White House grapples with staffing scandals. TRANSCRIPT: 2/13/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 13, 2018
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It was one
year ago today that the Trump White House personnel carousel first fell off
its axis and started randomly flinging people off into the night. A year
go today, White House national security adviser Mike Flynn became the
shortest lived ever national security advisor when after 24 days on the
job, he resigned.
You know, it`s interesting. Ever since, that story has been told as
Michael Flynn being fired as national security adviser after 24 days on the
job. He didn`t actually get fired though. He was allowed to resign and
that detail is easier to remember when you look back on how the president
talked about Flynn at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Flynn, General Flynn
is a wonderful man. I think he`s been treated very, very unfairly by the
media. As I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it`s
really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think it`s very, very
unfair what`s happened to General Flynn the way he was treated. Very, very
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Clearly, this was not a president who had just fired Mike Flynn.
Flynn was allowed to resign. The president said so himself awkwardly
standing next to Bibi Netanyahu. Today, Israeli police announced that he
could be indicted on multiple charges. Anyway, just a neurological
But the fact Flynn was allowed to resign, that he wasn`t fired, the
president made that clear himself and it was made clear at one particularly
excruciating White House press briefing right after Flynn`s departure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Happy
Valentine`s Day. I can sense the love in the room.
When the president heard the information is presented by White House
counsel, he instinctively thought that General Flynn did not do anything
REPORTER: Back in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign
had been in touch with the Russians. Now today, can you still say
definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not everyone General Flynn
had any contact with the Russians before the election?
SPICER: My understanding is that what General Flynn has expressed is
during the transition period, we were very clear that during the transition
period, he did speak with the ambassador.
REPORTER: I`m talking about during the campaign.
SPICER: I don`t have any – there is nothing to conclude me anything
different changed with respect to that time period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t have any – there is nothing that would conclude me. Mike
Flynn resigned a year ago today. That was the press briefing that was held
a year ago tomorrow when they first had to answer questions about Flynn.
So, this is day 24 and then day 25 into the new administration. They are
Sean Spicer as we now know, he had a difficult time with the job of being
White House spokesman, this I think was a particularly difficult briefing
for him but he did his best.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you – is the administration taking any sort of effort
either cabinet-wise or like inside the shop to make sure that everyone
comes forward who had any communications with the Russians about sanctions
SPICER: There is no other information. I mean, that – as far as we are
aware, that is an isolated incident that occurred.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was not an isolated incident that occurred. Will you make
any sort of effort to make sure anybody who comes forward who had any
communications with the Russians about sanctions or otherwise, as far as
we`re aware, that was an isolated incident.
Not an isolated incident. A year ago today, February 13th was when Mike
Flynn resigned because of his undisclosed contacts with the Russian
government that he had lied about. A year ago tomorrow is when the White
House was trying to explain away his resignation really more than sadness
than anger, the president was still praising Mike Flynn to the rooftops.
The official line on Flynn`s undisclosed contact with the Russian
government which he lied about, was that there wasn`t anything wrong with
the contacts per se in any way, they were an isolated incident.
There weren`t going to be any other surprises about Trump folks having
contacts with the Russians. That was a year ago. Within two weeks, we`d
learned that Jeff Sessions had also failed to disclose and lie about his
contacts with the Russian government. Just a few weeks later, it was
presidential son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner who is having to
explain his own undisclosed contacts with the Russian government, which he
lied about, not to mention the meeting he took during the transition with
the head of a state-run sanctioned Russian bank.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: As far as we`re aware, that is an isolated incident that occurred.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There were a lot of isolated incidents then it turned out. But
they started with Mike Flynn leaving the White House a year ago today. It
has since been a remarkable series of revelations about Trump campaign
contacts with the Russian government. But it`s also been an incredibly
tumultuous time in terms of Trump administration people flunking out,
people resigning or getting fired or otherwise having to leave high-ranking
This is our on-going list that we are struggling mightily – can we make
that any bigger? I don`t think even it`s legible.
Yes, boom! Thank you. That`s why you guys get paid the big bucks. Well
done. Front got bigger. Whoo!
We have been struggling mightily to find the right font, to try to keep
this thing update in terms of senior administration officials who have
quit, been fired or left. Just in the past five days, we had to squeeze in
a third White House deputy chief of staff, a White House speech writer, a
White House staff secretary, the deputy head of the Federal Rail
Association and associate attorney general, the number three person at the
Justice Department, all of whom have announced their own departures just
within the last four or five days.
But of everybody Mike Flynn was first. Look at everybody who has come
since then. And now today, this totally unprecedented rate of turnover in
the White House and in the senior ranks of this administration, it
continues to be in focus because all of Washington right now is on the edge
of their seat with expectation that President Trump is about to lose yet
another chief of staff. John Kelly is taking the blame for the White House
handling of Rob Porter, the staff secretary pushed out last week after
serving more than a year in that high-ranking job without a permanent
security clearance because of serious domestic violence allegations against
him, allegations that were communicated to the FBI by Porter`s ex wives and
the concerns were conveyed to the White House.
As John Kelly has bungled even the basic White House effort to get its
story straight about what they knew about Porter and when they knew it and
how decisions about employment and security clearance and resignation were
handled, the reason it feels like John Kelly might have to go in this
particular scandal is because of the repeated and increasing reports to
White House staff, the people who report to him in the White House are
turning against him with vehement.
In “The L.A. Times” yesterday, that dynamic looked like this, quote, over
and over again in the past several days, various White House aides have
buttonholed reporters to tell them they think Kelly either lied to them or
tried to get them to lie about what he knew when.
In the “New York Times”, the uprising against Kelly among his own
subordinates now looks like this, quote, Chief of Staff John Kelly`s long-
time deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, was not a fan of Rob Porter`s. Nielsen has
since left the White House to become secretary of homeland security.
Nielsen while in the White House frequently blocked and tackled for Chief
of Staff John Kelly, making herself the main line of approach to him.
Without her, officials often approach Mr. Kelly freely now and he sometimes
does not remember what he said to different people. Meow.
And now, this is what it looks like in “The Washington Post” in a story
just posted tonight, quote, Kelly, John Kelly, White House chief of staff
is a big, fat liar, says one White House official who demanded anonymity to
share a candid opinion. To put in terms the general would understand his
handling of the Porter scandal amounts to a dereliction of duty.
So, White House officials who are willing to speak about John Kelly that
way to “The L.A. Times” to the “New York Times” to “The Washington Post”,
everybody who works in the White House as a White House staffer reports to
John Kelly. Those White House staffers are now rushing to reporters all
over Washington to tell them how terrible and incompetent they think John
Kelly is, that they think John Kelly is, quote, a big fat liar and further
that he has demanded that his subordinates in the White House lie for him
on this matter.
Once it gets to that point within a staff, that is not likely to be
sustainable. So, in a White House that lost one chief of staff and three
deputy chiefs of staff and a national security advisor and all these other
people, there is widespread expectation that President Trump is going to
need a third White House chief of staff very soon. And honestly, while
we`re on the subject, the other very senior White House official plainly on
the hook for the handling of the Rob Porter matter is the White House
counsel Don McGahn. We`ll be talking later on this hour about why it is
there is not the same immediate expectation that Don McGahn might have to
resign over this scandal as well as John Kelly.
The answer there might be as simple as the fact that Don McGahn has been in
worse than this. Don McGahn is so centrally involved in so many of the
biggest Trump administration scandals from Mike Flynn`s resignation a year
ago on through the firing of Jim Comey and all the rest of it. So, that
makes it hard to see why this particular bad scandal might be worse than
any other one for Don McGahn. He`s really in the middle of every scandal
in the White House including some of the ones that might result in serious
legal trouble for the president himself but remains. Clearly something
made Don McGahn sort of politically bulletproof. We don`t yet know what
In a normal White House environment, you would expect a scandal like the
Rob Porter controversy to result in the White House chief of staff and the
White House counsel probably having to go since they are both responsible
for White House personnel and things like security clearance issues. We
might also expect that the White House communications director and White
House spokesperson might have to go because of their roles in spinning what
are now plainly contradictory White House tales about how this went down.
So, that – that scandal, the Porter scandal continues to bang around
Washington tonight like a pinball game without the glass on it. Something
is going to break there. Now, the parallel to what happened to Flynn one
year ago today are quite striking, both with Rob Porter and with Mike
Flynn, these are scandals not only about the behavior of senior White House
officials, the more damaging aspects of these scandals are about the White
House reaction once they were informed about the troubling behavior of
Remember in Mike Flynn`s case, it was the acting attorney general and head
of the national security division at the Justice Department, they
physically personally came to the White House to warn that Mike Flynn was a
serious security risk. There was good reason to believe he had been
compromised by a foreign government while he was serving as national
Now, the revelations about Flynn`s behavior and his lies about his
behavior, they did ultimately lead to Flynn`s resignation, but the delay
between the warning and him leaving the White House is still now the bigger
scandal for the White House. There is still ongoing open questions about
why the White House waited 18 days after that hair on fire warning from the
Justice Department before they did anything about Flynn. Eighteen days
where Flynn had continued access to the most highly classified information
in the U.S. government.
That was the Flynn scandal. Similarly, Rob Porter, the White House staff
secretary, that scandal, FBI Director Chris Wray testified today that the
FBI first notified the White House about problems with Porter`s background
check for his security clearance last March, that`s months earlier than the
White House has admitted. They were informed there might be serious
problems with Porter`s application to get a clearance.
According to FBI Director Chris Wray today, the FBI first contacted the
White House last March about problems with Porter`s clearance. They issued
a final report to the White House in July. That`s a report where the FBI
said they determined from a national security standpoint Porter couldn`t be
cleared for access to classified information.
The White House then reportedly asked the FBI some follow-up questions
about the problems with Porter`s clearance and the FBI got back to them in
November. Porter was not granted a permanent security clearance. The FBI
closed the file on him in January. They got some additional information
about his case this month in February. Director Wray says the FBI then
handed that to the White House, as well.
So, there have been all of these multiple notifications from the FBI to the
White House about the problems with Rob Porter and why he`s not getting
cleared to handle classified materials. In Flynn`s case, it was 18 days
after the warning. Here from the initial notification, it looks like it
was 11 months. But during that time period, just like they allowed Flynn
to continue to access classified information, they allowed Porter to
continue to handle highly classified information crossing the president`s
CNN reported today that up until last week when he was finally forced out
because of press attention, Rob Porter was being considered for a big
promotion to become deputy White House chief of staff. They`ve gone
through three of them already. He was apparently going to be number four,
despite all of these notifications from the FBI about problems in his
background check that resulted in him not being able to get a security
clearance. They have been told all of those times, as of last week,
they`re still going to promote him?
I mean, a year ago, it was Flynn with these dire national security warnings
and the White House having no response until it was in the papers. Now, a
year later, it`s Rob Porter with very serious warnings about him and his
security clearance and the White House clearing him through until once
again, it ends up in the newspaper and apparently that`s the reason why
people get pushed out.
Like Mike Flynn, even in the face of this new considerable and pretty much
out of control scandal about Porter just like with Flynn, the president
apparently personally feels really positive about the guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we wish him well. He
worked very hard. It`s, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good
job when he was in the White House and we hope he has a wonderful career
and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him, but it was very sad
when we heard about it, and certainly, he`s also very sad. But we
absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The chiefs of all the major U.S. intelligence agency testified in
the Senate today in a hearing about worldwide threats. They testified
unanimously that not only did Russia target our 2016 elections in this
country, they testified that they are also now targeting our 2018
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There should be no doubt
that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the
2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Despite the intelligence chief`s expressing that unanimous opinion
today about Russia building and continuing their efforts to influence
internal U.S. politics to skew our elections, there was a little
awkwardness in the room today when senators asked whether the Trump
administration and president himself actually have directed the United
States to do anything to try to stop the Russians from that kind of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: All morning, gentlemen, we`ve heard the
story of Russia influencing our campaigns and indeed in the current
campaign for the midterms. So, let me say has the president directed you
and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian
influence activities that are ongoing?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We`re taking a lot of specific efforts to
REED: Directed by the president?
WRAY: Not specifically directed by the president.
Director Coats, have you received a specific directive to take specific
steps to disrupt and understand first and disrupt Russian activities
directed at our elections in 2018?
COATS: We work together on this throughout the agency has full
understanding that we are to provide whatever intelligence is relevant and
make sure that that is passed on to our policy makers including the
REED: Passing on relevant intelligence is not actually disrupting the
operations of an opponent, do you agree?
COATS: No, we pass it on and they make the decisions how to implement it.
REED: Any of the other panelist have anything to add on this point?
ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: For us, I can`t say that I`ve been
explicitly directed to, quote, blunt or actively stop. On the other hand,
it`s very clear, generate knowledge and insight help us understand this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So it`s nice to hear unanimity from our nation`s intelligence
chiefs today, that we as a country are definitely about to get walloped
again in another Russian operation against our next election, this year in
2018. It`s nice to hear at least them all agree on that. It`s less
exciting to hear them say that, really, what they are directed to do is
study the matter, that they had no instruction from the president that they
should try to stop it, and that got one person in that room really mad.
And that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I am sick and tired of going to these hearings
which I`ve been going to for five years where everybody talks about cyber
attacks and our country still does not have a policy or doctrine or a
strategy for dealing with them. And we are trying to fight a global battle
with our hands tied behind our back. Director Coats, you have a stunning
statement in your report. They will work to use cyber operations to
achieve strategy objectives unless they face clear repercussions for their
cyber operations. Right now, there are none.
Is that not the case? There are no repercussions. We have no – we have
no doctrine of deterrence. How are we ever going to get them to stop doing
this if we patch our software and try to defend ourselves?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That anger from Senator Angus King of Maine in the Senate today,
his anger over country staying fine (ph) as Russia gears up to try to game
another one of our elections. That was a remarkable moment in the
intelligence Senate. It is I think hard to extricate that anger in the
Senate from the fact we`re living with reverberations of what the Russians
did to our last election as we`re now supposedly, or maybe not, gearing up
for what they`re going to do to our next one.
What sunk Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn one year ago today
when he resigned from the White House was not that he had secret
communications with the Russian government. What sunk Mike Flynn a year
ago today, he had secret conversations with the Russian government, which
he lied about and those conversations specifically had been about
Right after Christmas, after the election 2016, the Obama administration
levied new sanctions, new punishments against Russia for interfering in our
election. That day, Flynn started having secret contacts with the Russian
government, which he lied about. In those conversations, he tried to
undercut those sanctions.
A few months after Flynn`s resignation, we learned about the Trump Tower
meeting that had happened during the campaign, which is attended by Donald
Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, and a whole bunch of Russians.
That was a meeting they did not disclose until “The New York Times”
published an account of it. Their initial defense for why they lied about
that meeting, why they didn`t disclose the meeting, was that it just didn`t
seem important to them, right? All the Russians wanted to talk about was
the issue of sanctions. Same thing for Mike Flynn`s conversation and the
One of the other weird Trump campaign contacts with the Russian government
that we didn`t learn about until months after it happened was Erik Prince,
Erik Prince going to the Seychelles Islands and meeting with the head of a
Russian sovereign wealth fund. Erik Prince also tried to play down that
Russian meeting as nothing important, but what did they discuss at that
meeting? Sanctions. Russian sanctions.
And then Carter Page. Carter Page, the clown prince of this scandal,
initially denied but then later admitted under oath when he went to Russia
in the middle of the presidential campaign as a Trump campaign foreign
policy advisor, yeah, the issue of sanctions may have come up in passing.
Even the forgotten Ukrainian peace plan scandal, remember that one?
Trump`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and a Ukrainian lawmaker and Russian
Trump organization guy with extensive ties to organized crime, they met in
New York at a hotel and come up with a secret Ukrainian peace plan that
they reportedly delivered to national security advisor Mike Flynn in his
officer still there. What was the subject of that plan? Well, among other
things and first among everything else, it was a way to get rid of U.S.
sanctions on Russia.
Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. The anchor that the 2016
election Russia scandal is dragging through our current news and the
current behavior of the Trump administration is sanctions. Sanctions. The
primary Russian objective of lifting the burden of U.S. sanctions on that
country. Sanctions was at least partly the subject of every single
surreptitious contact between the Trump campaign and Russia that we can
document thus far going right back to Mike Flynn having to leave the White
House a year ago today.
The Trump administration started making plans to unilaterally drop
sanctions on Russia as soon as they arrive in Washington. Congress found
about it and freaked out. Congress then insisted legally that the Trump
administration had to enforce and increase sanctions against Russia. Trump
administration then dragged their feet, didn`t want to do it, had to be
nudged to comply to comply with that law.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson then killed off the office at the State
Department that handles sanctions. Just before the State of the Union a
couple weeks ago, another legal deadline arrived for new Russia sanctions
that were supposed to be implemented by the Trump administration. They
instead inexplicably declared that there would be no new punishment for
anybody buying Russian military equipment, which had been the original idea
behind those sanctions.
State Department announced that the existence of a U.S. law in this subject
in their estimation, it was deterrence enough against any bad Russian
behavior. Those sanctions were not meant to deter Russian behavior. They
were meant to be punishment for past Russian behavior, for them attacking
our election. But the State Department decided to let it slide.
The Trump administration was also required by law to produce by the end of
January a detailed report identifying, quote, the most significant senior
foreign political figures and oligarchs in Russia. The way this list was
supposed to be put together was that it was supposed to take into account
high net worth so very, very rich Russian individuals. It was supposed to
consider their, quote, closeness to the Russian regime. It was supposed to
consider their specific relationship to Vladimir Putin or other members of
the Russian ruling elite and crucially, to put together that list, U.S.
government officials were supposed to determine, quote, any indices of
corruption with respect to any of those individuals.
They were supposed to come with this oligarch`s list. This oligarch`s list
was an object of serious fear in Russia. The U.S. government was going to
use its resources to compile a list of gazillionaire Russians who became
gazillionaires corruptly because of their ties to Putin`s regime through
ill-gotten means, right?
Now, there are credible reports such a list was actually produced by
specialists career employees within the U.S. government. That was first
reported by the Atlantic Council. We were able to confirm it with a person
who had knowledge of the process by which that list was created.
We believe such a list was generated as a U.S. government work product as
required by that U.S. sanctions law. But when it came to the deadline, it
came time to push publish the list, that list was never published. When
the oligarchs` list sanctions deadline arrived, instead, Steve Mnuchin`s
Treasury Department literally just put out a list of rich Russians that
they had copied from the “Forbes” magazine billionaires list, plus, a
directory of people that work in the Kremlin.
Putin`s government had been terrified about the actual corrupt Putin
connected oligarchs` list that the United States was about to put out.
They expected to have global consequences in terms of the ability of the
Putin regime and it`s enablers in Russia to maintain their wealth, to keep
doing what they`ve done all these years to keep Putin in power. They were
shaking in their boots about that list.
And again, we have reason to believe that such a list was created by the
U.S. government, but somewhere before the deadline, it got submarined and
replaced instead with this list that was a joke. “Forbes” magazine list
and the Kremlin phone directory, ha. So much for the corruption, closeness
to Putin, all that out the window. Give them a list of rich people and
forget it. Mike Flynn has been gone for a year as of today. Trump
campaign chairman and deputy campaign chairman were both arrested in
October. So much for the corruption, closeness to Putin, all that out the
window. Give them a list of rich people and forget it.
Mike Flynn has been gone for a year as of today. Trump campaign chairman
and deputy campaign chairman were both arrested in October and are facing
multiple felonies. The White House even today right now is an escalating
turmoil over the mishandling of classified information and elevation of
seriously flawed White House personnel to very senior positions. Congress
is waking up to the fact the next elections are less than a year away and
there`s no clear sense from our intelligence agencies that we are defending
ourselves against Russia doing again what they did to us in 2016.
But what they did to us in 2016 more than anything appears to have been
motivated by sanctions, by Russia`s desire to get relief from sanctions.
And the Trump administration is in charge of that and the Trump
administration is behaving pretty inexplicably when it comes to Russian
It is amazing where we have been in the past year. It is necessary to look
up, look forward and see what we`re bumbling into the months ahead. But
there is also something wrong with where we are right now as well, with
what the administration is doing right now because administration is doing
right now on sanctions is what Russia was asking them for all through the
2016 campaign in all those secret meetings.
We didn`t know at the time it was happening, because those meetings were
secret. And that was our excuse then. But now, we know that is what
Russia asked for, and now, right now in 2018, we can see in real-time that
they are getting what they wanted and what they asked for from this
MADDOW: – joint confirmation hearing, Rod Rosenstein and Rachel Brand sat
at the same table and answered questions together. They were nominated as
a pair to be the number two and number three picks at the Justice
Department. They were also confirmed as a pair.
Now, Rosenstein is still there, but Rachel Brand, the associate attorney
general, she quit on Friday night after just nine months on the job. She`s
leaving that plum assignment in public service to go work instead for
Walmart. She reportedly said the Walmart job is an opportunity she just
can`t pass up.
But there was reportedly something else on her mind, as well, when she
decided to leave the number three job in the Justice Department. NBC News
reported soon after her resignation, that Brand quit her top job at the
Justice Department out of concern that she might be asked to take over for
the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in overseeing the Russia
Quote: public criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by
President Trump worried Rachel Brand that Rosenstein`s job could be in
danger, quote, should Rosenstein be fired, Brand would be next in line to
oversee special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation into Russia`s
medaling into the election, thrusting Brand into a political spotlight that
she told friends she did not want to enter.
So, NBC News reported that Rachel Brand decided basically to jump out of
the plane and parachute safely to Walmart headquarters. And the response
from the Justice Department was strong and memorable. Justice Department
told NBC News, quote: all of this is false and frankly ridiculous. Quit
being ridiculous NBC News.
Well since then, since that initial NBC reporting, politico.com has matched
NBC`s report and they`ve added to it. Quote: Rachel Brand badly wanted to
avoid overseeing the Russia investigation according to two people familiar
with her thinking. And there is this, Walmart began courting her around
the time Trump began making noises he might fire Rosenstein.
Walmart, why did you do that? Why did you start doing that precisely then?
Julia Ainsley at NBC News has been reporting Rachel Brand has been unhappy
at the Justice Department for months. She was frustrated in her position,
quote, there were pull, as well as push factors that led to this decision.
Joining us now is Julia Ainsley, NBC`s national security and justice
reporter who broke this story for NBC News.
Julia, it`s great to have you with us here tonight. Thanks for being here.
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Thanks for
MADDOW: So, watching this from the outside and not totally understanding
the kinds of dynamics that buffet people at the top of the Justice
Department, the thing that seems striking from outside is the possible
oversight of the Mueller investigation that Brand might be called upon to
become the new oversight for the Mueller investigation if the president
Now you reported that was part of her thinking about why she left, right?
AINSLEY: That`s right. It was part of her thinking, along with just a
general lack of support and it`s not just if he had been fired. It`s also
if he had to recuse himself. As we know, Rosenstein could be a witness in
the obstruction case because it was he, Rosenstein who wrote the memo that
the White House used to justify the firing of James Comey FBI director.
And so, if he had to recuse himself, she would then fall into that line
just like Rosenstein took over from Sessions once he recused himself.
So, there was sort of this domino effect happening and we know months ago,
Rachel Brand was reading those tea leaves, looking at Rosenstein, looking
at all the pressure he was under and telling people I don`t want anything
to do with that.
MADDOW: So, should we see the Brand resignation? Is there any reason to
see that resignation as a sign, as an indication that either the firing of
Rosenstein is coming or a recusal of Rosenstein is coming, something that
would effectuate this big change in Rachel Brand`s life?
AINSLEY: So, I would think that if it weren`t for the timing. Just like
you pointed that Walmart began courting her a while ago when the heat was
pushing up, ratcheting up on Rosenstein. It`s not that something has
changed within the last week that all of a sudden she wanted to jump ship.
Jobs like these just aren`t something that you get overnight. This has
been in the process for a long time, but it seems there has been a slow
burn. She`s been seeing what could come.
She also just feels really unsupported. There are a lot of vacancies at
the Justice Department when you oversee part of the Justice Department and
30 percent of these division heads are still unfilled, that`s a tough place
to be and to be in a place where she would have less support and more
pressure seems like a place someone who spent a career that is so far good
been very illustrious would not want to end up. That could really tarnish
her reputation if things went awry.
MADDOW: Is there any indication the Walmart job offer came about as a
favor to the Trump administration if the president is trying to game out
how he might try to end the Mueller investigation if clearing people out
who might oversee the Mueller investigation in ways he doesn`t like, if
that`s part of a White House legal defense strategy on this Mueller
investigation? Is there any indication that Walmart was approached to make
her an offer she couldn`t refuse or that they were involved at all in the
thinking about this that might becoming from the White House?
AINSLEY: I don`t have any reporting there was back channel conversations
between the White House and Walmart to give her something she couldn`t
refuse. I imagine that Rachel Brand had a number of options as been
approached by the private sector many times in her career and decided to
take this one because of the time income a lot of ways. And so, it was a
matter of she was now willing to exit this place in the public sector,
which she hadn`t for a long time. She served under the Bush
administration, under the Obama administration.
So, I think the key thing to read into this is that there is someone
pushing someone like this with this kind of reputation out of the
government and into the private sector rather than Walmart coming along to
kind of clean up for the Trump administration. But gosh, if that`s there,
I hope we find it.
MADDOW: Me, too.
AINSLEY: That would be interesting.
MADDOW: Julia Ainsley, NBC`s national security and justice reporter, who
had a real scoop with this one – congratulations, Julia. It`s nice to see
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Much more to get to here tonight. Do stay with us.
MADDOW: This is news I did not expect to be breaking this evening, no, I
never expect in my whole life news like this would be breaking.
But “The New York Times” has just broken some unusual news. The
president`s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, says today that he
paid $130,000 out of his pocket to a pornographic film actress who had once
claimed to have an affair with Mr. Trump. This was the Stormy Daniels
scandal, you`ll recall. There were multiple reports that Stormy Daniels
was paid $130,000 just before the election to keep quiet about her alleged
affair with President Trump while he was married to his current wife.
Michael Cohen is the man who is reportedly behind those payments but he`s
told “The Times” tonight after a lot of questions, weeks of questions about
whether or not that might have been some sort of campaign contribution.
Some campaign contributions, Cohen is reporting it was his personal money
Quote: In the most detailed explanation of the 2016 payment made to the
actress, Mr. Cohen said he was not reimbursed for the campaign, neither the
Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction
with Ms. Clifford, Stormy Daniels, and neither reimbursed me for the
payment either directly or indirectly. The payment was lawful. It was not
a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.
Mr. Cohen declined to answer several follow-up questions including whether
Mr. Trump had been aware that he made the payment, what the motivation was
for the payment, or whether he made similar payments to other people over
So, again, you know you never expect that your news job will have you talk
about stuff like this but there are several weeks of reporting about the
alleged relationship, which Mr. Cohen has denied between Mr. Trump and this
porn star, Stormy Daniels. The $130,000 payment is part of it they did not
deny. The only question is who paid that money.
Now, we`ve got the first account of who did it. The president`s personal
lawyer says he paid it personally and nobody reimbursed him, out of his own
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: – we are having to throw out the planned show and observe news as
it comes in. Welcome to my world.
A remarkable headline just posted by “The New York Times” in the last
couple of minutes. Trump`s longtime lawyer says he paid Stormy Daniels out
of his own pocket.
This is a story that was first broken in “The Wall Street journal” several
weeks ago in January. “The Wall Street Journal” reported that a porn star
named Stormy Daniels, that`s her stage name. Her real name is Stephanie
She alleged that she had had an affair with President Trump while he was
married to his current wife. She detailed this affair in great detail for
a tabloid magazine, which later posted her account. What “The Wall Street
Journal” reported was that a payment had been made to her just before the
election basically for her to keep quiet about the affair.
“The Wall Street Journal” then further reported on an LLC, a Delaware-based
LLC, a shell corporation that had been set up to facilitate this payment,
amid multiple denials that there had been an affair. Nobody really denied
that this payment had happened, which gave rise to questions that this had
perhaps been an in-kind, illegal – illegally large campaign contribution
to the Trump campaign. It led more broadly to questions about who paid
this money. Who was paying women, at least one woman to not talk about her
alleged affair with President Trump right before the election?
Well, now the president`s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen has told
“The New York Times” in a statement that he paid that money out of his own
pocket. Neither the Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was party to
the transaction. Mr. Cohen is not answering whether Mr. Trump himself was
aware of the payment, what the motivation was for the payment. Mr. Cohen
is also not saying whether he made similar payments to other people over
That story has just broken. This happens at a time when all of Washington
son the edge of their seats wondering if the president is about to lose
another chief of staff in the Rob Porter scandal, the staff secretary who
was just pushed out last week amid domestic violence charges and now
serious questions as to how the White House handled those questions. That
scandal is raising serious questions about the future of Chief of Staff
John Kelly, also about the future of White House counsel Don McGahn.
Joining us to try to make sense of this milieu in which we now live is
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent the anchor of
“ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”, and the one person who I know I`m fortunate to
work with who has literally seen it all, who is never rattled and who knows
how to keep these things in context.
Andrea, thank you for being here.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I`m
MITCHELL: Officially rattled. About to lose it. I mean, what else can
MADDOW: Tell me what rattles you the most. Is it the accumulation of all
these happening at once, or one or more of these things seems like it`s the
straw that breaks the camel`s back?
MITCHELL: What`s truly unsettling a year after Mike Flynn left, exactly a
year after Mike Flynn was fired is that this White House has had at Peter
Baker`s count a 34 percent turnover, the chaos in the White House and the
lack of institutional knowledge.
The fact that they for days have been trying to blame the FBI for the
failure to properly vet Rob Porter. They shouldn`t have done that they
shouldn`t have laid it at the feet of the FBI on the eve of Christopher
Wray testifying for the Senate Intelligence Committee. That was a mistake.
Because Christopher Wray was not going to lie under oath. He was not only
going to defend his agency but explain the facts of life to this White
House. It is not up to the FBI to make these decisions. And they were not
made within the last weeks, months, even a year ago they had already told
the White House there was a problem.
And in all of the past White Houses that I have covered, the general
counsel, the chief of staff are responsible for flagging these things to
the president of the United States, or to the chief of staff or whoever is
making the decisions on the political end of the White House. The FBI
simply vets and reports.
And when they give an interim security clearance, that means it`s a denial
of security. That means you should be shuffled out of the White House.
You should not be as a top assistant to the president anywhere near that
And the fact is, it is not a backlog. It is not the fact that there is
700,000 more people backed up. The top assistant to the president are the
first people done, they`re done within a month or two.
And the fact that there was a problem with Rob Porter was reported in real-
time in a timely fashion. And Christopher Wray made that clear.
Then today, Sarah Sanders tried to blame, this tried to say that nobody was
lying. Kristen Welker said, well, then, who is lying? The timeline
doesn`t add up. Is it the chief of staff? Is it the FBI? Christopher
She said, well, both are true because it was not the FBI and the counsel`s
office. It was the Security Office of White House Personnel. Well, Peter
Alexander is reporting tonight that that story doesn`t add up. That it
really is the political wing, that those are professional security people
and they pass it on to the political people.
So, it`s a long way of saying what`s truly shocking is that they have not
figured out a way to understand how to make the trains run on time.
MADDOW: And, Andrea, we are absorbing that that while we`re still
absorbing continued scandal from the campaign.
MADDOW: With this news about the Stormy Daniel payment, Michael Cohen just
telling “The New York Times” tonight he paid that personally out of his own
pocket, it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign, there has been an
unusual story developing around Michael Cohen, right? Long time personal
lawyer of the president, long-time Trump Organization lawyer him.
He was not part of the campaign. But the RNC recently reported that the
RNC is paying a lot of money to the law firm that is representing Michael
Cohen in the Russia scandal. He is the president`s lawyer. He had to get
his own lawyer to defend him in the Russia scandal. And the RNC appears to
be paying that firm, we think to pay for Michael Cohen`s Russia defense
when he was not part of the campaign.
Now, Cohen is saying that he was personally paying off women to not talk
about their affairs with president Trump just before the election. Who –
I mean, usually, congressional committees would look into that sort of
thing. I doubt the Republican-controlled Congress is going to do that
Who takes this on? Who investigates these things?
MITCHELL: It`s funny you ask that, because Ron Wyden said to me today when
I was covering the intelligence hearing, he was on his way in, I said, what
do you want to see, what do you want to hear today? He said, I want to
hear follow the money, but the leadership, the Republican leadership won`t
let us do that.
So, he was complaining that the Senate Intelligence Committee is being
stymied when in fact as we know the House Intelligence Committee is a
disaster. The question was raised last night, you know, why does it even
exist anymore? So, the fact that they have not gotten to the bottom of
I have to just say there was a moment of pride as an American sitting in
that hearing room today to at least watch the fact that Republican
political appointees, Coats and Pompeo, who have not been known to
distinguish themselves because we don`t hear from them very often, and when
we do seem to be making some excuses or shuffling, they were absolutely
straight forward in saying what they knew and what they believe believed to
be the case about the Russia investigation. You pointed that out earlier.
And that is at least something.
They were not kowtowing to the president.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” which is
weekdays at noon Eastern here on MSNBC – a fast-breaking news night. I
had a whole bunch of different stuff to talk to you tonight, Andrea.
MADDOW: Thank you for switching gears with us. Much appreciated, my
All right. We`ll be right back unless something else happens in the next
five seconds, in which case I`ll still be here.
MADDOW: One year ago tonight, the Trump White House started shedding its
first high-ranking officials, just 24 days into the new administration.
One year ago tonight, the departure of Michael Flynn, who has since fled
plead guilty to lying to the FBI and has become a cooperating witness into
the special counsel investigation into the Russia attack.
Well, tonight, one year on, we bookend that achievement with the news in
“The New York Times” that the president`s personal lawyer says when it came
time to pay a porn star right before the election to say that she didn`t
have an affair with Donald Trump, he found $130,000 in his own pocket and
he swears it didn`t come out of the campaign or out of the Trump
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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