Former First Lady Barbara Bush dies at age 92. TRANSCRIPT: 04/17/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Carol Leonnig

Date: April 17, 2018
Guest: Carol Leonnig

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris Hayes, did Eric Holder, former attorney
general of the United States, just tell you in a live interview that he is
thinking about running for president?


MADDOW: You are such a better interviewer than I am.

HAYES: Stop it, stop it.

MADDOW: I asked him the exact same thing and I got to like, I`m not
talking about it. You know, I got the absolute – the typical response and
you just elucidate that from him, he`s thinking about running for

HAYES: You know, I think I sneak up on people some how.

MADDOW: Yes. You`ve got something that I do not have. Congratulations,
my friend.

HAYES: Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

As Chris noted, we are still absorbing the sad national news this hour that
former First Lady Barbara Bush has passed away at the age of 92. We had
thought this might be coming, because of news in the past couple of days
that her health had taken a turn and that she was going to be seeking only
palliative care, rather than curative care from here on out.

Still though, it is a shock and it is sad news. All first ladies are
unique. Barbara Bush cut a uniquely high profile in that role. She was
beloved. She was occasionally feared. She was very powerful as first
lady. She`s only the second woman in U.S. history to have ever been both
the wife to one U.S. president and the mother to another.

The only other woman in U.S. history who bears that distinction is Abigail
Adams. We will have more on the passing of Barbara Bush coming up a little
later on in this show this hour tonight. NBC presidential historian
Michael Beschloss will be here with us for that. We are also just learning
the surprising news, breaking news this hour, that outgoing CIA Director
Mike Pompeo, Mike Pompeo, whose nomination to become secretary of state has
been foundering in the Senate.

Mike Pompeo has reportedly just returned from North Korea, where he met
personally with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Now, this is a remarkably rare, high level in person meeting between a
dictator from that country and a senior U.S. official. And, of course, it
precedes what is expected to be a totally unprecedented in person meeting
between that dictator and the serving American president, President Trump
saying today that that meeting between him and Kim Jong-un may happen in
just a few weeks time.

Well, as of tonight, now we know that Mike Pompeo went first and met in
person with Kim Jong-un. We will have a live report coming up later on in
the show with one of the reporters who broke that news tonight.

The other thing we`re following tonight is a new freak-out over Russia
sanctions. The last time someone in the U.S. government got freaked out
about somebody in the Trump administration coming in and undermining
sanctions against Russia, undermining sanctions against Russia and not
telling the truth about that, that was how we got the Justice Department
warning the White House about national security adviser Mike Flynn. That`s
how we got Mike Flynn apparently flunking his FBI interview on that
subject, and then Flynn pleading guilty to a felony and the president
reportedly telling the FBI that they should drop their investigation into
Flynn on this issue and then we got the president being investigating for
potentially trying to obstruct justice, in the matter of Flynn and Russia
and the sanctions and the FBI.

In other words, it did not work out well for anybody involved. The last
time other people in government witnessed someone in the Trump
administration monkey wrenching, secretly monkey wrenching U.S. sanctions
against Russia. Now, it is happening again, except this time, it is not
the president`s national security adviser who has been spotted doing the
monkey wrenching, this time, it is the president himself.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that there would be new sanctions
against Russia just two days ago. We got remarkable reporting from “The
Washington Post” thereafter about the president cursing and screaming and
being both confused and enraged by the last set of U.S. actions, his
administration took toward Russia. Well, now that Nikki Haley announced
that there will be new sanctions, we`ve got the president undoing the new
sanctions that Nikki Haley just announced, and apparently sort of lying
about it, blaming Nikki Haley for it. She`s apparently not going along
with that ruse.

So, this is a not very old administration, you would think they wouldn`t
have been around long enough to already be making the same mistakes twice,
but it looks like they may be screwing the same thing up, for a second
time, even though the first time they screwed it up, it resulted in felony
charges for some and potentially worse than that for the president himself.
So, a lot of news breaking this evening, a lot to get to over the course of
this hour.

The nation`s political center of gravity was unusually divided for a second
straight day today. We`re used to the political center of the country
being Washington and the financial and media center of the country being
New York. But with this remarkable criminal case continuing to unfold
involving the president`s personal lawyer, the president`s political fate
right now feels as much tied up in this case in federal district court in
lower Manhattan as it does with anything that`s happening right now in
Washington. So, the nation`s sort of political center of gravity seems to
be in two places right now.

Now, we expect that we`re going to see further public disclosures from that
court case tomorrow morning. The judge in that case, Federal District
Court Judge Kimba Wood, is now deciding whether or not she`s going to bring
in a neutral third party, a special master, to look at the documents and
materials that were seized from Michael Cohen, to see if any of those
documents should be kept away from prosecutors, because they are
attorney/client communications that need to be kept confidential.

Tomorrow, we expect that we will see the court consider some names of
people who might conceivably get appointed to that kind of job if the court
decides they`re going to go that kind of route. And that`s not the kind of
legal question that would typically transfix the country, but in this case,
every little twist and turn here feels like it might have serious
implications for the immediate future of our country, and I don`t think I`m
overstating the case to say it that way. That`s because of two things,
number one, this case in federal court in New York really does seem to be
about the president himself.

And number two, this thing is not being pursued by the special counsel`s
office. It`s been pursued by regular old federal prosecutors. And the
implications of those two things, I think, are starting to sink in for us,
the public, but they are also starting to sink in for the people who are
directly involved here, even for the lawyers who are working this case.

I want to show you one transcript from the last court hearing in this case.
This is Michael Cohen`s lawyers pleading with the judge, pleading with
Judge Wood about how big a deal this all is, and basically, how bewildered
they are by this whole turn of events in this incredibly important case.

All right. So, this is from the transcript. Lawyer Todd Harrison, Mr.
Cohen`s lawyer, speaking to the judge, quote: Let me just explain last
week, and what happened. Mr. Cohen`s law office and home and everything
else was raided on Monday. I came onto this case on Monday night or

So, he says, when we appeared in front of the court and filed our papers
and appeared in front of the court on Friday, I had been on the case for
two and a half, three days, maybe. We hadn`t had time to sit down with our
client and go over all this information about what had happened. And so,
when we had our discussions in court on Friday, I didn`t know that I got
into enough – I don`t know that I got into enough detail. I probably
should have gotten into more detail about how recently I`d gotten into the
case. I had been in it for three days. I needed time to sit down and
figure things out.

And the judge interjects. I`m going to interrupt you for a moment. Your
letter says on page two that Stephen Ryan of your firm has been working on
the special counsel`s investigation on the related House of Representatives
and Senate inquiries regarding, among other things, campaign finance
matters. I recognize, Mr. Harrison, that you personally just have come to
this, but Mr. Ryan has been in it for awhile, right?

Stephen Ryan responds, can I just mention, your Honor, if you think of swim
lanes in a pool, my swim lane was Russia and the related issues to Russia.
And then the judge says, well, it says in the letter, as well as campaign
financing. Mr. Ryan says, yes, that`s only happened within the last few
weeks and it`s in relation to federal campaign law issues which is narrow.

With all due respect, your honor, all of us started on Monday with a
completely different matter. I want to say, there are five paragraphs in
attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the president of
the United States in possession of my client. It`s not what the government
is represented. It`s about my client`s personal life. There are five
paragraphs there. This case is that.

So, this is – you can tell that Cohen`s lawyers are a little bewildered
here, right? The transcript catches them sort of switching tents mid-
sentence and feeling their way through, kind of apologizing to the judge
for not having it together. But you can also tell what they`re freaking
out about. Cohen says, this is not about my client`s personal life.

Can we put up that last part of the transcript there again? Can we put
that back up? This is what he says: There are five paragraphs in
attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the president of
the United States that are in possession of my client. There are five
paragraphs there, he says. This case is that.

Now, we the public don`t know what attachment A is. We the public haven`t
yet seen attachment A. We think it`s probably either the search warrant
that a judge signed to authorize the FBI to go seize stuff from Michael
Cohen, or maybe it`s a law enforcement affidavit that was in support of
that search warrant, something that was used to persuade the judge to
approve the warrant.

But in this case, I mean, presumably some day, we`ll see attachment A and
this lawyer for Michael Cohen is saying that what the FBI was after when
they searched Michael Cohen`s office, home, safe deposit box, hotel room,
all of it, what they were after was information pertaining directly and
individually to the president, as spelled out in a five-paragraph long
description of what the FBI was going to seize.

So, this case is not just, oh, trouble for the president`s kooky lawyer who
you`ve seen on TV. This is about the president, directly, which may be why
the people directly involved in this case now in New York appear to be a
little rattled as this thing has continued to unfold. But as I said, this
– this is unfolding in New York, where prosecutors are – have gotten
very, very good, because they`ve had lots and lots of experience at nailing
people in public corruption cases.

This is also New York, where any legal drama plays out in the same
geographic space as the financial and media capital of the country. And
so, there is an absurd media part of this case that continues to unfold, as
well. And honestly, this is the part of it that is a little bit
embarrassing to talk about, but it is part of it, and so, we`ve got to do

So, here we go, yesterday, we got this strange revelation in court after
the president`s lawyer, who was raided by the FBI, president`s lawyer now
the subject of a federal criminal investigation, he told the court that he
only has three clients in his legal business. He told the court that he
only wants to name two out of his three clients. He wanted to keep the
other one secret, he said, because his unnamed third client told him to
keep his name secret.

And the judge was like, yes, no. You`re not – you`re not going to be able
to hold back materials from a search warrant, because they represent
confidential communications with your clients and also tell us that the
identity of your clients is a secret. You can`t – you can`t do both of –
that would be like – you`re in high school and you come home late past
your curfew, you tell your mom that she can`t ground you because you were
late for such a good reason. Such a good secret reason that you can`t tell
your mom, right?

What would your mom do? You mom would ground you if you tried that.
Either, yes, you can tell me what the good reason is, or – yes. Anyway,
the judge yesterday grounded Michael Cohen on this point, which is how we
learned that the cable news host guy who has been over the top criticizing
the FBI raid on Michael Cohen`s office, calling it basically the death of
the republic that the FBI did this, that particular cable news host wasn`t
disclosing to his viewers, or apparently to his employer, that his take on
this matter might have been inflected on the fact that his own legal
materials could have been among those seized by the FBI in these raids on
Cohen`s offices, since Michael Cohen is his lawyer, too.

Well, since that dramatic revelation in court yesterday, today, “The
Atlantic” magazine has reported that it`s not just Michael Cohen, Mr.
Hannity, on the Fox News Channel, has also retained at least one other of
the president`s lawyers for his own legal matters, Jay Sekulow. Although
at least in that instance, Mr. Hannity disclosed on the air that he had
engaged Mr. Sekulow for his own legal work. That`s good. Disclosure is a
good idea.

It does, however, just raise the question as to why he wouldn`t disclose it
for the president`s other lawyer, with whom he also had a professional
relationship. Why, in fact, is Michael Cohen saying he was directed by his
client, Sean Hannity, to keep their relationship secret? He says – he
says to the court, officially, that Mr. Hannity told him he should appeal
any legal order to disclose Mr. Hannity`s name.

Mr. Hannity was willing to disclose his legal relationship with Jay
Sekulow. Why did he want to keep his relationship with Michael Cohen
secret while reportedly hosting Michael Cohen on his show and opining on
Mr. Cohen`s case?

And because the spring of 2018 is clearly drunk and it needs to go home,
one of the women who Mr. Cohen says he paid just days before the election
with his own money to stop her from talking about her alleged relationship
with the president, Stormy Daniels, she is not only part of this court case
in lower Manhattan, she now has everywhere to tell the story that Michael
Cohen paid her $130,000 not to tell.


STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I worked very, very hard the last 10
years or so to really be known as a female director in the adult business,
I was in the process of, like, moving onto some mainstream things, I
directed some music videos. I had a passion project of mine in the works
for the last several years to direct a horror movie and those people that
were my investors have ghosted me. Like, they`ve completely abandoned me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Trump be in the movie?






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaking of that, early this month, he broke his
silence, denied knowing anything about hush money, where it came from.
Let`s take a look.

REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her

TRUMP: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael`s my attorney, and
you`ll have to ask Michael.

REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, did this surprise you at all?

DANIELS: Let me just say, I work in the adult business and I`m a better
actress than he is.


MADDOW: After that appearance on “The View” today, we learned that Stormy
Daniels will also be featured on the cover of a new issue of “Penthouse”
magazine, in which she pledges that the $130,000 she got in the Michael
Cohen deal will now be donated to Planned Parenthood in the president`s
name. “Penthouse” also promising that Ms. Daniels will reveal not safe for
work details, meaning detail details about her sexual experience with the
president. Oh, good.

And yes, the whole thing will be accompanied by a new nude photo spread.
There should be a different word – photo spray, photo shoot, a big new
naked photograph, whatever.

So, like I said, it`s not always easy to talk about this stuff, but now you
know. And it – I just – it would be easy to see this as a sideshow,
because of the characters and content involved, right? Because it`s not
being operated out of the special counsel`s office, it`s in New York,
because of the change multi-levels of media involvement and all the rest of

But what we can tell about the substance of this case shows that this is
not a circus for the president. This is freaking serious. This is about
him directly. There are five paragraphs in that attachment a that deal
directly with seeking the papers of the president of the United States in
possession of my client. There are five paragraphs there. This case is
that. Deadly serious.

I`m going to leave you with two last things you should know are going on
around the edges of this serious case. Number one is about James Comey.
James Comey`s book is officially out today, you may have noticed. And you
know the basics here, right? James Comey, fired by the president last year
when he was overseeing the FBI`s investigation into the Russian attack on
our election and the question if the Trump campaign was involved in that

Comey`s firing in part prompted the naming of Robert Mueller as a special
counsel to continue that investigation. Mueller`s special counsel office
is reported by NBC news to have prepared at least four findings already on
the president and the issue of obstruction of justice. One of those
findings is reportedly about the president`s intent when he fired James

And that means any evidence of the president`s intent toward James Comey,
his intention when it came to firing him, right now, that evidence would be
part of a live ongoing FBI investigation within the special counsel. That
part we have known. That is part of why we expected the publication of Mr.
Comey`s book to be so agitating for the president and for this White House.

What we did not know is that Republicans in Congress would try to get that
evidence from this live ongoing investigation in the middle of the
investigation. Republicans Trey Gowdy, Devin Nunes and Bob Goodlatte have
all made a demand of Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official
overseeing the Mueller investigation. They have demanded that Rosenstein
hand over to them this evidence. Hand over to them unredacted copies of
Comey`s memos documenting his interactions with the president before he was

These memos again are thought to be a key piece of evidence in an open,
ongoing FBI investigation of the president, which could potentially result
in the president being criminally charged. These Republican members of
Congress are telling the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein in particular,
that he needs to hand over that investigation.

Today, Rod Rosenstein asked for more time to consider their request. But
it seems pretty clear that these Republican congressmen are asking for
something they know he can`t really hand over in the middle of an
investigation. You can`t give away the evidence in the middle of an
ongoing hand over that investigation.

This is evidence that has not been made publicly available. It has been
described, but the memos themselves have not been distributed to the
public. They are part of a live investigation, which means it appears that
these members of Congress are setting Rod Rosenstein up to tell them no,
you can`t have what you`re asking for, which means they may be setting up a
new artificial confrontation, a new possible pretense to say that Rod
Rosenstein is some kind of bad guy who ought to be fired at the Justice
Department. Oh, and by the way, he`s overseeing the Mueller investigation,
so, let`s put somebody new in there, right?

That is happening right now. That demand for documents for Rosenstein is
happening right now. He got an extension for a few more days to consider
their request, but watch that, because it seems pretty clear why they`re
doing it.

With the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, saying on the
Fox News Channel this afternoon that he will not move any legislation even
bipartisan legislation to protect Mueller from being fired by the
president, just watch this, watch what these Republicans are doing in
Congress to prepare the ground for the president to start firing people.
That`s happening right now, watch that, that`s one.

Second thing to watch, and this is the final thing, watch the Southern
District of New York. That is where this important but raucous court
proceeding is going on concerning the president`s lawyer and the FBI
fulfilling a search warrant that demands paperwork concerning the
president`s interactions with Michael Cohen. Southern District of New York
is the prosecutor`s office where President Trump unexpectedly last year
fired Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in that office. He had previously
insisted to Bharara that he could keep his job in the Trump administration,
but then he fired him anyway.

After Bharara was fired, career prosecutors took over the U.S. attorney`s
office for awhile, but then in January, the president installed a new
interim U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, his name is
Geoffrey Berman. He`s a Trump donor. He worked on the Trump transition.
He is a law partner of Trump`s friend Rudy Giuliani. He controversially
took a meeting about the U.S. attorney job before Trump named him to the
position in an interim capacity in January.

By January, we now know that office had also apparently opened this
criminal investigation into the president`s lawyer, into Michael Cohen.
And according to “The New York Times” now, Geoffrey Berman, the newly
appointed interim head of that office, who had just got that job from Trump
in the first week of January, he very soon after getting that job recused
himself from the Cohen case. So, he wouldn`t be involved in the Cohen case
at all. And we don`t know why he did that.

“The Times” reporting that Mr. Berman wasn`t recused because he had any
known relationship with Cohen, wasn`t recused because he is Giuliani`s law
partner. He wasn`t even recused of that personal meeting he took with
Trump before he got the job. But for some reason, he was recused. Ethics
officials at main justice in Washington apparently told him he should

So, the president`s personal lawyer is in court and the FBI is raiding his
office and his home looking for papers pertaining to the president, and the
president`s pick to run the office conducting that investigation has
stepped aside and is not – decided to not be involved in this matter. Why
is that? And how long does that stand?

Here`s something that`s important to know here. In the next two and a half
weeks, President Trump has to decide if Geoffrey Berman is going to get
formally nominated for that job in New York, or, if the president is going
to let his interim appointment run out, where the president could stick
someone new in there.

Geoffrey Berman is not confirmed by the Senate. He`s not even formally
nominated to the Senate yet. He`s just an interim appointment. His
interim appointment basically runs out in two and a half weeks, on May 3rd.

As this case unfolds, that is so directly about the president, the
president now has a choice to make, between now and may 3rd, he could
nominate Geoffrey Berman to the senate, keep Berman in that job. Berman is
recused from the Cohen case, the Cohen case would presumably go on as it
has been. Or the president could decide to not leave Geoffrey Berman in
that job, perhaps he doesn`t like the fact that Berman is to inconveniently
recused from this Michael Cohen case, this case that could decide the
president`s fate.

If the president decides in the next two and a half weeks that he`s going
to stick somebody new in there, presumably that person would not be recused
from the Michael Cohen case. And then what would happen to the Michael
Cohen case?

So, yes, keep watching this case unfold in Lower Manhattan. It is about
the president to a degree we really ought to appreciate and take seriously.
But watch these two things. Watch Republicans in Congress as they are
readying the field for the president to start firing his way through the
justice department to try to shut this thing down. And watch this one job
at the helm of that office that is bringing that case. Eyes open.



BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: At the end of your life, you will never
regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not
closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a
child, a friend or a parent.


MADDOW: Barbara Bush speaking at Wellesley College in 1990, doing her best
to win over an audience of graduates, some of whom had protested her
selection as the graduation speaker that year.

Barbara Bush was only the second woman in U.S. history after Abigail Adams
to be the wife of one U.S. president and the mother of another. Tonight,
Barbara Bush has died at the age of 92. She was the backbone of an
American political dynasty, a family that includes presidents and
governors. Her son Jeb was governor of Florida and a presidential
candidate. Her president George W. Bush was governor of Texas before
becoming president. Her grandson George P. Bush is now serving as a state
land commissioner in Texas.

In the Bush family, Barbara was the enforcer, considered by everybody to be
as strong, if not stronger than all of them. George H.W. Bush and Barbara
Bush hold the record as the longest married couple in American presidential
history. Barbara Bush was a debutante from Rye, New York, when they met at
a dance.

George H.W. Bush went on to become a decorated navy pilot in World War II.
They got married when he was on leave from the navy. They marriage endured
a truly remarkable 73 years, 73 years married, which is an astonishing
number even in a marriage that doesn`t encompass two presidencies in the
immediate nuclear family.

The Bushes also endured the death of their daughter, Robin, who died of
leukemia at the age of 3. The family`s announcement of Barbara Bush`s
passing noted that she was preceded in death by her daughter, Robin. As
first lady, Barbara Bush championed the cause of literacy. Her son George
W. Bush said of his mother`s passing tonight, quote, Barbara Bush was a
fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love
and literacy to millions. We are sad, but our souls are settled because we
know hers was, too. She kept us on our toes.

Former President Obama and Mrs. Obama put out a statement calling Barbara
Bush the rock of a family dedicated to public service. They called her an
example of humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American

We should say that Barbara Bush passed tonight in a way that was not
unforeseeable. She suffered from congestive heart failure and pulmonary
disease. She had been in failing health over the weekend. The family
announced that Barbara Bush had chosen to stop further medical treatment to
prolong her life and instead to just move to palliative care. She`s
survived of course by former President George H.W. Bush, who himself is
battling Parkinson. She`s also survived by her kids and grandkids. An
American political family and dynasty like no other.

Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Mr. Beschloss, thank you for joining us. It`s a sad night.


MADDOW: Barbara Bush was a high profile first lady. I think of her as
somebody growing up during the George H.W. Bush and during the Reagan
years, when she was the wife of the vice president, she, with those 12
years in the White House, carved out a high profile role, even among –
even within this era of high profile modern first ladies.

BESCHLOSS: She did. And, you know, I`m so glad you began with that clip
of her speech at the Wellesley commencement in 1990, because this is a
woman who, she never ran for office, but she campaigned with her husband
and her sons, first in 1964 for her husband, Senate in Texas, finally, for
Jeb Bush for president in 2016, 52 years. And that was just the period
when women were, you know, coming into the mainstream of American
professional life.

And you get to 1990, she`s inviting to give the commencement at Wellesley
College and 150 students say, we don`t want you, we`re outraged, because
the only reason you`ve been invited is because you`re nothing but a
president`s wife. And she goes, despite the opposition to her being there,
and gives this speech, saying, the whole idea of feminism is choice. You
can choose to be a woman who raises her family and helps her husband and is
somewhat more traditional, or you can do other things. And in a way, she
sort of dominated the moment.

MADDOW: And is that the speech – I`m going to paraphrase this and get it
wrong –

BESCHLOSS: I lost sound for just one moment.

MADDOW: I`m sorry, do you have me now, Michael, you still with me. No,
I`ve lost him.

NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

I`m going to say what I was going to say here in the hopes that he can come
back. I think that speech at Wellesley is when Barbara Bush said, in that
speech, that a man might one day follow in her footsteps as the president`s
spouse, which also, in front of a Wellesley College audience at that point,
would have been – would have landed exactly the way that she would have
wanted it to land.

Again, sad news, at the age of 92, Barbara Bush has passed away. You see
her there with other first ladies. A remarkably high profile and effective
woman in that role and also somebody who was seen by everybody, both within
the family and outside it, as the absolute backbone of the Bush family as a
political dynasty and as an American family of considerable consequence.
Barbara Bush, dead tonight at the age of 92.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: The first time we heard about it, it already had a due date.


HOST: Are there any consequences for Assad`s patrons, Russia and Iran, who
continue to protect him?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Absolutely. So, you will see
that Russian sanctions will be coming down. The Secretary Mnuchin will be
announcing those on Monday, if he hasn`t already, and that will go directly
to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad
and chemical weapons used.


MADDOW: Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador, on Sunday morning, you will see
Russian sanctions will be coming down on Monday. If it`s happened already,
those are about to be announced.

Well, come Monday morning, that news led the front pages of both “The New
York Times” and “The Washington Post.” Russia to face new U.S. penalties,
Trump to punish Russia.

But then those headlines got very stale very fast, because even though
Nikki Haley had publicly announced the new sanctions on Russia, Russia
responded, saying, they didn`t like that idea of those new sanctions, thank
you very much. And though they had been rolled out by a cabinet official
on national television, even though they were right there in black and
white on the front pages of the two major national newspapers, the White
House decided to take it back and actually to kind of pretend like it had
never happened in the first place.

Monday afternoon, 2:13 p.m., Trump punts brakes on new Russian sanctions,
reversing Haley`s announcement. So, Nikki Haley announced the sanctions on
national TV, 10:35 a.m. on Sunday. The next day, nope, they`re taken back.

“Washington Post” reporting that President Trump was not comfortable with
these new sanctions, even though they had already been announced. He
decided he didn`t want them. So, the United States ambassador to the U.N.
announced these new sanctions. Russia expressed upset about them and then
the president said, oh, OK, sorry, there are no U.S. sanctions then. Never
mind what we said before, no new sanctions.

So, it`s a remarkable turnabout on this issue of new sanctions on Russia
because of their support for the Assad regime. But this comes right on the
heels of some truly jaw-dropping reporting also from “The Washington Post”
about the last time this administration made a decision to hit Russia.
Apparently the president only did that by accident. He bumbled into it and
it enraged him at the time.

This is from just a couple of weeks ago. The U.S. government expelling 60
Russian diplomats from our country, sending them back to Moscow, as part of
an international coordinated effort to punish Russia for them poisoning one
of their former spies on British soil.

Well, thanks to “The Post,” we now have some color about how that decision
was made, some color that will make you think differently about that
decision forever. Quote: President Trump seemed distracted as his aides
briefed him as his Mar-a-Lago resort last month on the administration`s
plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies. The U.S., they
explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its
European allies, part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the
poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

Trump instructed, quote, we`ll match their numbers. Quote, we`re not
taking the lead. We`re matching.

The next day, when expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted,
officials said, to his shock and dismay. France and Germany were each
expelling only four Russian officials, far fewer than the 60 his
administration has decided. The president seemed to believe that other
individual countries would largely equal the United States. His was
furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking
by far the toughest stance on Russia.

His briefers tried to reassure him that the sum total of European
expulsions was roughly the same as the U.S. official. The administration
official recalled Trump screaming, quote, I don`t care about the total.
Trump was furious that news reports described the expulsions as the largest
purge in U.S. history and that news reports were noting the wide gap
between the U.S. and its allies.

One official recalled Trump saying, if you had told me France and Germany
were only doing four, that`s what we would have done. Growing angrier,
Trump insisted his aides misled him about the magnitude about the
expulsions. Quote, there were curse words, one official said. A lot of
curse words.

I wonder which ones.


MADDOW: First he called her confused. Larry Kudlow, the president`s top
economic adviser, tried to explain why the White House and the U.N.
ambassador were making totally opposite, totally contradictory statements
about new sanctions against Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador,
announced new sanctions on Russia on Sunday.

But then, President Trump reportedly intervened to stop those new sanctions
from going into effect. Thereafter, a decision was reportedly made at the
White House that they would blame this change in policy not on the
president, actually changing the policy, but they would blame it instead of
Nikki Haley. Blaming Nikki Haley, that task fell to Larry Kudlow today,
saying, quote, Nikki Haley got ahead of the curve. She`s done a great job.
She`s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary
confusion about that.

Which I guess is one way to explain it, unless you`re Nikki Haley. She
responded to Mr. Kudlow tonight by saying, quote: With all due respect, I
don`t get confused.

Larry Kudlow now says he`s apologized to Ambassador Haley. He now says it
was he who was confused in this matter.

Carol Leonnig is the national investigative reporter at “The Washington
Post”. She is a newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner as of yesterday. Carol
and colleagues broke the news yesterday about the president`s reversal on
Nikki Haley`s sanctions announcement. Carol also broke the news tonight
about Mike Pompeo making a covert trip to North Korea to meet personally
with Kim Jong-un. And because she doesn`t have enough to do, Carol Leonnig
also has a brand new fresh scoop tonight about the president`s legal team
in the Mueller investigation and the question of whether the president will
sit for an interview with the special counsel.

Carol, you are a very busy person. Thank you for making time to be with us
tonight. Congratulations.

you, Rachel. I enjoy your questions, so, I`m willing to come here late at
night and do this over and over again.

MADDOW: I`m going to put that in a bottle and keep it next to my bed.
Thank you very much to sort of saying that.

LEONNIG: Of course.

MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about this Nikki Haley reporting. “The
Post” has had an amazing couple of stories about the president and his
attitude toward Russia, first, the reporting that the president appeared to
misunderstand the expulsion of Russian diplomats. He apparently didn`t
know that the United States was going to be far out ahead of other
countries in terms of the number of diplomats we were expelling.

Then, you guys were able to break the story that Nikki Haley`s announcement
about new sanctions toward Russia is not something the president agreed
with, or he was surprised with, or decided to reverse it once he realized
how it was landing? How exactly did that go down?

LEONNIG: So, I don`t think, to be clear, I don`t think we`ve gotten
entirely to the bottom of what happened on Sunday, but we do know this. It
was a storm of consternation, concern, reversal and quickly trying to find
somebody to blame for Nikki Haley`s comments on “Face the Nation” on Sunday
morning. In them, she revealed what were in the Saturday night talking
points, actually, for the administration, so, they shouldn`t have come as a
shock to anybody in the White House, that there were going to be some
sanctions unveiled on Monday by the treasury secretary, Mr. Mnuchin.

Now, the president appeared to either be surprised or outraged at this, and
I feel like there`s going to be some more information to come out on this,
beyond even what we and others have reported so far. I think there`s
another big question mark about precisely what happened. But it`s clear
that now, it`s led into a little bit of finger-pointing, you know, Larry
Kudlow versus Ms. Haley over who was confused.

We were told when we reported on Sunday night and Monday morning about this
that Nikki Haley was not confused, and was taking her direction directly
from the White House. So, she wasn`t in front of her skis, according to
many people around her. It was the president who changed his mind.

MADDOW: Is there also clarity here on the contact between the U.S.
government and the Russian government on this matter? Obviously, Nikki
Haley made this pronouncement on Sunday morning, on national television
that the new sanctions were about to be announced, if they hadn`t been
already. Did the U.S. government have contact with the Russian government
thereafter, either because the Russians were upset or because the U.S.
wanted to convey that what Nikki Haley said wasn`t going to come to past?

LEONNIG: So, our fantastic reporter in Moscow on Monday morning, very
early, confirmed that, and we reported in our pages, he confirmed,
essentially, that the Russians were given an assurance, a backdoor
assurance from the White House on Sunday after Nikki Haley`s remarks, we
don`t know exactly the hour, but they were given an assurance that no more
sanctions would be coming and to just ignore what the U.N. ambassador had
said on television.

MADDOW: Wow. Is that unusual? I mean, I guess – a change of heart
within an administration about a policy isn`t the craziest thing in the
world, but to have something formally announced and then to have another
government secretly back channel assured that a U.S. government official
shouldn`t be listened to on this matter, it just strikes me as, like,
something you wouldn`t believe in a movie.

LEONNIG: It`s pretty strange when you`re dealing with these kinds of
stakes. You know, to have one very senior person, who is clearly trying to
deliver the message of the United States, be both undercut and, you know,
also on the other shoe, if you will to be communicating something that the
administration is not going to deliver on. So, you usually have a lot of
change of heart, it`s just behind the curtain. And in this case, it was
very messy and out in the open.

MADDOW: Carol Leonnig, national investigative reporter for “The Washington
Post”, newly minted winner of the Pulitzer Prize – Carol, thank you again.
Really appreciate seeing you. Thank you.

LEONNIG: Of course. Thank you, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: While we have been talking tonight about clashes and chaos inside
the White House, we got word of another one. This one is on matters of
life and death. “The New York Times” reporting in just the last few
minutes that Defense Secretary James Mattis had insisted that President
Trump get approval from Congress before he launched air strikes against
Syria on Friday.

Now, citing military and administration officials, “The Times” says Mattis
made that argument to the president, but he lost. The general`s call for
congressional approval was, quote, overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a
rapid and dramatic response. Mr. Mattis did prevail in limiting the
strikes to three targets that didn`t risk endangering Russian troops
scattered at military installation around Syria, but he was not able to
persuade the president that he should get approval from Congress.

According to “The Times” tonight, quote, Mr. Mattis pushed to get
congressional authorization, according to people with knowledge of the
internal debate. In several White House meeting last week, he underscored
the importance of linking military operations to public support, a view Mr.
Mattis has long held. Until this time, Mr. Mattis had a buffer in the form
of national security adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, who often deferred
to the defense secretary, a retired four-star marine general. The arrival
of Mr. Trump`s new national security adviser John Bolton means that buffer
is gone.

Again, this comes amid many signs in the White House that the arrival of
John Bolton is changing the equation inside the White House, but “The New
York Times” reporting tonight that Mattis told the president he need to get
congressional approval for those strikes and the president said no.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: There`s been a lot of news breaking over the course of this
evening, none more serious or sad than the news of the passing of former
First Lady Barbara Bush. I noted earlier in the show that we had some
statements from former president George W. Bush, former President Barack
Obama, we also have a statement from President Trump and his wife.

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join the nation in
celebrating the life of Barbara Bush. As a wife, mother, grandmother,
military spouse and former first lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the
American family. Among her greatest achievements was recognizing the
importance of literacy as a fundamental family value. She`ll be long
remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she
served unfailingly well. The president and first lady`s thoughts and
prayers are with the family and friends of Mrs. Bush.

Statement out tonight from President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. I
should mention the date on it is wrong, it says April 17, 2017, actually
2018. But other than that, there you have it.

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


Good evening, Lawrence.



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