Trump issues statement. TRANSCRIPT: 11/20/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: November 20, 2018
Guest: Jim Baker
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Have you mentioned to people that podcasts are
fun to listen in the car on long drives?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST I haven`t. But that also is true, or when you`re
walking the dog or when you`re doing chores or when you`re cooking.
HAYES: All great podcasting opportunity.
MADDOW: For example, we should think of those things if we think of it.
Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to all at home for joining us this hour. There has been a lot
of fairly heavy news that has broken today and into tonight.
I want to tell you at the outset tonight that we have two guests on the
show here this hour, both of whom are former very senior FBI officials.
Now one of these guests who we`re going have tonight is someone who you
have met before. He has been on the show a number of times. That`s Chuck
Rosenberg. Chuck Rosenberg is going to be here to help us get through a
number of different legal stories that broke this evening, all related to
the Trump administration, including some very puzzling new news about
Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s investigation. Chuck Rosenberg is
in New York tonight. He is going to be joining us in studio a little later
on in the show.
But I also need to tell you we`re going to be joined tonight by another
very senior former FBI official who you have not met before, who has never
done this type of interview before. In just a few minutes, we`re going to
be joined by Jim Baker. Jim Baker was the general counsel at the FBI,
meaning he was the top lawyer at the FBI. He left that position earlier
this year in May.
He`s one of the handful of former senior FBI officials who was personally
briefed by FBI Director James Comey about Comey`s troubling interactions
with President Trump concerning the Russia investigation before Trump
ultimately fired James Comey. This interview tonight is going to be the
first time that I have ever spoken with Jim Baker. It`s likely to be the
first time you have ever seen him speak full stop – very, very much
looking forward to having him here. I`ll tell you specifically what we`re
going to be talking with him about in just a second.
But as I mentioned, there have been a lot of very heavy news stories that
have broken today. In the early afternoon today, the White House put out a
stunning and honestly, sort of strange statement about Saudi Arabia and the
murder of a Virginia resident and “Washington Post” journalist named Jamal
Khashoggi. A couple of days ago, “The Washington Post” was first to report
and then a number of other news outlets subsequently were immediately able
to confirm that the CIA has concluded that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
was ordered by the ruler of Saudi Arabia, by the country`s crown prince.
I think it`s fair to say now that we now know why those CIA findings about
this murder of a U.S. journalist were leaked to reporters in advance of
this White House statement today from president Trump, because, of course,
president Trump was inevitably going to side with the murderers of this
U.S. journalist. Of course he was going to try to cast doubt on any
evidence that Saudi Arabia in fact did this.
I don`t want to get too deep into the politics of leaks in the service of
national security, but because the CIA findings of Jamal Khashoggi`s murder
were leaked a couple of days ago, we know thanks to those leaks that the
president of the United States today defied the findings of America`s own
intelligence community. He`s actually publicly lying about whether or not
the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies have concluded with any
certainty that Khashoggi was murdered and by whom.
Now that the president has put out this statement being like hmm, guess
we`ll never know who killed him, we`re certainly not going to blame Saudi
Arabia, now that the president has put out that statement, now we know why
the CIA findings that Saudi Arabia and its ruler definitely ordered that
murder, why those findings were leaked a couple of days in advance of this
statement. Now, we`re left to figure out why the president is telling that
lie, why he is going so far out of his way to cover for the country and
specifically the ruler that carried out this killing of a U.S. resident and
Publisher of “The Washington Post” said tonight in response to Trump`s
statement, quote, the Central Intelligence Agency has thoroughly
investigated the murder of this innocent journalist and concluded with high
confidence that it was directed by the crown prince. If there is a reason
to doubt the findings of the CIA, President Trump should immediately make
that evidence public. Again, that`s from the publisher of “The Washington
Khashoggi`s editor at the post was even more blunt tonight. Quote: Trump
is doing his best to help the Saudi regime get away with the murder of a
U.S. resident, and one of the Arab world`s most prominent writers. From
Trump`s failure to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville to mocking
a sexual assault victim, there have been many low points of this
presidency, but turning a blind eye to the butchering of a U.S.-based
journalist may just be one of the lowest. And that`s from Khashoggi`s
editor tonight at “The Washington Post.”
It remains an open question as to whether or not Congress might try to do
something about this murder, even now that – even though the president now
says he will not because of the pressure on Congress that they should step
up and respond to this murder, even though the president won`t. Because of
that pressure, I think we expect this story to continue to develop, even
through tonight and into the holiday weekend.
I mean, this statement today from the White House literally with all of its
exclamation points and everything, this is just too absurd to be the last
word from our country on this issue. So we will continue to watch that.
One of the things we knew we would be watching in tonight`s news is the
debate tonight in the U.S. Senate race that is taking place next week in
Mississippi. The runoff is on Tuesday. The one and only debate in this
race is tonight. The only one debate in this race between U.S. Senate –
this U.S. Senate race between Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike
Now, the debate is happening tonight. We learned tonight heading into the
debate that Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith had made a request for how
tonight`s debate would be carried out. She requested specifically that the
debate should be carried out with no audience present and with no press
Hmm. Which means basically that they have decided to hold this Senate
debate tonight with just Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy together in a
silent secret chamber, where no one else is allowed. It`s absolutely
We will have more on that later on. That debate is under way.
We also learned late this afternoon in a statement from the president`s
lawyers on the Russia investigation that the president has now submitted
his written answers to the special counsel`s office. We honestly don`t
really know how him submitting these written answers fits into the overall
progress of this legal case or the investigation more broadly, but
apparently, the president`s written answers have now been turned in. One
unusual aspect of this part of the Mueller investigation is that the
president has publicly bragged that he came up with all these written
He has gone out of his way to volunteer to reporters that he wrote these
questions – the answers to these questions all on his own. He definitely
had no help from any of his lawyers, didn`t need any help, it was all him.
That`s a weird thing for the president to be publicly bragging about,
particularly if there is any chance he might get in trouble for any of
these written answers, right? I mean, the president has now volunteered
that he won`t be able to defend himself if he gets in trouble from any of
He won`t be able to say, hey, that wasn`t me. I didn`t mean that that was
just something my lawyer said. He`s volunteered, no, this is all me. If
there is anything wrong here, it`s me. No way out.
Why did he do that? We will have a little more on that coming up later
this hour in the show too.
You should also know that there is some sort of – some sort of legal
activity, some sort of litigation activity that is going on with Robert
Mueller`s office right now that we can`t report on directly tonight.
Somewhat unexpectedly today there was another sealed filing which was
submitted to a federal court in D.C. by prosecutors who are working for
Robert Mueller. Now, the reason I say we can`t report on what this is
about directly is that this is a sealed case with sealed filings. This
case has been subject only thus far – has been the subject only thus far
of sealed hearings. We really don`t know what this is about.
We do know it involves Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office, and
we know that in the court that is hearing this case, there is only one
judge on that court who was appointed by President Trump and that is the
one judge who has recused himself from hearing this case. So there is lots
of intrigue what this case might be about, but we don`t have any direct
window into it because it is a sealed matter. Tonight, we have learned
there was some sort of 3,000-word filing submitted to the court by the
special counsel`s office. We learned that at about the same time that we
learned that the president had submitted his written answers to Mueller`s
We don`t know if those two things are connected. It seems pretty clear
that some day we will know. Somewhere down the road all this stuff will
get unsealed, but at this point, not yet. This is a sealed matter.
It is absolutely secret from the public. It is intriguing, but we cannot
tell what it is. “The New York Times” also made news tonight with a sort
of odd story about President Trump attempting to order the Justice
Department to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey and President
Trump`s 2016 presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.
The headline and the whole lead section of this article tonight in “The
Times” details an episode that reportedly happened this spring in which
President Trump is said to have told his White House counsel Don McGahn
that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute both James
Comey and Hillary Clinton. According to this new reporting in “The New
York Times,” the White House counsel Don McGahn responded to that by
creating a memo for the president that spelled out for him all the reasons
why such an order would be a bad idea.
And so once again, this is another one of these story, and there have been
dozens of them where Trump White House counsel Don McGahn has saved the
day. Trump wanted to do a terrible thing. Don McGahn made sure terrible
thing did not happen.
Sources close to Don McGahn say he doesn`t want your accolades. He doesn`t
want your thanks. It`s enough for him. It`s reward in itself to be a
loyal American who`s always trying to do what`s right. I mean – this is a
whole genre of weird Trump White House reporting. Sources close to Don
McGahn say Don McGahn did heroic thing.
What is amazing about this “New York Times” piece that is published
tonight, though, is the whole first part of the story is about Trump saying
he wants to order these prosecutions, right? He wants to order the
prosecution of Comey and Clinton, and McGahn heroically explains to the
president and puts in writing that that would be a terrible idea. But
then, eight paragraphs into this story, there is this sort of parenthetical
reference, oh, by the way, also some time last year, quote, Mr. Trump`s
lawyers did privately ask the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey.
Law enforcement officials declined their requests.
OK. So here we have, you know, a Superman story short of a cape in which
White House counsel Don McGahn is stopping Trump from doing this terrible
thing, stopping Trump from injecting himself into law enforcement matters
to try to start an investigation into Clinton and Comey, but also we should
also mention eight paragraphs in that Don McGahn did go to the Justice
Department and tell them to start investigating Comey. So, huh?
I mean, what this is, bottom line, regardless of the strange way this story
is coming to light, bottom line, what this is really is a spotlight. It`s
an unequivocal clear piece of documented evidence that the president does
want to mess with law enforcement any way he can. He wants political
prosecutions of his political enemies. He believes it`s his right to get
that if he demands it, and he thinks he ought to be a I believe to demand
that and get it from an attorney general and a Justice Department that is
loyal to him.
“Mother Jones” points out tonight that the new acting attorney general who
Trump just installed at the Justice Department, he has frequently publicly
opined about how important it is that a Trump attorney general should bring
criminal charges against Hillary Clinton. So regardless of the, you know,
ersatz heroism of Don McGahn and the sources near him, if Trump is inclined
in that direction and if he has been trying to order a politically
motivated prosecution of people who he opposes, if he has dispatched White
House lawyers to go to the Justice Department to ask them to please start
investigations that would please the president, presumably now that Matt
Whitaker is running the Justice Department, the president will be expecting
a little follow-through on the hopes and wishes that he hasn`t been able to
get so far.
And that brings us to a little bit of history tonight. I mentioned that
Jim Baker until earlier this year was general counsel at the FBI. He left
the bureau in May of this year. He said at the time that in his post-
bureau life, he would be working at the Brookings Institution, where he
expected to be writing on national security legal issues of their very high
profile legal blog, which is called “Lawfare”.
Well, now, as I mentioned, Jim Baker is here tonight. He`ll be on the show
in just a moment. And that`s because has just done something for “Lawfare”
that I think we should pay attention to. Mr. Baker is essentially
resurfacing and sort of pointing a big red arrow at a very specific thing
in American legal history, and it involves this man. His name is Henry
Henry Peterson was head of the criminal division at the Justice Department
in the Watergate era. Henry Peterson has been on my mind recently because
Peterson played a key role in supervising the fairly gonzo criminal case
against Nixon`s Vice President Spiro Agnew. We just roll out the first
five episodes of this podcast I`ve been doing about the criminal case
against Spiro Agnew and how he ultimately got removed from the White House
and how the Justice Department handled that.
It turns out Henry Peterson is the head of the criminal division at the
Justice Department at the time. He had a very important role in Agnew`s
prosecution, and he has a sort of poignant and important part to play in
the Agnew story, because part of the way Agnew defended himself as the
Justice Department built this bulletproof criminal case against him is that
Agnew publicly attacked the individual prosecutors and the individual
Justice Department officials who were involved in bringing this case
And that included Agnew at one point giving a public speech, an angry
ranting public speech in which he called out Henry Peterson by name as the
head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, called him out as
basically a bad guy, some sort of partisan villain who was part of this
witch-hunt that was out trying to take Agnew down. So I`ve been paying
allot of attention to Henry Peterson in terms of his role with the Agnew
thing, but, of course, the Agnew prosecution, that was all unfolding at the
same time as Watergate, and as the head of the criminal division at the
Justice Department, Henry Peterson was also intimately involved, directly
involved in supervising the whole Watergate case against Nixon, from very
beginning, from the first break-in, from the discovery of the break-in at
DNC headquarters, right?
Well, what Jim Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI has put
together at “Lawfare” is a sort of long, granular history of how Nixon used
that particular Justice Department official, how Nixon used Henry Peterson,
the head of the criminal division at the Justice Department to obstruct
justice. How Nixon saw Henry Peterson essentially as his man inside the
Justice Department and his guy who had access to everything going on in the
Watergate investigation, and Nixon used Peterson to get inside information
about what was going on in that investigation in a way that benefitted
Jim Baker goes through the contemporaneous evidence produced by the
Watergate investigation at the time, and in this new article for “Lawfare”,
he highlights all the communications between the president, Nixon, and the
senior Justice Department official, where Nixon was pumping this Justice
Department official for information. Baker says, quote, these documents
detail the direct contacts between the president and the top Justice
Department officials responsible for an investigation of his White House
and why such contacts were so pernicious and dangerous for all involved.
And what Jim Baker is pointing to here is in fact all available in the
historical record. We have the logs of all of the different telephone
calls and the individual meetings that the president took personally with
Henry Peterson from the Justice Department when they were discussing
We`ve got the summary of a conversation that Nixon had with Henry Peterson
in April 1973 in which Nixon asked Henry Petersen if he had any information
implicating the president himself. That`s Nixon going to the head of the
criminal division and asking if he personally is the target of this
We`ve got Nixon and his White House counsel musing about how these contacts
they`ve got with Henry Petersen are helpful. It`s how they stay up on
what`s going on inside the Watergate investigation. Quote: Dean said he
kept abreast of what the FBI and grand jury were doing, primarily through
Petersen. And this, of course, isn`t OK, right? It shouldn`t work that
If a president is under investigation, his White House is under
investigation, he is talking to the Justice Department and a supervising
official there about what`s happening inside that investigation? That`s
not supposed to be the way it goes.
As Jim Baker puts it in this new piece, he says, quote, the president, in
short, was using a senior Justice Department official to gather
intelligence about an ongoing criminal investigation in which he was
personally implicated. Quote, when the president sought information from
Petersen, provided his views to Petersen on the various matters that they
discussed and discussed Petersen`s future, he was not merely exercising his
powers under Article II of the Constitution to supervise the executive
branch and trying to get the facts necessary to do so. No. The president
of the United States was also acting in this instance as a criminal co-
conspirator, trying to obstruct lawful investigative activity of the
And that ultimately is the big hairy point here, right? I mean, Jim Baker,
former general counsel of the FBI, after he lays out all of this history
from the Watergate era, all of this information about contacts during the
Watergate investigation between the president and a senior official at the
Justice Department who was involved in supervising the investigation, who
Nixon`s pumping for information about the investigation, who he`s trying to
influence in terms of how the investigation is going, where does that all
end up ultimately? What`s the bottom line here? What`s the end of this
Well, for Henry Petersen, that Justice Department official, it ends with
unsettling questions about why he was so willing to provide all of that
information about an ongoing open investigation to the White House that was
being investigated. Those were hard questions for Henry Petersen at the
time when some of this stuff was first exposed. Those are hard questions
for Henry Petersen now. We can talk about that in more detail later on.
But the real bottom line here is whether or not Petersen was acting as a
good guy or a bad guy at the Justice Department when he was having these
contacts at the White House, whether or not the senior Justice Department
official should have been having all of these conversations with the
president about an ongoing investigation that implicated the president`s
senior staff and would soon implicate the president himself, whether or not
that Justice Department official should have been feeding information about
the investigation to the president. When the president had those
conversations, when he engaged that senior Justice Department official to
find out what was going on and to try to alter the course of what was
happening with that investigation, when that happened, regardless of what
you think about the Justice Department official involved in those
discussions, when the president engaged in those discussions, the president
broke the law.
Jim Baker ends his analysis of this moment in history by noting that
Article II of the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon stated that
Nixon, quote, knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with
agencies of the executive branch, including the criminal division of the
Department of Justice in disregard of the rule of law and in violation of
his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. In other
words, hey, presidents get impeached for reaching into the Justice
Department to talk to officials there about what`s going on in an
investigation of a president and his White House. That`s the history.
That`s the precedent.
As of today, Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, has
written to the inspector general at the Justice Department asking if there
might be something analogous going on right now with the Mueller
investigation. Senator Schumer asking the inspector general to investigate
whether the man who Trump has installed as the acting attorney general,
Matthew Whitaker, has compromised the Mueller investigation by, quote,
sharing with the White House confidential grand jury or investigative
information from the special counsel investigation.
Now, will the inspector general actually investigate that? We called the
Justice Department inspector general`s office today, and they would not
tell us beep. They would not give us any sort of comment. They wouldn`t
tell us one way or the other what they`re planning to do in response to
that request from Senator Schumer.
In the absence of even knowing whether that kind of investigation might
happen, in real-time, as it`s happening right now, we don`t have much
visibility into the inside of the Justice Department, or certainly inside
the Mueller investigation. We don`t know if when the president started
tweeting several days ago about what he knows about the inner workings of
Mueller investigation, we don`t know if he was tweeting about that all of
the sudden, because all of the sudden his guy at the Justice Department
Matthew Whitaker is giving him access to the inner workings of the Mueller
We don`t know if this White House has been able to spy on or attempt to
improperly influence the ongoing investigation into this president and his
White House and his campaign. But we do know our history and we do know
that history in this case is clear. History tells us that when presidents
do that, they get found out. And we have some very strong parallel history
to go on here, and we have someone in a very interesting position to be
pointing us to this particular part of the historical record tonight, and
that is former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, and he joins us next.
MADDOW: When the Senate asked former FBI Director James Comey for the
names of people he confided in about the president asking him as head of
the FBI to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation, the list that James
Comey gave the Senate was not a long one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Who are those senior leaders at the FBI
that you shared these conversations with?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: As I said, in response to Senator
Feinstein`s question, deputy director, my chief of staff, general counsel,
the deputy director`s chief counsel, and then more often than not, the
number three person at the FBI, who is the associate deputy director, and
quite often the head of the national security branch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Six people in James Comey`s inner circle. All but one of them are
now gone from the FBI. The person he listed third, FBI general counsel –
FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, he left the FBI in May of this year. Mr.
Baker said at the time he was going to join the Brookings Institution, and
he planned to write for their high profile legal website on national
security issues. Their website is called “Lawfare”.
This week, in what I think is Jim Baker article number six for “Lawfare”,
he has more or less blown up the Internet, at least my personal social
media feed is now useless for anything other than this story. This is the
piece he has just written.
What the Watergate road map reveals about improper contact between the
White House and the Justice Department. This is an in-depth historical
piece about President Richard Nixon and the trouble he made for himself
when he leaned on officials in his own Justice Department both to try to
influence the course of the Watergate investigation, but also specifically
to get them to feed him information on the ongoing case.
James Baker, ex-FBI general counsel now providing an impressive history
lesson on how one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon was in part
about him opening up a back channel of communication with a senior Justice
Department official that was designed to inform him about the inner working
of the Watergate case.
Joining us now for the interview is James Baker, former general counsel of
the FBI and co-author with Sarah Grant of this fascinating spotlight on
this part of history. Mr. Baker, it`s really nice to have you here. I
know you don`t do things like this often if at all. So, it`s a real honor
to have you on the program.
JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Thanks, Rachel. First time ever.
MADDOW: Well, thank you. I promise it will not be too painful.
BAKER: OK. We`ll see, we`ll see.
MADDOW: I want to talk about why you did this. You have written this
piece. It has received a lot of attention, not only for the historical
analogy that people are drawing to our current situation, but also because
you wrote it. Can you just tell me what it is about this part of history
that interests you so much?
BAKER: Sure. Well, a couple of things. When I first – I didn`t really
know about the road map very much before. And when it was recently
released by the district court in Washington, D.C., I`d looked at it. I
heard about it. I took a look at it and started reading it.
And I saw these references to Henry Petersen. I had worked in the criminal
division of the Department of Justice for many years and knew who Henry
Petersen was, and he is a revered figure there. And so, that sort of leapt
off the page at me. I was like, what is – what`s all this about?
So, the road map itself is very sparse in terms of the information it
provides, and so it – but it cites two additional underlying documents
that I started digging into, like grand jury transcripts and some other
documents and things like that. And so, as I started to read those, I
really just was what in the world is this all about?
The number of interactions that the president of the United States had
directly with Mr. Petersen, who at the time as you said earlier was running
– this is before the special prosecutor was appointed, Henry Petersen was
in charge of effectively running the Watergate investigation, supervising
And so, there is all these contacts. There`s all these interactions.
There is all these discussions with the president. As you outlined, the
president makes these comments about John Dean and – I mean, about
Ehrlichman and Haldeman, I`m sorry, about how these are fine upstanding
guys when Petersen and then attorney general go in to see him and say look,
we`ve got a problem. We`re really concerned about these guys and we think
you should fire them.
And the president had a reaction that was kind of surprising to me. But as
I dug into it more, it was the volume of the – it was the number of
interactions, the nature of the scope that really surprised me. So, I was
just surprised by it and intrigued.
And then I guess the other thing, as you said earlier, this was something
that I was unaware of before myself, and having worked in the Justice
Department for many years. I thought it was something that might be useful
to folks still in the Justice Department to be aware of, to have some
knowledge about. One of the things that I struggled with all the time –
not all the time, but frequently was having to confront novel, complicated,
challenging problems that there was no book to go to look up an answer.
Like how did people deal with this before? What are the guidelines? What
are the cases?
Oftentimes there were no guidelines or cases or other things that you could
go to. And so, whenever there is something that you can look at, something
to inform decision-makers about what the best way to go is, it seems like
should it be useful and might be useful. And so I thought it would be
helpful to have both folks in the government have access to this
information, and then obviously more broadly the American people.
I think it`s – we, as many people have said, if we don`t learn from
history, we`re condemned to repeat it. And so, this was piece of history
that I personally didn`t know about. I thought it was intriguing and
interesting. And as you mentioned, Sarah Grant and I wrote this up and put
it out there.
MADDOW: On – in terms of looking back at this and sort of seeing how
people have dealt with this before, what might be the relevant precedent or
the lessons of history here, obviously, there is a lesson of history here
in terms of Nixon. Nixon gets caught for doing this. As you spell out in
your piece, one of the articles of impeachment is based in part on him
having improper contact with the Justice Department about this ongoing
MADDOW: I wonder, though, if it was also improper from the perspective of
the Justice Department for Henry Petersen, for this senior Justice
Department official to be talking to the president. Certainly, Petersen at
the time was pilloried for having done that. It didn`t necessarily look
good that he had been having all these conversations with the president
about that investigation.
How do you view that, looking back on it?
BAKER: I guess a couple of things. One is I`m not a Watergate historian.
Sarah`s not a Watergate historian. So, we didn`t – we`re not capable of
really making a full accounting of everything that happened here. So,
that`s number one.
I mean, look, it does look alarming when you look at this, of the
interactions, but Mr. Petersen did not know all the facts that we know now,
right, in terms of what the president knew and what the president was aware
of and what the president was trying to achieve through his interactions
with him. If you take Mr. Petersen`s statements at face value, and he was
a man of integrity from everything that I understand, so I take those at
face value, he said, look, I`m – I was the assistant attorney in the
criminal division. I felt I had an obligation to inform the president what
was going on.
I think implicit in that is that he didn`t know the level of the
president`s involvement in these types of activities. He didn`t know what
was in the president`s mind at the time. He didn`t know how the president
was trying to misuse his interactions with Henry Petersen. So I think you
to sort of give him the benefit of the doubt.
At the same time, though, as you highlighted from the piece, these types of
interactions are dangerous for everybody. They`re dangerous for the
president because they can lead down this road that we saw happened with
President Nixon, and they`re also potentially dangerous for the Department
of Justice, for the integrity of the investigation. At least one time
significantly, President Nixon specifically told Henry Petersen do not
investigate anything having to do with the Daniel Ellsberg – with the
break-in at Daniel Ellsberg`s psychiatrist office when Petersen told Nixon
that Dean had told the prosecutors about that. President Nixon said, no,
stay away I from that. Do not investigate that that`s outside your
mandate. So, he was actually able to constrict significantly a part of the
So, it`s dangerous for all sides involved, which is why over the years
there has been a history of – since Watergate, since these things came to
light of the department and the White House being very cautious about what
the nature and scope of the interactions between the two organizations is
and how that`s regulated. Especially when you`ve got an investigation
going on that touches the White House.
MADDOW: As a regulated matter, and I`m not asking you to comment on the
Trump administration specifically, I know you`re constrained from being
able to do that here. But as a matter, that you say is regulated now in
terms of contacts between the White House and the Justice Department, if
there were violations on that, if there were somebody at a high level in
the Justice Department who was having secret communications with the White
House about an investigation that involved the White House, that would be
against Justice Department rules.
That`s the sort of thing that you would expect the inspector general to
look into if there were credible allegations of that.
BAKER: Just speaking hypothetically and generically?
BAKER: Potentially, yes. The I.G. could look at that. The I.G. has a
broad scope of authority and could look at that.
MADDOW: James Baker, former general counsel of the FBI – again, a man who
does not do introduce like this. I really appreciate you making time to be
here and talking to us about this piece. Thank you very much.
BAKER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I have some more questions. Stay with us. We`ll be
MADDOW: I have a whole bunch of question, almost all of which are legal
questions about a whole bunch of these stories have broken in today`s news.
We thought a bunch of stuff might break before Thanksgiving. It turns out
today was the day.
First of all, the president we`re told has submitted written answers to
Robert Mueller`s special counsel`s office. What does that tell us about
where the investigation is, what else might be required of the president
and whether the president might be looking at personal jeopardy, personal
liability in this investigation?
We had previously heard through open source reporting that Mueller had
asked the president for an in-person interview. What does it tell us about
the investigation that they appeared to have not gotten that but they did
get these written questions?
Also, I have questions about this sealed case that appears to be proceeding
with speed through the district court and the federal appeals court in D.C.
We saw the special counsel`s office today file a 3000-plus – 3,000 word
plus motion. It was slightly more than 3,000 words, this motion.
In this case, I have no idea what that case is about, but I`m pretty sure
it`s about Russia and the Trump administration. And what I want to know
about that sealed case is that always going to be sealed? Are we ever
going to find out what that case is? It has been driving me nuts.
Speaking of driving me nuts, I also have questions about Trump national
security adviser Mike Flynn. Last night, we reported that we expected a
presentencing report about Flynn to be filed in court in Washington today.
Flynn, of course, pled guilty to a felony.
He has supposedly been cooperating with Mueller`s office. He is awaiting
sentencing. The judge who will sentence him will factor into Flynn`s
sentence just exactly how helpful he has been in his cooperation.
We thought as of last night that the report that was going to be filed with
the court today would be from Mueller`s office, would be from prosecutors.
It would be them spelling out how helpful Flynn has been and how much time
they think he should get in prison. We got the filing today, or at least
we got notice of the filing today, and it turns out that wasn`t it. It
wasn`t a filing from prosecutors. It was a filing from the probation
office instead about Flynn`s eligibility for sentencing and the probation
office filing is something that we`ll never get to see at all.
The juicy stuff we`re expecting about how much Flynn has been cooperating
and how much time he should get in prison, that is all still to come. That
will come out in the next few weeks.
But here is my question about that. And about all the other Trump-related
figures who are now awaiting sentencing like Rick Gates and Paul Manafort
and these guys. My question is, are their gooses cooked?
If hypothetically, the new acting attorney general has been installed at
the Justice Department to screw up the Mueller investigation and to block
Mueller from advancing in any way, that`s going to potentially threaten the
president or people the president cares about, would we see evidence of
that in these end stage sentencing proceedings that we`re now expecting?
Or are those cases all basically done and it`s just a matter of that
information being made public?
And also, if I`m stack up questions, what do we make about Jim Baker,
former general counsel for the FBI writing a history report on ways
presidents get impeached for messing with ongoing investigations of their
own White Houses, including getting back channel information about that
investigation from senior people at the Justice Department? I will get
answers to these questions from the perfect person to answer them, next.
MADDOW: Joining us now, I`m very happy to say is Chuck Rosenberg. He is a
former U.S. attorney and former senior official at the FBI and the Justice
Chuck, thank you for being here.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: My pleasure.
MADDOW: I have a whole bunch of questions.
ROSENBERG: Go ahead.
MADDOW: Mr. Trump`s lawyers said today they have submitted the president`s
written answers to the special counsel`s questions. We know not from the
special counsel but from open source reporting that Mueller`s special
counsel`s office had apparently asked the president for an in-person
interview. We do not think that has happened. Instead, these written
answers have been submitted.
Does that tell us anything about the investigation or the president`s
ROSENBERG: I think so. So we`ve talked previously about how you save the
most important witnesses for the end of your investigation. And by any
account, Mr. Trump has to be one of most important witnesses. So, we`re
closer to the end.
I`m not sure we`re at the end, and here`s why, because we still don`t have
a part of the story. The written answers have nothing to do with
obstruction, we`re told. He won`t volunteer for an interview. So, there
is this thing out there that Mueller wants and hasn`t gotten.
It could be that he is going to pursue it. It could be he has decided he
can`t get it, but it shouldn`t be the end of the story just yet.
MADDOW: Why would Mueller want an interview and not just be satisfied with
written answers to questions?
ROSENBERG: For the same reason you want guests to come on your show. You
want to be able to follow-up questions like you just did. You want to be
able to look them in the eye and see if they`re lying to you.
You want to look at a witness and gauge his or her responses, their
inflection, their body language, their tone. And written answers don`t
permit any of that. So, you have to look at somebody face-to-face, and you
have to do it, by the way, not with lawyers helping them craft answers, but
with the witness himself or herself talking to you across the table, like
we`re doing now.
MADDOW: To that point, the president went out of his way to brag to
reporters, to volunteer to reporters that when he was confronted with these
written questions and he had to provide written answers, he said I did them
myself. I didn`t need any help. My lawyers had nothing to do with it.
And my psychological reading of the president, which is always a danger to
even try to do that was that the president was sort of bragging that he had
found these questions to be easy and he had passed this test. From a
legally strategic perspective, though, it seemed to me like maybe a
counterproductive thing for the president to have bragged about.
Isn`t it possible if there is anything incriminating any of these answers
that the president would – it would behoove him to blame it on one of his
lawyers saying, I didn`t answers that, that was some other guy, go after
Jay Sekulow for that?
ROSENBERG: You break it, you bought it.
ROSENBERG: In other words, it`s his now. Well, in any event, he is going
to sign his name to it. So, whether or not he wrote it, which I find very
hard to believe or his lawyers wrote it, which is much more plausible, he
is still going to sign his name to it. It`s his statement.
But that`s why I believe his lawyers played a very big role in this. And
what Mueller probably got was not particularly useful.
MADDOW: In terms of how Mueller might still be angling to get an
interview, an in-person interview with the president, I have a question
about that for you right after this commercial break. We`ll be right back
with Chuck Rosenberg right after this.
MADDOW: We`re back with Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former U.S. attorney,
former senior official at the FBI and Justice Department.
Chuck, thank you. I want to keep grilling you.
MADDOW: We got a new – we got a new indication today that there was a
long 3,000-word sealed filing in this case that we have no window into.
Sealed filings, sealed motions, sealed hearings, we have seen – you can
see on the docket that there has been movement here. We can see that it
involves the special counsel`s office. We can see that it involves the
D.C. federal court and the D.C. federal appeals court, and that they have
been handling this matter with alacrity.
We can see that the one judge on that court, on that appeals court who was
appointed by President Trump is the only judge who is recused from this
case. I`m fascinated by this sealed case. We have no idea what it`s
about. A, is there any way watching that you can discern what it might be
about? And B, will it definitely be unsealed someday, will we ever know?
ROSENBERG: A partly and B probably, I`ll explain.
ROSENBERG: Very likely it is a grand jury matter. By rule and law, grand
jury matters have to be under seal. Government must keep it secret, so if
they served a subpoena on someone – let`s say even on the president for
testimony and the president`s team moved to quash that subpoena, all that
litigation would be under seal. So, that`s probably what it is.
MADDOW: That is what I – honestly, what I assume it is. I assume this is
Mueller and his team subpoenaing the president to appear before the grand
jury and the president`s lawyers fighting it.
ROSENBERG: Or somebody else, but it could well be the president. That`s
the part we don`t know. So, that`s the part answer, part A. The probably
answer, part B, is that almost everything that`s sealed one day gets
Now, once, for instance, someone is charged or the matter becomes moot, the
courts can move to unseal it. Often, you`ll see journalists move to unseal
documents. That`s how we got the road map from Jaworski in Watergate, was
journalists asking the court to unseal it.
So, I hope we don`t have to wait 40 years for it, but the answer is you
will probably see that one day. If it`s part of this case and it`s
litigated and resolved, probably sooner than later.
MADDOW: We had former general – former FBI general counsel Jim Baker here
who I know is someone you know.
ROSENBERG: Very fond of him.
MADDOW: This is the first interview he`s done on television since leaving
the FBI in May. It was an honor to have him here. The reason we had him
here and what we talked to him about is the piece he`s written that is on
part of the history of Watergate. Essentially highlighting the fact that
one of the things the president got in trouble for during Watergate was
opening up a back channel of communication with the Justice Department
official who had a role in, who had information about the Watergate
investigation and it was improper for the president to do that.
Jim Baker wasn`t here to talk about analogies to the president, but people
are making – seeing an analogy there with Matthew Whitaker at the Justice
Department or anybody else at the Justice Department who might be feeding
President Trump information about the Mueller investigation. Is it clear
under current Justice Department rules that somebody at the Justice
Department would be in trouble if they were doing that?
ROSENBERG: Yes, and particularly so if it was done to help the president
undermine the investigation, the integrity of the work of the men and women
of the Department of Justice. Right? So, the president is the head of the
executive branch and the Justice Department is a part of the executive
And so in theory, the president is entitled to know what his branches –
I`m sorry, what his agencies are doing. That part is OK. But if it`s to
undermine the investigation – which, by the way, Rachel, is about him.
ROSENBERG: That`s a problem. And so, I think the analogy that Jim Baker
draws explicitly in his article, implicitly on your show, is very
MADDOW: The truth will out is the way that one ends basically.
ROSENBERG: The truth will out. The rule of law will prevail.
MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, always a pleasure to have you here, sir. Thank
you very much.
ROSENBERG: Great pleasure for me. Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This just happened at the U.S. Senate debate in Mississippi
tonight. See if you can tell what`s wrong with this statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI: I am so glad that I had the
endorsement of President Donald J. Trump and the endorsement of Governor
Phil Bryant. But the endorsement that`s most important to me, that`s most
valued would be your vote next Tuesday, November the 22nd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Next Tuesday – November 22nd – that does it for us tonight.
We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Ali Velshi, who`s filling in for
Good evening, Ali.
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