Comey`s book is out. TRANSCRIPT: 04/12/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 12, 2018
Guest: Jeff Horwitz
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Happy to have you with us.
On any given day of chaos in this administration, on any given day of, this
has never happened before and we never planned for what happens after this
point, because we always thought if we hit this point, it would be the end.
I mean, on any given day of unprecedented insult and chaos and bewildering
error and offense and confusion, which is now a typical weekday in our
political lives as Americans during this administration, it used to be that
we had to decide, if this was one of these days in the Trump administration
that`s insane, because of personal failure, or is this one of the days
that`s insane in the Trump administration because of scandal.
I used to think – I mean, it was part of the way that I approached my job
on a daily basis. I used to think that we had to decide on any given
disastrous day if today`s disaster was due to, you know, ethics troubles
and personnel problems stemming from who they tried to put in or who they
tried to kick out of this administration. Or on the other hand, was today
a disaster because of the one big existential scandal that looms over all
others, because of the Russia scandal and the investigation of that scandal
and the freak-out about that investigation.
Which kind of disastrous day is today? That`s sort of been the way I start
my day most days at work. I think we have now reached a point where it`s
fair to say that the answer to that question I`ve been asking myself at the
start of every news day, the answer to, is it a personal disaster day or a
scandal disaster day, I think the answer is now, yes.
Every day, it`s all of those things, all at once now. Failure, scandal,
chaos, it`s all coming together, people. I don`t think that`s good, but I
do think that we are in sort of a news phase when there`s no point in
distinguishing between those two different types of things going seriously
wrong in our government. We have a bunch of things to get to tonight. It
looks like the president may not be able to confirm his nominee to be
secretary of state, which means he may have kicked mike Pompeo out as
director of the CIA with no new job for him, because the Senate looks like
they may not be confirming him as secretary of state after his confirmation
Also, as you know, the Republican speaker of the house unexpectedly quit
yesterday. That has now led today to Republicans saying their party may
not even try to hold on to the House this fall. They may just try to focus
on trying to keep the Senate. They may give up on the other house of
The president`s nominee for veterans affairs, remember him? He looks like
he may also not be able to be confirmed, with multiple Republican senators
coming out now and saying they do not believe he has relevant experience
for the job. You only need a couple of Republicans to say no and he will
not get the job. More than a couple of Republicans are now saying he is
not qualified for the job.
Also, the head of the EPA today facing yet another king tied of scandal
with one of Trump`s own political appointees in Scott Pruitt`s agency,
blowing about 40 more whistles on Scott Pruitt on ethics and on spending
and on Pruitt lying in his public remarks. So, Pruitt has been hanging by
a thread for a long time and that thread got even more gossamer today.
The new national security adviser had his fourth day on the job today. So
far, in his four days on the job, he has wiped out the upper echelons of
the National Security Council and he has not replaced them.
And that dynamic now stretches into a fourth day comes as White House
staffers spent a second day today, frankly, freaking reporters out by
telling reporters that nobody had any idea in the White House that the
president was going to start publicly announcing missile strikes yesterday,
that when the president made that announcement yesterday online, no such
strikes were ready, no such strikes had been ordered or even agreed upon.
When the president nevertheless made this public statement, where he said,
the missiles are coming, serving current White House staffers literally
using the word “alarming” to describe the president`s erratic behavior and
statements specifically about the use of military force. In other words,
it`s a normal Thursday.
And what is happening on top of all of that news, what you can think of as
the spoon that is stirring today`s particular pot of crazy is really two
big pieces of news. The first one is from NBC News. NBC has four
reporters on this byline, all women, incidentally, just so you know, Carol
Lee, Julia Ainsley, Kristin Welker and Halle Jackson.
And you can see their headline, the first part of this important NBC scoop
tonight. The headline there is about the fact that the president is no
longer expected to sit for an interview with the prosecutors who are
working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Now, that`s the first part of
their scoop. That gets the headline.
What that news leads to, though, I think is probably an even bigger deal,
because Robert Mueller`s team is apparently no longer expecting an
interview with the president, that is speeding up what they are doing.
Quote, Mueller`s team had been aiming to finalize a report in the coming
months on its findings on whether the president has tried to obstruct
justice in the Russia investigation. Their initial timeline had been as
early as May or as late as July for that obstruction report. That timeline
hinged in part on reaching a decision on a presidential interview. Now,
according to two sources, Mueller`s team may be able to close the
obstruction probe more quickly since they will not need to prepare for the
interview or follow up on what the president says.
Now, when they say “they may be able to close the obstruction part of their
inquiry,” that is not good news for the president or for the White House.
Back to the piece, quote, three sources familiar with the investigation
said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump`s attempt to obstruct
justice include his intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey, his
role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a
June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians, Trump`s
dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against
him, and Trump pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse
himself from the Russia investigation.
Those are the four areas of findings that Mueller is said to have
collected. Quote, Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who`s overseeing the Russia
investigation. Rosenstein could then decide whether to make the report
public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then
decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president.
OK. So, we previously had had reports that Mueller was planning on making
some kind of report about his findings on the president and on criminal
obstruction of justice. Well, now what NBC news is reporting tonight is
that Mueller has arrived at least four findings on the president and
obstruction – the president`s intent to fire former FBI director James
Comey, the president`s role in crafting a misleading public statement on
the nature of the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign. The president
dangling pardons before grand jury witnesses, who might testify against
him, and the president pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his
recusal from the Russia investigation.
Those are four findings related to the president and obstruction of justice
that Mueller and his team have reportedly arrived at. That is not good for
the president. And NBC News is further reporting tonight that we should
expect this report from Mueller soon.
Again, you saw the headline. The overall gist of their reporting tonight
is that the FBI raid on the offices of Trump`s longtime lawyer and Trump
Organization executive, Michael Cohen, a few days ago, that raid has so
upset the president that it`s now eliminated or at least greatly reduced
the likelihood that the president will sit for an interview with Mueller.
That, in turn, moves up the time frame for Mueller releasing these findings
on the president and obstruction of justice.
Again, the old timeline, when they still thought they would do a
presidential interview, had been that this report could be as early as May,
as early as next month, possibly as late as July. But now, if the
interview is off the table, they`ll be able to release this more quickly.
So, that is very significant news, broken tonight by NBC News. Carol Lee,
the lead reporter on that story.
Now, obviously, if this reporting is correct, the next questions that come
up immediately are, when is this report coming? Are these the four
findings or will there be more? Also, does learning that this is his level
of risk change the president`s decision about whether or not he is going to
talk to Mueller? And lastly, is it, in fact, a settled matter that if
these obstruction findings are this serious against the president, is it a
settled matter that Mueller definitely wouldn`t try to bring them forward
as an indictment?
I mean, we`ve been having this discussion over the course of the past year
since it started to become clear what the president might be up against
with this investigation. There is legitimate legal ambiguity as to whether
a sitting president can be indicted. If the special counsel has arrived at
conclusions that implicate the president in obstruction of justice on at
least these four grounds, how will it be decided? Who will decide whether
these findings from Mueller will be brought forward in the form of criminal
charges versus in the form of a report that goes to Congress for potential
Would Mueller and his team make their own determination on that? Have they
already made their own determination on that?
If NBC News is right in this new report this evening and Robert Mueller is
planning on reporting these findings to Rod Rosenstein at the Justice
Department, would it then be Rosenstein`s decision whether or not to
actually put forward these findings on the president and obstruction in the
form of a criminal indictment?
So, like I said, normal Thursday. And then there`s the matter of scoop
number two, which is not just this. The fact is, the scoop is actually
kind of the fact that I have this.
This is the new not-yet-released book from fired FBI director, James Comey.
And it`s weird that I have this, because the publisher had taken fairly
heroic measures to ensure that this book did not leak out before
publication on Tuesday, next Tuesday. A Tuesday we have not yet reached.
Somewhere along the way, though, those heroic measures lost their cape and
fell out of the sky. The first description of the book`s contents appeared
in “The Daily Beast” today. The second set went online on the “Associated
Press`s” Twitter feed soon thereafter. Then, Phillip Rucker at “The
Washington Post” reported that “The Washington Post” had obtained a copy
ahead of publication and he published a very good speed reading write-up of
what is in the book. Then, “The New York Times” went ahead and published
their review of the book, calling it absorbing.
Michiko Kakutani titling her review, quote: James Comey has a story to
tell. It`s very persuasive.
And now I`ve got a copy. Because NBC news was able to go hunting in the
urban jungle of New York City and they tranquilizer darted a copy of it in
the wild and gave it to me. And so, ahem.
Director Clapper presented the intelligence community assessment, just as
he had to President Obama and the Gang of Eight. There were a few
questions and comments, most of which came from Tom Bossert in the back
row. Tom Bossert fired this week.
During the discussion of Russia`s involvement in the election, I recall
Trump listening without interrupting and asking only one question, which
was really more of a statement. Quote, but you found there was no impact
on the result, right?
Director Clapper replied that we had done no such analysis, which was not
our business or expertise. What we could say is that we found no evidence
of alteration of the vote count.
What I found telling was what Trump and his team didn`t ask. They were
about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet
they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be, nor
did they ask how the United States might prepare itself to meet the threat.
Instead, with the four of us still in our seats, including two outgoing
Obama appointees, the president-elect and his team shifted immediately into
a strategy session about messaging on Russia, about how they could spin
what we`d just told them. Speaking as if we weren`t there, Reince Priebus
began describing what a press statement about this meeting might look like.
The Trump team, led by Priebus, with Mike Pence, Sean Spicer, and Donald
Trump jumping in, debated how to position these findings for maximum
political advantage. They were keen to emphasize that there was no impact
on the vote, meaning that the Russians hadn`t elected Trump.
Clapper interjected to remind them of what he had said about sixty seconds
earlier. The intelligence community didn`t analyze American politics and
we had not offered a view on that.
I had been in many intelligence briefings with the previous two presidents
and had never seen Presidents Bush or Obama discuss communications and
political strategy in front of intelligence community leaders. There had
always been a line.
The intelligence community does facts. The White House does politics and
spin and does it on its own. The searing lesson of the Iraq War based on
bad intelligence of weapons of mass destruction was never mix the two. I
tried to tell myself that maybe this was because Trump and his team had
little experience on these matters.
Trump, of course, had no experience in government whatsoever. But in an
instant, the line between intelligence and politics began to fade. As I
was sitting there, the strangest image filled my mind. I kept pushing it
away, because it seemed too odd and too dramatic, but it kept coming back.
I thought of New York mafia social clubs, an image from my days as a
Manhattan federal prosecutors in the `80s and `90s, the Ravenite, the Palma
Boys, Cafe Giardino. I couldn`t shake the picture.
And looking back, it wasn`t assist odd and dramatic as I thought it was at
the time. The Italian mafia called itself La Cosa Nostra, this thing of
hours, and always drew the line between someone who was a friend of yours,
meaning someone outside the family, and someone who was a friend of ours,
meaning an official member of the family.
I sat there thinking, holy crap, they`re trying to make each of us an
“amica nostra”, a friend of ours, to draw us in. A crazy as it sounds, I
suddenly had a feeling that in a blink of the eye, the president-elect was
trying to make us all part of the same family and that team Trump had made
it a thing of ours.
For my entire career, intelligence was a thing of mine and political spin a
thing of yours. Team Trump wanted to change that. I should have said
something right then.
In that moment, though, I convinced myself that speaking up would be crazy.
I didn`t know these people and they didn`t know me. We had just served up,
the Russians tried to get you elected. Should I now give them a lecture
about how you should behave with us? And when I`m about to have a private
session with the president-elect to talk about Russian hookers.?
Nope, don`t think so. So I said nothing. And nobody else said anything,
either. Nobody on the Trump team thought to say, hey, maybe this is a
conversation for later, or perhaps we should move on, Mr. President-elect.
We waited quietly – I`ll skip ahead here for a second. This now goes to
the part where Comey has to tell Trump about the – the part of the Steele
dossier involving the hotel room and the ladies and somebody drinking too
much water. You remember that? OK.
We waited quietly while the others filed out. When we were alone, the
president-elect spoke first, throwing out compliments. You`ve had one heck
of a year, he said, adding that I`d handled the Clinton e-mail
investigation honorably and had a great reputation. This was nice of him
to say and there seemed to be genuine concern and appreciation in his
voice. I nodded in gratitude with a tight smile.
He said that the people of the FBI really like you. He expressed his hope
that I would stay on as director. I replied, I intend too, sir.
Though it might have been the polite or obvious thing to say to ingratiate
myself with the president-elect, I didn`t thank him for saying this,
because I already had the job for a stated ten-year term. I didn`t want it
to appear as if I needed to reapply. In fact, only one in fact bureau`s
history was an FBI director fired before the end of his term, when Bill
Clinton without controversy removed William Sessions in 1993 over
allegations of serious ethical improprieties.
Ironically, the man Clinton replaced him with, Louis Freeh, turned out to
be a thorn in the administration`s side as he pressed aggressively for
investigations of alleged administration misdeeds. After Trump finished
with his opening monologue which lasted a minute or so, I explained the
nature of the material I was about to discuss and why we thought it was
important he know about it.
I than began to summarize the allegation in the dossier that he`d been with
prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013 and that the Russians had filmed the
episode. I didn`t mention one particular allegation in the dossier, that
he was having prostitutes urinate on each other on the very bed President
Obama and the first lady had once slept in, as a way of soiling the bed. I
figured that single detail was not necessary to put him on notice about the
This whole thing was weird enough. As I spoke, I felt a strange out of
body experience, as if I were watching myself speak to the new president
about prostitutes in Russia. Before I finished, Trump interrupted sharply
with a dismissive tone. He was eager to protest that the allegations
I explained that I wasn`t saying the FBI believed the allegations. We
simply thought it important that he know that they were out there and being
widely circulated. I added that one of the FBI`s jobs is to protect the
presidency from any kind of coercion. And whether or not the allegations
were true, it`s important to know – excuse me, it was important to know
that he know Russians might be saying such things.
I stressed that we did not want to keep information from him, particularly
given that the press was about to report it. He again strongly denied the
allegations, asking, rhetorically, I assumed, whether he seemed like a guy
who needed the services of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases
where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised.
He mentioned a number of women. He seemed to have memorized their
allegations. And it goes on from there.
This is from the new James Comey book that`s not supposed to be out until
next week from former FBI Director James Comey. He will do his first
interview about this book and about his time in the Trump administration
and time at the FBI on Sunday night. He`ll hopefully still do a long
interview with me about it next week.
But this book did spring a leak today. So, now, we know some of what the
White House and the Republican Party have been freaking out about. In just
a remarkable microcosmic snapshot of what the Republican Party has become
under this president, the Republican National Committee, the National
Republican Party has assembled a war room to go to war against the former
FBI director, ahead of the publication of this book.
The Republican Party as an institution has built a Website, installed a
multi-person team. They are running a full-time, full-scale public
relations offensive to attack the FBI and to attack the former FBI
director, because they are so scared of this book.
I mean, this is the FBI director who was fired by the president, it seems,
because of the Russia investigation. That`s at least what the president
has said about why he fired Comey. That led to questions about whether
that firing was a criminal act by the president, because it was an effort
by him to obstruct the Russia investigation, to obstruct justice.
After firing Comey, the White House and the president have personally spent
nearly a year denouncing Comey and calling him a liar. We`ve reported on
this show just in the last two days, on contemporaneous handwritten notes
made by a senior Justice Department official that appear to corroborate
Comey`s account of what happened between him and the president.
That senior official is now general counsel of the FBI. He has now been
interviewed by the Mueller investigation and handed over his notes. I said
at the top of the show a few minutes ago that you no longer really need to
distinguish between the personnel drama that has been a hallmark of this
administration and this scandal, the existential scandal that has loomed
over this administration from day one. It`s all coming together now. It`s
all the same thing.
Well, last night, we reported on the big list of Justice Department
officials, including a whole bunch of Trump appointees, who have been
ordered to hand over to Mueller`s investigators all their communications,
their electronic devices, their records, not just related to the Russia
investigation, but also related to the firing of James Comey, because
people have been a witnesses to these things.
There is voluminous evidence and testimony and records of this stuff that
has already been handed over, already processed, already part of – can we
put up the findings again? Can we put up the – yes, thank you. Already -
- it`s already there`s voluminous stuff that has been handed over that is
already part of what are apparently at least four major findings related to
the president and criminal obstruction of justice that Robert Mueller and
his team are apparently ready to report.
So, Comey`s book is out. They can`t shut him up, no matter what they`re
going to try to turn the Republican Party into to try to do that. The
obstruction case against the president is apparently built and it has at
least four parts and we`re told tonight that it is basically ready to
It is all coming together. And I don`t know what`s going to happen next.
And there is just one more piece of it that you should know about, as you
are setting your own expectations for what happens next in our country. I
do not usually do this. This is not my bailiwick.
But if you are a person who doesn`t usually watch our friends over at the
Fox News Channel, you might not know what`s been going on over there in the
last few days. And you should know, because this is what the president`s
watching and what he`s been telling people to watch.
There`s actually one report from a CBS News reporter today that the
president has been personally calling people and telling them to go on the
air at Fox and say this particular stuff, to create this particular climate
of expectation among the Fox News audience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there was ever a time that President Trump was
going to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel in this Russia
investigation, it would be now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would fire the SOB in three seconds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nobody in America that needs firing more than
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Comey is a dirty cop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s look at the Mueller crime family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think he can serve on an investigation in which
he will end up being the key witness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Sessions, tomorrow morning, should fire Rod
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attorney general is incompetent, the FBI is
corrupt, and Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein are unethical and abusive of
the legal process. All of them deserve to be fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is not cable news wars. I do not make a habit of just like
showing you what`s happening on all the other cable news shows. I show you
that, because that`s what the president watches for information. And
that`s what he has been digesting in terms of his diet.
The president`s cabinet has some big holes in it. His National Security
Council is now emptying out, rapidly, but it is headed by someone who he
found on Fox News. He doesn`t really have a Russia legal defense team
anymore, but he reportedly likes to take legal advice on the Russia scandal
from people who he sees talking about it on Fox News. So, you should know,
that`s what they`re serving right now, what I just showed you.
So, I don`t know what happens next. We`ve got smart people here tonight to
help us figure it out. So you should sit tight.
If you`ll forgive me, though, I also want to tell you that I think you
should drink more water than you have been. I think you should eat your
Wheaties. Take your vitamins. Get good sleep when you can. Check in with
your friends and your kids and your parents. Make a plan.
When politics goes right in a well-run country, citizens do not have to
think much about their government and about the responsibilities of
citizenship. The contrary is also true. This is a time to be sober and be
calm and to be paying attention. Heads up, everybody.
MADDOW: We weren`t supposed to get the book, but we got the book. Quote,
I don`t know whether the media storm that followed my disclosure of the
February 14th “let it go” conversation – that`s a conversation about Mike
Flynn – whether the media storm that followed my disclosure of that
conversation prompted the Department of Justice leadership to appoint a
special counsel. The FBI may already have been pushing for the appointment
of a special counsel after seeing the Trump tweet about tapes.
I just know that the Department of Justice did so shortly thereafter,
giving Robert Mueller the authority to investigate any coordination between
the Russian government and the Trump campaign and any related matters. I
also don`t know whether the special counsel will find criminal wrongdoing
by the president or others who have not been charged as of this writing.
One of the pivotal questions I presume that Bob Mueller`s team is
investigating is whether or not in urging me to back the FBI off our
investigation of his national security adviser and in firing me, President
Trump was attempting to obstruct justice, which is a federal crime. It`s
certainly possible. There is at least circumstantial evidence in that
regard and there may be more that the Mueller team will assemble.
I`ve prosecuted and overseen many cases involving obstruction of justice,
but in this case, I am not the prosecutor. I am a witness. I have one
perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating
basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal.
Central to the question of obstruction, for example, is a showing of
President Trump`s intent. Is there sufficient proof that he intended to
take those actions and others to derail a criminal investigation with
corrupt intent? Because I don`t know all the evidence, I can`t answer that
question with any certainty. I do know that as of this writing, special
counsel Mueller and his team are hard at work and the American people can
have confidence that unless their investigation is blocked in some fashion,
they will get to the truth, whatever that is.
That`s from James Comey`s new book, which isn`t out yet.
Joining us now, Nicolle Wallace, host of “DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE,” weekdays
at 4:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. She`s former communications director
for President George W. Bush and a nice and smart person.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, “DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE”: Hi.
MADDOW: You`ve had a chance to look at a little bit of what we – we
obtained an early copy of the book.
WALLACE: Can I touch it?
MADDOW: Yes, you can.
WALLACE: Because I`ve just been reading it on the Internet, on Google.
MADDOW: Yes. So let me ask you about either that obstruction point that
he`s making, saying, I don`t know, I`m a witness, I`m not a prosecutor, or
whatever else you`ve seen that you think is important.
WALLACE: So you started your show with the great reporting from our
colleagues here about the four instances that we`ve known to have been
under the microscope by Mueller`s team to build a potential obstruction of
justice case. The firing of Jim Comey –
MADDOW: And the intent behind it, right?
WALLACE: Right. The crafting of a bogus story to explain Don Jr.`s
meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. The dangling of pardons in front of
people like Paul Manafort and John Dowd – or I`m sorry, John Dowd dangling
pardons in front of Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn before they were charged,
and at least in Mike Flynn`s case, before he became a cooperating witness
in the Mueller probe.
These instances are being examined to get at just what the question that
Jim Comey poses, criminal intent. And I think if you look at all of those
things, if you look at Mark Corallo, who left the Trump legal defense team
over the crafting of the bogus statement aboard Air Force One –
MADDOW: Saying he believed it might be obstruction of justice.
WALLACE: Because he believed it was obstruction of justice. He saw
something that made him think it crossed that line. Jim Comey draws a lot
of lines in this book.
Now, it`s good that James Comey calls himself a witness and doesn`t draw
any conclusions about obstruction, because he is a witness. But the other
witnesses include the sitting White House council, Don McGahn.
WALLACE: They include Steve Bannon. They include just about everyone who
was either on the campaign or has went into this West Wing. So, Bob
Mueller knows everything. Bob Mueller knows the answers to all the
questions that Jim Comey posed in that excerpt you just read.
MADDOW: What do you think about the fact that the RNC – so not the White
House, but the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Party
has put together a war room to denounce James Comey. They`ve put up a
Website about him, calling him Lyin` Comey. They`re going to war against
the FBI and against Comey to try to turn people against him on the occasion
of the publication of this book.
I mean, as somebody – as a Republican and somebody who`s highly involved
in high-level Republican politics, what do you make of that decision?
WALLACE: Look, I just think it`s another illustration of the complete
decimation of the Republican Party`s standing for anything that it was
supposed to stand for. And I know you`ve never been a fan, but I`m a
former practicing member of the party, and it never stood for character
assassination of a man like Jim Comey, who served Republican presidents.
And you may disagree with every single policy that George W. Bush advanced,
but Jim Comey was a faithful and loyal servant in the George W. Bush
Justice Department. So to have today`s RNC crafting a plan and staff a war
room to smear him is a disgrace.
MADDOW: Nicolle, we`ve had some breaking news about the president
reportedly planning a pardon. ABC News is reporting that he has signed off
on a pardon that is a surprise. I want to explain that story and get your
reaction when we come back.
Can you stay with us?
WALLACE: Of course.
MADDOW: OK. We`ll be right back with Nicolle Wallace. Stay with us.
MADDOW: ABC News has broken a story tonight that I want to tell you, we
have not confirmed. NBC News has not confirmed this. I`m bringing it to
you tonight, even though we have not confirmed it, because it is a source
of significant discussion. And if it comes to pass, this will be a big
According to Jonathan Karl, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci at ABC
News, quote, President Trump is posed to pardon Scooter Libby? Scooter
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was
convicted in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice and the
investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, a former
covert CIA operative, then President George W. Bush commuted Libby`s 30-
month sentence, which spared him sentence time, but he didn`t pardon him.
Since the conviction, Libby has since had his law license restored and
former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell restored his voting rights in 2013.
The president has already signed off on the pardon. Attorneys Joe diGenova
and his wife, Victoria Toensing, are among the conservatives who have been
urging a pardon for Libby.
Joining us once again is my friend, Nicolle Wallace, host of the “DEADLINE:
WHITE HOUSE”, weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC, and former
communications director for George W. Bush, which means you know – well,
you know at least the people involved.
WALLACE: I know – I knew Scooter – I know Scooter well. I had lunch
with him the day before he was charged. I was involved in crafting the
response from the president and from the vice president on the day that he
was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and I have to say that
in that moment, it was probably clear how it was going to go down.
The president had a very brief and simple statement, the vice president a
very impassioned and angry statement. The vice president, I think, it
didn`t hold as a secret for long that Vice President Cheney thought that
not pardoning Scooter Libby was a mistake, wanted that pardon for his
George W. Bush, I have never heard express any regret about not pardoning
Scooter Libby. George W. Bush thought that the crimes of obstruction of
justice and lying to the FBI were serious enough that he wasn`t going to
pardon him. I think that they are the same crimes that people like Mike
Flynn and Paul Manafort – Paul Manafort has been charged with a lot of
things but –
MADDOW: Rick Gates.
WALLACE: – the kind of crimes that Rick Gates and the people around
Donald Trump have either been charged with, pleaded guilty to, or look like
they are vulnerable of being charged with.
So, to create a narrative, the likes of which they`ve created on Fox News,
which you`ve just showed, which is sort of shocking. I`ve done that too,
though, before, because I think when people ask about what happens next,
and I think that comment about eating your Wheaties and fortifying yourself
is a good one, because what happens next could be nothing, because I think
Fox News is conditioning the company to accept a pardon for someone like
Scooter Libby so they can accept a pardon for everyone in Donald Trump`s
seemingly corrupt enterprise.
MADDOW: The crimes for which Libby were convicted was lying to the FBI and
obstruction of justice. If this is part of a larger effort by the White
House, the president himself, the Republican Party and their supporters in
conservative media to define the FBI as bad, criminal –
MADDOW: Biased, something that needs to be opposed and denounced, then
lying to a bad organization like that shouldn`t be seen as a bad thing.
WALLACE: And we shouldn`t – we shouldn`t soft pedal what they`re saying
about the FBI. They are saying worse things than that about the FBI. I
mean, they are – they have described Bob Mueller, a – who earned combat -
WALLACE: Decorations for his heroism in Vietnam, they have tied him in a
graphic as the head of a mob family. There has been a pathetic oppo
research dump on him for things tied to some of the cases he prosecuted. I
mean, they are going after someone who is as much an architect of the
policies that kept us safe after 9/11 on the law enforcement side as
So, to see Fox News and the Republicans sort of follow them over the cliff
in trying to assassinate the character of – not just the FBI as an
institution, which they are clearly trying to do in advance of this book
and an ongoing manner with Donald Trump as president, but to see them pull
Mueller into that is staggering, it`s stunning, and I think the pardon is
part of that strategy.
MADDOW: Nicolle Wallace, thank you, my friend. I appreciate having you
here. Thanks for coming back in after you worked a full day already.
I will just reiterate the breaking news that from, well, a few different
elements of breaking news tonight. Number one, James Comey`s book has
unexpectedly leaked in advance of its publication date. The White House
and the RNC appear to be in full freak-out mode over Comey`s book. NBC
News has reported tonight that Mueller has arrived at four findings
involving the president and obstruction of justice, including dangling
pardons for people who are about to speak to the grand jury – about to
testify before the grand jury.
And ABC News is now reporting, although NBC is not confirming it, that the
president is poised to pardon former Dick Cheney chief of staff, Scooter
Libby, who was convicted more than a decade ago, of lying to the FBI and
obstruction of justice. Anything else?
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The president is a fan of the “National Enquirer,” which you have
seen at the supermarket. Now, the president is friends with the publisher
of the “National Enquirer”. And at the “National Enquirer,” the feeling is
more than mutual. The “National Enquirer” loves the president, almost as
much as it hates his enemies.
In case you`re not that regular reader, this has been “The Enquirer” in the
last couple of months, quote: Surrounded by traitors, Donald and Melania
fight back. How they will crush their enemies.
Also, explosive “Enquirer” investigation proves that Obama and Hillary
ordered FBI to spy on Trump.
Responding to the Michael Wolff book, “Fire and Fury,” proof, Obama behind
books of lies, fake news author shocking claims, staffers think Donald is
dumb, false! His ego is out of control, false! He`s hated by his own
Also, proof, FBI plot to impeach Trump. Did you know that`s how the
Constitution works? Down at the bottom, this is actually my favorite part.
What Donald Jr. is doing to stop it.
So, this has been going on for a while. During the election, it was all
Trump boosterism, when it was not Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories.
“The Enquirer” was all about Hillary blackmailing the FBI and Hillary
caught in gay sex sting, having seedy romp at this motel.
Then there was the bombshell about Clinton`s secret hit man. Or that time,
she gained 5,000 pounds. I mean, we`re used to “The Enquirer” being like
celebrity divorces and somebody`s too fat and somebody`s too skinny and
everybody`s always on the brink of dying, right?
But in the heat of the general election in 2016, this very widely
distributed, low-brow, high-profile supermarket tabloid really stopped
doing most of the other stuff they are known to do and instead they became
full-time, full-bore this. And right around that time, the “National
Enquirer,” its parent company, also paid 150 grand to a former Playboy
model to purchase the rights to her story of a months-long adulterous
affair that she says she had with Donald Trump, an affair Mr. Trump denies.
The company AMI bought that story from Karen McDougal. They never
published it. Ms. McDougal signed an agreement, barring her from telling
anybody else the story.
So, in the tabloid business, they call that catch and kill, find somebody
who has a story to tell, pay them for it, and then you don`t run it.
“National Enquirer” publisher David Pecker in this case caught and killed
that Karen McDougal story for his friend, Donald Trump. Now, AMI has
denied they coordinated in any way with Trump or killed the story for
But last month, Ms. McDougal sued AMI, saying they tricked her when she
signed away the right to tell her story because she says AMI and her own
lawyer were secretly coordinating with Trump`s personal attorney, Michael
Cohen, to get the story killed. So she thought she had a lawyer
representing her, but she actually didn`t. She was part of a scheme to
make her go away.
And that $150,000 payment from AMI to Karen McDougal, that is now
reportedly one of the things the FBI was searching for evidence about when
they raided Cohen`s office and hotel room on Monday. So, yes, it`s the
“National Enquirer.” But these payments to bury stories about alleged
adultery by the president, including one made by the publisher of “The
Enquirer”, these are apparently right at the center of the federal raid for
the president`s personal attorney this week. Time to take it seriously.
And now, we`ve learned about yet another of those payments. Hold that
MADDOW: On any other day, this story – quote: Eight months before the
company that owns the “National Enquirer” paid $150,000 to a former Playboy
playmate who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid`s
parent company made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual, a former
doorman at one of Trump`s New York City buildings. That doorman received
30 grand in exchange for signing over the rights in perpetuity to a rumor
he had heard about Trump`s sex life, that the president had fathered a
child with an employee at Trump World Tower.
The contract subjected the doorman to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed
either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.
Now, I should note that one of the doorman`s story has not been verified by
NBC News or any news organization. But there`s this weird detail. Even
though the “National Enquirer” didn`t run the story, the doorman story,
because they say they didn`t believe it was true, for some reason, the
president`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, says he discussed the doorman
story with the “National Enquirer” while the tabloid was working on the
Why would he end up talking about with him about it if they didn`t think it
was true and they were never going to run it? That`s not when you call for
For its part, AMI, which owns “The Enquirer”, says that neither Donald
Trump nor Michael Cohen had anything to do with their decision not to print
the story. NBC News has asked the White House for comment on this story
from the “A.P.” tonight, but even that was awkward. And we haven`t heard
Joining us is Jeff Horwitz. He`s an investigative reporter at the
“Associated Press”, who broke this story.
Mr. Horwitz, thank you for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.
JEFF HORWITZ, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, the “National Enquirer” said they bought the story even though
they don`t believe it was true.
HORWITZ: Yes, that`s not the standard practice. We`ve spoken to a great
number of “National Enquirer” former employees and the standard practice,
I`m not sure they deny this, is that they traditionally pay only for tips
when those tips see print. It doesn`t make sense to pay a tipster before
you know whether the tip is going to pan out.
And that, in fact, is what they originally agreed to do with Dino Sajudin,
the tipster. After he passed his lie detector test, and he did pass it,
about how he learned of this story, “The Enquirer” changed him to a
contract that paid him out in full, $30,000, and also signed him up for a
$1 million legal liability if he broke his side of the contract, a little
MADDOW: So –
HORWITZ: And at that point, that ended the thing.
MADDOW: And understanding the way this diverges from the “National
Enquirer`s” own typical tactics in this matter. It`s interesting enough,
I`m also fascinated by the fact that you were able to get Michael Cohen,
the president`s attorney, to admit to you he was in communication with the
“Enquirer” about this story.
That strikes me as very unusual because when you`re reporting something
out, you don`t – you don`t confirm it with the source of the story with
the spokesperson of the heart of the person at the story until you`re
comfortable knowing that you`re asking them about something that`s true.
HORWITZ: Well, this is the odd thing about the relationship in general, is
that Michael Cohen goes back with “National Enquirer” for years. In fact,
he actually knew David Pecker, who`s the publisher of “The Enquirer” before
he actually even knew Donald Trump, according to him.
I mean, his relationship with “The Enquirer” definitely was strong during
the campaign. He was in touch with them about the content they ran and as
he puts it himself, an unabashed, you know, a backer of the president and
someone who will happily play the role of fixer when he needs to be.
So, that much isn`t that surprising. The strange thing is, I guess, why
“National Enquirer” would have paid for a rumor it believes to be false,
when, in fact, it`s – it was in touch with the president`s personal
attorney on a regular basis, if the president`s personal attorney wasn`t
suggesting maybe it should.
MADDOW: Jeff, do you have any sense why the federal investigators who
raided Michael Cohen`s office this week might be interested in this? I
find it fascinating for all the reasons everyone does, but what could be
criminal about this?
HORWITZ: So, there`s certainly the question of where the money came from.
The “National Enquirer” is not, to the best of my knowledge, a particularly
flush publication in terms of just being able to throw money at whatever it
wants. It`s gone through two bankruptcies and a number of layoffs over the
And so, beyond the question of where did the money come from, there`s also
a question of campaign finance, a group called Common Cause, has filed a
couple complaints over Karen McDougal matter and others, and I believe also
now this one, basically saying, hey, wait a minute, if money was getting
paid for stories that whenever meant to run but we`re in fact intended hush
money, that`s a campaign finance violation.
MADDOW: Jeff Horwitz, investigative reporter at the “Associated Press”,
Jeff, thank you for your time tonight. Much appreciated.
HORWITZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So this is another one of those nights. And we`ve had a lot of
them over the course of the last 14 months. But tonight sort of does feel
like a big one. There`s a lot going on in the news right now and stuff has
been breaking into this evening.
Reiterating the scoop from NBC News tonight which is that Robert Mueller
and his prosecutors have arrived at least four findings with regard to the
president and obstruction of justice. Those findings are reportedly close
to ready to being reported. The Mueller investigation intends to put them
in a report form that goes to Rod Rosenstein, we don`t know what will
happen to that report.
But apparently there are four findings related to the president and
obstruction of justice that Mueller and his team have basically ready to
go. That comes as part of an NBC News report tonight that the president is
likely not going to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller. That has its
own implications, but one of them may be that the obstruction report from
Mueller arrives sooner rather than later. We know that it contains at
least four elements.
Also, the James Comey book accidentally came out early. Oops.
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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