White House responds to New York Times. TRANSCRIPT: 1/11/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks very much. Big night,
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night
off. She will be back on Monday. We begin tonight, of course, with that
breaking news from “The New York Times.”
Here is the headline again: FBI opened inquiry into whether Trump was
secretly working on behalf of Russia.
Quote: In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI
director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president`s
behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on
behalf of Russia against American interests. That is according to former
law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
The story continues: The inquiry carried explosive implications.
Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president`s
own actions constituted a possible threat to national security.
Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for
Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow`s influence. Agents and
senior FBI officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump`s ties to Russia
during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him,
the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an
inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude.
But the president`s activities before and after Mr. Comey`s firing in May
of 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey
dismissal to the Russia investigation helped prompt the counterintelligence
aspect of the inquiry, the people said. One of these instances was a
letter written by Trump with the help of White House aide Steven Miller in
the days before he fired Comey, outlining his reasons for doing so. The
existence of that letter was previously reported by “The Times” which noted
that then White House counsel Don McGahn intervened and stopped it from
The second instance was this interview that the president did with Lester
Holt two days after he fired Comey, in which he discussed his reasoning for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey.
There`s no good time to do it, by the way. They –
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Because in your letter, you said I accepted
– accepted their recommendations. You had already made the decision.
TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendations. He made a
recommendation. He`s highly respected. Very good guy. Very smart guy.
The Democrats like him. The Republicans lime him. He made a
But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there
was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I
said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia
is a made up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know,
this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. Again, this
bombshell report from “The New York Times” tonight reporting that law
enforcement officials were so concerned by the president`s behavior after
he fired Comey that they began investigating whether he had been working on
behalf of Russia against American interests.
“The Times” say this was a controversial decision inside the FBI. That
it`s not clear if the investigation continues. But that special counsel
Robert Mueller did it – did it – took it over when he was appointed in
May. As “The Times” reports, the criminal and counterintelligence elements
were coupled together into one investigation. Former law enforcement
officials said in interviews in recent weeks. Because if Mr. Trump had
ousted the head of the FBI to impede or even end the Russia investigation,
that was both a possible crime and a national security concern.
“The Times” tonight also reports getting some access to the testimony of
the top lawyer at the FBI at the time, FBI general counsel James Baker.
And then from Mr. Baker`s House testimony, quote, not only would it be an
issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would
hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done. And that is
what would be a threat to national security, Mr. Baker said.
In his testimony, portions of which were read to “The New York Times.”
Wow. What a story.
Joining us now is “New York Times” reporter Michael Schmidt, part of the
three-person team breaking this story tonight.
Michael Schmidt, thank you so much for being here.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
REID: So give us a little bit of the background on this story. How long
have you been working up to it?
SCHMIDT: Well, in many ways we`ve been working on it for a year and a
half, because since Mueller was appointed, since Comey was fired, we`ve
been trying to understand what the FBI and the Justice Department have been
examining on the president. For much of that time, that means we focused
on criminal obstruction. That`s sort of been the collective conscience,
the public`s understanding of this to this point. There is a criminal
obstruction investigation into the president.
But what we`re bridging forth tonight, what we learned is that there is
also this counterintelligence aspect of that investigation where they were
looking directly at the president`s ties to Russia. So, what initially
began here as what we all thought was just an obstruction investigation was
much bigger and had larger national security issues and concerns to it.
Because the folks at the FBI at the time saw this as a potential outgrowth
of Russia`s larger meddling within the country.
As you were pointing out earlier, the FBI`s general counsel at the time,
Jim Baker, testifying on Capitol Hill last year in – in closed-door
testimony talking about how they saw this as a national security threat,
the firing of Comey as a national security threat because it could be a way
of trying to impede the FBI`s ability to understand how Russia meddled in
the election, interfered in the election, helped get Donald Trump elected.
REID: You know, I think for a lot of people when they hear this story and
it is indeed a bombshell, congratulations on the scoop. The FBI seemed to
have been the more reticent of the agencies that were investigating during
the 2016 campaign. They very famously essentially downplayed the idea and
didn`t mention the fact that the Trump campaign was under investigation
during the campaign.
Is it your reporting some point after Donald Trump was elected they came to
see a national security threat inside the White House that they didn`t see
during the campaign?
SCHMIDT: I`m not sure if that notion is completely accurate. I think what
was going on at the FBI in the months before the election is that they had
four Trump associates under investigation, they were looking at them, it
was a counterintelligence investigation, they weren`t sure what the real
links were back to Russia, what the real there there was, and they were not
going to go public with that investigation.
The problem that the FBI runs into is that it seen with the backdrop of the
Clinton e-mail investigation, which they handled differently. So they get
accused of treating them differently when they were proceeding with a
counterintelligence investigation to figure out how much was there.
I think that they knew that the decision to either open an investigation
into a candidate or into a president himself, Trump, would have been an
enormous deal and that they need to meet a particular threshold to do that.
SCHMIDT: After the Comey firing, they thought they had enough to do that,
to move forward with that monumental decision, regardless of what comes out
of the Mueller investigation, it is an historic moment that the FBI opened
an investigation into whether the president of the United States was
colluding with a foreign power. Just in and of itself.
REID: Yes, that is extraordinary. As is the two things that in your
reporting are the things that cause the FBI to really relax their
reservations and go forward. Two things that Donald Trump himself did,
that the president of the United States did. Talk a little bit about this
first thing, which is the letter, and this is the letter that Donald Trump
actually wanted to send to Jim Comey, sort of an exit letter to him.
Can you talk a little bit more about that?
SCHMIDT: So the weekend before Comey fires, Trump goes to his golf club in
Bedminster, New Jersey. He`s there with his kids and Steven miller, his
close aide and Trump decides he`s going to fire Comey. And he and Jared
Kushner and miller come up with this letter that Trump is going to send to
Trump comes back to Washington, he tells his White House counsel, I`m
firing the FBI director and he gives him this letter. The White House
counsel Don McGahn looks at it and says this is not a good idea to be
sending. Trump has references to the Russia investigation in it. McGahn
thinks it`s problematic.
What happens in the two days that follow is that McGahn has Rod Rosenstein
the deputy attorney general and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the
time, come over to the White House and Rosenstein agrees to write a letter
for the president. You don`t need to send that letter. We`ll send – you
know, I`ll come up with a letter for you. You don`t need to mention
Rosenstein comes – the letter from Rosenstein comes back the following
day. It says that Comey mishandled the Clinton e-mail investigation. It`s
sort of a different reason than Trump wanted – Trump ultimately wants to
get rid of Comey. And that is the letter that is sent.
But Trump was irritated with Rosenstein for not mentioning Russia in the
letter. Trump ultimately when he sends his letter to Comey says, you know,
dear, Mr. Comey, you know, thank you so much for telling me three times I
was not under investigation in the Russia inquiry, and what happens is the
FBI finds out about that in the following days and they`re perplexed as to
why it is that Trump wanted to mention Russia in the letter? What was it
that was really driving that?
The second thing, as you were pointing out earlier, were his comments to
Lester Holt, where he appears to say that Russia was on his mind when he
REID: And you have in here – it is extraordinary. What we`ve been
talking about in the obstruction of justice inquiry has generally up until
now been about the firing of Comey as a way to obstruct the FBI`s
investigation more broadly. But what you`re reporting here is that the FBI
came to see the potential obstruction as in and of itself a national
SCHMIDT: Correct. That is the testimony that was given last year by the
FBI general counsel at the time, Baker. He`s basically saying, look, there
was this very important national security investigation that was going on,
and to the extent that trying to get rid of Comey was trying to end that
investigation, that would have national security implications in and of
itself. That would hurt our ability to get to the bottom of this, to
figure out what did the Russians do and trying to prevent it from happening
again. That was sort of the broader national security concern.
The interesting thing about that is that we usually think of obstruction of
justice as something that happens in the criminal context, where someone is
interfering with a witness or lying to investigators in a criminal
investigation that`s looking at one or, you know, several individuals. The
difference here is that the potential obstruction could have been on a
national security investigation, one that impacted the entire country. So
this is not just on a bank robbery, this is not just on a regular, you
know, crime that they were looking at, this was the attack on the election.
REID: Yes, absolutely. Then another piece – at the end of the piece that
is also another extraordinary thing. A lot of us will remember the Oval
Office meeting which Donald Trump invites Russian officials into the Oval
Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey and that, too, became a part of
SCHMIDT: Correct. They don`t learn about that meeting until after it`s
disclosed some time later, but that is right after Trump fires Comey, he
has the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador into the Oval
Office and, you know, he says to them by firing Comey, you know, he
relieved a lot of pressure on him in relation to the Russia investigation.
He also calls Comey a nut job.
And when this comes out, it further unnerves the FBI agents who are saying,
well, why is it that he had these foreign adversaries into the Oval Office?
Why would he be so willing to do this and also willing to them that by
firing Comey, he alleviated pressure on himself?
REID: Yes, extraordinary reporting. “New York Times” reporter Michael
Schmidt, one of three reporters who broke this really blockbuster story
Congratulations, Michael. Really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
REID: Thank you very much. Responses are pouring in to this breaking
news, including from the White House.
We just got this moments ago from White House Press Secretary Sarah
Sanders. Quote: This is absurd, she says. James Comey was fired because
he`s a disgraced partisan hack and his deputy Andrew McCabe who was in
charge at the time is a known liar, fired from the FBI. Unlike President
Obama who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around,
President Trump has actually been tough on Russia. That`s the first
official response from the White House to this news scoop from “The New
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the Eastern
District of Michigan.
Barbara, thanks for joining us.
That response from the White House does not address any of this, oddly
enough. There are a lot of ad hominems in it, but it doesn`t address
really what is in this story that is incredibly blockbuster. What stands
out to you as being the most important thing from the standpoint of what
Robert Mueller is clearly looking into?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, the FBI does not open
counterintelligence cases lightly and most certainly wouldn`t open a case
against the president of the United States lightly whatsoever. It would
have been reviewed at the highest levels and handled very sensitively. So,
the fact that it was open is really pretty astonishing to me.
You may remember that President Trump repeatedly asked Jim Comey to make
public the fact that he was not under investigation. I`m under a cloud.
You need to say this publicly. What Jim Comey said was, I didn`t want to
make that assurance because if that status changed I would feel obligated
to say so to the public.
And so, for a long time, he wasn`t under investigation, and that fact
actually did not surprise me because it would be such an extraordinary
thing to name the president as a target of an investigation. But to hear
that it was, in fact, the case, makes me think that not only was it based
on things that we know, but that there must be other facts that we don`t
know that would have been the predication for opening that investigation.
REID: And I think that you`ve nailed it exactly. I did ask about this and
he said it`s not quite true that the FBI was not looking aggressively at
the campaign before, but there was, you know, before the campaign, before
the campaign was over, the FBI seemed to be the more reticent, they were
the more cautious agency in terms of looking into the counterintelligence
aspects of what was going on in the Trump campaign.
But what triggers the FBI, their suspicions existed during the campaign, as
Michael Schmidt also reported. They were concerned about the ties to
Russia. What winds of triggering their suspicions even further is Donald
Trump. Two things he does, a letter he writes in which he insists on
including Russia as the cause for firing Comey and then the interview with
How extraordinary is that that it is Donald Trump`s own words essential
that caused the FBI`s suspicions to increase?
MCQUADE: Yes, my guess is they were very reluctant to open the
investigation and consider him to be a target of the investigation because
there is concern that the government will be perceived in a way that is
partisan, and they want to do everything they can to stick to facts and law
and not be anyone`s puppet in terms of being used for political gain. But
at some point, you can`t deny facts and the FBI begins to have a
responsibility to investigate something that is a threat to national
So, the statements to Lester Holt, the letter and the statement to the
Russians about the great relief, pressure being relieved once Jim Comey was
fired, all of those things I think probably stared them in the face and
made them believe that they could not ignore those facts any longer but
they actually had a responsibility to protect the national security of the
United States by investigating this fully.
REID: I think a lot of people have come to see the obstruction of justice
inquiry and the inquiry into what you broadly call Russia gate, the Russian
probe as two distinct things. In your mind now, should we start thinking
about the obstruction of justice probe in light of what we`re learning from
“The New York Times” as being really part and parcel, that, too, is part of
the counterintelligence investigation.
MCQUADE: I think so. I think that at least in the early stages of this, I
thought President Trump was seeking to protect Mike Flynn and make some
others in his family because the investigation was getting too close. So
his goal was to stand down on that investigation, but if instead that was
part of the counterintelligence, part of the tradecraft, whether he was
witting or unwitting, I think is not known, but trying to throw the FBI on
the scent might have been a very part of that threat to the national
And so, I do think that they are more intertwined than we had thought
before. You know, post-9/11, the goal of the FBI is to bring down the wall
between criminal investigations and counterintelligence or counterterrorism
investigations and to use all of the tools that they have for every case.
So, they no longer really think of it in those terms of black and white. I
know some of the commentators out there who served in the Justice
Department before 9/11, like Rudy Giuliani and others, always talk about
the wall and the separation, but in the modern era, that wall is gone and
those kinds of investigations are intertwined.
And so, I think that they see it as one big investigation rather than two
REID: You saw the response in the White House. A lot of ad hominems, sort
of an angry response. This inquiry, what`s different about it, this is not
about Paul Manafort, there is no connection to anyone else. This is
literally just Donald Trump, just his words, just the letters he wrote,
just the interviews he gave.
How much jeopardy is the president of the United States in tonight?
MCQUADE: Well, again, I think it depends on how these facts play out. You
know, in terms of charging decisions or impeachment, I don`t know that a
whole lot has changed, but the one thing that this raises with me is the
fact that I think there likely are additional facts unknown to the public
that cause the FBI to open that counterintelligence investigation into
President Trump. And so, for that reason, I think that maybe the level of
his jeopardy has gone up a notch.
REID: Yes, I don`t think I have ever heard the words associated with a
president of the United States that a major law enforcement agency, the
FBI, is investigating whether the president of the United States while
president had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.
That`s an extraordinary sentence to have associated with an American
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan,
thank you so much for your time tonight.
MCQUADE: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Much more to come on this breaking story tonight. In just a moment,
we will talk live with one of the top members of the House Intelligence
Stay right there. We`ll be right back.
REID: We are continuing to digest this new reporting tonight from “The New
York Times.” I will just read you top of the story once again.
Quote: In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI
director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president`s
behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on
behalf of Russia against American interests, according to law enforcement
officials and others familiar with the investigation.”
So, that is a counterintelligence investigation opened by the FBI into
whether the president himself was basically a Russian asset. According to
“The Times,” the question of whether the president of the United States
obstructed justice by firing the FBI Director James Comey was itself seen
as a national security concern not just as a criminal matter.
Quote: If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia
investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because
it naturally would have hurt the bureau`s effort to learn how Moscow
interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved,
according to James A. Baker, who served as FBI general counsel until late
Quote: He privately testified in October before House investigators who
were examining the FBI`s handling of the full Russia inquiry. That
testimony has not been publicly released but in a portion of it that was
read to “The Times”. James Baker said, not only would it be an issue of
obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our
ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be
the threat to national security.
Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence
Congressman Himes, so great to have you here tonight.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Joy.
REID: Your reaction, first, to this reporting.
HIMES: Well, it`s extraordinary. I mean, this is one of those historical
moments where, you know, we`ve been so accustomed to, you know, 20 weeks of
headlines in one day that, you know, we now learned that apparently the FBI
opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president of the United
On the other hand, you know, I`m not hugely surprised. I remember that day
and I remember just, you know, this icy feeling of, oh, my god, this is
somehow some really awful stuff starts. But, remember, the reason I`m not
entirely surprised is that what we have come to learn over the period of a
year, a year and a half, the FBI would have known about a lot of that
What do I mean? I mean the don Jr. Meeting at Trump Tower where Don Jr.
is like, hey, give me dirt on Clinton to Russians. The fact that Paul
Manafort, that Michael Cohen, that Papadopoulos, that Michael Flynn all
lied, all lied about their contacts with Russia. That according to press
reports Jared Kushner asked the Russian ambassador if they could set up
private communication lines in the Russian embassy.
Some of that stuff, maybe all of that stuff, the FBI knew when the
president of the United States fired Jim Comey to take pressure – the
pressure of the Russia investigation off of him. And, oh, by the way,
there may be stuff that they knew and still know that we know nothing
about. So when you add that all together as massively consequential as
this fact is, it`s not terribly surprising.
REID: Yes. A lot of this testimony – a lot of this story hinges on the
private testimony of James Baker, who was the FBI general counsel that he
gave to House Oversight and House Judiciary. Have you, sir, seen that
testimony or is that testimony you expect your committee to get hold of?
HIMES: Well, I have not as a member of the Intelligence Committee seen
that testimony. It was – it was other committees in the Congress. You
know, I think we`re still at a point, Joy, where the answer here – and the
answer becomes all the more important given what we learned from “The New
York Times.” The answer here is we both need to preserve the Mueller
investigation and then to make sure that every aspect of the Mueller
investigation becomes public.
Whatever – whatever`s in there, if it exonerates the president or indicts
the president, it needs to be made public. If you sort of step away from
your feelings about Donald Trump, a federal police force deciding to
investigate the president of the United States, you know, if you`re on the
left you say, well, of course, Donald Trump deserves it and certainly
that`s where the evidence lies. But if you`re part of the 30 percent of
the American population that still believes the president that this is a
big witch hunt, you think – well, of course, it`s a deep state, the FBI
and the Department of Justice have run amok.
Every aspect of the Mueller investigation and all of what will be
extraordinarily well-documented deliberations within the FBI around this
investigation, you know, for the purpose of the stability of our political
system, the public is going to need – and history is going to need to be
able to scrutinize and understand the decisions that were made.
REID: Yes, and we know that the house intelligence committee is a very
different committee now than when it was run by Republicans for very
clearly different purposes. Can you see your way clear to wanting to talk
to some of the key people mentioned in this reporting who are privy to one
of the two things that caused the FBI to ratchet up its inquiry? One of
whom would be don McGahn, the White House counsel, and the other would be
Rod Rosenstein, who is on his way apparently out as deputy attorney
HIMES: Of course we will. And, again, I think all of the House
committees, Intelligence, Oversight, Judiciary, we`re all way behind the
Mueller investigation because, of course, under Republican control,
certainly the intelligence committee on which I served, under the
chairmanship of Devin Nunes became the pr firm and defense attorney for the
president of the United States. So we are way behind with an investigation
that was cut short, in which we didn`t follow up on testimony.
So I think, Joy, the steps are going to be let`s watch what Mueller comes
out with. Mueller, of course, is focused primarily on whether there was
criminal activity. It is the role of the Congress to not necessarily look
at criminal activity and think about indictments, but to actually get the
broader and the bigger picture, you know, what, in fact, was Russia doing?
What are the flaws in our system that allow for a campaign to have multiple
contacts with Russia? Why did they lie about it?
So, you know, we`re behind, but now that the house is under a Democratic
majority, it will for the first time start acting as a responsible check
and a balance on this out of control president. And by the way, as we saw
from Sarah Sanders` statement today attacking Barack Obama of all things on
this night, pretty much an out of control and unhinged White House.
REID: Yes, it was quite a response. I do have to ask you, and I
understand that it is very important to try to determine what Russia did to
our elections. I think a lot of Americans care deeply about that. But
there is never in my memory, I`ve been paying attention to politics a long
time, been a sentence like this written about an American president. That
a major law enforcement, federal law enforcement agency, the FBI was
investigating whether the president of the United States had been working
on behalf of Russia against American interests.
There are a lot of Americans who are going to want to know whether or not,
in your view, sir, this constitutes grounds to open an impeachment inquiry.
This is an incredibly serious allegation to be investigated at this serious
a level. Should there at least be inquiry into whether or not these
constitute potential high crimes and misdemeanors?
HIMES: Well, Joy, again, we`ve got to wait for the facts to emerge. We
can`t make judgment based on articles in “The New York Times.”
What you said is true. Just the fact that what we know happened happened
is beyond extraordinary, and, of course, that`s the world we live in right
now. You know, I`m expecting a declaration of a national emergency around
a fake crisis that doesn`t exist. You know, with emergency powers the
president can do some remarkable things. We are in a very, very different
You ask about impeachment, joy. Here`s my fear. Here`s my fear. The
Constitution of the United States provides for impeachment for cases where
the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. My fear is, and
Americans need to grapple with this, I am not sure given today`s politics,
given the extent to which the president has done everything he can and his
people, by the way and his supporters in the Congress of the United States,
having done everything they can to delegitimize Mueller, to delegitimize
the FBI and the Department of Justice. I fear that there may not be
anything, anything that Mueller could report that would cause enough
Republican senators to decide that the president should be impeached, and
that is, along with everything else we`ve been talking about tonight, a
truly scary thought.
REID: Yes, indeed. As we exit – I`m going to let you go, sir. But I
have to ask you – just from what you know as of now, what you`ve learned
about the president of the United States so far. Do you trust Donald Trump
with the national security of the United States?
HIMES: I absolutely do not. You know, I mean, I don`t know – I don`t
even know where to begin, right? You know, the national security of the
United States has a lot to do with competent foreign policy. The president
of the United States tweeted out that we were taking everybody, all of our
troops out of Syria in 30 days. The secretary of state and the national
security adviser are saying something completely different.
So we don`t even have a foreign policy at this point that is consistent out
of the White House. This president, of course, over the last two years has
demonstrated that he has one concern and one concern only, and that is how
much of a big man he is and how respected and how much he wins as a person.
It has nothing to do with the safety of the country. It has nothing to do
with the national security of the United States. It has to do whether he
goes to bed that night feeling like he won over crying Chuck and Nancy
Pelosi or, you know, what the networks are saying about him on TV.
REID: Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee,
thank you so much for your time tonight.
HIMES: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Thank you. Much more to come tonight.
In just a moment, we`re going to talk with the former assistant director of
the FBI`s counterintelligence division.
And in a few hours, the shutdown will be the longest one in history
officially. We`ll talk with a brand-new member of Congress.
So much to get to. Stay with us.
REID: We are about to get some expert help unpacking this bombshell new
reporting from “The New York Times,” painting a devastating picture of the
eight days between when Donald Trump fired James Comey and the appointment
of special counsel Robert Mueller. We now know that time included the FBI
deciding to open a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump
himself, to determine whether the president of the United States was
secretly working on behalf of Russia.
Quote: The decision to investigate Mr. Trump himself was an aggressive move
by FBI officials who were confronting the chaotic aftermath of the firing
of Mr. Comey and enduring the president`s verbal assaults on the Russia
investigation as a witch hunt.
Quote: A vigorous debate was taking shape amongst some former law
enforcement officials outside the case over whether FBI investigators
overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a tumultuous
period at the Justice Department.
Joining us now is Frank Figliuzzi, NBC contributor, national security
contributor and a former assistant director of the FBI`s
Frank, thanks so much for being here.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (via telephone): Thank you,
REID: I just want to start by asking you, what jumps out to you given what
you`ve done – given what you`ve done for a living in this reporting?
FIGLIUZZI: So there`s a couple of takeaways here. I think it`s important
to talk about what this reporting says and what it doesn`t say. What it
says, if accurate, is that the impetus of the special counsel inquiry or
what turned into the special counsel inquiry was not necessarily just
figuring out the degree to which the Russians influenced the campaign, but
rather now we`re faced with kind of a worst case scenario that we`ve all
been talking about, which is the possibility that the president had somehow
been co-opted and was in the pocket of the Russians.
So, let`s understand what that – what that means. It means that the FBI
had at a minimum a threshold to open a preliminary inquiry, which we call
reasonable suspicion as a threshold, but it then went to a special counsel,
which likely means it went to a full investigation. That threshold is
specific and articulable facts that someone is or may be an agent of a
That would not be done in a vacuum. That would have gone across the street
to Department of Justice. It would have been approved. And then, of
course, we know that the DOJ said, you know what, we need a special counsel
inquiry. So, now, we`re seeing what the real origin of this was.
Now, here`s what it doesn`t say, Joy. It doesn`t say that they proved it.
It doesn`t say that that aspect of the case is still running. And we don`t
know whether it was a P.I., preliminary inquiry, or a full.
So there are some unanswered questions here, but it is really sobering to
think that maybe if this reporting is right that Donald J. Trump, that name
was in the header, in the subject title of a counterintelligence
REID: You know, and, Frank, there have been several instances of things
that Donald Trump has done that have really raised the alarms and put
people`s hair on fire about what he`s doing and why. You know, mouthing
Russian talking points on the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union,
the performance in Helsinki and the solicitousness with which he deals with
Vladimir Putin in general. But in this reporting in “The New York Times,”
they point out one thing that Donald Trump did that caused the FBI to feel
more confident and validated in taking what was an extraordinary step, as
you just said, in opening this preliminary inquiry into the president of
the United States.
And that was the visit by Russia officials who were let into the oval
office shortly after the firing of Mr. Comey, in which Donald Trump –
there`s a picture of it right there. Where there were not Americans in the
room, I guess, that were monitoring what was being said, in which he
supposedly told these men from the Soviet Union – sorry, from Russia, I
just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job, according to
a document summarizing the meeting. I faced great pressure because of
Russia. That`s taken off.
What do you make of that? Does that make you rethink that Oval Office
FIGLIUZZI: Well, I want to – I keep pointing out, and this is a mantra
that I know you`ve heard me repeat, which is that there is so much more to
this iceberg that we`re not seeing. And I want the American people to
know, because they`re going to hear inevitability from the White House that
this is all part of a deep state, this is all part of an FBI that was out
of control. But I want the American people to understand that the FBI is
privy to all kinds of intelligence, highly classified intelligence.
And that if you`re going to open a case, as “The New York Times” reports,
on the president of the United States, you are going to have more than just
unstable behavior and public behavior. You are going to have something
that gives you at least a reasonable suspicion, if not specific and
What does that mean without getting into actual classified? It means
they`ve got intercepted communications. It means they`re privy to what –
how these Russians were talking about the president or to the president.
So, when we hear that a case was opened on the president, I`m – based on
my 25 years of experience in having run the counterintelligence division,
I`m telling you there is more than just the crazy public behavior to this.
REID: Wow. Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director of the FBI`s
counterintelligence division. Thank you so much for making some time to be
here tonight. Thank you.
FIGLIUZZI: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Thank you. Wow, what a Friday night.
Much more to get to, much more to get to when we come back.
REID: Today is day 21 of the government shutdown. Members of Congress
were at work this week, however. Democrats have been using the time to
pass bills that would re-open the government one piece at a time.
On the menu this afternoon was the Department of the Interior and the EPA.
Every Democrat in attendance voted aye along with ten of their Republican
colleagues. That bill, however, is doomed in the Senate because Republican
Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not hold a vote on any bill that
the president will not sign, which is to say any bill without money for
Donald Trump`s wall.
The House also passed a bill today that guarantees federal workers will
receive backed pay once the shutdown ends. That one will go straight to
the president`s desk and he is expected to sign it. When that money will
get paid however is anyone`s guest because for that to happen, the shutdown
would have to end.
Meanwhile, much of the work we count on the government to do is being
dialed back and left undone. Tonight, the FDA is curtailing food
inspections. Cleanups at federal superfund sites have been suspended.
Work at federal immigration courts has stopped, making already terrible
backlogs worse. Funding for the entire federal court system is about to
run out. And the Federal Reserve may not be able to forecast our economy.
Here`s a terrifying headline for you, airline safety is eroding as shutdown
drags on. The Miami Airport is shutting down an entire terminal because
they do not have enough TSA agents to staff it. Look at this from “The
Washington Post,” shutdown threatens national security, FBI agents group
warns, day 21 and counting.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jennifer Wexton. Congressman
Wexton representing Virginia`s tenth congressional district, a state with
lots and lots of federal workers. She`s a brand-new members of Congress,
having beaten a Republican incumbent.
Congresswoman Wexton, thanks so much for being here tonight.
REP. JENNIFER WEXTON (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Joy.
REID: So we`ve heard about the protests all over the country, the people
who are saying they can`t even afford to get to work and are asking to
sleep in the parking lot so they can come to work if they`re essential
employees. Can you just tell us a little bit about what`s going on in your
district? What are you hearing from your constituents?
WEXTON: Well, my district is in northern Virginia, we`re just outside of
Washington, D.C. and we have tens of thousands of federal workers and
contractors who interface with them daily, and I`m getting hundreds of e-
mails, phone calls, social media outreach from constituents who are really
worried about how they`re going to make ends meet. I`ve heard from
constituents who don`t know if they`re going to be able to make their
mortgage payment, who don`t know if they`re going to be able to pay their
childcare, who are looking into taking out loans from their credit union or
asking for forbearance for their student loans.
And a lot of these are people who are working every single day because
they`re ordered and forced to go to work without pay. We need to do
REID: And what are your constituents asking you to do because Donald Trump
claims that the constituents that you`re just talking about, that they went
a wall, too, and that`s what they want you to do. Is that what they`re
asking you to do?
WEXTON: My constituents for the most part are not in favor of the wall,
but they want us to sit down and come to an agreement and get the
government open again. They`re tired of being used as pawns, being used as
bargaining chips in a political battle that has nothing to do with their
day-to-day lives and their jobs.
REID: And would you under any circumstances be willing to vote for money
for a wall that we should add that Mexico was supposed to pay for in order
to re-open the government?
WEXTON: Well, we in the Democratic Caucus, you know, we have passed what
were Republican bills to re-open the government, you know? We passed the
big spending bill and then we broke it down and decoupled each department
in case there was any hope of getting them passed one at a time to re-open
various parts of the government, and these are bills that combine –
contain over $1 billion for border security, for smart border security,
things like fencing in some areas, for things like sensors, for making sure
that we have the right number of customs and border protection agents and
things that are actually going to help stop contraband from coming into
REID: Speaker Pelosi said, though, not any money for the wall, not any
money for even beaded curtains. Do you agree with her?
WEXTON: Well, you know, we need to be smart on border security. The
people of the tenth district sent me here not just to represent them but
also to spend the money wisely, you know, their tax dollars. And spending
billions of dollars on a wall that`s not going to solve a problem is not a
good use of our funds. So, there are many other things that we can do that
everybody agrees are a much better way to stop contraband and illegal
immigration from coming into our country, and I`d rather that we – that we
focus on those solutions rather than giving in to Donald Trump`s temper
REID: Yes, Donald Trump hasn`t exactly shown a lot of compassion towards
the people who are really suffering and starting to suffer now that they`re
missing paychecks. What do you make of this guidance to federal workers
that they should become dog walkers and personal shoppers and sell their
belongings at a garage sale?
WEXTON: You know, I have constituents who are doing just that. I mean,
they shouldn`t have to. Some of whom are working every day to make ends
meet. You know, I had a constituent who went to a restaurant to talk to
the manager about getting a job waiting tables and was told, I`m not going
to hire you because you`ll be leaving in a few weeks.
So, it`s not like people can just get a job in retail or waiting tables or
something like that to make ends meet, but a lot of these folks are
security professionals, you know, they are professionals in the federal
government who took their jobs because they believe in the missions of the
agencies that they serve and they deserve so much better than this and we
need to give them better than this.
REID: Yes, indeed. Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, thank you
so much. Appreciate your time tonight.
WEXTON: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Thank you.
Still ahead tonight, a very different member of Congress and the reason
he`s becoming such a problem for the Republican Party. We`ll be right
REID: For many, many years now, Steve King has been the unrestrained id of
the Republican Party. The Iowa congressman says demeaning things about
immigrants. He retweets white nationalists and neo Nazi groups and is
cheered on by them. He endorses neo Nazi candidates in other countries,
including once tweeting “culture and demographics are our destiny. We
can`t restore our civilization with somebody else`s babies.”
Congressman King has for the most part gone unrebuked by his own party for
all of this, even as he has moved from the fringe closer to his party`s
But apparently now the GOP has decided Steve King is keeping it a little
too real after he told “The New York Times,” quote: White nationalist,
white supremacist, western civilization, how did that language become
offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our
history and our civilization?
You`re saying the quiet part out loud again, Congressman.
And I`m not sure exactly why this time is different, but this particular
quote has unleashed quite a torrent of criticism for Steve King from his
fellow Republicans, including support for his new 2020 primary challenger.
Tim Scott, the Senate`s only black Republican writes in “The Washington
Post,” quote: Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly
accused of racism. It is because of our silence when things like this are
So why does the Republican Party suddenly seem to be waking up to Steve
King? Why now? And is it too late now that Donald Trump is in the White
House and the GOP has become more Steve King`s party than ever?
Joining us now is Jason Johnson, politics editor for TheRoot.com.
Great to have you with us.
And, Jason, I don`t know where you were when Steve King said the thing in
Cleveland where he said that subgroups have never –
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Yes.
REID: – contributed anything to civilization, only, you know, Western
REID: But that didn`t cause a torrent of outrage. Why now?
JOHNSON: Because they just lost. I mean, that`s the only reason
Republicans care. Oh, we got shellacked in November, now all of a sudden
we care we`ve got bigots in our party.
Look, Steve King is a white nationalist. He`s not just a racist. I always
say this. This is important. He is a white nationalist.
That means he really doesn`t believe that anyone who is not a white
Christian should have an active role in how the government, the economy or
education works. He`s made that clear. His constituents have obviously
He is not an outlier in the Republican Party. His views pretty much are in
line with the president of the United States. And now, we`re going to
pretend and be concerned about it, but he`s not going to go anywhere
because you have too many people in the party who agree with him.
REID: You know, one of the things I think people forget is that long
before Donald Trump said he was going to build a wall that Mexico is
supposed to pay for, Steve King wanted to build a wall for the exact same
reason. I wonder if that has gone down the memory hole with the GOP as
JOHNSON: Well, all of it has. The guy has a long, long history of this.
But, Joy, what I find really important because we saw the president do
this, I`m a nationalist as opposed to a globalist. Steve King is like I`m
All of this playing with linguistics is this way to sort of mainstream this
idea of white nationalism. When Steve King says I`m a nationalist, it`s
like R. Kelly saying I like kids. We know what you`re talking about,
right? You`re not fooling anyone at this particular point.
And I think it`s important for anybody who is concerned about the health of
this democracy, let alone people who live in Iowa, has to recognize that
white nationalists are basically terrorist sympathizers. The only way you
can get rid of all the black and brown and tan people in this country is to
treat them with violence, to refuse to give them an opportunity to
participate in the American experiment.
So, anyone who says, well, I don`t really remember what Steve said or maybe
it`s bad now or Ben Shapiro coming out and saying, well, this crosses a
line. You`ve been letting him and people like him cross a line in the
party for years and now you have to view it as a national security issue,
not just a political damage issue.
REID: But I wonder, too, if once, you know, members of the Republican
Party have opened up the door on Steve King whether or not then you can
then push the door back closed. You have Ron DeSantis who ran for
governor, now the governor of Florida, who ran on monkey it up. You have
Brian Kemp with extensive suppression of African-American voters.
You have the newly elected senator or re-elected senator from Mississippi
who talked about going to a public hanging. It kind of goes on and on and
ends in the White House with Donald Trump, Charlottesville and on and on.
Can Republicans shut the door again and not talk about all of the other
JOHNSON: Well, they can not talk about it, joy, but, again, once you put
that hood on, it`s hard to pull off. It fits really, really tight and it
seems to help you with voters sometimes. Look, the issue for the
Republican Party is not getting rid of their bigots, right? I don`t think
you can do that. Democrats can`t get rid of all of their bigots.
The issue for the Republican Party is, how much are we going to allow our
bigots to have influence on our policy? You can`t do anything about Steve
King. I don`t think he should be removed because obviously he reflects the
attitude of his voters, but a man who is a white nationalist is
fundamentally at odds with how America is supposed to operate.
So he should be removed from committees. She should be removed from
positions where his bigotry, which is anti-American, can have an influence
on policy. That is the line that Republicans need to cross. All of this
whether we talk about him, whether we primary him, they`re just going to
look for somebody who has the same nasty belief system but knows how to say
it in nicer terms. That`s what Republicans have been saying about Trump
for the last two years.
REID: It`s all about manners. Good manners.
REID: Jason Johnson, politics editor at theroot.com, always good to talk
to you, man. Thank You for being here.
JOHNSON: Thanks so much.
REID: Appreciate it. That does it for us tonight.
I`ll be back here tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern hosting my very own show,
“A.M. JOY,” and, oh, do we have a lot to discuss. And not to worry, Rachel
will be back here on Monday.
And now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD.” My friend Ali Velshi is in for
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2019 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