problems with the memo. It didn`t really prove their point, right? But
let me just tell you why that stupid side show story of that Republican
memo may now be the most important thing in American politics and in
American governance going forward, because that memo is the stupid and yet
super dangerous thing that explains what is actually the most important
news that has broken tonight and I say that knowing that there has been a
lot of big important breaking news tonight.
Out of everything going on right now on this incredible news day, this one
is the big kahuna. Earlier this evening, “New York Times” is first to
report that the number three official at the Justice Department is stepping
Her name is Rachel Brand. She was appointed by Donald Trump. She was
confirmed by the Senate. She has only been in her job for nine months.
But she and the Justice Department have now announced that she`s leaving
the Justice Department right away. And she is going to work for Walmart.
Now, this is not the same story we`ve been seeing with the exodus of
Justice Department and particularly FBI officials since the president and
White House and Trump-supporting Republicans and conservative media have
started picking them off, right, zeroing in on senior law enforcement
officials by name, attacking them as bias and partisan and insufficiently
pro-Trump. The president and his supporters in Congress and conservative
media have already – have gone after a lot of senior law enforcement
officials, right, already fired or forced out are the FBI`s Director James
Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI chief of staff and the FBI
Just this week, we learned that the head of counterintelligence at the
Justice Department who had also been singled out and hounded by the right
wing media, he too is leaving his job. His name is David Laufman, said to
be leaving for personal reasons.
We learned thereafter that an assistant director at the FBI is also
leaving. He`s the assistant director for public affairs, Mike Kortan. He
is expected to be gone by next week. I mean, whatever you think of the
leadership of Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department and Chris Wray at the
FBI, under their leadership, we have seen a succession of senior officials
targeted by name one by one and picked off, all either fired or leaving.
All that reporting that Sessions had gone to Wray and said, hey, you need
to clean house here and the White House chief of staff had contacted the
Justice Department on issues like that, hey, you may want to clean house
here – they have been cleaning house.
But what just happened today with Rachel Brand, this is a different thing.
Rachel Brand as I said was a Trump appointee and she had only been in the
number three job in the Justice Department for nine months. She`s had a
distinguished legal career, including having been a Supreme Court clerk.
But getting named to the number three position at the Justice Department
was a fairly gigantic promotion for her.
Once she got that job, though, as the Russia investigation was exploding
into an existential crisis for this presidency, once she got that gigantic
job given where she was at in her career, she became something else besides
the number three official in the U.S. Department of Justice. She became
the trap door underneath Robert Mueller`s special counsel investigation of
the president and his campaign. And that`s because Robert Mueller gets to
run his own team, gets to run his own investigation but he doesn`t have
total independence. He doesn`t have total free rein.
Under the regulations that set the parameters for what is a special counsel
can do, Mueller needs permission from the Justice Department for important
advances in his investigation. So, if he wants to do something big, if he
wants to open up a new line of inquiry if he wants to bring charges against
He can`t just do that on his own and own say so. He has to advice the
person overseeing his investigation at the Justice Department. He has to
advice them in advance of his plans to do it and he basically has to get
their permission. Well, the person in the oversight rule for the Mueller
investigation is Trump`s appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
It`s funny, Republicans who have been targeting him call him Rosenstein. I
think it`s the same way they call the Democratic Party the Democrat Party.
It`s Rosenstein, to the extent they care.
Anyway, you know, in theory, when there is a special counsel, the person
who is supposed to oversee the special counsel`s investigation, the person
supposed to provide oversight is supposed to be the attorney general. The
top person in the Justice Department, that can`t be true in this case
before Mueller was appointed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse
himself from all campaign related matters including the Russia
investigation following public reports about his own contacts with Russian
officials during the campaign which he had conveniently forgotten about
when asked about them under oath during his confirmation hearing.
So, Jeff Sessions` recusal from all campaign related matters and from the
Russia investigation in particular, that has been a repeated target of the
president`s anger and condemnation. The president tweeted about it, he has
spoken about it to reporters, multiple news organizations have reported
about the president`s continual expresses of anger to Jeff Sessions and
about Jeff Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia matter. The
president has been quite blunt about the fact that recusal he thinks is
unfair to him. It was unfair because he expects the attorney general to be
in position to protect him from something like this Russia investigation.
At some point, though, President Trump and the White House I think woke up
to the fact that the way they were treating the attorney general in this
matter struck people as not the way law enforcement is supposed to work and
at some point, I think they came to the realization that Attorney General
Jeff Sessions resigning and being replaced by somebody who wasn`t recused,
or Attorney General Jeff Sessions trying to un-recuse himself from the
Russia investigation would be at least politically impractical, if not
potentially another instance of possibly criminal obstruction of justice by
So, at some point, they stop trying to getting Sessions out of there and
instead they decided to zero in on another path to try to shelter the
president from the Russia investigation. They zeroed in on Rod Rosenstein,
Quote: according to four sources familiar with the situation, in recent
weeks, the president has been venting about Rod Rosenstein who oversees
Mueller in the special counsel investigation. At times, Trump gripes about
wanting Rosenstein removed. One source says the president makes comments
like, let`s fire him. Let`s get rid of him.
So, the president has targeted the attorney general for removing himself
from overseeing the Russia investigation. The president has then targeted
the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Russia investigation.
And that`s where it becomes really important that we have had this whole
non-sense of the last few weeks about this Republican memo, right? This –
forgive me, dumb Republican memo attacking the FBI and Justice Department
for how they have been conducting that investigation.
And I know you feel like I`m so sick of hearing about the memo because I
know that memo seems ridiculous, right? There was all this hype from the
White House and congressional Republicans. There were weeks of
unbelievably over the top hype on the Fox News Channel about that bombshell
memo and how it would up end everything.
It would end the Mueller investigation. It would result in Mueller himself
being indicted. Trump would be declared innocent.
They had all this hype and when the thing arrived and we got to see what it
was they were so excited about, the whole country collectively had a “where
is the beef” kind of moment. This is what you were excited about?
Well, now tonight we know what all that hype was about. It wasn`t about
what was actually in the moment. I mean, on the surface in terms of what
was actually in the memo, the memo was basically nothing important.
It was – well, I should say there was no relation, there was no relation
between how excited they were about the memo and how much they built it up
and what was actually in it. That memo undercut its own claims. The whole
point of the memo writ large was to say Trump foreign policy advisor Carter
Page should have never been of interest to counterintelligence agents at
This is at a time when Carter Page was literally publicly bragging that he
was working for the Kremlin, which is the kind of thing you would hope
would interest counterintelligence agents at the FBI. I mean, if not that,
what should interest them?
The Republican member memo trying to make the Carter Page warrant into some
gigantic scandal was kind of nonsense. I mean, in terms of the hype at
least and their buildup, it was a dud. So, what was all that about?
Now, we know what that was about, because the president we learned today in
“The Washington Post”, he doesn`t read his presidential daily brief. He
doesn`t like anything written in terms of sources of intelligence, but he
does like to get his information from the Fox News Channel. There are
further reports that Fox News Channel personalities may have actually
directly helped coordinate strategy with the White House around the release
of that memo.
So, if you want to know what the president and the Fox News Channel thought
was important about that memo, it`s not hard to find. They were pretty
blunt about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Rod Rosenstein, you need to explain your role
in all of this and specifically if you were involved in extending this FISA
warrant. And, frankly, Rod Rosenstein needs to be fired.
What now, Deputy Attorney General? What did Rod Rosenstein know? And when
did he know it? He has a lot of questions to start answering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein according to the Fox News
Channel, he`s the whole point of that Republican memo. All of that hype,
all of that consternation, this will be the biggest thing, Watergate times
1,000. Their whole takeaway from that Republican memo was that Rod
Rosenstein must be fired.
Now, in its substance, Rod Rosenstein has no role in the plot of that
damned memo. The FBI is part of the counterintelligence investigation into
the Russia attack on our election and whether the Trump campaign conspired
in it, the FBI obtained a surveillance warrant for Trump policy adviser
carter Page after Page had left the campaign.
They obtained a warrant. It was then renewed. Then it was renewed again.
Then it was renewed again. Rod Rosenstein was one official who signed off
on the final renewal.
Republicans haven`t even alleged anything specifically wrong about that
final renewal or specifically about Rod Rosenstein`s role on signing off on
it, but as long as you don`t bother reading anything and you just watch Fox
News to count on them to tell you what`s in there, it`s very clear what
that memo was designed to do was to set up Rod Rosenstein to be fired.
As they prepare to release that memo, multiple news agencies were able to
report based on multiple sources that was the White House strategy behind
releasing that memo, behind taking this extraordinary and unprecedented
step to declassified that information and release it to the public.
As “The Washington Post” said among multiple news organizations that got
this story, it was seen as something – the memo was something the
president saw as, quote, key to making changes at the Justice Department,
particularly pushing out Rosenstein who oversees Mueller`s investigation.
The whole point of all that nonsense about the Republican memo was to try
to kill Rod Rosenstein. Try to get him out. To create a pretext, to
create a political environment that would be expected that the president
would fire him.
And remember, just tonight, the president has said that the Democratic
rebuttal to that Republican memo, it can`t be released. The whole point of
that whole exercise was to lay the groundwork for the president to fire
Rosenstein who oversees the Mueller investigation.
If he did fire Rosenstein, it`s not like Jeff Session would then be in
charge of the Mueller investigation. That would elevate the next person at
the Justice Department to become the new official in charge of overseeing
Mueller and that`s a very important hands-on role, right? Mueller has to
come to you. He wants to bring charges against somebody new.
Mueller has to come to you if he wants to open up any new line of inquiry.
He has to come to you to answer for his budget. Anything important about
that investigation and its proceedings, anybody in that oversight role is
in a position to say no, to any of those requests for Mueller or to deny
resources to the investigation, there`s really one person in government
who`s legally in a position to kibosh the special counsel on their own say
And it is the senior Justice Department official who oversees the Mueller
investigation who right now is Rod Rosenstein. They have laid the
groundwork over the past several weeks to fire him. If they fire him, the
next person who would step up and have the job is the number three person
in the Justice Department who is Rachel Brand who tonight without warning
In October 1973, it wasn`t a stand off and a list of nonsense accusations
against the surveillance warrant for a guy who said he was working with the
Kremlin. In October 1973, it was a dispute over whether or not the
president would have to overturn tapes from the Oval Office. Special
prosecutor had subpoenaed them, the president said no. Special prosecutors
said no, really, you have to give them to me. President responded by
firing the special prosecutor.
The way he did it was telling the attorney general to get rid of the
special prosecutor. Attorney general said no and resigned. It elevated
the number two person at the Justice Department, elevated the deputy
The president told the deputy attorney general fire the special prosecutor.
The deputy attorney general said no and resigned. The next in secession
there was number three person at the Justice Department, Solicitor General
Robert Bork. Bork turned out to be happy to fire the special prosecutor.
That`s how it happened in October 1973. That`s how Nixon fired Archibald
Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre.
In our case, looking at the line of succession, the attorney general is
recused. Deputy attorney general is someone who the president and his
allies are signaling should be fired. The next person in line is Rachel
Brand who is out as of tonight, and that would put the next person in line
of succession that President Trump may be teeing up to become the next
person in charge of overseeing the Mueller investigation, that would
elevate Solicitor General Noel Francisco.
Noel Francisco, he looks nothing like Robert Bork, but that is the part of
the plot that we are arriving at.
Why is Rachel Brand out? How close is Rod Rosenstein to getting fired? If
that happens, do we expect that`s the start of the end of the Russia
Stay tuned. The night is young.
MADDOW: So, the number three official at the Justice Department is out in
a surprise move tonight, the woman who among other things was next in line
to supervise the Russia investigation after Deputy Attorney General Rod
Rosenstein. Justice Department confirms to us tonight that the next person
in the line of succession now that Rachel Brand has left would be Noel
Francisco who is the U.S. solicitor general right now. Boy, am I willing
to bet that Noel Francisco has been Googled more times tonight than he has
been in his entire life before now.
Mr. Francisco was nominated by President Trump last March. The Senate
confirmed him in September, narrowly, all but one Democrat voted against
him. Before he joined administration, he was probably best known for
having represented former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, when the Supreme
Court overturned McDonnell`s conviction on multiple corruption charges.
Mr. Francisco clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He served
in the George W. Bush administration. He also argued against Obamacare in
front of the Supreme Court.
So, a president increasingly frustrated with a special counsel
investigation into the Russia matter, the number three at Justice steps
down, the solicitor general next in line. I mean, this is a movie we have
seen before as a country. I was 7 months old the last time it happened. I
feel like I`m 700 years old right now watching it happen again.
Joining us now is Benjamin Wittes. He`s a senior fellow at Brookings.
He`s editor in chief of “Lawfare”. He`s here tonight because of his
expertise on these matters, but also because he considers Rachel Brand to
be a friend.
Mr. Wittes, thank you for joining us tonight.
BENJAMIN WITTES, SENIOR FELOW IN GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, obviously, everybody jumps to the furthest conclusion upon
hearing this news tonight. I wonder if somebody who knows Rachel Brand.
Did you expect her to leave? Did you expect her to leave and under these
WITTES: No, it took me totally by surprise. As I think it did a lot of
people, but I actually talked to her this evening and I – you know, she
assures me that number one, she wasn`t forced out. She`s not resigning in
protests. This has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
And, you know, she actually wasn`t looking to leave. She had an offer come
from Walmart that she felt she couldn`t pass up. And so, I think on the
surface here there is nothing untoward. It is very sudden and it`s very
early in her tenure. So, it`s, you know, it`s a bit of a surprise that
I think the major significant chance of it to be honest is the one you
identified in your opening segment, which is the hollowing out of senior
Justice Department leadership in the chain of command with respect to the
Mueller investigation. Normally, you and I wouldn`t be sitting here
talking about the associate attorney general, which is the position that
most people don`t know exists, much less the name of that person.
And the reason we`re sitting here talking about Rachel Brand tonight is
precisely because of the possibility that the president would remove Rod
Rosenstein and whoever is in that seat would become responsible for the
MADDOW: Because that`s not just a theoretical prospect, because there have
been the shots across the bow in conservative media, from conservative
members of Congress, from the president himself both directly by name and
obliquely talking about senior Justice Department officials all being
terrible – I mean, Ms. Brand has to know that her resignation comes amid
over threats that Rosenstein will be fired amid this targeting of senior
law enforcement officials by the president and amid his real efforts to
pressure the Russia investigation.
In your conversation with her tonight, was she conscience about the
consequences of her leaving specifically in that regard?
WITTES: So I don`t want to go into the details of the conversation. I
think it`s fair to say he`s aware of the political environment that she`s
been operating in and that what is going on around her. Look, I think this
is a dangerous moment in the senior ranks of federal law enforcement and
that chart that you put up earlier of the number of people who are no
longer there is a sob – you know, is a really sobering list of first rate
people who aren`t there anymore.
And, you know, I think, you know, adding Rachel Brand to that list is
upsetting. Those of us who are friends of hers and who wish her well are
I`m sure I`m not the only one who`s relieved on her behalf that she will
not be there when, you know, when the apocalypse comes. But I do say as a
citizen of the country, I feel better knowing that she`s there and that
list of hollowed out positions that are no longer in the chain of command
to protect the integrity of the special counsel investigation makes the
position that Rod Rosenstein occupies more important by the day.
MADDOW: Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of “Lawfare”, thank you very much
for your time tonight and particularly for talking to us a little bit about
what Rachel Brand had to say tonight when you spoke with her. Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say. Just on that point that he just said about him being
relieved as her friend, that she won`t be there when the apocalypse comes,
I can imagine believing that as her friend but I got to say, her leaving in
some ways may be the thing that brings on the apocalypse, if her leaving
cleared the way for the president firing his way to end the Mueller
investigation, then, you know, she saw the hordes coming at a distance, let
down the drawbridge and took off.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`ve been following breaking news about the latest departure of a
high-level staffer at the White House. In addition to the deputy chief of
staff who resigned today, which is a whole separate story, we got news late
tonight that speechwriter David Sorenson has left as well. Sorenson
actually now becomes the second White House official to leave in as many
days following serious allegations of domestic violence, allegations which
“The Washington Post” was first to break this story. Sorenson`s ex-wife
telling “The Post” that she did not report her abuse allegations to police
because of Sorenson`s connections to law enforcement officials. They say
she did talk to friends and co-workers about the abuse, which is part of
what reporters look to to corrobate a story like this.
“The Post” reports that one of Sorenson`s wife`s friends helped her create
a bank account outside of Sorenson`s control that she could use to escape
the marriage. Sorenson allegedly ran a car over his ex-wife`s foot, put
out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her by the
hair while alone on a boat in remote waters off of Maine`s coast in an
incident she said left her fearing for her life.
“The Post” also says that she provided the post a photo of her hand bearing
a scar from what she said was the cigarette burn inflicted by him. In
addition to the photograph evidence, she provided records of text messages
and mails in which Sorenson berated her with vulgar language.
Again, Sorenson is denying these allegations of domestic violence and abuse
from his wife. He says that he was the victim in their relationship.
Before coming to the White House, Mr. Sorenson worked for Maine Governor
Paul LePage. While he was there, one of his jobs was overseeing domestic
Sorenson said he stepped down not because these allegations were true but
because he didn`t want the White House to have to deal with all of this
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Even before the avalanche of news that has happened tonight, we`ve
been on resignation watch all day, reporting over the last 24 hours has
been devastating for White House chief counsel Don McGahn. “Washington
Post” detailing late last night how many times McGahn was told about
serious allegations of domestic violence against top White House staffer
Rob Porter. McGahn was first told a year ago, last January and did
nothing. And then again in June when the FBI, quote, flags some of its
findings to the White House.
Then again in September when he learned the allegations specifically were
what holding up Porter security clearance. Then again in November when an
ex-girlfriend of Rob Porter`s reportedly contacted McGahn directly about
these kinds of allegations. So, four times McGahn heard about these
allegations against Rob Porter and he did nothing for a full year while
Porter stayed on in the oval office.
But at least Don McGahn didn`t have the same day John Kelly had. If there
was a potential legal problem with the top staffer like Rob Porter not
being able to get a security clearance because of these violence
allegations, but he was still in there handling classified material, that`s
kind of a systems problem for the White House. That kind of problem goes
right to Chief of Staff John Kelly. It`s his job to fix that kind of
problem before it blows up.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was brought in back in July to bring
order and discipline to the White House, right, to stop the chaos, stop the
leaks, make sure some kind of protocol gets followed. But look at what
happened to John Kelly today. Despite days of reporting that Kelly had
known about the allegations against Rob Porter for months, this morning,
the chief of staff held a meeting at the White House, quoting, “The
Washington Post”, he instructed senior White House staff to communicate a
version of events about the departure of Porter that contradicts the Trump
administration`s previous accounts. Kelly told those in attendance to say
he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse
allegations from two ex-wives were credible.
So, White House senior staff are telling “The Washington Post” that John
Kelly at a staff meeting this morning told them to say things that aren`t
true about how he handled this thing about Rob Porter and domestic
violence. I mean, adding insult to injury, that morning meeting with the
stop the leaks John Kelly by lunchtime was in print in “The Washington
Joining us now is Beth Reinhard, reporter with “The Post”.
Ms. Reinhard, really appreciate your time tonight. It has been a
BETH REINHARD, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Thank you.
So it`s just – I have to ask you, I`m not going to ask you to talk to me
about sourcing. But there is a remarkable speed with which that White
House staff meeting ends up in “The Post” today, with Kelly reportedly
asking White House staff to say things they did not believe were true and
they were uncomfortable to be asked to say by the White House chief of
staff. It is – it`s a remarkable circumstance that you guys were able to
report out today.
REINHARD: Yes, so John Kelly`s reaction to, you know, this, we know dates
back several months. We know based on our sourcing that he was told by Don
McGahn back in September that these allegations against Rob Porter were
holding up his security clearance and apparently did not, you know, feel
like that necessitated him doing any taking of the action.
So and then, you know, his reaction in recent days, he came strongly to Rob
Porter`s defense called him a man of true integrity when these allegations
first broke and then even after, you know, the black eye photos that
shocked so many of us, he said he was shocked by these new allegations as
he put it even though he seems to have known about these things for months.
MADDOW: So, White House officials, according to your reporting about that
staff meeting, White House officials don`t believe John Kelly`s story that
he took action as soon as he realized these were credible and within 40
minutes made sure this guy was out because he takes domestic violence so
seriously. That`s the story, according to your report, he tried to sell to
White House staff this morning. At least some of them rejected it and went
and talked to the press about it.
John Kelly then later this afternoon came out and talked to reporters and
said – and gave that exact story. Is there reason to believe his account
that I turned it around in 40 minutes, that that account isn`t true, that
White House staff were right to be worried that it`s a lie?
REINHARD: Well, the White House has been really inconsistent. One minute,
they are saying that – telling us that John Kelly is urging Rob Porter to
stay because he`s such a valued member of the staff. Another moment they
are saying he`s resigning and were, you know, even though folks going to
say, then when things are starting to look uncomfortable, oh actually he
was terminated, well, maybe not resigned.
John Kelly wants to, us to believe he acted immediately when we know that
not to be true, that he knew about these allegations back in September.
MADDOW: Beth, one quick last question, we had conflicting reports tonight
about whether or not John Kelly said he`s willing to resign as White House
chief of staff. Do you have any reporting on that?
REINHARD: I think we`re still looking into that tonight.
MADDOW: OK. Beth Reinhard, reporter with :”The Washington Post” – thank
you, Beth. Busy night. Really appreciate you being here.
All right. The other big story from the White House tonight is the
president`s decision not to release a memo written by Democrats on the
intelligence committee. That`s really important for a specific reason.
One of the members of that committee joins us next.
MADDOW: – follow the news tonight that Rachel Brand has resigned at the
Justice Department. She was number three at the DOJ. She was positioned
in the line of succession so if the president decided to fire Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who`s overseeing the Mueller
investigation, Brand would have stepped up and take that role in
In that context, tonight, the White House announced that it will not
authorize the release of a memo that`s been prepared by House Democrats, a
memo that was written in response to one from House Republicans that was
released by the White House last week. The Republican memo appeared to be
designed not just to attack the FBI`s Russia investigation, but to lay the
political groundwork specifically for the president to fire Rosenstein.
Now, Democrats say that was misleading. That`s why they say they root
their own. But now, the White House is refusing to release the Democratic
rebuttal. In his letter tonight explaining the president`s position, White
House counsel Don McGahn says the Democrats can revise the memo and try
again if they want to.
But for now, we`ve got one Republican memo attacking the Russia
investigation, declassified and cleared by the White House for public
viewing, and a Democratic memo which says the Republican one is bunk and
the White House tonight says that one can`t become public. At least not in
its current form.
How are Democrats on that intelligence committee going to respond?
Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes. He`s a member of the Intelligence
Committee in the House.
Congressman, thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: Are you able to give us any further understanding of why the White
House isn`t releasing your memo? Why they`ve decided to hold this one
HIMES: Well, I think I am – Rachel, I never believed we were going to see
the Democratic memo approved by the White House. You know, I`ve never seen
this president do anything in the interest of fairness or truth or
accuracy. What he does is in the interest of his own – his own case.
And, you know, this proves it. You know, here`s a White House when the
FBI, you`ll recall, ancient history, a week and a half ago when the FBI and
Department of Justice said it would be reckless to release the Republican
memo, the White House said, well, no problem, let`s do it anyway. And
however, now, they`ve got classification concerns to the Democratic memo.
So, I mean, this just show the world what is going on here, which is this
has nothing to do with transparency, with a search for the truth and has
everything to do with this week`s installment coming either out of the
chairman of the committee, or out of Ron Johnson, he of famous secret
society fame, or the White House to try to erode confidence in the FBI and
Bob Mueller`s investigation.
MADDOW: In terms of the way that memo was hyped in the conservative media
and built up and talked about by Republicans in Congress and then treated
by the White House once they released that Republican memo, do you believe
that that whole exercise was about trying to lay some political groundwork,
some PR groundwork for the president to potentially fire Rod Rosenstein or
take some other action to try to shield himself directly from the Mueller
HIMES: Yes, I certainly believe that was part of it. I mean, there was a
reason why senior officials, including Rosenstein, were named in that memo.
It is sort of, you know, guilt by association.
Now, you know, one of the reasons I look forward to the Democratic memo
coming out because it will show how sloppy and how inaccurate the
Republican memo was. People have to look at the Nunes memo and realize
there was not much there. That really they hadn`t made their case in any
way, shape or form. And, of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and
Trey Gowdy, Trey Gowdy himself said this memo has absolutely nothing to do
with the Russia investigation or Bob Mueller.
Nonetheless, it does serve the purpose and this is what`s happening here,
of creating doubt and uncertainty in a certain small percentage often, that
percentage of our population which spends a lot of time on conservative
media sites creates the sense that maybe the FBI isn`t on the up and up
here. There`s not any evidence that that`s the case. But, you know, if
Mueller comes out with some information that is not interest of this
president, there will be people out there who said, wait a minute, I`ve
been hearing forever that the FBI is not on the up and up here. And that`s
– in as much as that was the objective, they`ve probably succeed.
MADDOW: Can I get your reaction to the number three at the Justice
Department, Rachel Brand, has stepped down unexpectedly. We had reporting
earlier this hour that she didn`t feel under any pressure, that she didn`t
see her decision as at all related to the Russia investigation, of course,
it would have a serious effect on the Russia investigation if in fact
Rosenstein were ousted.
HIMES: Well, you know, unlike your previous guest, I didn`t have a chance
to talk to Ms. Brand about her decision. But apparently, she was offered a
job elsewhere. You know, she`s an expert on 702 surveillance, something
you talked about in the past.
And, of course, that program was reauthorized. I think what`s interesting
here is, and I`m not saying this is necessarily her position, but my god,
why would you want to be a senior president at the Department of Justice
when, you know, the attorney general is not standing up for you in face of
the attacks by the president, where your integrity and your credibility are
being damaged, not just by the president of the United States, but by the
chairman of the Intelligence Committee?
You know, you sort of do scratch your head and say, why would anybody in
their right mind who can probably make four times what you do at the
Department of Justice, at a private law firm, why in God`s name would you
MADDOW: Congressman Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee,
thanks for being with us on a Friday night, sir. Much appreciated.
HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Busy night tonight. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So Fridays are just like this now. We thought the major news out
of Washington for this news cycle would be that there was a freaking
government shutdown overnight last night. Then we thought the major news
would be the reports that yet another White House chief of staff, this time
John Kelly, has offered his resignation.
Then we got word that the deputy chief of staff at the White House is in,
fact, leaving. Then a White House speechwriter resigned in the face of
domestic violence allegations, which makes him the second White House
staffer to leave in the face of domestic violence allegations in two days.
Then we got word that the number three official at the Justice Department
resigned suddenly and without notice and with nobody knowing what that
really means in case the president tries to go down the line of succession,
firing people to get rid of the Mueller investigation.
You know, at this point, I feel like I shouldn`t leave the desk. Anything
could happen. Luckily, though, now it is time for “THE LAST WORD” where
Katy Tur is sitting in for Lawrence. So, as news continues to break, you
will be in excellent hands because Katy can handle anything.
Good evening, Katy.
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