Trump tweets WH Counsel will leave in Fall. TRANSCRIPT: 08/29/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 29, 2018
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this Carol Leonnig, Marc Caputo
The past 24 hours have been a news cycle with lots of unexpected twists and
turns, lots of little plot surprises, unexpected endings. That has made
this sort of a fun day to be in the news business as my job, right, because
it`s up with of those days where nothing turns out the way people expected
And that makes it`s discombobulating, but it can also be fun and it`s
humbling in all the right ways. This started this part sort of unexpected
nature of the news cycle started with the news that broke during our hour
last night of the big, big upset in the primary in Florida yesterday to
pick a Democratic candidate for governor in that crucial state. Andrew
Gillum winning the Democratic nomination in Florida has been like a shot of
adrenaline for the Democratic Party base coast to coast today. It
absolutely makes that one governor`s race a big national story, a part of
national focus between now and election day in November.
We`re going to talk this hour with the dean of Florida political reporters
who is and I say this in a nice way, he is a freaking cynical guy. He`s
definitely like a – I`ve seen everything you can`t surprise me kind of
guy. He today told us that Andrew Gillum winning that race in Florida and
what it means for Florida and what it means for Democrats broadly is
something he has never seen before. And he never says stuff like that.
I know this is just one candidate, one campaign, one race. But there is
something about that surprised result in that one race last night that has
grabbed even the most jaded political observers by their lapels and shaken
them up on this thing. So, we`re gong to be talking about that, some of
the reasons behind what happened there coming up.
In addition to that Andrew Gillum race last night, here`s another weird
turn, and it`s also about electoral politics. One of the broader trends
that is happening in Democratic Party politics this year for the midterms
is that there`s a whole bunch of people running on the Democratic side for
Congress who are people who have national security backgrounds, people
whose background is in law enforcement intelligence, military, the
diplomatic corps, other national security roles. For example, just last
night in Florida, a former U.S. – excuse me, a former U.N. ambassador won
a congressional primary in the district that is currently represented by
Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis had to give up his seat
in Congress in order to become the Republican candidate for governor. We
know he`ll be running against this guy Andrew Gillum.
But in his district, in the Ron DeSantis district, it will be Bill
Clinton`s U.N. ambassador, Nancy Soderberg who will be running as the
Democrat to try to flip that seat from red to blue.
Another national security veteran, a guy named Chris Hunter. He`s a former
FBI agent and former DOJ prosecutor. He won a primary last night in
Florida as well, to try to unseat Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis.
And another district where Democrats – that`s another district where
Democrats are seen as having a real shot to flipping that seat from red to
blue with this candidate Chris Hunter.
But that dynamic is not Florida specific. Democrats have a whole lot of
candidates all across the country, particularly in potentially flippable
districts where the Democratic candidate comes from a national security
background. And that`s interesting in terms of strategy and was that a
deliberate plan by, you know, the Democratic Party, what does that say
about national security professionals and their desire to get into
electoral politics and the Trump – you can analyze it from a lot of
But tonight, we have just learned from some interesting reporting by
Spencer Ackerman at “The Daily Beast” that the Democratic congressional
campaign committee, so the committee in the Democratic Party in charge of
electing House candidates, they have just warned given a warning to all of
the Democratic Party`s congressional candidates across the country who have
a national security background. People who have security clearances or who
have had security clearances in the past because of their past work, the
Democratic Party has now just officially warned all of those candidates
that they should be prepared for the Trump administration to potentially
illegally leak their security clearance applications, so that those
applications can be used against them by the Republican Party in the
The reason for the warning is because it has happened apparently once
already to one Democratic candidate. “The New York Times” breaking the
news late last night that this candidate, Abigail Spanberger, she`s a
former CIA case officer, she`s a Democratic congressional candidate in
Virginia, she`s the candidate Democrats have nominated to try to unseat
Republican congressman Dave Brat in Virginia, Abigail Spanberger apparently
had her full unredacted security clearance application not just released by
the Trump administration without her permission, which is illegal, but the
Trump administration apparently released it to a Republican opposition
research effort, which then did immediately start using that security
clearance application against her in her congressional campaign.
I mean, applications for security clearance are incredibly intrusive and
incredibly personal on purpose. They are designed to ferret out anything
that a foreign adversary might try to use to blackmail you, to get you to
hand over information that you`ll have access to because of your clearance.
So, applications forms for security clearance are like deep, deep
background checks and they`re specifically looking for anything that
anybody might try to use against you.
So, it`s – you know, it`s medical information, it`s relationship
information. It`s very detailed questions about like, you know, have you
ever smoked pot. It`s very detail information about your family, about
your extended family. It`s super, super intrusive.
And the government agency responsible for issuing your clearance is
obviously supposed to protect that information in your security clearance
application, right? Not just because it`s intensely private. It`s because
by definition, this is intensely private information about people who are
obtaining security clearances. So, it`s important to keep it secure.
It is information that is of a personal nature, but it`s also of – it`s
also of a sensitive nature when it comes to national security. That`s why,
for example, all journalists know you can`t file a Freedom of Information
Act request to get somebody`s security clearance application. I mean, you
can try but if you get anything back from the agency you`re FOIA-ing, it`s
– whatever you get back is going to be redacted within an inch of its life
to protect the sensitive information in that document and rightly so. At
least that`s the way it`s supposed to work.
But for some reason, the Trump administration responded to a FOIA request
by this Republican group looking for information about this Democratic
congressional candidate ex-CIA officer Abigail Spanberger and what the
Trump administration sent that Republican group in response to their FOIA
request was Spanberger`s complete, totally unredacted application for a
security clearance, including her full Social Security number, her entire
medical history, right? Everything.
The reason Abigail Spanberger found out this had handed is because there
after the Republican Party and a PAC ran by House Speaker Paul Ryan happily
started shopping this document to reporters, and started using it in
political attacks against her in her congressional campaign.
I mean, that is a legitimately new thing in politics. We`re all supposed
to be sort of jaded observers of politics, right? We`re all supposed to
think, oh, there`s nothing new under the sun. This is new. This is new.
I mean, maybe we should have expected it anyway. It was also new when
Trump decided to yank security clearances from former CIA Director John
Brennan because of his role in the Russia investigation and the president
doesn`t like the Russia investigation. Well, apparently, this is what
comes next after you break that seal. Now, the Republican Party is using
this stuff in campaigns.
We will have more on that story ahead tonight, including the strange non-
response thus far from the agency who is apparently responsible for
releasing this document.
If this document was released – you know, if this wasn`t an accident, if
this wasn`t something done by some rogue employee who will now be punished
or prosecuted for having done this, right, of course, we should expect that
this will become a huge new legal fight with the Trump administration,
right? If they`re misusing national security sensitive material like this
in order to dox their Democratic political opponents, you would expect that
to become a gigantic new legal fight with this administration.
Naturally, therefore, this news comes at the same time that we learned that
the White House counsel is leaving the White House. The top lawyer in the
White House, Don McGahn, news today about McGahn comes a week and a half,
11 days after the “New York Times” first reported that Don McGahn had sat
for at least 30 hours of interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller and
his team of prosecutors. “The Times” reporting that he fully cooperated
with the special counsel`s inquiry.
Now, the White House has tried to play that off like, oh, yes, no big deal.
We totally knew McGahn was doing that. We`re fine, nothing to worry about.
We`re so squeaky clean. What could we have to worry about?
But “The Times” own reporting from its scoop and subsequent reporting from
other media outlets all seems to indicate that actually the president and
other top White House officials really had no idea that Don McGahn was
cooperating with Mueller to that extent and they definitely have no idea
what he might have told them. And if Don McGahn really has been fully
cooperative with the special counsel`s office and has told them everything
he knows and everything he has seen that they might be interested in, he`s
potentially a sort of super witness for them. I mean, he`s been there.
He`s been right there in the room for all the highlights, for the firing of
James Comey, the FBI director, which is now reportedly a subject of
investigation by the special counsel as to whether that was an effort by
the president to obstruct justice.
When national security adviser Mike Flynn was having secret conversations
with the Russian government and then lying to the FBI about those
conversations, the person who was warned by Sally Yates at the Justice
Department about Flynn`s behavior, the person who got the warning that uh-
oh, big problem, the serving national security adviser appears to be
compromised by a foreign government, the person who got that warning at the
White House was Don McGahn, White House counsel.
McGahn was also there for the subsequent 18 days in which the White House
did nothing with that information despite that unprecedented and dire
warning. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned out to have not told
the truth about his own secret contacts with the Russian government during
the campaign, Don McGahn was apparently assigned by Trump to prevent Jeff
Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia investigation as a result of
That effort to stop Sessions` recusal did not succeed. Sessions recused
and ultimately we got Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein overseeing the
special counsel`s investigation led by Robert Mueller. “The Times” has
also reported that President Trump told Don McGahn directly to go fire
Robert Mueller. “The Times” reports that McGahn threatened to resign in
response and he would not do it.
So, he`s had this central role in all of those marquee events, all of which
we believe remain under some level of scrutiny by the special counsel`s
office in their ongoing investigation. But on top of all that, don`t
forget Don McGahn was also the lawyer, the top lawyer for the Trump
campaign. So, to the extent that the special counsel is looking at
Russia`s intervention in the campaign to help Trump and the crucial
question of whether or not the campaign was aware of that and whether they
may have participated or cooperated in any of those Russian efforts –
well, Don McGahn was there for that too in a key legal and financial role
on the campaign for months.
I mean, even as recently as this week, Don McGahn has a role in another key
controversy involving the president and this ongoing scandal this all
encompassing scandal that surrounds him and his administration and frankly
his campaign. “Vanity Fair” reporting this week it has been don McGahn who
has been insisting to the president that no, he can`t pardon his campaign
chairman Paul Manafort ahead of Manafort`s second federal felony trial,
which is due to start next month in Washington, D.C.
“Vanity Fair”, though, reports that the president is so set on pardoning
Manafort despite that advice that he has been considering bringing in a
different lawyer to advise him on the matter or even to draft the pardon,
since Don McGahn won`t do it. Well, now, Don McGahn is leaving. It
appears from follow-up reporting tonight in the “New York Times” that Don
McGahn is actually being fired from the White House as opposed to him
resigning on his own terms.
There was an axios.com story early this morning which said that Don McGahn
was looking to leave, maybe sometime this fall, wanted to get through the
stuff with the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, he was starting to think
of – “The Times” reports the president pounced on that story as an
opportunity basically to fire Don McGahn over Twitter, naturally, much to
Don McGahn`s surprise.
Quote, “The president`s tweet was precipitated by a report on the Axios
website that Don McGahn planned to leave after Brett Kavanaugh`s Supreme
Court confirmation process concluded. Mr. Trump had grown tired of seeing
reports that Mr. McGahn might leave according to people familiar with his
thinking. And he decided to take away any wiggle room. He decided to take
away any wiggle room he might have.
As “The Washington Post” puts it tonight, quote, Trump`s announcement of
McGahn`s departure came as a surprise, including to McGahn. Mr. McGahn was
not aware that Trump planned to send the tweet.
So, apparently, that is how the White House counsel got fired today, 11
days after we learned about the extent of his cooperation with the special
counsel. And in case you`re wondering, no, this is not normal. This is
not the way these things usually happen. No other White House counsel has
been fired quite in this way.
And it`s interesting that the White House and president have tried to spin
this today as something (AUDIO GAP). They clearly tried (AUDIO GAP)
impression that this was (AUDIO GAP) long-planned (AUDIO GAP) Don McGahn`s
voluntary departure. If it was a surprise to him when he saw on Twitter
that he was leaving, that`s not – the public.
We don`t know why they`ve tried to concoct a false public story line about
it. We may find out in the future. Sources close to McGahn do have ways
of getting their perspective on things into the newspapers we`ve noticed.
But we`ll have more on that story ahead with the reporter who has covered
this really closely.
To the extent that the current White House counsel Don McGahn has prevented
the president from acting on some of his most destructive impulses
particularly when it comes to the Russia investigation, Don McGahn leaving
sort of creates a new X factor, a new unknown in terms of us as Americans
trying to anticipate trying to prepare for the ways this president might
handle or try to manage (AUDIO GAP) intense legal stuff that is swirling
around (AUDIO GAP) and the White House (AUDIO GAP).
At the end of next week, for example, we are (AUDIO GAP). And prosecutors
are asking for a custodial sentence for Trump campaign foreign policy
adviser Georges Papadopoulos. Mr. Papadopoulos` somewhat inscrutable
Italian wife told ABC News tonight that despite her earlier public
intimations that her husband would withdraw his guilty plea and try to
fight the charges against him for lying to the FBI, she now says that
George Papadopoulos will not fight, he will not withdraw his guilty plea.
She does expect him to be sentenced next week. She hopes it isn`t to
If George Papadopoulos does get sentenced to prison next week, that will
make him the second person in the scandal to be sentenced to time behind
bars since the investigations and the prosecution started. We don`t know
how the president will react to that.
Ten days after Mr. Papadopoulos is due to be sentenced next week, jury
selection is due to start in that second federal felony trial of the Trump
campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Today, Manafort`s defense team asked the
judge in that case to move the trial out of Washington, D.C. to more
conservative Roanoke, Virginia, instead. The judge should rule on that
motion within the next week or so. Discussions in open court about that
issue yesterday suggested that the judge might not be inclined to move the
case but we will not know until we see her ruling.
Today was also the deadline by which the special counsel`s office, the
prosecutor`s office had to tell that same judge, excuse me had, to tell the
judge in – sorry. Had to tell the judge from Manafort`s first case
whether they wanted to retry Paul Manafort on the ten felony charges for
which the jury in his first case was unable to reach a verdict.
Prosecutors from the special counsel`s office today filed this brief with
that judge asking for more time to make that decision.
Now, if the judge grants that extension we think that means we`ll go maybe
another 30 days or so before we know if the president`s campaign chairman
isn`t just going to start a second federal trial next month, but he`s
actually then going to go back on trial again for some of the charges he
faced already last time in Virginia. So, I mean, imagine Paul Manafort`s
legal fees at this point, right? And there`s this lack of resolution
around the Manafort case in terms of his ultimate fate and how long he`s
going to keep twisting in this particular wind and paying his legal team
and all the rest of it.
There`s also an interesting and hard to follow lack of resolution around
the Michael Cohen part of this case. I mean, part of it is settled, right?
The day Manafort was first convicted in federal court, Michael Cohen pled
guilty in a different federal court to eight federal felony charges. That
wasn`t the end though with Michael Cohen. It now really seems like other
shoes may drop and some of it may be federal, some of it may not.
The New York state attorney general has asked for a state criminal referral
of Michael Cohen on state tax charges in addition to the federal tax
charges he`s already pled guilty to. We learned at the same time that we -
- we learned at the same time of that revelation from the New York state
attorney general that Cohen also has already been subpoenaed by New York
state authorities to testify about the Trump Foundation. New York attorney
general has brought a civil lawsuit against the Trump Foundation.
The New York district attorney is also reportedly considering criminal
charges against the Trump Organization which is President Trump`s business.
That criminal investigation reportedly derives from the Trump
Organization`s role in the felony charges to which Michael Cohen already
pled guilty in federal court. And you know, it does seem like the doors
are starting to rattle a little bit o the hinges over at the president`s
business, over at the Trump Organization.
CNN reporting today that a second employee at the Trump Organization,
someone other than CFO Allen Weisselberg has gone to federal prosecutors
and asked for immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his or her
cooperation and testimony. We do not know who that person is from the
Trump Organization but here`s how CNN puts it today.
Quote: A second Trump organization employee discussed a potential immunity
deal with the federal prosecutors who charged Michael Cohen President
Trump`s former personal attorney. That employee ultimately did not receive
immunity after prosecutors in the U.S. attorney`s office for the Southern
District of New York decided against granting such protection.
The Trump Organization is not that big. Family business, they don`t have
that many employees. Now we know that not just the CFO but at least one
other person who worked there has gone on to federal prosecutors and asked
for immunity, immunity from prosecution in exchange for Cooperating with
those prosecutors. In an organization that`s not that big, that`s probably
not a good sign – at least not a good sign for the people who aren`t
And now there`s actually one more piece of this we can add based on
interesting reporting today from “The Wall Street Journal.” One of the
things that I think people truly are not going to believe about this era
when they look back at it as American history, is that when all this stuff
was going down with the president`s personal lawyer, right, Michael Cohen
pleading guilty to multiple felonies, standing up in federal court and
directly implicating the president in his crimes, right. I mean, while all
that was happening Michael Cohen was the deputy finance chairman of the
national Republican Party.
I mean in, the Trump era Republican Party, two of the deputy finance
chairman of the RNC have been Michael Cohen, for real, and also this
gentleman, Elliott Broidy. “Washington Post” reported recently that the
Public Integrity Division at the Justice Department is investigating
whether or not Elliott Broidy has been selling access to the president and
the Trump administration as an unregistered lobbyist and/or unregistered
That follows earlier bombshell reporting from “The Wall Street Journal”
that one of the things Broidy was reportedly trying to sell to a foreign
buyer was his self-proclaimed ability to make major Department of Justice
investigations go away. He and his wife offered a gigantic multimillion
dollar contract to overseas buyers.
The terms of the proposed contract say Broidy and his wife would be paid $8
million no matter what as a nonrefundable retainer if this contract were
entered into. And then if they were able to get the Justice Department to
drop this one particular major investigation within six months, Broidy and
his wife would be paid $75 million on this contract. If it took them a
little longer, if it took them a year to get the case dropped or settled,
then they would only get paid $50 million, presumably in addition to their
$8 million nonrefundable retainer.
That will case that Elliott Broidy and his wife were reportedly offering to
make go away for those very large sums, that case that they said they could
get quashed, settled, ended, that case that they were offering that
contract about is one of the largest alleged financial frauds in human
history. It is a multibillion dollar heist from the government of
Malaysia. And now today, “The Wall Street Journal” reports that the
Department of Justice is looking into whether – not just Elliott Broidy
but lots of other people in Trump`s orbit have been getting laundered money
that was stolen in that giant heist from Malaysia.
Quote: The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether a fugitive
financier laundered tens of millions of dollars and used the funds to pay a
U.S. legal team that includes former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie,
oh, and also a lawyer who represents President Trump. The team of lawyers
and consultants working for the financier includes Mr. Christie, who
briefly headed Trump`s presidential transition team, Mr. Trump`s long time
lawyer Mark Kasowitz and Bobby Burchfield, a lawyer who serves as the Trump
Organization`s outside ethics adviser.
Remember that, remember when the president decided he wasn`t going to give
up his business and form a trust? Dot worry, everything will be fine.
Look, we`re bringing in an outside ethics advisor to make sure everything
is squeaky clean with me being the first president in modern history to
retain his business interests while still serving as president.
We`ve got an outside ethics adviser. Rest assured. There will be no funny
money sliding through anywhere, nothing the least bit smelly in this
unclean office fridge. Everything will be fine. That ethics lawyer that
they brought in for the Trump Organization is Bobby Burchfield who now
according to “The Wall Street Journal” is part after investigation into
whether or not he received laundered funds from the biggest financial heist
in history which is the subject after active Justice Department
And the single best part of the story is Bobby Burchfield`s response to
this report from “The Wall Street Journal”. Quote: Mr. Burchfield said in
an e-mailed statement that the Malaysian financier had retained his Atlanta
based law firm, quote, to advise him on ongoing investigations, adding that
the law firm, quote, performed appropriate due diligence on sources of
That`s the wrong answer. Right? Think about that for a second.
You did appropriate due diligence? You`re the ethics lawyer who has been
hired literally by the president of the United States to assure everybody
that you`re the guy looking into everything to make sure there`s nothing
weird at all about any of the money moving around in any of the president`s
business, and you yourself end up under Justice Department investigation
for being part of a guy gigantic money laundering scheme yourself in your
The right response to that is not yes, I totally looked into it. I
completely checked this out. I did all my due diligence. I was totally
sure all that money was fine. That money`s not fine.
You`re the due diligence guy, if it didn`t work here, don`t advertise that.
With all of these various strands of legal jeopardy surrounding the
president and his charity and his business and his family and his closest
associates, right, from before the campaign, from during the campaign and
from now, with all of these different legal matters swirling around the
president and seemingly getting closer and closer to the president, with
more and more people offering to cooperate, heck of a time to lose a White
House council, right?
“Bloomberg News” reports tonight that among the candidates being considered
to replace Don McGahn as White House counsel is that guy, Bobby Burchfield,
the due diligence ethics lawyer who apparently is caught up in a giant
Justice Department money laundering investigation.
Yes. You need a White House counsel? Why not that guy? Sure, he seems
perfect. Who else would you pick? Is Michael Cohen actually all that busy
before he has to report to jail?
Lots more ahead to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I was going to talk about something else here, but “The Washington
Post” has just broken one of those stories that is sort of a landmark
story. You know it`s big when they note a few paragraphs in. This account
is based on interviews this week with 26 White House officials,
presidential advisers and lawyers and strategists close to the
Twenty-six sources in this news story that “The Washington Post” just
posted. Let me just give you the lead here. President Trump`s advisers
and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the
strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the
House which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration
with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.
Within Trump`s orbit there`s consensus that his current legal team is not
equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands and
there`s been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in
white collar defense and political scandals. And then “The Post” gets
specific. The president and some advisers discussed possibly adding
veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell who currently represents Trump`s son-
in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to the president`s personal legal
team if an impeachment battle or other fights with Congress emerge after
the midterm elections.
Trump recently has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of
impeachment proceedings. Still, according to “The Post” tonight, Trump has
not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan,
leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude
of what could be in store next year.
One other concern cited by “The Post” tonight is that the White House which
already has struggled in attracting top caliber talent to staff positions
could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House because aides fear
mayor mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and
possibly result in hefty lawyers` fees. One Trump adviser telling “The
Washington Post” tonight, quote, it stops good people from potentially
serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill.
This White House has always seemed like a fun place to work. It seems like
based on this reporting from “The Washington Post” tonight, that may be all
the more so right now.
Carol Leonnig is one of the lead reporters on this story. It`s just posted
at “The Washington Post” website. We`ll be joined by Carol Leonnig next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Winter is coming. And not just on premium cable. Winter is
coming is this new headline just posted in the west tonight, quoting,
someone in communication with the White House.
Full quote is this: Winter is coming. Assuming Democrats win the House
which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be
under siege. But it`s like tumbled weeds rolling down the walls over
there. Nobody is prepared for war.
Joining us is Carol Leonnig, national reporter at “The Washington Post”,
who`s part of the reporting team on this story tonight.
Carol, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate the time.
CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Glad to be here,
MADDOW: So this is based on 26 sources which itself feels like the
occasion for everybody to salute you just for the amount of work you and
this team has done to put this together. The upshot to me seems to be two
main points. One that there is concern in the White House, maybe concern
among the president`s allies potentially signaling through the media trying
to get his attention that the president may be in serious jeopardy up to an
potentially including impeachment, depending on what happens with elections
this November, but also you`re reporting on pretty detailed planning or
considerations in the White House to really change the president`s legal
Those – am I right to take those as the two main thrusts of this
LEONNIG: Absolutely, Rachel. The two weaknesses right now are that the
president doesn`t have a lawyer representing him personally who has some
impeachment experiences or some congressional experiences, and the other
major weakness is basically the gutting we learned about over the last few
days of reporting of the White House counsel`s office. You know, Don
McGahn has essentially been announced as leaving by the president`s tweet
which was a surprise to him and many others of the president`s aides. Even
the president`s attorney was surprised by it this morning.
But that announcement made us look more deeply, as well and try to tabulate
what`s going on in the White House counsel`s office. This is the defense,
the blockers for what would happen if Democrats get subpoena power and it`s
a pale comparison of what it used to be. Four of the five deputies for Don
McGahn will be gone by the end of the week. And that leaves one standing
who mostly has represented the White House on national security matters.
MADDOW: The news that Mr. McGahn himself was surprised by the president`s
announcement that Mr. McGahn would be leaving the White House, when that
emerged today, that left me feeling I guess feeling like really this was
the firing of Don McGahn. It may have been that Mr. McGahn was looking
toward the exits, that he was planning on arranging his departure from the
White House, announcing his departure, submitting his notice as it were
sometime fairly soon. He may have even been signaling when that might have
But if he was surprised today by the president saying, yes, he`s out, is
this essentially an involuntary departure? Is this a sort of firing of Mr.
LEONNIG: It`s not the same kind of event as the Tillerson tweet. It`s not
the same as the H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, you`re out of
here. It`s not that kind of see you later, Charlie, kind of moment.
Don McGahn has telegraphed to many people, including reporters, that he
planned to go in the fall that Kavanaugh`s confirmation was sort of the
crown that he hoped to finish off. That would be the ending of his moment
as White House counsel. However, it`s just an indecorous way to say good-
bye to somebody. And the president likes to do it in this manner to sort
of squeeze off exits or entrances. That`s what – that`s the opportunity
he sees today.
MADDOW: Carol, you and your colleagues reported last night that the
president has privately revived the idea of firing the attorney general.
Do we see any connection between what`s just happened with Don McGahn with
the hollowing out of the White House counsel`s office, as you just
described, with not just McGahn but all of his deputies either leaving or
left? Is there any connection there with the potential firing of the
Obviously, that has big consequences for the Russia investigation among a
lot of other things, but Don McGahn has been described as somebody a sort
of governor, a sort of brake pedal for the president for some of his
strongest impulses when it comes to the Russia investigation in particular.
Are these things linked?
LEONNIG: You know, it`s such a good question because I love your use of
the word governor in this instance. It`s true that there are a lot of
people and Don McGahn probably is among the top three who have barred the
door from the president acting on his worst impulses. However, I don`t
think that it is linked. I do believe Don McGahn`s sort of message that he
really was kind of done.
I think there`s something bigger going on inside the White House counsel
and larger even in the White House which is people are tired. People are
tired of the drama and the tilting and the careering and the daily sort of
rush, rush, hurry up and wait and everything falls apart. A lot of things
done on the whim of the president that wear people down.
I don`t think the departures of all of Don McGahn`s – almost all of Don
McGahn`s deputies can be attributed to any one factor. But what I hear and
what my colleagues at “The Washington Post” hear over and over again is
people are wearing thin. And it doesn`t necessarily mean that the
president`s pushing them out, but some of the president`s ways of governing
MADDOW: Carol Leonnig, national reporter at “The Washington Post”, busy as
ever these days – Carol, thank you very much for being here tonight. Much
LEONNIG: Of course. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Again, “The Washington Post” reporting tonight that the president
has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment
proceedings. Also reporting in “The Washington Post” tonight, McGahn and
other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to convince the
president not to take actions or behave in ways they believe would hurt
him. Still, the president has not directed his lawyers or political aides
to prepare an impeachment action plan, leaving allies to fret that the
president doesn`t appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store for
him for particularly if Democrats win the House.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: My mother said the
only thing in life you should ever ask for is a chance. So I want you to
know that if you give me the chance I`ll not only be your nominee, but to
be the next governor of the great state of Florida, that I`m going to make
you proud every single day of the week.
So I want you all to join me on this mission. All right? And together,
we`re going to take there state back, flip Florida blue in 2018, and flip
this country blue in 2020.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You see the tag lines there, right?
He pulls out beat the NRA, not just fight the NRA, beat the NRA. Health
care for all, $15 minimum wage, abolish and replace ICE, end “stand your
ground”, legalize marijuana, impeach Trump.
Andrew Gillum, Florida Democrat, has been testing it the theory that if you
want to win, you should go bold. Clearly, it worked last night in Florida.
Andrew Gillum benefitted from absolutely juiced Democratic turnout in the
primary yesterday in Florida, 31 percent, that is way up from turnout for
Florida Democrats in terms of what they posted in the last two midterm
primaries. Juiced turnout like that is what Democrats are counting on.
On the Republican side, Gillum will face Trump backed Congressman Ron
DeSantis who`s calling Gillum, quote, way too liberal for the state of
Florida. Mr. DeSantis also told Fox News that Florida shouldn`t, quote,
monkey it up by electing Mr. Gillum. Mr. Gillum, of course, would be the
first ever African-American Florida governor if he`s elected.
The dean of Florida political reporters says he`s never seen anything quite
like this in his state. And given which state we`re talking about, that`s
really saying something. That reporter joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here`s more of how Andrew Gillum campaigned his way to a big upset
win last night that has surprised everybody in the political class and has
lit up the Democratic base around the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GILLUM: What`s impossible? The son of a bus driver becoming mayor of the
capital city? Or that mayor standing up against the NRA so that guns
couldn`t be fired in city parks and winning?
How about running for governor and being the most progressive Democrat who
would invest a billion dollars in education and create Medicare for all?
Is it impossible to come from nothing, be outspent 10-1 and win?
Share this. Buy a TV ad and prove the impossible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He wasn`t leading or in most cases, even in second place in any
poll heading into last night`s primary. But then last night, he won.
Joining us is “Politico” senior writer, all around Florida expert Marc
Mr. Caputo, I`m happy to see you. Thanks for being here.
MARC CAPUTO, SENIOR WRITER, POLITICO: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I don`t think of you as ever being surprised by anything in
politics in your state. You have proclaimed yourself surprised by this.
Why is that?
CAPUTO: Well, as you said, Andrew Gillum was just really kind of down.
You know, conventional wisdom holds you have to have a lot of money. You
have to have a lot of organization to win.
And there was this coalition of liberal groups, a few billionaires, Tom
Steyer and George Soros, and there were a variety of candidates in the race
and it just created this perfect storm for Andrew Gillum to just kind of
slipped through, sneak through and surge at the last minute and the shocker
came on Tuesday night.
MADDOW: Now, he in his primary was seen as a sort of symbol of one
approach to Democratic general election politics, which is don`t
necessarily try to be the crossover appeal candidate. Don`t go to the
center. Do everything you can instead to maximize Democratic turnout. Get
the Democratic base excited and they`ll turn out and that`s how you can
Did we actually see in absolute numbers, did we see a kind of – a spike in
Democratic turnout in a way that – that sort of justified that strategy?
CAPUTO: Well, I can tell you, he was certainly be kind of Admiral Farragut
candidate. You know, damn the torpedoes. And it just caught on.
I would go around and talk to voters and, you know, people I knew who are
Democrats, just all of them really loved Andrew Gillum, and they wanted a
reason to believe. And in the very last minute, he kind of gave them that
reason, and then all of a sudden, it came together at just one moment.
What you have seen in the Democratic Party just for years in Florida is
this idea that we have to have this centrist middle of the road candidate
in the middle of the road, in the center. We`re going to find enough votes
to beat the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Florida have just
run these base elections, inspire, in some cases inflame, get your voters
to the polls, get them passionate, get them to turn out. And the joke kept
being on Democrats.
Well, now, whether they intended to or not, the Florida Democratic Party
nominated someone who is using that same kind of technique that the
Republicans had used but now it looks like some of the Republicans are a
little nervous. They`re like, wow, Andrew Gillum really has a passionate
following. We`ve got quite a race on our hands.
MADDOW: Well, Ron DeSantis won his primary pretty easily on the Republican
side, then he went on Fox News today as he is want to, he spends a lot of
time on Fox News, and he made this comment that`s received national
condemnation when he said that Florida shouldn`t monkey it up by voting for
Andrew Gillum. A lot of people seeing racial overtones in that comment.
First of all, do you believe there were deliberate racial overtones in that
comment? And what does tell us about what DeSantis – what kind of
campaign DeSantis is likely to run?
CAPUTO: I`m going to take a pass on what was going on in his mind, but I
can certainly say that his campaign has been in damage control. They had
already been looking toward the general election a few weeks before the
primary. DeSantis was kind of ready to hit the campaign trail and define
himself as his own Republican and just, you know, by 9:30, 10:00 a.m. on
Wednesday after election day on Tuesday, he suddenly opened his mouth,
stuck his foot in it and it has just been a really good Gillum day.
Now, you know, this is Florida and we see in our elections are pretty
volatile. So, I`m going to hesitate to call any candidate dead, or any
sort of error like that fatal, but it certainly was a bad day for Ron
DeSantis and a great day for Andrew Gillum.
MADDOW: Yes, and a humbling day for everybody who thinks they can predict
what`s going to happen next in politics.
MADDOW: Marc Caputo, “Politico” senior writer, Marc, thank you very much.
CAPUTO: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. I should also mention that Andrew Gillum will be the
feature guest of Lawrence O`Donnell on “THE LAST WORD” coming up right
after me at the top of the hour.
More ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Five days left before Brett Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearings are
scheduled to begin for a seat on the Supreme Court. Democrats in the
Senate have been pushing hard for those to be delayed in part because they
haven`t gotten documents from huge swathes of Kavanaugh`s past work in
Washington. You might therefore assume Democrats right now would be doing
everything they can to throw up roadblocks to try to buy themselves time
that they say is so crucial.
Instead, last night, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer somewhat
inexplicably cut a huge deal with top Republican Mitch McConnell, in which
the Democrats agreed to essentially waive through 15 Trump judicial
nominees. After the deal, seven of those nominees were confirmed
immediately and the remaining eight will get expedited votes next week, no
mas, no fuss, no taking up any time.
There have been a number of arguments today as to whether or not Senator
Schumer is playing some sort of three-dimensional chess here and really he
must got some amazing concession from the Republicans that nobody can see
yet because it`s as yet invisible. But if Democrats were hoping to make
Republicans fight for every nominee in order to put the spotlight on
judicial nominations and their importance, they just did the opposite, 15
times over five days before Supreme Court hearings.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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