Trump went to “extraordinary lengths” to hide details. 1/14/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: I think Mitch
McConnell did a huge disservice to his party and some ways, I would say
that he has probably contributed a great deal to the death of his party.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Does it – what`s the – this is an emotional
question but I`ll ask it.
HAYES: Like, where is your mind about all of this two years later?
REINES: It`s how the hell did this happen in the sense of why did some let
this happen? And when I say some, I mean obviously the former FBI
director, but it was hiding in plain sight. And I would like to think that
a lot of people, including Jim Comey, though he won`t acknowledge it, but I
think a lot of these other players, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, I`d like to
think that if they could do it over again, they would do it very
And I wish that had happened differently. We would be in a different world
where we`re not keeping secrets with the Russians instead of from the
HAYES: Philippe Reines, thanks for joining us.
HAYES: That is “ALL IN” this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you very much, my
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.
There has been a lot of news today. There`s been a lot of news in the past
couple of days. This is sort of an important moment, I think, that we are
in, in the Trump presidency, potentially in modern American history.
But in terms of understanding what`s about to happen next, I think we
actually need to start with a little modern American history.
In 1968, when Richard Nixon ran for president, his campaign was directed by
one of his long time friends, an attorney named John Mitchell. When Nixon
won that presidential election in 1968, he appointed that same John
Mitchell, the guy who had run his campaign to be attorney general, attorney
general of the United States. Now, John Mitchell would eventually be
convicted on multiple felonies in conjunction with the Watergate scandal
and would serve 19 months in prison.
Nixon`s second attorney general was a man named Richard Kleindienst.
Richard Kleindienst`s tenure as attorney general ended on the day when
Nixon tried to start the Watergate investigation by basically cleaning
house at 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On April 30th, 1973, Nixon tried to
essentially cauterize the bleeding wound of Watergate by all at one time,
all in one day, getting rid of his White House counsel, his White House
chief of staff, his top domestic aide and his attorney general, Richard
Kleindienst. They all quit or got fired all at once, all on that one day.
And funnily enough, that stunt did not end the Watergate scandal and all
four of the men who resigned or were fired from the Nixon administration
that day, they all ended up either convicted or pleading guilty to various
crimes and in fairly short order.
But in terms of his attorney generals, after getting attorneys general,
you`re supposed to say, after getting rid of Mitchell number one, then
getting rid of Kleindienst, number two, Nixon did need yet another attorney
general. That`s how he got attorney general number three Elliot
Richardson. And Elliot Richardson had a remarkable tenure as attorney
I just did that podcast “Bag Man” that was in large part about Elliot
Richardson`s role in securing the resignation of Nixon`s vice president,
Spiro Agnew, with Agnew facing a 40-count felony indictment for being a
total freaking crook, completely separate and apart from Watergate.
Richardson, as attorney general, and Justice Department prosecutors working
under him, they put together just an airtight slam dunk criminal case
against Agnew for bribery and extortion. Elliot Richardson took the lead,
basically, in the Agnew case and he used the threat of prosecution, he used
the astonishing litany of evidence prosecutors had assembled against Agnew
to get Agnew to resign, to get him out of the line of succession.
And then ten days after that, ten days after Richardson got Agnew out of
office, Richardson`s tenure as attorney general was over as well, although
he at least got to leave with his head held high. After the previous bad
endings of both of Nixon`s first two attorneys general, Elliot Richardson
had promised as part of his confirmation hearings that he would appoint an
independent special prosecutor to oversee the Watergate investigation, and
he promised the Senate during his confirmation hearings that that special
prosecutor would have the freedom to pursue the Watergate investigation
wherever it led. He would protect the independence of that prosecutor.
Well, ten days after the Agnew thing, ten days after Attorney General
Elliot Richardson forced the resignation of the vice president, ten days
later, Nixon, in fact, told Attorney General Elliot Richardson that he
should fire the Watergate special counsel. Richardson had promised in his
confirmation hearings in the Senate that he wouldn`t do that without good
cause, that he would protect the Watergate investigation from any sort of
intervention like that from the White House or anybody else.
So when Nixon ordered Richardson that he needed to fire the Watergate
prosecutor, Elliot Richardson knew he could not do that because he promised
under oath that he would not do that. And so, Elliot Richardson resigned
rather than break his word.
And in an immediate sense, that elevated the deputy attorney general who it
turns out had also made a very similar promise to the Senate so he too
resigned from office when Nixon told him to fire the Watergate special
prosecutor. He too resigned rather than break the word he had given to the
Senate under oath that that prosecutor would have independence and would be
Nixon eventually did get the Watergate special prosecutor fired. But, boy,
did it cost him, right? It cost him an attorney general. It cost him a
deputy attorney general. It caused such a huge national uproar at the time
that he was worse off when it came to Watergate than he was before he
pulled that stunt.
I mean, now the Congress and public were demanding a new special prosecutor
be appointed to take the place of the guy who Nixon had to go way out of
his way to fire, and Nixon now need to get a new attorney general, a fourth
attorney general confirmed by the Senate.
And what do you think Congress in that instance wanted to talk to that
nominee about? Right? Given the circumstances in which he was named to
that office, what do you think Congress wanted to get assurances from that
When Nixon was looking around for somebody who he could get confirmed to be
his fourth attorney general at a time when the country was in uproar and
ignominious endings of all three of his previous attorneys general, meant
that nobody trusted him any further than they could throw him at that
point. When it came to nominees for that position, Nixon was not exactly
going to get a lot of deference from the Senate. How could he possibly get
anyone confirmed being that he was the one picking the nominee?
When he was trying to figure out who he was going to nominate for that gig,
he made a choice that was probably the only kind of choice that could have
worked in those circumstances. He picked a serving U.S. senator for the
job. By that time in 1973, it had been true for a long time, it may still
be true today, that all things being equal, senators are unusually likely
to confirm presidential nominees who are already serving as U.S. senators.
And that is just because senators like each other. Senators like
themselves. They think very highly of themselves and of the club of 100 to
which they belong.
I think more so in the past, but still to a certainly extent today,
senators tend to defer to one another and cut each other some slack in a
type of old school collegiality, that sort of equal parts creepy, depending
on which part of the telescope you`re looking into. So, if you are a
president in trouble, if you are a president in trouble who really needs to
get somebody through the Senate and it is a tall order for you to get
anyone through the Senate, when in doubt, pick a senator, any senator that
will give you a better shot than any non-senator.
And that is what Nixon did when he needed a fourth attorney general in
1973. He picked a man named William Saxbe. Bill Saxbe, he was a
Republican senator from Ohio. In addition to being a senator, he was kind
of seen as a little bit of a maverick and he`s kind of salty guy who people
did seem to like. At least it seems that way when people have written
about him as a historical figure.
For example, I do not know what a washboard fiddle is. I know what a
washboard musical instrument is and I know what a fiddle as a musical
instrument. But I don`t know what a washboard fiddle is. But that gets a
mention in his “Washington Post” obituary from when he died in the summer
Quote, in Washington, Mr. Saxbe and his wife enjoyed dinner parties that
were know for ending late night singing accompanied by Mr. Saxbe on the
washboard fiddle, an instrument who`s multiple parts included a pair of
symbols and a tambourine. Oh.
He was notably quippy. He famously told reporters about arriving in
Washington as a first term senator, quote, the first six months, I kept
wondering how I got here. After that I started wondering how all of them
did – talking about his fellow senators.
In the end, Senator Bill Saxbe apparently decided that Washington was
boring. That being a senator was just way too boring for him, and he
didn`t want to do it any longer than he had to. So, he announced before
his first term was over that he would only be a one-term senator, he was
not going it run for reelection.
So, Bill Saxbe was on his way out the door already. He was already serving
as a lame duck senator with really nothing to lose, when Nixon decided that
he, Bill Saxbe, would be his choice for attorney general. The successor to
Elliot Richardson would be this Republican Ohio senator, Bill Saxbe, and
whether or not Nixon and the Nixon White House had anticipated it, the fact
that Saxbe was a senator, the fact that he was a lame duck senator who was
leaving town and didn`t owe anybody anything, the fact that the senator is
in a committee considering his nomination, had a general level of comfort
and familiarity with him as a person and a colleague, it meant that Saxbe`s
confirmation hearings to be attorney general didn`t have to be too much
Senators were pretty fine with him, right, they knew him. They were fine.
Bill Saxbe. OK.
What his confirmation hearings ended up being about instead was exactly one
thing, over and over again, for the duration of his confirmation hearings
in December 1973, all they wanted to talk about was one thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s in one of those quaint senator ceremonies, Saxbe
was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee by his fellow Ohio
Republican senator. Questions concentrated entirely on whether Saxbe would
allow special Watergate prosecutor Jaworski complete independence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Questions concentrated almost entirely on whether the special
Watergate prosecutor would get complete independence.
They have nothing else to chew on really when it came to Senator William
Saxbe as a nominee to be the next attorney general of the United States.
With nothing else to chew on about him, his confirmation hearing centered
basically entirely on whether or not he would let the Watergate
investigation proceed unimpeded.
At the influential legal blog Lawfare today, there`s a great treatment how
the confirmation hearings went for Bill Saxbe and also how confirmation
hearings have gone for Elliot Richardson before him, because both
Richardson and Saxbe were confirmed in the midst of not only major
presidential scandal, they were confirmed in the midst of an ongoing
Justice Department investigation that was chasing the current president
like his own tail was on fire.
And so, what is the precedent there? What could we learn from the way
those two men were confirmed to A.G.? We`ve posted a link to our own blog,
MaddowBlog.com, if you want to see it. Lawfare has also very helpfully
posted the transcripts of those confirmation hearings as PDF files, so you
actually can read them. You can see what the senators did in the early 70s
in the midst of Watergate to try to make sure the Watergate investigation
would be protected from Nixon, that the Justice Department would let the
Watergate investigation proceed unimpeded despite whatever pressure was
coming from the White House, including the president who was nominating
both men to be the top law enforcement official in the country.
With Bill Saxbe`s nomination in December 1973 specifically, a kind of
amazing and singular thing happened, because when Saxbe got up there to be
the fourth attorney general for Nixon, Democrats on the Senate committee
that was considering him, they not only sought assurances from Saxbe that
he would let the Watergate prosecutor proceed without interference, that he
would provide the resources he needed, get out of his way, make sure he was
protected. In addition to that, the Democratic senators on that committee,
considering whether he would be the next attorney general, they also did
something kind of nuts.
They brought the Watergate special prosecutor into the hearing room, and
swore him in and made him sit down next to Bill Saxbe the attorney general
nominee so the two of them were sitting there side by side. They both had
to swear under oath that they both understood about the special
prosecutor`s independence. They both had the same understanding of it,
they both respected it.
I mean, that`s weird, right? I mean, the prosecutor was not being
confirmed by the Senate in that moment but they made him sit down and get
sworn in right there with the guy who was being confirmed. I mean, this
attorney general nominee, they made him swear he wouldn`t interfere with
the Watergate investigation but remarkably, they made the Watergate
prosecutor sit down next to him and swear that he understood that as well.
I had not realized this had happened before this Lawfare piece today. It`s
kind of an amazing bit of political theater but also accountability. And
like I said, we`ve got the transcripts from the proceedings.
Here is Democratic senator at the time, Robert Byrd. Quote, I am desirous
of asking questions in one area today, that being the area involving the
special prosecutor. I`ve asked the chairman to request that Mr. Jaworski,
the special prosecutor, come to the hearing room. I think it is imperative
the committee to get your assurance, Mr. Saxbe, of a strong commitment to
Mr. Jaworski. I also think it`s important to Mr. Jaworski that he not only
be able to read that commitment in the record, but that he also be present
when that commitment is made.
And at that point, the chairman of the committee stops the proceedings and
then points out in fact, quote, Mr. Jaworski is in the room, and Senator
Robert Byrd asks Jaworski, the Watergate prosecutor, to come down and join
Quote: Now, Mr. Chairman, would I be asking too much? The chairman says:
Let us have order, please, because obviously there`s a big hubbub now,
right? What`s going on here? Who`s the other guy at the confirmation
hearing being sworn in?
Senator Byrd says, would I be asking too much, Mr. Chairman, to request
that Mr. Jaworski come forward and take a seat at the table. Chairman: Mr.
Jaworski, sit at the table please, sir.
Senator Byrd: Mr. Chairman, I`m embarrassed to ask whether or not both
witnesses should be sworn? Would there be any objection?
Mr. Jaworski: None whatsoever on my part, Senator. The chairman: Stand up,
please, do you both swear that you will tell the whole truth and nothing
but the truth so help you god? Senator Saxbe, I do. Mr. Jaworski, I do.
So, tomorrow, William Barr is going to start his confirmation hearings to
be President Trump`s next attorney general. If senators want to follow the
precedent about what the U.S. Senate did the last time they were confirming
a new attorney general in circumstances like this, the parallel here – I
mean, would be them inviting Robert Mueller to the hearing room and then
asking him to come down and sit down next it Bill Barr, having them both
sworn in so they could talk mutually commitment to Mueller`s independence
for finishing the Russia inquiry? I mean, that`s – if we were going to
match this up with current day, that would be what happened here.
Here`s what Robert Byrd said to the Watergate prosecutor as soon as he got
Jaworski sworn in. This is Senator Byrd, he says, quote: Mr. Jaworski,
permit me to say by word of explanation, I asked the chairman to inquire
only within the hour if you could present yourself here today. It`s also
very important in my estimation that you have the complete support of the
attorney general and you positively know you have the support of the
attorney general in your effort, which will require continuing courage. It
is for these reasons that I have asked the chairman that you appear for the
committee at this time. I apologize to you for the request which came to
you today without warning.
Jaworski replies: Not at all, Senator. I`m glad you asked me to come.
Byrd goes on to say, quote: We are about to confirm an attorney general of
the United States at the most critical time in our country`s history.
And with the nominee for that position, the nominee for attorney general,
Bill Saxbe, and the Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski sitting side
by side at the witness table, Senator Byrd then proceeded to go line by
line through the regulations that created the office of the Watergate
special prosecutor and governed the way he was supposed to investigate and
line by line, paragraph by paragraph, as part of the process of confirming
him as attorney general, Bill Saxbe and the Watergate special prosecutor
both affirmed overtly, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, they
understood, they had no reservations about, no compunctions whatsoever
about the independence of the Watergate prosecution and the fact that the
president`s nominees at the Justice Department including the attorney
general could not tell that prosecutor what to do.
And I will not go through every line and every paragraph, although I
suggest you read it. It`s amazing. Let ne just give – me just give you
one example. There`s one part of the Watergate prosecutor regulations that
affirms overtly that the prosecutor can`t just investigate the president
and his campaign. Special prosecutor can also investigate White House
staff and other members of the administration.
So, Byrd starts by quoting that bit to the Watergate prosecutor and to the
attorney general nominee. He quotes from the regulation. The special
prosecutor will have full authority for investigating and prosecuting
allegations involving members of the White House staff or presidential
appointees. Mr. Jaworski, will you pursue that with full vigor and without
fear or favor?
Jaworski: Senator Byrd, we have been pursuing that without exception and we
intend to continue to do so.
Senator Byrd: Mr. Saxbe, your intent to fully support Mr. Jaworski and his
fulfilling of his duties under this clause? Saxbe: it is. Senator Byrd:
and you will not attempt in any way to interfere with his efforts in regard
to the investigation and prosecution along any of these lines.
Saxbe: No, it has been my intention at all times that Mr. Jaworski shall
operate independent and the only time I will see him is when he wants
something from me. That`s interesting.
Even though they get these like line by line, unequivocal assurances under
oath that the special prosecutor will be allowed to proceed independently
and both the attorney general and the special prosecutor understand that,
there`s still times when Senator Robert Byrd decides that this nominee for
attorney general – yes, he`s saying all the right things but not being
effusive enough in his assurances. He really wants to know that he feels
it. He wants him to spell it out even more.
Senator Byrd, do you subscribe to that, Senator Saxbe? Do you subscribe to
that, you will not interfere with the special prosecutor`s decisions or
actions? Saxbe: That`s correct. Senator Byrd: Do you subscribe to that?
Saxbe: My understanding is he`ll operate completely independent and the
only time he`ll have contact with me is when he wants something I can
Senator Byrd: And you will not countermand or interfere with the special
prosecutor`s decisions or actions. Saxbe: That is correct. Senator Byrd:
You say that is correct, that means you will not. Saxbe: I will not.
Senator Byrd: You have no intention whatsoever in any manner, shape or form
of attempting to require the special prosecutor to conform or consult with
you about his duties except when he determines that he should consult you?
Saxbe: That is correct. The last thing I want to do is become involved in
So in terms of like historical precedent and the way the Senate has handled
this in the past, that is the model, that is the way the Senate handled it
the last time they confirmed a nominee for attorney general in
circumstances that even remotely approached what we are looking at right
now. And, no, I do not expect that tomorrow there will be a big surprise
murmur in the hearing room when the Senate unexpectedly calls Robert
Mueller out of the audience in that hearing room and they ask to swear him
in and he sits down next to William Barr.
But William Barr has released his opening statement for tomorrow in which
he insists he is a great friend of Robert Mueller, and he has great respect
for Robert Mueller, and they are close and have known for 30 years. Quote:
On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work. That is the
assertion tomorrow from William Barr as he is nominated to be Trump`s next
There are ways that senators could test that tomorrow if they decide to be
as aggressive as history tells us other senators have been in these types
of circumstances. I should note that the folks at Lawfare who wrote up the
Bill Saxbe confirmation process as a potential precedent for tomorrow,
flagging the fact that senators also swore in the Watergate prosecutor to
make sure he knew he could act independently of Saxbe, those authors
tonight are suggesting that even if Mueller doesn`t testify tomorrow, he
might reasonably be asked by the committee, considering William Barr`s
nomination, he might reasonably be asked if since he`s been special
counsel, if his investigation has been impeded in any way thus far, whether
Trump`s Justice Department has blocked any steps that Mueller`s prosecutors
have wanted to take. Congress might reasonably ask the special counsel
that question to inform their decision making around William Barr. We
But, of course, this is all happening at a time when things feel like they
are at a roiling boil. I mean, also in the Senate tomorrow, same day that
they are going to be considering William Barr as potential nominee to be
attorney general, same day, the Senate is going to be voting on whether or
not they want to reject the Trump administration`s effort to relieve
sanctions on companies associated with a Russian oligarch who`s known to be
close to Vladimir Putin, and who for some reason was being offered private
briefings by the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. The
Trump administration made a decision just before Christmas that they would
lift sanctions on companies associated with that oligarch. Senate
Democrats intend to force a vote on the sanctions issue tomorrow. If they
defeat that administration decision with this vote tomorrow, those
sanctions will not be lifted.
That is potentially going to be a very dramatic thing and that`s happening
on top of the confirmation hearings for the new attorney general nominee
tomorrow. We`ll have more on that coming up later on tomorrow night.
And, of course, this is all happening against the backdrop of the jaw
dropping reporting this weekend from “The New York times” and “The
Washington Post.” “The New York Times” reporting on Friday night that the
president was the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation, into
whether or not he was acting as an agent of the Russian government while he
has been president of the United States. It was hot on the heels of that
Fiday night reporting when the “Washington Post” reported on Saturday that
the president has concealed the content of his communications with Russian
President Vladimir Putin. He`s concealed the content of those
communications from his own National Security Council, his own State
Department and other senior White House staff.
And I mean, in the movie version of this moment in American history, it
doesn`t matter who`s in charge of the Senate. It`s inconceivable that the
United States Senate would confirm somebody to be the new attorney general
in this environment after that person has publicly described the Mueller
investigation as fatally misconceived, which is what William Barr has said
about the Mueller investigation. But his confirmation hearing will start
And tonight, next here on this show, we are about to hear from a former,
very senior Justice Department official, who helped oversee the Russia
investigation at its earliest stages, at a time when the earliest stages of
that investigation are the subject of renewed national fascination and
horror. He`s going to be with us here in studio next.
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Saxbe, the question being exploited is whether
Mr. Jaworski will have full authority to investigate and prosecute all
Watergate affairs without any interference from you, will he?
SEN. WILLIAM SAXBE, ATTORNEY GENERAL DESIGNATE: And the answer is an
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you do, Mr. Jaworski, if the new attorney
general, not the attorney general designate, tried to interfere in any way
with your pursuit of the investigation?
LEON JAWORSKI, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I`d march him down to this
congressional committee if he and I couldn`t work it out among ourselves.
MADDOW: The U.S. Department of Justice is not all one big thing. The
Justice Department is divided into offices and divisions, civil rights
division, criminal division, antitrust division, tax division. There`s
also the national security division which itself contains a section on
counterintelligence and they work on all kinds of frightening and delicate
and critical cases.
In December 2014, they got a new boss, a man named David Laufman. And
among the ways David Laufman put his stamp on the counterintelligence
section was when he decided that people acting in this country as paid
agents of foreign countries without registering as such, that was a real
matter of national security and he would orient the division to start doing
more about that.
And that`s interesting as a matter of national security law and Justice
Department priorities. Unregistered foreign agents is something sort of
being kicked upstairs in terms of who cares about it, and how much the
department focuses on it. It`s interesting.
But then came the election of 2016 and suddenly it mattered to all of us, a
very great deal to know who had been secretly working for another
government. Some of the cases we think of as beginning with the special
counsel grew from work that began under David Laufman. As the head of
counterintelligence at DOJ, David Laufman had an oversight role in the
Russia investigation before the special counsel took over.
Well, “The New York Times” reports that the FBI opened a
counterintelligence investigation into the president himself early in his
administration after he fired James Comey, that counterintelligence
investigation in blunt terms looking to assess whether the president was
working on behalf of a foreign government.
About a year ago, in February 2018, David Laufman left the Justice
Department. He left on his own terms. He left under his own steam. I
have met him a couple of times since then and spoke with him on this show,
so I know how careful he is, and how closely he keeps his own counsel.
But when the “Washington Post” this weekend on Saturday reported hot on the
heels of that “New York Times” reporting about the counterintelligence
thing, when the “Washington Post” reported on Saturday that the president
has repeatedly gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his
conversations with Vladimir Putin, when “The Post” published that this
weekend, David Laufman did something I did not expect, he said out loud and
for the whole world, quote: now is the time for all good men and women to
come to the aide of their country.
I did not expect that and it put a shiver down my spine.
Joining us for the interview tonight is David Laufman, former chief of the
Justice Department`s counterintelligence and expert control section.
Mr. Laufman, appreciate you making the trip. Thank you for being here.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF DOJ`S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE & EXPORT CONTROL
SECTION: Good to see you.
MADDOW: What about that “Washington Post” story prompted you to write that
LAUFMAN: You know, it was a tipping point for me, Rachel, among all the
data points that we`re familiar with now through the public actions of the
special counsel, other investigative reporting. I spent 25 years in public
service, mostly in the national security space and I feel I have a moral
obligation to speak up when I see action taken by the president or the
members of the administration that in my judgment undermine the national
security of the United States, the notion that the president of the United
States would be trying to conceal details of conversations with a leader of
our principle foreign adversary was positively chilling.
MADDOW: You say it was chilling learning that in “The Washington Post,”
what “The Washington Post” reported this weekend. And did you know that
before you read it in “The Post” this weekend?
LAUFMAN: I can`t remember what I, you know, was certain about, with
respect to the president`s personal meetings with foreign leaders, that`s
not the sort of information that would normally come to the component I led
in the Department of Justice. There may have been some understanding in
other department agencies, other departmental agencies.
MADDOW: When you describe the president as acting in a way that the
counter to the national security interest of the United States, those of us
who don`t think of this in legalistic terms, those of us who are civilians
trying to make sense of this moment in history and trying to think about
our own responsibility which you`re calling us to think about here, are you
– do you mean in blunt terms that the continuing existence of this
presidency is a threat to the national security of the United States? Do
you think the president is that kind of a threat?
LAUFMAN: I think there`s a culmination of things we can point to in the
public record now, the unbelievable acquiescence to Vladimir Putin in
Helsinki that was shocking to those of us who worked in the national
security, all of our lives, all of many things that you read at the
charging documents, people associated with the president, all of those
point to a reasonable inference that – and it`s a painful anguishing thing
to acknowledge that the president of the United States is a clear and
present danger to the national security of the United States.
And that is why in my own small way, and I`m just one voice among many, I
felt the need to issue a kind of small cry or call to action in the tweet
that I issued last night, hoping that it will impel members of Congress on
both sides of the aisle, members of this administration, and American
citizens in their own communities who can mobilize and express their views
to bring about additional accountability for this administration in matters
that are detrimental to our country`s interests, and it`s not just in the
typical classic national security field. It`s not just about our ability
to project military strength abroad or promote relations with our allies or
adversaries. National security begins at home and the position this
administration has taken on domestic public policy issues, the divisiveness
it has struck with respect to dividing us as a people, undermining the
cohesiveness as a people, that weakens us as a nation and that makes us
more vulnerable to our enemies.
MADDOW: What is the kind of thing that you`re calling on regular Americans
to do? Obviously, members of Congress have special responsibilities in a
case like this, the Constitution gives them those responsibilities, but
regular citizens, how are you asking people to step up?
LAUFMAN: I think regular citizens can operate within the contours of their
civic associations, homeowners associations, civic associations, nonprofit
organizations, to mobilize and communicate with members of Congress, social
media, they have unbelievable platforms now for expressing themselves,
polling data makes a difference. It is truly a call to arms in a nonlethal
violent sense to express as a people what we think about what is going on
at the highest levels of government, and now is the time to do that.
MADDOW: David Laufman is the former chief of the Justice Department`s
Counterintelligence and Expert Control Session – I have a couple of other
matters I would like to ask you about. Can you stay with us?
LAUFMAN: You bet.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back with David Laufman. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is David Laufman, former senior official in
the National Security Division at the Justice Department. He ran the
counterintelligence section of the Justice Department until February of
last year. Mr. Laufman, thank you again.
So, “The New York Times” reported on Friday night that a
counterintelligence investigation was opened into the president, basically
the question of whether he as president was acting on behalf of a foreign
power, acting on behalf of the Russian government. Can – as the person
who was head of counter intelligence of the Justice Department at the time,
can you confirm whether that is true?
LAUFMAN: I`m not going to confirm or deny whether the investigation was
undertaken predicate on the president.
MADDOW: OK. If such an investigation hypothetically were true, is that
something that is being blown out of proportion. It is been shorthanded by
people like me and all over the country who read that “New York Times”
headline as the president being under investigation as to whether or not he
was an agent of a foreign power, agent of a foreign government, which is
unbelievably serious. Is this something that is a more mundane or smaller
potatoes sort of prospect than we are short-handing it as?
LAUFMAN: There`s nothing mundane about the notion that the FBI initiated a
counterintelligence investigation focused on president of the United States
and whether the president of the United States was a threat to U.S.
national security. That would be certainly without any historical
precedent in one of the most sensitive investigations in the history of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
MADDOW: When counter intelligence investigations are opened and again
there may be no precedent for it ever happening at this high level in terms
of the subject of the investigation, do they always end in a way that is
definable, they always have – within the Justice Department, do you always
know how these things come to a conclusion? Do counterintelligence
investigations have to end with either arrests, because they`re turning to
criminal investigations or with the neutralization of a national security
threat? How do they proceed?
LAUFMAN: It follows all different kind of paths. Sometimes, these
counterintelligence investigations go on for months or years without ever
migrating into a criminal investigation and the FBI is, you know,
surveilling foreign intelligence officers to learn more about what they`re
doing in the United States and gathering intelligence. That in and of
itself has significant value.
When an opportunity arises however to morph into counterintelligence
investigation into a criminal investigation, then prosecutors work closely
with FBI counterintelligence, with agents, expertise is brought to bear to
gather evidence that is going to be admissible in a court in the event of a
criminal proceeding. Thought is given how to protect sensitive
intelligence sources and methods, in the event of criminal litigation, and
so, a partnership develops between prosecutors and agents to help propel
that investigation forward toward the prospect of charging defendants.
MADDOW: When a counterintelligence investigation wraps, presumably there
is an intelligence product that is the result, if it`s about a national
security threat, if this is not necessarily going to result in criminal
charges but this is something that has consequences for American national
security, the ultimate consumer of American intelligence is the president
himself. If there were consequences or if there were things that became
evident through the investigation and it had national security
consequences, who do you brief on that if the president is the problem?
LAUFMAN: Well, that`s a question we have never confronted probably in the
history of our country, so it presents a lot of complexity and awkwardness
to say the least, with respect to who is privy to information.
LAUFMAN: Regarding the very existence of that investigation, information
gathered during the course of that investigation, you know, assuming these
reports are true, it`s like walking on a million egg shells to propel that
thing forward and make sure that other responsible decision makers are able
to guide that investigation forward and bring it to a conclusion.
MADDOW: And to be confirming a new attorney general nominee in the midst
of this is a remarkable moment in itself.
David Laufman former chief of the Justice Department`s Counterintelligence
and Expert Control Section, thank you, sir.
LAUFMAN: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Because Republicans control the U.S. Senate, Democrats do not get
to decide what does and doesn`t get voted on in the Senate, usually. But
tomorrow, they do. Tomorrow, Democrats in the Senate will have a rare
chance to force a vote.
Specifically, tomorrow, Democrats in the Senate will mount an effort to
block the Trump administration from dropping sanctions on companies
associated with this guy, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin and
the Kremlin whose name is Oleg Deripaska. Late last month, the Trump
administration announced that they would lift sanctions that were
previously imposed on Deripaska`s companies. They were imposed in the
first place because of Russian interference in our election. But then,
right before Christmas, when they thought nobody was paying attention, they
decided that Deripaska`s companies would be let off the hook.
Now, Congress technically has the power to stop the administration from
doing this with a simple majority in both the House and the Senate. And I
know what you`re thinking, Senate Republicans always do whatever Trump
wants, but Russian sanctions as an issue have been sort of, they`ve had a
little partisan heterogeneity.
In 2017, under Republican control and over objections from the Trump White
House, Congress overwhelmingly passed a Russian sanctions bill, for
interfering in our 2016 election, overwhelmingly, 98-2 in the Senate, 419-3
in the House. In that law, Congress gave themselves 30 days to weigh in on
any Russia sanctions decisions that the Trump administration makes. That
law also included this tiny provision which said explicitly that either the
majority or the minority, the Democrats can call up a vote, disapproving of
any sanctions decision by the administration. So, basically, Congress does
get a veto and the Democrats have a power to get them to use the veto.
And this is setting up what may be a high stakes vote. We will have more
on that coming up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Just days ago, it was
revealed that former campaign chairman Paul Manafort provided Trump
campaign polling data to a close associate of Mr. Deripaska. The timing at
the time when these things are coming forward, to undo the sanctions on
Rusal, very suspect. Very suspect. There should not be sanctions relief
for President Putin`s trusted agent before the conclusion of special
counsel Mueller`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, today urging all
senators to join him in opposing the administration`s plan to lift
sanctions on the Russian oligarch who is right at the beating heart of
Robert Mueller`s investigation. That vote it looks like will be tomorrow.
Joining us is Ken Vogel from “The New York Times.”
Mr. Vogel, I know you have been covering this very, very closely. Thanks
for being with us.
KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Pleasure.
MADDOW: So, when we last left the story, the treasury secretary, Steven
Mnuchin, was in the House, briefing members of the house about the
administration`s justification for lifting these sanctions on these
companies associated with Deripaska. We heard from a lot of Democrats
after, including Nancy Pelosi saying it was a terrible briefing and he
wasn`t persuasive at all.
Are the same dynamics at work in the Senate?
VOGEL: I think so. Certainly, there`s a potential for that. And my
sources tell me that Mnuchin is headed to the Hill tomorrow, to brief
senators, Republican senators ahead of this potential vote tomorrow
afternoon. And if you just look at Republican orthodoxy on Russia and on
foreign policy towards the region, you have seen over the years that there
have been, there has been a lot of support for Russian sanctions.
So, here you have senators, Republican senators, essentially being asked to
choose between their traditional position, being tough on Russia, and
embarrassing the administration, because that`s what this would be if the
Senate ends up blocking the move to lift sanctions here. That would be an
embarrassment for the Trump administration and for the president himself.
MADDOW: I was interested in the turn in the Democrats` argument,
especially from Senator Schumer today, saying, listen, this isn`t the time,
like if you want to talk about Deripaska, we can talk about Deripaska, but
why would we lift sanctions on him in the middle of the Mueller
investigation? Let`s wait until we have clarity on him.
Given that sort of – I guess humility of that argument, I`m wondering if
some Republicans might feel actually comfortable crossing over on this. Do
you have any sense on what`s going to happen with the vote?
VOGEL: I mean, certainly, Republicans have been asked about this rank and
file Republicans in the Senate. We haven`t gotten a lot of visibility into
how they`ll come down on this. The majority Leader Mitch McConnell has
been mostly silent on this.
But as you pointed out in your setup there, this was something – this bill
that set up this vote, it was a Russia sanctions specific bill, or dealt
with Russia sanctions in particular, but also other sanctions against sort
of maligned actors, set up the potential for the minority in the Senate to
bring this up, and that bill had overwhelming support from Republicans.
So, it`s tough to see how they wouldn`t have to do some real significant
intellectual gymnastics to get to the place they feel comfortable allowing
the sanctions to be lifted. Certainly, that`s the argument that Democrats
are making. They`re saying if you vote against a move to block the
sanctions, you`re essentially voting for Vladimir Putin.
MADDOW: Ken Vogel, a reporter for “The New York Times,” I honestly have no
idea how that vote is going to go tomorrow. I was surprised to read the
fine print and realized Democrats could force it. But that`s going to be
fascinating to see.
Thanks for your time tonight, Ken. Much appreciated.
VOGEL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa wondered
aloud to “The New York Times”, what`s so wrong with words white nationalist
and white supremacist? Why did those become such a bad thing?
That`s where thing is kind of a par for the course for Steve King. He has
been saying stuff like this forever. What`s new here in our time is that
Steve King may actually face some consequences for this latest iteration of
his long time publicly held philosophy.
The Democratic-controlled House tomorrow is expected to vote in a
resolution that`s been put forward by Majority Whip James Clyburn. It`s a
resolution expressing disapproval of Steve King for these remarks. It`s
not the same thing as him being formally censured, but it is a resolution
expressing disapproval in him.
The amazing thing is that it`s not just Democrats. House Republican
leaders have announced tonight that Steve King has been kicked off of all
the committees he sat on or might have expected to sit on in this Congress.
They are doing committee assignments now. The committees are not totally
flesh out in the House but Steve King will get zero committee assignments.
Congressman King called that move by his own party, quote, a political
decision that ignores the truth. Whether or not it is a political
decision, it is the kind of political decision they were never willing to
engage in before all of the other times he said stuff like this, but seems
like something has changed.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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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