Michael Cohen delays congressional testimony. TRANSCRIPT: 1/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests:
Kamala Harris
Transcript:

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  I was in the middle of a

reelection campaign, but it was a time when I wanted to get on with my

personal life, and I realized that meant coming out.  And I wound up

getting re-elected with 80 percent of the vote. 

 

So I think it shows that if you give people a chance to evaluate you on

your merits, then people will do right by you.  But I`m not naive either. 

I know that there is a struggle for LGBTQ equality that continues to this

day.  In fact, there are a lot of parts of my home state where you can

still get fired just because of you who are. 

 

HAYES:  Pete Buttigieg, thank you so much for taking some time to join us

tonight. 

 

That is ALL IN for this evening.

 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.

 

Good evening, Rachel. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much

appreciated.

 

HAYES:  You bet.

 

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

 

I am very happy to say that California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris is going

to be my guest this hour right here in studio for the interview.  Senator

Harris announced on Martin Luther King Day this week that she is declaring

herself a candidate for president of the United States.  This will be

Senator Harris` first interview since she made that announcement on “Good

Morning America” on Monday morning, and I am really, really looking forward

to having her here. 

 

It`s been a busy day in the news, though, so there are a few other things

I`m keeping an eye on that I want to get to before we bring Senator Harris

in.  On the day when President Trump had his bizarre and unsettling summit

and joint press appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in

Helsinki this past July, remember that?  Remember the national freak-out

that that occasioned? 

 

The very same day that that summit happened in Helsinki, federal

prosecutors that day unsealed this criminal complaint against a woman named

Maria Butina, who`s a Russian citizen, she was charged with having acted in

this country secretly as an agent of the Russian government.  And one of

the things that was odd, particularly at that moment in time when our

president was behaving so strangely with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, we now

know also that summit included a two-hour meeting in which no other

officials were present, no other U.S. officials were present other than

Trump and Putin, and from which no other U.S. officials have ever even

today been able to get any sort of description of the content of that

conversation between Trump and Putin, right?

 

So it was weird at the time.  The more we`ve learned about it since then,

it`s just gotten weirder and more sinister.  But particularly on that day,

while that, again, unsettling spectacle was unfolding overseas in Finland,

getting those charges unsealed that day about Maria Butina, it was just

surreal, in part it was surreal because of this.  This is a video message

created by John Bolton in which he offers warm greetings and support to

Maria Butina`s gun rights organization. 

 

As you can see in this video, those are not our subtitles there.  Those

Russian subtitles were for the benefit of his audience.  This is a video in

which Bolton spoke English full face straight to camera, and then there

were Russian subtitles to help his Russian audience understand his

greetings and the support that he was offering this Russian organization. 

 

And this is amazing on a whole bunch of different levels.  But you see

Maria Butina there with the red hair on the left?  She is the one that

ultimately gets charged the same day that Trump is in Helsinki with Putin. 

This video was John Bolton addressing her group in Russia via video link. 

 

And it was weird for a million reasons.  I mean, first of all, there aren`t

really gun rights organizations in Russia.  He is giving this fulsome

greeting, these warm regards to Russians who are pursuing the right to bear

arms. 

 

You know what?  There is no right to bear arms in Russia.  Vladimir Putin

does not support the right to bear arms for the general Russian public. 

 

Maria Butina is part of Putin`s political party.  The purpose of her being

allowed to create this sham supposed gun rights organization ended up

spelled out in the criminal complaint that federal prosecutors unsealed

against her the very day that president Trump was standing alongside Putin

in Helsinki nodding at him and smiling and him and agreeing with everything

he said while John Bolton stood on the sidelines of that summit as the

president`s national security adviser. 

 

Butina was charged by federal prosecutors with being an agent of the

Russian government who was not actually pursuing gun rights in Russia,

although she posed as a Russian gun rights activist.  According to the

criminal complaint and the case against her laid out by federal

prosecutors, that whole Russian gun rights thing was a scam.  What she was

really doing was using the U.S. gun rights movement, specifically the

American NRA as a pretext to infiltrate the conservative movement and the

Republican Party in this country on behalf of the government of Russia. 

 

She posed as a Russian gun rights leading light.  There is no such thing as

a Russian gun rights leading light. 

 

But John Bolton addressed her sham gun rights organization as if she really

was that, and as if that organization was a real thing.  And so it was just

kind of amazing.  On the day of those charges, right, I mean that day is

the sitting national security adviser of the United States there in

Helsinki while the president is having his super sketchy terrifying meeting

with the president of Russia, on that same day this alleged agent is being

charged in Washington, D.C. while that meeting is happening. 

 

And you get this collision of these two things, right?  It turns out while

the president is behaving super sketchily towards the president of Russia,

his national security adviser turns out to have been involved in that

alleged Russian agent`s influence operation.  And we know that because

we`ve got him on tape offering warm greetings with Russian subtitles. 

 

I mean, if nothing else, there is a little bit of a red flag there, right? 

Particularly given what happened with Trump`s other national security

adviser and Russia, Mike Flynn, right?  It just always seemed like maybe

that might be something worth following up on.  Perhaps all the more so now

that Maria Butina has actually plead guilty and agreed to become a

cooperating witness with federal prosecutors.  Now, all these many months

down the line, somebody is apparently following up on that John

Bolton/Maria Butina fake Russian gun rights thing. 

 

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland is chairman of the House Oversight

Committee.  Today, he has written to the new White House counsel Pat

Cipollone asking for information on how security clearance and security

clearance applications were handled for a whole bunch of Trump officials

and former Trump administration officials, including the aforementioned

first Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, also, his deputy, K.T.

McFarland, who also reportedly made false statements to the FBI about

contact between the Trump transition and the Russian government.  

 

Elijah Cummings has also asked about Mike Flynn`s son, about former White

House adviser Sebastian Gorka, about current White House senior adviser

Jared Kushner, who reportedly had to update his security clearance

application more than 40 times.  Cummings has also asked about a former

deputy to Mike Flynn, Robin Townley, who while Townley was serving as a

deputy – while Townley was serving as a deputy to Mike Flynn, Townley was

reportedly rejected for a top security clearance. 

 

So, high-ranking job on the National Security Council.  You get rejected

for a security clearance, and then the national security adviser pleads

guilty to a felony and now he is awaiting sentencing?  Yes, maybe somebody

should look into that. 

 

And in addition to all of that, Elijah Cummings is now pushing specifically

on this weird red flag that has been hanging out there for months about the

current national security adviser John Bolton and this first accused now

admitted Russian agent, Maria Butina.  She has now plead guilty, and she is

Cooperating with prosecutors. 

 

Specifically, Congressman Cummings is asking the White House to tell his

committee whether John Bolton disclosed his previous contacts and work with

Maria Butina when he came to work at the White House.  His letter to the

White House today, Cummings describing Butina as a Russian national who has

now plead guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of the Russian

government. 

 

Did John Bolton talk about his work with her when you hired him to be

national security adviser, after your other national security adviser plead

guilty to a felony related to his undisclosed contacts with the Russian

government?  Did you look into that? 

 

Congressman Cummings has also written directly to the NRA, which is

interesting.  It`s funny, when you write to the NRA now, you have to write

to President Oliver North.  Elijah Cummings has now written to the NRA

asking that organization to also produce documents related to Bolton`s

appearance by video at a roundtable sponsored by a Russian gun rights

organization.  Bolton at the time was on the NRA`s subcommittee on

international affairs.  Congressman Cummings is now asking the NRA about

Bolton`s foreign contacts and foreign trips that he may have made in that

context. 

 

I think the idea here is that Cummings is presumably trying to get at any

kind of security clearance problems Bolton might have had, maybe should

have had in getting the national security adviser job, even if he didn`t

disclose these things directly to the White House. 

 

Now, I don`t know if the NRA and president Oliver North will respond to

this request for information.  I don`t know if this will ultimately become

a subpoena and then a fight over a subpoena, but if the White House or the

NRA, if they do hand over information to Congressman Cummings` committee,

it`s – I mean, it`s probably going to be interesting, right?  One of the

other things that Cummings is going to be asking for in addition to all

this stuff about Bolton is, quote, all documents related to direct or

indirect contact between members of the NRA and Maria Butina. 

 

So, if we do get information from the NRA, even from the White House on

this, we may yet learn more about that fascinating case.  Maria Butina`s

case is sort of out of the courtroom for a while now because she has pled

guilty, and she is cooperating in an ongoing way with prosecutors.  That

all happens out of our sight.  We have very little insight now into what`s

going on with that case and how illuminating it might ultimately be to the

overall question of Russian overall involvement in the election of Donald

Trump. 

 

But now that it`s not just Republicans in control of Congress, now in our

new reality, legal cases and court proceedings are not the only way we`re

getting information about the Russian government interference in our

election to elect Donald Trump.  It`s now also these Democratic-led

committees in the House.  So, it is now possible that Congressman Elijah

Cummings and the Oversight Committee will pry some of that information

loose themselves. 

 

Congressman Cummings and Congressman Schiff from the intelligence committee

were also involved today to work out an arrangement for the president`s

long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen to still appear before Congress and

give public testimony, despite what Mr. Cohen now says is a creditable fear

for himself and his family.  He says because of the sort of implicitly

threatening remarks made by the president himself about Cohen`s previously

announced plan to speak with the Oversight Committee on February 7th

because of follow-up comments from the president`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani,

Cohen announced today that he no longer intends to show up to testify on

February 7th, quote, due to ongoing threats against his family from

President Trump and President Trump`s lawyer/spokesman Rudy Giuliani. 

 

Cummings and Schiff – Schiff is also expecting to line up testimony from

Michael Cohen for his Intelligence Committee.  They released a joint

statement in response to this today from Cohen, and I imagine if you work

in the White House counsel`s office, this is the sort of thing that has you

reaching for the Pepto-Bismol. 

 

Quote: We have received Cohen`s notice postponing his voluntary appearance

in an open hearing on the committee on oversight and reform.  We certainly

understand the completely legitimate concerns for the safety and security

of Mr. Cohen and his family in light of the attacks last week by President

Trump and again this weekend by his attorney Rudy Giuliani.  As we stated

previously with our colleague, Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee,

efforts to intimidate witnesses, to scare the family members of those

witnesses or prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress, those are

textbook mob tactics that we condemn in the strongest terms.  Our nation`s

laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate or otherwise pressure a

witness not to provide testimony to Congress. 

 

Quote: We understand that Mr. Cohen`s wife and other family members fear

for their safety after these attacks.  We have repeatedly offered our

assistance to work with law enforcement to enhance security measures for

Cohen and his family. 

 

But then they say this as the sort of culmination of their statement, that

they still expect Cohen to give his testimony.  Quote: We will not let the

president`s tactics prevent Congress from performing our constitutionally

mandated oversight responsibilities.  This will not stop us from getting to

the truth.  We expect Mr. Cohen to appear before both committees, and we

remain engaged with his counsel about his upcoming appearances. 

 

Speaking later in the day with reporters, Congressman Elijah Cummings was

willing to put a fine point on it. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I think

the most disturbing thing about this is that Mr. Cohen feels that he and

his family have been intimidated.  He feels that the president of the

United States of America and his attorney have not only intimidated him,

but intimidated his family.  And this is something that should upset every

single American.  This is the United States of America.  This is not

Russia. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  So, ultimately where this lands sounds like they will subpoena

Michael Cohen if they need to.  I don`t know what kind of arrangements they

may be working out with law enforcement in terms of trying to ensure

Cohen`s safety and his family`s safety. 

 

I also don`t know what plans Congress may have for trying to hold the

president liable for witness tampering, if that is in fact what happened

here with how he publicly challenged Cohen`s planned testimony.  That seems

to be what Congressman Cummings and Congressman Schiff and Congressman

Nadler are getting at when they chastise the White House, after warning

them in the first place, now chastising the White House for the statements

that led to Cohen`s trying to rescind his acceptance of the invitation to

testify today. 

 

So that`s the Michael Cohen situation as of right now.  It is definitely a

watch this space situation.  I imagine that those developments in terms of

when he`s going to testify, where he`s going to testify, under what

circumstances and his safety arrangements, the question of the president

potentially witness tampering here, that is all going to develop quickly

over the course of tonight and the next few days. 

 

And while that Michael Cohen story developed today, we also had a couple of

new developments in the criminal case involving the president`s campaign

chairman.  There is going to be a hearing in Paul Manafort`s case on

Friday.  Manafort`s lawyers made clear to the judge in his case today that

Manafort himself doesn`t personally want to attend that hearing on Friday. 

 

He does not want to go.  He would prefer to stay in jail.  The judge

rejected that request and said no, Manafort has to be there. 

 

Manafort`s lawyers then instantly followed up with a subsequent filing that

said effectively, well, OK, if you`re going to make him go to the hearing

even though he doesn`t want to, can he at least please wear a suit instead

of his prison jumpsuit?  Manafort`s lawyers have asked this judge for that

before with past hearings, and in the past she has said no.  We await that

ruling tonight, though. 

 

I mean, what`s going on in Paul Manafort`s case right now, what this

hearing is going to be about on Friday, well, we got this partially

redacted filing about today in his case.  It`s all about the prosecutor`s

allegations, the special counsel`s allegations that Manafort breached his

plea agreement.  And the reason they are fighting this out to the last

detail is because whether or not he kept to the terms of his plea agreement

or whether he breached the plea agreement by lying to prosecutors, which is

what prosecutors say, that will ultimately have a huge impact on how his

life goes from here on out. 

 

The way the judge ultimately decides this question of whether or not

Manafort lied to prosecutors and breached his plea agreement, that may

ultimately have a determinative affect on how much time, how many years or

decades Manafort is going to spend in prison when this is all done.  And

that same fight also raises interesting questions about how much

information prosecutors have really been able to get out of Manafort since

he plead guilty and started supposedly cooperating. 

 

I mean, that`s important, not just in terms of Manafort`s fate.  That`s in

terms of all of our fate, because of Manafort`s proximity to the real

centerpiece of the Mueller investigation, his proximity into the central

question of Russia`s involvement in electing Trump and the Trump campaign`s

potential complicity in that scheme. 

 

We did a long report the other night about the related fate of this young

woman, who is a model from Belarus.  She says she spent time working as an

escort for this Russian oligarch, who has long had political, business and

financial ties to the president`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort.  This is

the guy to whom Paul Manafort reportedly owed millions of dollars.  This is

the guy to whom Paul Manafort reportedly offered private briefings during

the presidential campaign while Manafort was serving as the campaign

chairman for Trump. 

 

More recently, we learned that the special counsel`s office has alleged

that Manafort supplied internal Trump campaign polling data to a Russian

guy who Manafort worked with who was his intermediary with that oligarch. 

And as far as I know, nobody`s even tried to come up with a benign

explanation thus far as to why anyone in Russia would need access to

internal Trump campaign polling data during the campaign. 

 

Why would they need that?  Why would somebody be marketing that to you? 

Why would somebody even be showing that off to you?  Let alone shipping it

to you?

 

But that same oligarch at the center of all those open questions is the

same guy who the Trump administration just lifted sanctions on right before

Christmas.  The Trump administration bent over backwards to delay and

ultimately lift sanctions on the business empire of this oligarch, Oleg

Deripaska.  It has since been reported that that move is likely to make

Deripaska hundreds of millions of dollars personally.  That`s thanks to

Republicans in the U.S. Senate who wouldn`t join with Democrats to block

that Trump administration move.  They came within two votes, but they

couldn`t get there. 

 

As to whether or not Deripaska`s role in the overall Russia scandal will

ever be fully spelled out, I think a lot of it does have to do with the

ultimate disposition of Paul Manafort and the Manafort criminal case.  That

continues to unfold.  We will get to lay eyes on Manafort in court, no

matter how he is dressed on Friday of this week. 

 

That issue about Deripaska as a sort of dangling thread in this scandal,

though, it may also depend in part on that very young woman from Belarus. 

And we also can sort of lay eyes on her now.  This woman posted video to

Instagram of Oleg Deripaska talking about the United States with the

Russian deputy prime minister on board Deripaska`s very fancy yacht in

august of 2016 during the campaign.  Thereafter she claimed to have further

video, audio, and photographic documentation of Deripaska also discussing

what she says were his plans for the very fancy yacht in august of 2016

during the campaign. 

 

Thereafter she claimed to have further video, audio, and photographic

documentation of Deripaska also discussing what she says were his plans for

the Russian election which three fluent English speakers who she believed

to be Americans.  She said those meetings which she said to have

documentation of happened during the campaign. 

 

We have been covering her case here on the show over the last week because

on Tuesday of last week, she was unexpectedly freed from a prison in

Thailand.  She was then apparently deported against her will to Russia. 

Upon arriving at the Moscow airport, she was prevented from speaking to

multiple journalists who turned up to ask her questions.  She was forcibly

arrested at the airport there, dragged into a wheelchair and taken away. 

 

At a court in Moscow this weekend in a big glassed in box inside the

courtroom, she appeared to be fairly terrified, speaking to reporters at

the courthouse, she apologized over and over and over again to that

oligarch, to Oleg Deripaska, saying she would release no further

recordings.  She would never say his name again.  She did not want him to

be upset with her anymore.  She could not take any more of this. 

 

After that, she was unexpectedly released from custody in Moscow yesterday. 

Is she safe?  What will ultimately be the dispensation of all this evidence

she said she had related to the presidential election and her contact with

Deripaska around the time that we know Deripaska was in contact with

Manafort about the Trump campaign while Manafort was running the Trump

campaign and Russia was interfering in the campaign to help Trump.  I mean,

did she have that evidence?  If she did, what will become of it?  How will

that help us understand some of these very central questions in terms of

the main thesis of the Mueller investigation? 

 

We don`t know.  Today there was a press conference in Moscow called by a

somewhat off center character who says that he is the lawyer for this young

Belarusian woman.  The young woman herself did not show up for that press

conference.  This video then appeared on Instagram showing a very, very

close-up image of her face, her talking.  She`s got a swollen lip, as you

can see.

 

In Russian in this video, she apologizes for not attending this press

conference.  She says she is ill.  She said her face and her head are

swelling up and she doesn`t know why.

 

So choose your own adventure here, in terms of where this all goes.  I

mean, we`ll have that Manafort hearing on Friday.  We do not know if there

will be public testimony from Michael Cohen in Congress before he reports

to prison the first week in March.  We do not know what Congressman Elijah

Cummings and Congressman Adam Schiff will be able to pry from the White

House or even from the freaking NRA from their investigations that are now

racing out of the gate now that those chairman have their memberships in

place and they have subpoena power firmly in hand. 

 

Today is day 33 of the government shutdown.  Today there was lots of sturm

und drang over whether president Trump will get to deliver a traditional

state of the union address to a joint session of congress.  Whether or not

you followed all that back and forth today, the short answer is no, he will

not get to do that, not unless Nancy Pelosi decides to give him that

privilege, and she says she is not going to allow him to do that unless and

until the government has been reopened. 

 

There will be dueling bills in the U.S. Senate tomorrow to try to reopen

the government, but nobody expects them to work.  Meanwhile, IRS agents,

meat inspectors, federal prison guards are all starting to not show up for

work rather than being forced to work without being paid. 

 

Inside the Trump White House, the Office of Budget and Management today

started requesting input on what else within the federal government can

just be fully, just entirely shut off if the government shutdown goes on

not just until next month, February, but also into March. 

 

And these things tie together, right?  I mean, of course, this isn`t our

first shutdown.  It is the only one that`s gone on this long because we`ve

all been through other shutdowns, shorter shutdowns that happened under

more normal circumstances, we know what coverage of these crease crises is

usually like.  It starts from the premise what more or less actors are

decided to harm the U.S. government, to harm the American people to a point

while they try to get the other side to blink, and the whole shutdown

exercise is so they can get something they want out of the other side that

they couldn`t otherwise get through normal means without causing a 4 little

bit of pain. 

 

I mean, normal shutdowns are bad enough, but in this case, the shutdown is

not only longer, it`s also qualitatively different.  If you are sensing

there is no urgency whatsoever on the part of the president to end this

one, you are correct.  There is nothing from the president to suggest at

all that he has any interests in this wrapping up any time soon, or that he

had any real concern at all about the harm that it is causing as it goes

on. 

 

In this case, unlike any other shutdown we have had over any other issue

for any amount of time, in this case, the president seems to have no

interest in ending it, and in this case, the president, who is insisting on

the shutdown, is the same president who is at the center of the most

serious criminal counterintelligence investigations to ever get near a

sitting president.  The FBI, since Donald Trump has been president, they

literally opened a formal investigation to see if they can substantiate the

evidence and behaviors that suggested the president could be acting on

behalf of a foreign government as essentially a foreign government`s agent

here in the United States and inside the U.S. government.  And not just any

foreign power, but a hostile foreign power that wants to do us as much harm

as possible.

 

And none of us know what the ultimate dispensation of that

counterintelligence case concerning the president has been, or what it will

be if it continues under Robert Mueller.  But we`re watching all of these

various threads of it still dangling, right?  Cohen and Manafort and Butina

and Deripaska and all the rest of it. 

 

Suspend your disbelief, though, for just a second.  If that

counterintelligence investigation was true, if Russia did get a U.S.

president to act on their behalf against the United States, if you were

Russia, what else would you want that president to do at this point?  I

mean, what might you conceivably want him to do that he`s not already done

or at least tried? 

 

I mean, how psych ready you for your investment in that guy thus far,

right?  It`s day 33 now.  The government is not just a vehicle that has

sputtered to a halt.  Each passing day pours more sugar into the gas tank,

making it harder and harder for this thing to ever get running again. 

 

Democrats in Congress are gearing up to land their first punches with the

power that they have under Article I of the Constitution.  The courts

continue to spell out their mostly redacted, mostly blacked out partial

accounts of this existential counterintelligence scandal that surrounds

this presidency. 

 

But there is that other branch of government.  There is the executive.  And

now with each passing day, more and more high profile Democrats are

announcing their status as contenders to replace this president in our

elections next year. 

 

And one of the highest profile of all of them has just announced her

campaign.  She is Kamala Harris.  She is the former attorney general of the

state of California.  She is a current senator from the state of

California.  She is on the Judiciary and Homeland Security and Intelligence

Committees. 

 

And she joins us here live, next.  

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris is the former district attorney for the

great city of San Francisco.  She is the former attorney general for the

great state of California.  In 2016, she was elected to the U.S. Senate for

the first time. 

 

You want to have a weird night?  On the same night, you get elected to the

U.S. Senate at the same time that Donald Trump gets elected president of

the United States. 

 

Senator Harris was also the author of a new book, which is called “The

Truths We Hold.”  It`s about her life before and during her time in

politics, and it`s about her aspirations for the country more broadly. 

 

Senator Harris has announced this week that she is running for president of

the United States, and she joins us now here in studio for the interview. 

 

Senator, thank you so much for making it here. 

 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s great to be with

you.  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  I know you have a million chances to be doing this interview, so

thanks. 

 

HARRIS:  Well, I`m honored to be here, so thank you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  I do have to ask you in the middle of this shutdown, I imagine

you`ll be heading back to Washington tomorrow to take votes on those bills. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

 

MADDOW:  Do you expect that we will be seeing any movement towards

reopening the government any time soon? 

 

HARRIS:  I hope so. 

 

Listen, this Friday will be the second time this that`s federal workers are

not receiving a paycheck, and I have personally heard the stories, we all

have, of folks who are standing in food lines, people who are being

threatened with eviction, people who are working around the clock without

being paid – and those folks, they don`t want a wall.  They want a

paycheck.  And I think it is absolutely the height of irresponsibility that

this administration is holding them and the American public hostage over

the president`s vanity project. 

 

We have to keep the government running, and we have to open the government

back up.  And there should not be any conditions on that.  Remember, right

before Christmas, the United States Senate unanimously, which means in a

bipartisan way, passed a spending bill.  Rachel, we were singing Christmas

carols on the floor of the United States Senate.  I mean, it was such an

aberration that some were concerned, you know, this is actually against

Senate rules to sing on the floor. 

 

MADDOW:  Really, literally there was singing? 

 

HARRIS:  Literally, I was also singing. 

 

MADDOW:  Wow.

 

HARRIS:  I love Christmas carols, but that`s another point all together. 

 

The point being that that was the mood.  That was the mood. 

 

And I have to believe – you know, Mitch McConnell, people may say many

things about Mitch McConnell.  He – when he takes the first step, it`s

because he knows the tenth step.  So, we have that vote on the floor.  I am

sure with everyone believing that it was a deal that would be done and the

government would keep running. 

 

And then what happened?  Well, there have been a lot of talk about what the

pressures were placed on the president in terms of changing his mind,

because I think it`s fair to believe he changed his mind.  

 

And so, as a result, we now have central government agencies that are not

functioning at their capacity.  If you want to talk about this vanity

project, this wall being about national security, well, there are FBI

employees who have been furloughed.  There are people who work for the

Department of Homeland Security who are not being paid and stretching their

hours, some of whom are calling in sick because they`ve got to figure out

other ways of feeding their family. 

 

So, there is also something that is about a hypocritical suggestion – it`s

an approach, it`s hypocrisy to say that this wall is about securing the

American homeland and securing the nation.  If you really want to secure

the nation, pay those people to do the job that they take and took an oath

to do every day. 

 

MADDOW:  There was – on the point you were just making there about

homeland security, tonight, there has just been a letter sent to the

president from the five former secretaries of Homeland Security, including

General John Kelly, who until quite recently was chief of staff to

President Trump.  They`re calling – saying: Homeland security is national

security, and they`re calling on the president to at least fund that

department. 

 

Obviously, it is striking to see John Kelly`s signature on that letter as

well. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes.  Good for him, because, listen, these people cannot be

expected to work without pay.  And they do a job that requires and we as

the American public would hope that they are able to put full concentration

in the job that they have concerning themselves about our security, and

we`re not paying them.  People are worried about eviction. 

 

You know what?  Listen, you know what I think should happen?  If the

president feels this strongly about it, then open up the Trump Tower and

let everybody live in there rent-free, and then maybe we can start having a

discussion. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MADDOW:  I mean, February – 

 

HARRIS:  I bet he`s got some rooms. 

 

MADDOW:  February 1st is going to be rent day for a lot of people –

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  – who rely on checks on what`s supposed to be a good job. 

 

HARRIS:  It`s no joking matter. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

HARRIS:  It`s not – this is one of the biggest challenges facing our

country.  And actually, this is symbolic of a bigger point, which is the

failure of this administration to pay attention to the fact that we have so

many American families who are living paycheck to paycheck, and for whom

this economy is not working. 

 

This economy is not working for working people.  And this is another

example of this administration`s inability to see and understand and, in

fact, have any curiosity about how people are getting by day to day.  This

is a serious matter, and it`s reflective of a much bigger point, which is

an inability to understand priorities for individuals, for families, for

neighborhoods, much less for the country. 

 

It is not and should not be about yourself and your ego.  It should be

about what should be the priorities for the American people.  The position

the administration is taking right now is not reflective of Americans`

priorities. 

 

MADDOW:  The Democrats are fully unified on this issue. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  The Republicans, as you say, joined in that unanimous vote in the

Senate before Christmas –

 

HARRIS:  Right. 

 

MADDOW:  – in order to open this thing up.

 

At this point, though, it feels like the president is not at all troubled

by any of the things you are describing, and he does seem like a different

kind of cat in terms of the types of political influences that matter to

him.  He`s just – he`s just different than other politicians. 

 

Because of that, it feels to me like somebody is going to have to pull a

new kind of rabbit out of a hat, that there is going to have to be some new

element of this debate. 

 

HARRIS:  So let me just say I just got distracted for a moment because you

mentioned the cat. 

 

MADDOW:  And the rabbit and the hat –

 

HARRIS:  And what I was thinking is that dog don`t hunt. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MADDOW:  So we can take a zoological path. 

 

HARRIS:  There are all kinds of metaphors, but yes.  There has to be a

solution. 

 

MADDOW:  Start an interruption of some kind to this process, because what

you are saying, which is what I`ve heard a lot of other Democrats

articulate about this, I don`t think that`s going to change.  I don`t think

he`s going to get a wall. 

 

But this does have to end because the country isn`t just being hurt in

terms of individual families and employees being hurt.  The country is

being hurt in terms of our capacity to do the things that the government

does. 

 

HARRIS:  You`re right.  You`re totally right. 

 

MADDOW:  I`m worried that it`s happening in a way that is intentional, that

the government is supposed to be hurt, that law enforcement and national

security is supposed to be hurt, and that this is coming from a very dark

place. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  And so, where does that interruption come from?  Where does that

new dynamic come from? 

 

HARRIS:  Well, a part of it has to come from what the founders of our

country imagined to be the design of our democracy, which is the design

included in anticipation of this kind of moment and that there should be

checks and balances and everybody who is responsible and a supposed leader

in our government should then kick in and do their job around the checks

and balances that should be in place. 

 

And that means Congress needs to act and to say, we will put these bills on

the floor.  Let`s put a clean bill on the floor for a vote in the United

States Senate.  We did it before.  Let`s do it again. 

 

Have the courage.  Have the courage to stand up and say what you know to be

true.  This is wrong, and it is unnecessary. 

 

MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris is our guest.  Stay right with us. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

 

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back with Senator Harris.  She announced this week

that she is running for president.  Lots to talk to her about. 

 

We`ll be right back.

 

HARRIS:  Thank you.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Back with us now for the interview is Democratic Senator Kamala

Harris of California.  She is a newly declared candidate for president in

2020. 

 

You are the third U.S. senator to jump in to the presidential race.  Some

other senators may follow.  Does that make things weird at work? 

 

HARRIS:  You know, I will say that of those who have entered or at least

opened exploratory committees and those who are rumored to enter, we all

have a great deal of respect for each other and have worked together on

many issues and are aligned on many issues.  And, of course, anyone who

wants to should join, and I think it will be a robust and a healthy

conversation, and I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues. 

 

MADDOW:  You have only been in the Senate – 

 

HARRIS:  Truly have a great deal of respect. 

 

MADDOW:  – for two years. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  Why so fast?  Why would you – why are you willing to move on from

this job so fast, you just got there?

 

HARRIS:  November of 2016. 

 

And in terms of my background, I have served in local government.  I have

served in state government, and now in federal government.  I understand

how these systems work, and I understand how it is not working right now

with the current administration, and how it is impacting people at every

level of our society, much less government. 

 

The experience that I`ve had along the years has been the experience of

being – running an office of 5,000 people, being a part of the executive

branch.  I know the power of these offices and I know the harm that they

can wreak when they are run in the way that is currently happening. 

 

I was raised by a mother in particular who taught us that if you see a

problem, you don`t complain about it.  You do something about it.  And when

I look at what is going on in our country and the way that, frankly, there

is an attack on not only the American dream but American values, and I know

that might sound corny, but it`s happening.  We – each of us has to figure

out where we`re going step up and what we`re going to do.  You know, it`s

one thing to complain, but I think this is a moment that should require

everyone to look in the mirror and ask what am I doing right now and what

can I do?

 

Here`s my perspective.  If you want to just take to it a more long-term,

years from now, members of our family, our children, our grandchildren,

they`re going to look at us and they`re going to ask us, where were you at

that inflection moment?  And they`re going to want to hear and I think

we`re going want to say something that is more than just how we felt. 

 

This is a moment that has to be about what is each of us prepared to do. 

And, Rachel, you`ve seen this.  So many people are answering that question

by doing so much.  In the United States Senate, in my two years there, I

have seen thousands of Dreamers traveling from around the country – plane,

train, bus, coming to the United States capitol, probably sleeping ten deep

on someone`s living room floor, and these Dreamers walking the halls of the

United States Congress, believing if they are seen and their stories are

heard, it will matter. 

 

I have seen the same thing with parents, mothers and fathers of children at

various stages of disability.  Families that it requires great effort to

move the child from one room of the house to another, much less travel

across the country, to travel the halls of United States Congress making

sure their stories were heard and their faces were seen.  Same with

survivors of sexual assault after the Kavanaugh hearing and during,

traveling and having the courage to tell a story they`ve never told anyone. 

 

There is an incredible thing happening in our country right now where there

is action and there is a counteraction.  And it is a beautiful thing to

see, which is so many people understanding we can do better.  We deserve

better.  This is not reflective of who we are. 

 

And I will say also that in that fight, it really is an aspirational fight. 

It is a fight for something, not just against something.  It is a fight

fundamentally grounded in what I think most people believe, which is we

believe in the ideals of our country. 

 

You know, this – we are a country that has always been aspirational.  We

have these ideals.  We were founded on these ideals.  Our strength is that

we fight for these ideals and our strength is also that we speak truth and

acknowledged we`ve never quite reached those ideals.  We still have a whole

lot of problems around issues of equality and freedom and fairness, right? 

 

But people are prepared to fight, and I am prepared to join that fight, and

if necessary, and if folks will have me, I am prepared to help lead that

fight. 

 

MADDOW:  You have put your past experience in law enforcement as the

attorney general in California and as a prosecutor, as the D.A. in San

Francisco, the elected D.A.  I remember that election.  I remember being

amazed to see you from come outside, come outside from the two

establishment candidates and beat them both. 

 

HARRIS:  Right. 

 

MADDOW:  And it was a – it was a political marvel to see you win that

race.  I remember watching it from up close.  But I also know that you have

faced – you`ve been buffeted by tough controversies in both of those jobs. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, right. 

 

MADDOW:  When you were the D.A. in San Francisco, there was a lab tech who

was systematically messing with evidence. 

 

HARRIS:  Oh, yes. 

 

MADDOW:  And when – and hundreds of convictions, hundreds of cases were

dismissed because of that. 

 

HARRIS:  That`s right. 

 

MADDOW:  When the judge in that lab tech case ruled on what happened, the

judge said prosecutors, the highest level of the D.A.`s office, your

office, had to know there were serious problems at the crime lab, that that

lab tech was messing with evidence and anything she touched essentially was

screwing up cases. 

 

How did that happen under your leadership without you knowing about it? 

 

HARRIS:  So the crime lab was run by the San Francisco Police Department,

not by my office.  It was run by the police department.  There was a

technician, to your point, who worked in that crime lab, who was basically

sniffing what she should have been measuring. 

 

And it turned out that hundreds of cases she had handled and because of the

– because of her misconduct, I was going to say (INAUDIBLE), but because

of what we knew she did, which was manipulate evidence, you`re right.  We

dismissed those cases. 

 

MADDOW:  Hundreds of them. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, hundreds of them, because it was the right thing to do.  When

somebody abuses their power, especially in law enforcement, there is going

to have to be a consequence. 

 

MADDOW:  But did prosecutors working under you know about the concerns

about that lab – 

 

HARRIS:  The prosecutors in my office – 

 

MADDOW:  – which is what the judge alleged? 

 

HARRIS:  – did not know about it, at least said they did not know about

it.  But the result and the consequence is that cases that prosecutors had

worked on were dismissed rightly, and it was my responsibility to say those

cases will be dismissed because there has been an abuse in the system. 

 

And that gets to a wider point – where we see abuses in the criminal

justice system and particular by law enforcement, we`ve got make sure there

is a system in place in this country for consequence and accountability. 

And at the very least, it`s going to have to be about getting rid of those

cases, but also reforming the system.  And that`s what we did after that in

terms of making sure there were steps in place at least as the cases came

into the D.A.`s office that we would make sure there was no taint or no

manipulation before it came in. 

 

MADDOW:  From another direction, another controversy from when you were

D.A. was in 2004.  Police Officer Isaac Espinoza was killed. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

 

MADDOW:  And I know that you at the time were personally opposed to the

death penalty.  Are you still?

 

HARRIS:  I`ve been my entire life and still am, for very good reasons that

I can expand upon. 

 

MADDOW:  For full disclosure in asking you the question, I am inclined the

same way myself.  But as D.A. – 

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  – you elected to not seek the death penalty for the person who

killed Officer Espinoza. 

 

HARRIS:  Right. 

 

MADDOW:  And the person who killed the – killed the officer, and I don`t -

- we don`t need to publicize that person because the officer should be

remembered and not him.

 

HARRIS:  That`s exactly right.

 

MADDOW:  Did get a life sentence. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  Was convicted. 

 

HARRIS:  That`s right. 

 

MADDOW:  But when you`re running for president now, obviously, you know

you`ve faced questions about that every time you`ve run for office. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, I have. 

 

MADDOW:  That will put the death penalty on the table as an issue of

national debate.  The president is an enthusiastic proponent of the death

penalty, with no qualms whatsoever.  You versus Donald Trump on the death

penalty would make that a central debate for the country.  Would that be

constructive or not? 

 

HARRIS:  I think it is a debate that we should have.  I believe that the

death penalty is extremely flawed as a system.  I have always been opposed

to the death penalty. 

 

Back to the point of that case, I`m going to tell you that there were

Democrats that said the case should be taken away from me, high-level

elected Democrats who said the case should be taken away from me because I

would not seek the death penalty.  But I did what I believed was the right

thing to do, and the killer of that officer will be in jail for the –

prison for the rest of his life. 

 

On the issue of a national debate – absolutely.  Listen, we are talking

about a system that creates a final punishment without any requirement that

there be DNA to prove it.  If there is DNA, it may prove it but you don`t

need DNA. 

 

It is a system where it has been fundamentally proven to be applied to

African-American and Latino men and poor men disproportionately for the

same kind of crime.  It is a process where if you want to talk about

deterrence – listen, I have personally prosecuted homicide cases.  I

specialized for a long time in child sexual assault cases.  I have dealt

with all kinds of cases that, you know, are not for a PG show – I don`t

know if your show is PG, by the way. 

 

But let me say this, nobody ever stood there and was about to pull the

trigger and then decided, hmm, is this going to be life without possibility

of parole or the death penalty before they decide to pull the trigger?  So,

the idea that it is a deterrent is also not a strong argument for having in

place a system that is fundamentally flawed. 

 

So, yes, I am personally opposed to the death penalty.  I absolutely

believe there should be severe and serious consequence for violent crime,

which is why I`ve prosecuted those cases and will always seek the highest

sentence, consistent with the facts of the case, but the death penalty is

flawed and I welcome that debate if it`s necessary. 

 

MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris of California is our guest.  She is running

for president.  We`ll be right back with the senator just after this. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Kamala Harris is a senator from California.  She is now a

Democratic presidential contender. 

 

Senator Harris, thanks again. 

 

HARRIS:  Thanks (ph).

 

MADDOW:  You write in your new book about Attorney General Eric Holder

placing a sort of intimidating phone call to you in 2014.  You were

attorney general of the state of California and he asked you essentially if

you would like to be attorney general of the United States, since he

thought that his time in the office should be coming to an end.  I can`t

imagine as a state attorney general or as any level of lawyer saying no,

but you said no. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes, it was a very difficult decision.  And something I thought

about a lot and talked about, but essentially I was in the – I was at a

point in my career as attorney general where I had embarked on creating a

statewide initiative around re-entry of former offenders and it was

becoming a model.  I had started an open data initiative called open

justice where I was for the first time of any Department of Justice

publicly sharing arrest data, deaths in custody.  We were in the middle of

– I created a bureau called the Bureau of Children`s Justice because there

was no state agency focused on needs of children and their rights. 

 

And I wanted to see that through, and, frankly, at the point at which the -

- General Holder approached me, I was concerned that given the state of

what was happening in D.C. that I wouldn`t be able to have as much of an

impact, frankly, and I wanted to see my job through.  It was a difficult

decision. 

 

I mean, look, my mother, who is, you know, now in heaven, who gave birth to

her daughter at Kaiser Hospital, Oakland, California, when she was 25. 

 

MADDOW:  I was born at Kaiser in Hayward. 

 

HARRIS:  You are – yes, right?

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

HARRIS:  Kaiser babies. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

HARRIS:  And, you know, I mean, this is – this is big stuff.  I`m sitting

on your show talking about the fact I`m running for president of the United

States.  This is some serious business.  But – and so, I took it very

seriously but I ultimately decided not to do it. 

 

MADDOW:  You visited Afghanistan in 2017, I believe – Iraq in 2017. 

 

HARRIS:  Last year, and – yes, and Iraq in 2017. 

 

MADDOW:  Iraq in 2017.  Afghanistan last year. 

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  If you were elected president, you would, of course, be commander

in chief.  The president has had an unusual record around the wars and

around national security and troops abroad in that he has sometimes seemed

to order things to happen that don`t necessarily happen and then he is –

 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  – later explained those away as if those were orders. 

 

Do you think that we should keep troops in Afghanistan?  The president

seems to want to withdraw a large number of them but it`s not clear that`s

going to happen. 

 

HARRIS:  So I do not.  I believe that we need to do it, though, in a

responsible way and that is not what the president has done.  He has been

conducting foreign policy through tweets, instead of what a commander in

chief should do, which is understand the seriousness and the severity of

one`s decisions and then put the time and the effort into studying an

issue, consulting with their experts, be it generals, be it foreign policy

experts, be it ambassadors and members of the State Department and our

allies to make a decision. 

 

Instead of this approach that assumes that we`re the only one in the room

or that he`s the only one in the room. 

 

I was in Afghanistan days before he made that decision, and, Rachel, when I

was there, I spoke with generals and I spoke with troops.  There was an

active conversation happening around negotiating what should be the future

of Afghanistan.  And then out of nowhere, the president makes his decision. 

It was irresponsible. 

 

MADDOW:  Senator Harris, I am excited to see the effect that you have on

the primary process.  I think that you are going to be a formidable

contender.  I will just say honestly, I think there is a good chance that

you are going to win the nomination.  You in a general election fight

against Donald Trump would be the funniest thing in the world to cover. 

 

But as you start this process, I hope you will keep us apprised and I hope

you`ll come back. 

 

HARRIS:  I will.  I appreciate that. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Senator. 

 

HARRIS:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

HARRIS:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow. 

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”. 

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                               

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

END   

 

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

content.>