White House weighs expelling Erdogan. TRANSCRIPT: 11/19/18, The Rachel Maddow Show.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I will tell you, talking
to you for your podcast, I mean, we talk all the time. We`re friends.
Well see each other in the real world.
But like sitting in the studio with you, with microphones in front of us
and like having that talk for that extended period of time was so rewarding
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: I felt the same way.
HAYES: It was great. Do it again.
MADDOW: A, I like you. B, I think your podcast, the podcast format for
you is really, really, really good.
HAYES: I love doing it.
MADDOW: You`re really good at it. It`s just – I mean, you`re always good
at drawing people out. But being in that sort of intense environment with
you, seeing you do it and being there in the moment, it`s just – it`s just
great. And I`m really grateful that we had that time. So thank you.
HAYES: Thank you. I feel the same way. I`m real excited for folks to
MADDOW: OK, thanks. Let`s move on.
MADDOW: There, you saw a little tender moment. We did it on TV by
All right. Thanks to you for joining us this hour. Thanksgiving week, it
sort of looks like a vacation week if you squint at it, but because the
holiday doesn`t come until Thursday by definition, the first few days of
Thanksgiving week historically speaking, these are often a time when a
whole bunch of news kind of gets crammed in all at once, whether it`s
because the news gods also want Thursday off or it`s because people are
just trying to clear their inboxes before they go away or have some time
for the holiday.
The beginning of Thanksgiving week is often a little busy, and a lot of
stuff tends to happen, all kind a crunch. So it is good that you are here
tonight. There`s lots to get to.
In California tonight, there are grave worries about the death toll
attributed to the state`s absolutely unprecedented wildfires. The death
toll officially stands at 80 for the California wildfires tonight. Most of
those deaths occurring in Butte County in the northern part of the state
where the camp fire has been burning. And while that death toll number,
that 80 number is horrific, what is becoming more and more unnerving as the
days go by is the persistently gigantic number of people who are considered
missing in conjunction with the fires.
“The L.A. Times” tonight has a good article basically going through the
list of missing persons and identifying some of what appear to be
duplicates and finding some people who are on the list who are nevertheless
definitely alive and accounted for. So there is great hope that the
thousand-person-long missing persons list will ultimately be winnowed way
down. And let us hope that the death toll will not rise much higher than
it is now, but it is already really high at 80, and this is a complex and
still evolving situation.
The rain that is due to fall in some affected areas of the state this week,
that not only increases the risk of mudslides and landslides and flooding
in areas that have burned, that also complicates the physical task of
trying to find human remains in areas where searchers have been
painstakingly going house to house and car to car and property to property,
trying to find any physical signs of the remains of Californians who were
killed in these fires.
So, we are continuing to watch that story unfold. We expect that story
will continue to be horrific over the course of this weekend. It will be
changing circumstances with changing weather there this week. Just a
natural disaster of national proportions.
The president`s visit to California this weekend was marked by a number of
embarrassing missteps on his part, including repeatedly misstating the name
of the town of Paradise, California, as Pleasure, California. The
president also continuing to insist that he had some sort of magical
information about preventing forest fires by raking forests, cleaning out
what he called their floors.
And it`s easy to laugh at or scoff at the president for being so
fundamentally incompetent and embarrassing and classless on a presidential
trip like this one that he took this weekend, but in the context of whole
communities burned to the ground and dozens of Americans killed in
absolutely horrifying circumstances, a number that may rise to hundreds if
and when their remains can finally be found and sifted, there is just
something toxic about having the leader of the country there in the middle
of that catastrophe and him being so profoundly unable to get even the
basic, simple human stuff right.
The notes that you give for something on a trip like this fit on an index
card, right? You know, like, you know, people died. Don`t blame them.
Express concern. Figure out the name of the place you`re talking about.
Do not make stuff up about any of this, specifically about how you would
have avoided the disaster if people were only as smart as – I mean, most
presidents wouldn`t even need instructions like that because most human
beings could intuit those basic rules of how to approach this kind of a
So I just – sometimes when the president, you know, screws up and spells
stuff wrong and gets names wrong and misstates facts, sometimes there is an
element of funny to it. In this context, it`s just, as I said, sort of
toxic. But that happened.
Last week, speaking of toxic, we reported that a high-ranking Trump
appointee in the Environmental Protection Agency, the person who Trump had
installed to run the EPA for the whole Southeastern United States, last
week we reported that he has been indicted on criminal charges in his home
state of Alabama. A little bit of a weird update on that story today.
This is a high-ranking Trump EPA official who was indicted a week and a
We learned about it from the Alabama press last week. We`re still trying
to get ahold of the indictment, and we can`t yet get it. That itself is a
story. But despite the fact that he has apparently been under criminal
indictment for quite some time now, it appears that this Trump EPA official
just resigned his office at the EPA today, which means he was continuing to
run the EPA for the entire Southeastern United States while under criminal
indictment for more than the last week.
And then as soon as we learned of that oddly timed resignation today, we
also learned about another dramatic development that seems sort of adjacent
to that story. The Republican attorney general of Alabama is a man named
Steve Marshall. He was initially appointed to the job to replace Luther
Strange who got appointed to Jeff Sessions` old Senate seat.
Steve Marshall initially appointed, he then stood for election to the
position in this month`s elections. He was elected AG this month. And now
today, surprise, this newly elected attorney general, Republican attorney
general in Alabama, he up and fired the top public corruption prosecutor in
Now in Alabama, the top public corruption prosecutor in the state is a busy
guy, right? Think about what`s been going on in Alabama in recent years.
This is the prosecutor who brought a multi-count felony indictment against
the serving Republican speaker of the house in Alabama, which resulted in
the speaker of the House being sentenced to four years in prison.
It`s the same prosecutor who soon thereafter negotiated the resignation of
the Republican governor of Alabama as part of a plea deal in his sex and
ethics scandal. This is the same public corruption prosecutor who was
reportedly overseeing a grand jury in Alabama that was working on the exact
same criminal scandal that just ensnared this top official from Trump`s EPA
and got him criminally indicted, which today resulted in his resignation.
And now on the same day that that indicted Trump EPA official has finally
resigned his job, the newly elected Republican attorney general in the
state where he was charged fires the public corruption prosecutor? The guy
who had that particular bull by the horns? And has seen all of these other
top officials in the state run out of office and in some cases put in jail?
I mean, I know that this is an Alabama official. This is an Alabama story,
but this is also a national story if only because it`s a Trump EPA official
who has been charged here. But even if it weren`t a Trump official here,
the surprise firing of a public corruption prosecutor is always going to be
a big story.
This particular public corruption prosecutor, Matt Hart, who was fired
today, he has been particularly high profile and effective public
corruption prosecutor in a routinely corrupt state. He is routinely
described in the Alabama press as the most feared man in all of Alabama
politics. When a guy like that gets fired in the middle of a still
unspooling big public corruption scandal, where arrests and indictments are
all happening still right now – I mean, that – that is national news.
It`s national news already, and I have a feeling that that one is going to
Again, one of the things we are still chasing down with that story is we`re
trying to get our hands on the indictment of this high-ranking federal
official. So far, nobody can produce that document for us. Indictments
aren`t supposed to be secret. It`s not like this one is under seal. It`s
just nobody seems to have it to show anyone.
Speaking of scandalous perversions of law enforcement, the president`s
firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the midterm
elections, his installation of Matt Whitaker at the top of the Justice
Department, that continues to be a sort of slow rolling constitutional
crisis at the top of American law enforcement. Senator Richard Blumenthal
of Connecticut and a couple his colleagues in the Senate today brought a
federal lawsuit against Whitaker suing him, claiming that his appointment
is illegal and he constitutionally cannot serve as acting attorney general.
We`re going to be speaking with Senator Blumenthal live here in studio in
just a moment about that.
Part of the controversy about the installation of Matt Whitaker at the
Justice Department is, of course, among all of the other functions in the
Justice Department he is overseeing, he is specifically now is supervising
Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office in the Russian
Well, tonight in a new filing in one of the cases that relates to the
Russia investigation, Robert Mueller`s prosecutors have made an interesting
argument to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is a new filing that
has just been submitted tonight. They argue in this filing that Matt
Whitaker getting appointed to be acting attorney general of the Justice
Department, they`re arguing in this filing tonight that that does not
materially affect the arguments that are happening in this appeals court
over whether or not Robert Mueller`s appointment is constitutional.
Now, I`m mentioning this filing tonight because – not because I think it`s
the most important thing in the world, but I do think it`s important that I
think it`s being misunderstood. I think people are mischaracterizing it or
reading more into it than what is actually in the filing. And so, I just
want to make sure everybody is on the same page about this.
This Mueller case, this case in the D.C. Appeals Court, this is not, you
know, an indictment of an individual, you know, like the Mike Flynn case or
the Paul Manafort case or the Maria Butina case. This is a case that is
designed to go to the Supreme Court of the United States and very well may.
This is a case from somebody who you may have never heard of named Andrew
Miller who received subpoenas from Robert Mueller. Mueller`s subpoenas
told him he was supposed to testify or hand over information to a grand
This guy Andrew Miller refused to respond to the subpoenas, refused to
recognize their validity, and basically, his case got set up as a legal
challenge so the federal courts would have to rule on whether or not
Mueller`s appointment is constitutional, whether special counsels really
can be empowered by the Justice Department at all to do the kind of
investigation that Mueller has been doing.
So this is an appeals court case that`s designed to challenge basically the
existence of the special counsel full stop. Since these filings were first
put on the public docket tonight, there has been some discussion online,
there have been some headlines suggesting that what Mueller and his
prosecutors are saying in these filings tonight is that Matthew Whitaker
showing up at the justice department doesn`t affect the work of the special
counsel at all, that the investigation is proceeding as it did before, and
Matthew Whitaker being at the Justice Department is having no effect on
what Robert Mueller and his team are doing.
I`ve seen it characterized that way this evening. That`s actually not what
this filing says. The only argument that Mueller and his prosecutors are
making to this appeals court tonight is that Matt Whitaker getting
appointed at the justice department doesn`t have any bearing on this
specific case. On this case that`s before the Appeals Court in D.C.
And again, what that case is about is whether Robert Mueller was
constitutionally appointed. Robert Mueller was appointed well before
Matthew Whitaker ever showed up at the Justice Department. So, all this
filing says tonight is that the Matthew Whitaker thing is not relevant to
It`s not relevant to this case. If there is problems with Whitaker`s
appointment, that should be dealt with in some other venue. There isn`t
any sort of broader claim here from Mueller`s prosecutors about whether or
not Whitaker is impeding the investigation or anything else.
Matt Whitaker may absolutely be impeding the Mueller investigation at this
point. Nobody is quite sure that we would have any window into that if
that was happening. That`s it. We may be getting a little bit more of a
window into what is going on with the special counsel`s office tomorrow.
Tomorrow is the deadline for presentencing reports to be handed in to the
court in the case of Mike Flynn, President Trump`s first national security
adviser. He pled guilty to a felony. He has been cooperating with the
special counsel`s office. He is awaiting sentencing.
Tomorrow, prosecutors have to tell the court how that`s been going with
Mike Flynn cooperating and what kind of sentence the judge should consider
for him in light of his guilty plea and how much he`s been able to help
Now, we don`t know if that filing will be sealed or unsealed when it is
turned into the court tomorrow, but if it is publicly available, if it`s
not under seal, that should make for very interesting reading, that should
be a big story. It should give us a significant sort of piece of the
puzzle in terms of what`s been happening with Mike Flynn all this time. It
will tell us, for one part, whether or not we expect him to actually spend
time in jail. It should tell us something about how helpful he has been to
But given what`s happening right now with the Justice Department and the
president angling at the Mueller investigation, that sentencing filing
tomorrow from Mueller`s prosecutors may also be our first window into
what`s been going on in the special counsel`s office, what kind of
decisions they`ve been able to make or not make since they started
reporting to this new guy, to this Trump loyalist, Matt Whitaker, whose
appointment is so controversial.
So that`s going to be tomorrow. Again, if it`s under seal, we won`t know
what`s it in until the court unseals it. But if it`s filed publicly, that
should be fascinating.
Another thing you should watch for in tomorrow`s news is the last debate
for the last U.S. Senate race that is still to be decided in this country.
Bill Nelson conceded the Florida Senate race this weekend to Rick Scott.
So that is a Republican pickup in Florida.
But next week, there is one more. The Mississippi U.S. Senate runoff will
happen between Democrat Mike Espy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith. Now, it
is hard to imagine a statewide race being competitive in the state of
Mississippi. But “The Washington Post” reports today that internal
Republican polls show that this race between Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith
Democrat Mike Espy is very well-known in the state of Mississippi. He is a
former congressman from Mississippi. He was the secretary of agriculture
in Bill Clinton`s cabinet in Clinton`s second term. Mississippi born and
And it does not hurt Mike Espy`s chances that the person he is run against
for this election just isn`t that great at this. Cindy Hyde-Smith has made
a number of controversial and sort of inexplicable remarks since she has
been heading towards this runoff with Mike Espy. But the thing to know
heading into tomorrow night`s debate, is not just that she has said stuff
that`s gotten her in trouble, it`s that after she says stuff that gets her
in trouble, she doesn`t seem capable of talking her way out of it when it
comes time to answer questions, to answer for the controversial things she
has said, and that`s the kind of discussion you tend to have to have at a
one-on-one Senate debate.
So, heading into that debate tomorrow, which should be amazing, you should
know that this, for example, is how Cindy Hyde-Smith recently handled
Mississippi reporters` questions after she was overheard making
lighthearted remarks about how much she would like to attend a public
hanging, aka, a lynching. She got questions about that from Mississippi
Here`s how she answered their questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI: I put out a statement yesterday
and we stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Could you expand on it, then, why you said it, what you meant by
it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive?
HYDE-SMITH: We put out the statement yesterday and it`s available, and we
stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Senator, are you familiar with Mississippi`s history of lynches?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and that`s all I`m going to
say about it.
REPORTER: You mentioned that there shouldn`t be – it shouldn`t be viewed
with a negative connotation. Could you at least explain how it could be
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by the
statement, and that`s all I`m going say about it.
REPORTER: Is that phrasing in your everyday lingo, your everyday
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican of Mississippi. Tomorrow, she will
face off in the final U.S. Senate debate before the last Senate election in
this country this year against Democrat Mike Espy. Should be fascinating
That election in Mississippi, that runoff is a week from tomorrow. So
Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
And now we know actually that the week after that there is going to be yet
another big important statewide race with national implications in Georgia.
In Georgia, of course, Democrat Stacey Abrams did not win the governorship
against Republican Brian Kemp. I realize that is an awkward way to phrase
But you can`t say that Stacey Abrams conceded the race to Brian Kemp
because she didn`t. Abrams has acknowledged that she did not win and that
Kemp will ascend to the governorship. But she has been steadfast and firm
in her criticism that the reason Kemp won is because of the systematic
racially specific voter suppression efforts that he ran as Georgia`s
elected Republican secretary of state, as the man responsible for running
elections and maintaining the voter roles in Georgia.
Well, Brian Kemp is going to move on to be governor of Georgia, but there
is still going to be another statewide election in Georgia to pick his
successor. Neither the Republican nor the Democrat running to succeed
Brian Kemp as secretary of state got more than 50 percent of the vote on
election night that was in part because whose that guy on the right? There
was a third party candidate in the race who did pretty well, got a couple
of points that kept both the Democrat and the Republican in the secretary
of state contest from hitting the 50 percent mark.
That third party candidate, libertarian, will not be in the runoff. That`s
what a runoff is, right? You take the top two candidates.
With the libertarian out of the race, he has now thrown his support and his
endorsement to the Democrat in the race, to John Barrett. So again, that
runoff will be in a couple of weeks. It will be on December 4th, a
statewide election in Georgia to pick a Democrat or Republican to be the
next secretary of state seceding Brian Kemp.
This is for the person in charge of maintaining the voter roles in the
great state of Georgia. This statewide runoff coming after an unbelievably
hotly contested governor`s race in which the right to vote was as much a
part of the contest as anything else about the two candidates.
And the right to vote, the ability to vote, the question whether or not the
playing field is tilted to one candidate or the other, to one party or the
other, that has become basically the theme song to what happened in this
year`s election. If not the theme song, at least the background music.
There is a weekly newspaper in Wisconsin called “Isthmus”. It`s one of the
worse I can`t say no matter how many times I say it. “Isthmus”. I can`t
say sixth or procurement or isthmus.
There you have it. That`s my kryptonite. I can`t say those things.
The website Think Progress today picked up this graphic that “Isthmus” made
to show the election results this year in Wisconsin. Honestly, it`s clear
as you can possibly get in terms of showing what happened in this election
and showing what the challenges right now for Democratic Party nationwide.
In Wisconsin this year, Democrats actually did great. Democrats sort of
ran the table in Wisconsin. And this actually shows the Democratic votes
and the Republican votes for all the statewide races that were on the
ballot in Wisconsin this year.
So, secretary of state in Wisconsin, the Democrat got more votes. The
Democrat won. State treasurer, the Democrat got more votes. The Democrat
won. Sate attorney general, the Democrat won.
The U.S. senator, the Tammy Baldwin seat, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin
got way more votes. She won in a landslide. And, of course, the
governor`s race, Republican Governor Scott Walker lost his seat, replaced
in the governor`s mansion in Wisconsin by Tony Evers, after the Evers, the
Democratic candidate got more votes.
Democrats did great. They won every statewide race in Wisconsin. And now
look at this – this is the story of our time. While Democrats were busy
sweeping every statewide race in Wisconsin, they also absolutely swept the
So, there`s people voting for their state legislator. Way more people went
to the polls in Wisconsin – on election day in Wisconsin and voted for a
Democrat for their state legislator than voted for a Republican. Democrats
got a majority of those votes. Clearly, 53 percent of the votes cast for
state legislators or cast for Republicans. Democrats down to 45.
Democrats beat them by an eight-point gap in terms of the legislature. And
now look at the results in terms of seats won in the legislature. Even
though Democrats got a big majority of the votes, even though the
Republicans did not get half the votes that were cast for the legislature,
Republicans got 64 percent of the seats.
Why is that? Because they tilted the playing field. They drew the
district so it`s almost like no matter how many more votes Democrats win,
they can never get the majority. They can never get control. They can
never get power.
That`s how it happened in Wisconsin this year, this month. Saw the same
thing happen in state after state.
Here`s how it worked in Pennsylvania. Again, the Democrats just shellacked
Republicans in terms of the number of people who turned out and voted for a
Democrat to represent them in the state legislature. Democrats won those
votes by eight points. That`s a huge margin. And the Pennsylvania
legislature will nevertheless come back with Republicans holding the
majority of the seats.
Same thing happened in Michigan. The majority of voters turned out and
voted for who they want them to state legislature. The majority of voters
in Michigan voted for a Democrat to be their state legislature. And
nevertheless, the majority of seats in the legislature will go to the
Same dynamic at work in North Carolina. More people voted for a Democrat
to represent them in the legislature than voted for a Republican. The
Democratic vote margin is 2.5 points over the Republicans. But the
Republicans will come back with a majority, with 54 percent of the seats –
even though the Democrats beat them in the vote.
It`s because they`ve tilted the playing field. This is what Republicans
have engineered all over the country with their control of state
legislatures to rig the electoral map so Democrats can`t ever really get
power no matter how many votes they get, no matter how many more votes they
get. You see it in all of these state legislatures.
And that translates to a national tilt as well, right, where the Democrats
have to win by gigantic margins in order to pull in even a modest majority
in the U.S. House. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com today points out the
Democrats actually had huge turnout in congressional races this year across
the country. They had about an eight-point popular vote win over the
Republicans in congressional races.
In terms of raw numbers, quote, about 60 million people turned out to vote
for Democrats for the house this year, that is a crazy number, according to
Nate Silver. What it means is almost as many people turned out to vote for
a Democratic member of Congress in this midterm election as turned out to
vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election two years ago.
There is no precedent for that in U.S. history. People turning out to vote
in presidential election year numbers when there isn`t a president on the
ballot. It`s just never happened before.
Democrats had huge turnout. They beat Republicans in terms of the popular
vote for Congress by like eight points. And yet Democrats will take
control of the house in January with a relatively modest majority, because
the playing field is tilted against them.
In order for Democrats to fix that, they`re going to have to win
governorships and state legislatures all across the country, and/or they`re
going to have to continue to try to convince states either through the
courts or through ballot measures to adopt nonpartisan maps in the future
that aren`t tilted either way.
In the meantime, though, there are short-term fights to be fought. There
is a U.S. Senate race that happens a week from tomorrow. There is a
secretary of state race in the really important purple state of Georgia
that happens two weeks from tomorrow. Can we put up those North Carolina
graphs again? Do we have that just? Right.
All right. Right after Thanksgiving weekend, on Monday of next week, a
week from today, you want to know what one of these fights is? A week from
today, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have scheduled a vote on a lifetime
federal judgeship for the North Carolina Republican lawyer who created the
map in North Carolina that did this to the partisan balance in that state.
So, Republican lawyer, long-time party apparatchik in North Carolina named
Thomas Farr. Courts denounced his work as a blunt, quote, racial
gerrymander and struck it down. When he advised the state legislature on a
package of voter laws that was described as being maybe the worst voter
suppression package ever passed by a modern state legislature, that was
denounced by a federal appeals court as, quote, targeting African Americans
with almost surgical precision.
You look at the tilt of the playing field, right, you see it nationwide.
You see the effects nationwide. And you look at it, you know, see how it
plays out state by state. The state by state perversions in the democratic
process, this tilting of the playing field, and you think my god, you know,
the structure is messed up. What can be done?
But each of these map, each of these states, they have an author. There
are personalities and individuals state by state, law by law, court ruling
by court ruling fights behind each one of these skews. And one week from
today, the North Carolina author of this bias, this skew, this perversion
of the Democratic process in that state will be before the U.S. Senate with
every senator in the United States Senate having a chance to vote yes or no
to make him a federal judge for the rest of his life.
Even the long-term big picture battles in American politics break down into
small scale short-term winnable fights, even right around Thanksgiving.
You`d be surprised.
MADDOW: Ever since the elections, we have seen the president keep even by
his standards, I`ll call it an unusually light schedule. Today, for
example, according to the president`s official schedule, the president had
two things to do. Number one, he oversaw the arrival of the White House
Christmas tree, a 19 1/2 foot all the Frasier fir from North Carolina.
And number two, the only other item on the president`s calendar today was
lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, which I`m sure was excellent. But
the president`s whole official say was saying hello to a tree and having
lunch. That was it.
While the president was busy with that today, though, he did at least get
this little ping in his inbox. Three Democratic senator, all of whom are
on the Judiciary Committee, today they sued the president and his Acting
Attorney General Matt Whitaker in federal court. These three senators are
arguing that it is unconstitutional for the president to unilaterally
install Matt Whitaker as the nation`s top law enforcement officer without
ever having him run through the Senate for confirmation.
Quote: The U.S. Senate has not consented to Mr. Whitaker serving in any
office in federal government, let alone the highest office at the Justice
Department. If allowed to stand, Mr. Whitaker`s appointment would create a
road map for the evasion of the constitutionally prescribed Senate advice
and consent rule.
Joining us here live is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Along
with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Mazie Hirono, he filed this lawsuit
against Matthew Whitaker and the president today.
Senator, thank you for being here.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you so much,
MADDOW: As senators hour, do you have standing to bring this lawsuit?
BLUMENTHAL: The president`s end run around the Constitution deprives us of
our right to vote, each of us as senators was elected by our people in our
state to vote on advising and consenting. And there is a larger issue also
than just our being injured because we`re deprive to have had right to do
our job. It`s also a check and balance which the founders envisioned to
apply in exactly this kind of case, where the president appoints someone
who is unfit, who lacks qualifications to do the job.
And Alexander Hamilton said it on behalf of the founders. They wanted to
prevent the president from appointing people who were of such
insignificance and pliancy as to render them obsequious instruments of his
BLUMENTHAL: And that`s Matt Whitakers, an instrument of the president`s
pleasure, known as his eyes and ears in the Department of Justice, even
when he worked for Jeff Sessions, someone who has called the special
counsel investigation a hoax and provided roadmap for essentially how to
stranglehold. And so, there is an immense practical significance and harm
to us in our inability to advise and consent, to hold hearings, and say
whether we approve of this nominee or not.
MADDOW: If you were successful in this suit, on what sort of time frame
would you expect to it unfold? And what`s the remedy? Presumably, you`d
want Mr. Whitaker removed as acting attorney general. But would you
essentially be expecting his actions as attorney general to be
retroactively annulled at that point?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, that`s an excellent practical question. Our hope is
that there will be a ruling from the court, an order that removes him as
acting attorney general or orders the president to withdraw his appointment
and that there will be as few practical harms to the Department of Justice
and the rule of law as possible, which is why we hope courts will rule as
quickly as possible. We have no control over how speedily they will rule.
MADDOW: The Justice Department is a robust, large, well-ordered
institution into which outsiders have very little vision. And in part of
that, part that of is because ongoing investigations and prosecutions
before they`re ready to be made public have to be maintained with some
secrecy. The internal structure and bureaucracy within the Justice
Department, we also just don`t see into very well. So we don`t know very
much about what Matt Whitaker has done already since he has been there.
There is a lot of concerns specifically about what he might have done
already when it comes to the Mueller investigation. Now, everybody who I
have asked about this says yep, there is no way we can know, we won`t find
out about it until long after.
Do you have any either informed suspicions or hard information about what
Mr. Whitaker is doing with regard to Mueller?
BLUMENTHAL: I have some informed suspicions, and I underscore suspicions,
because Matt Whitaker has provided a kind of road map for what he thinks
should be done to the special counsel investigation. Namely, kind of death
by a thousand cuts, cuts in funding, cuts in authority, cuts in declining
subpoenas or indictments.
All of those actions may have been preceding. You`re absolutely right. We
have no real view into what`s happening in this investigation. And that is
precisely why we want the courts to rule quickly, because Congress is going
to be out of town and then out of Session. And there will be no check and
balance unless Rod Rosenstein continues to be in charge of this
And here`s the other point, that Matt Whitaker is really unqualified for
this job by virtue of what he said in the past.
MADDOW: You said he would never pass the advice and consent test, meaning
if he had come before the Senate, he never would have been confirmed?
BLUMENTHAL: And I believe that he would have been rejected as a nominee,
but we`ve never had any hearings. No senator has ever had the opportunity
to ask him what he thinks should happen with the special counsel
investigation. I will be introducing legislation that will require a
report with all of the findings and evidence of the special counsel.
In other words, full transparency and disclosure of what`s happening behind
those walls if the special counsel is ever fired or forced to resign.
MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thank you for
explaining that to us tonight, sir. It`s good to have you.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: “The Washington Post” was first to report on Friday night that the
CIA has come to the conclusion that the leader of Saudi Arabia, the
country`s crown prince, personally ordered the killing of Virginia resident
and “Washington Post” journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
This weekend, President Trump continued to bend over backwards to not
condemn or criticize the Saudi leader. He urged everybody to wait for a,
quote, very full report from the CIA that he said would come out on
Tuesday, as in tomorrow. If there is a report from the CIA tomorrow that
spells out its conclusion that the Saudi leader personally ordered the
murder of a U.S. journalist, what exactly is President Trump going to do
I mean, whether it`s because he values Saudi Arabia as an ally so much or
because his son-in-law is such good pals with the Saudi leader or because
of some other leverage the Saudis have over our president that we do not
yet understand, I mean, whatever it is, it does seem fair to expect that if
the CIA report comes out tomorrow, and it does say that the leader of Saudi
Arabia, the crown prince ordered that killing, it seems reasonable to
expect that the president will continue to ignore the findings of his own
intelligence community and continue to shrug this off.
Why is he so invested in shrugging this off? We may be able to answer
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So, NBC News reported late last week that the White House has been
seeking ways to try to get the nation of Turkey to stop kicking up such a
fuss over the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the
Saudi government. He was killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
One way that the U.S. government has been considering trying to calm down
the Turkish government about this murder is by giving Turkey`s
authoritarian president the thing he wants most in the world from the
United States. He wants the United States to hand over to him an exiled
Turkish cleric who is a legal permanent resident of the United States.
He`s lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years.
Turkey`s government blames this guy for an attempted coup in 2016 as well
as everything else that has ever gone wrong in Turkey ever. It`s a pretty
good bet that nothing good would happen to him if he were sent back to
Turkey and the United States government has rejected previous requests by
Turkey to hand him over.
Now, though, the Trump administration has reportedly been asking Justice
Department and other federal agencies about ways that we can maybe hand
this guy over. Give him to Turkey in order to get Turkey to stop
complaining about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Jamal Khashoggi lived in Virginia. He was a U.S. resident. He wrote for
“The Washington Post”. He was journalist here in the United States. Why
on earth would the United States be most concerned in this circumstance
with shutting down criticism of the country that murdered him?
Joining us now is Wendy Sherman. She is a former undersecretary of state
for political affairs of one of America`s top ranking diplomats. She is
also the author of “Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power,
Ambassador Sherman, it`s great to have you here. Thank you for being here.
AMBASSADOR WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL
AFFAIRS: Good to be here, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: I understand as much as the next newspaper reader understands
about this. Can you give us insight into why the Trump administration
might be doing what they`re doing here?
SHERMAN: I think the Trump administration had this theory and it went
something like this: if we can create an alliance with Saudi Arabia,
Israel, the United Arab Emirates, we can get together with Israel and make
sure that we get a Middle East peace agreed, Jared Kushner`s famous plan
that we`re all waiting to see, and we can all work together to push Iran
back out of the region.
After all, I did what the Saudis wanted me to do, what Israel wanted me to
do. I got rid of that bad Obama-Iran nuclear deal that maybe stopped
nuclear weapons, but it was no Obama deal. We should get rid of that.
Make the Gulf, make Israel happy and then they will cooperate together.
And anything that throws that off of the path that the president had in
mind is a problem for him because after all, we are all still waiting for
this vaunted Middle East peace plan which is supposed to solve all
Meanwhile, nothing has occurred. We have not in any way pushed Iran back
out of the region. We have a horrific war in Yemen that has been led by
the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
We have an Israeli government that is under pressure. The prime minister
just had to push back a possible no-confidence vote in his own country
because of what`s happening in Gaza. We have a meltdown with Qatar between
Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We have political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
We have what my former boss, friend and partner have said, Madeleine
Albright, what we call in diplomacy a mess.
MADDOW: In terms of this vaunted plan, if this plan is, A, the big idea of
the Trump administration on foreign policy, and B, in the meantime, it`s
something that will excuse even the most horrific behavior by our supposed
allies in this vaunted plan, is it worth it? Is that plan remotely
realistic? Is there any reason that the United States should be doing the
kind of stuff that they`re doing right now in order to prop that up because
of some larger game in mind?
SHERMAN: Well, you know, every administration has to walk and chew gum.
This administration seems to walk and gain money, and we don`t know what
all the personal financial pieces are to this puzzle. We also have a
situation much like Putin`s interference with our election where the
president has said – well, Putin told me he didn`t do it and the crown
prince has told me he didn`t do it, so I guess we didn`t do it.
Look, we all value a relationship with Saudi Arabia. Every administration
has valued that relationship. They are an important partner in the region,
but one does have to walk and chew gum. And we aren`t using any of the
leverage we have.
Saudi Arabia needs the United States. It`s not just us needing them. We
could get them to stop the war in Yemen. We could put a halt on the sale
of offensive weapons until we get some real judgments here about what
occurred. We could indeed call for a forum in the Gulf Coordinating
Council to solve the crisis with Qatar.
There are a number of things. We could call on Saudi Arabia to stop having
the political prisoners that it does on a constant basis. We all got
behind the crown prince early on because he did put behind some reforms
that are important, his vision 2030 plan for the country to diversity and
to come into the modern world. We all got excited when women were able to
But there`s been an awful lot of really bad behavior on the other side of
the ledger and we need –
MADDOW: Like locking up the female activists who led the campaign for
SHERMAN: Absolutely. And so, we need to – there needs to be some
accountability for that.
And, you know, in the middle of the Iran negotiation where Russia was a
partner with us, they invaded Ukraine. We continued the negotiation on
Iran because we all wanted to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon and we
sanctioned the hell out of Russia. You can do many things simultaneously.
In fact, you must to protect the security of the United States and most
importantly to protect the values of our country.
What are we if not we what we believe in and what we stand for?
MADDOW: Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political
affairs, I take your point and I think you`re an optimist maybe more than I
am on these matters. I am worried they can`t even do one thing, let alone
two, at the same time. But it`ll be interesting to see the president`s
reaction if we get that CIA report made public.
MADDOW: Wendy Sherman, thank you for being here. Much appreciated.
SHERMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Are you driving anywhere this week? Are you traveling, are you
taking a flight? I have something you can listen to while you are on your
way, something that has been making me absolutely crazy. For the past few
months, but in a good way it has been making me crazy I think for quite
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice President Agnew appeared suddenly in the Office of
House Speaker this afternoon with a letter to the speaker. The letter
asked he be investigated by the House. Here`s what the letter says: I
respectfully request that the House of Representatives undertake a full
inquiry under the charges which have been made against me. After a most
careful study, my counsel has advised me that that constitution bars a
criminal proceeding of any kind, federal or state, county or town, against
the president or vice president while he holds office. This is, of course,
the key point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Was the key point. In the fall of 1973, the sitting vice
president of the United States Spiro Agnew was under active criminal
investigation for a lengthy list of bribery and extortion allegations.
He never got to test his theory that a sitting president could not be
indicted. He resigned about two weeks after he sent that letter begging to
be impeached by the Congress instead. But the story of why Agnew resigned
and the reason he was able to escape criminal charges, it is a fascinating
story that`s been sitting on the dusty shelves of history for a long time,
but that story is episode five of my new podcast which is called “Bag Man”.
The episode just dropped tonight.
You can as of right now download it wherever you get your podcasts. You
can go to MSNBC.com/bagman. There are only seven episodes of “Bag Man”
altogether. This is number five.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I mentioned earlier that the president had an unusually light
schedule today. The president`s entire official schedule today had two
items on it.
Number one, receiving a Christmas tree. He didn`t have to like go pick it
out or saw it down or something. He just had to walk out and look at it
when it arrived. That was one of two items on his schedule today, say
hello to the tree.
The second item on his schedule today was lunch, lunch with Mike Pence. So
that`s it. Get the tree or look at the tree and have lunch with Mike.
Now, I want to be fair and put this in context, I can also now tell you we
have the president`s schedule for tomorrow. His official schedule for
tomorrow has one item on it. He will be meeting a turkey, presentation of
the national thanksgiving Turkey. At 1:05 p.m., he will pardon either
carrots or peas tomorrow, but that`s it. That`s all the president`s doing
So don`t worry about his stress levels. He`s fine.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD.” Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ali.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the