Michael Cohen delays congressional testimony. TRANSCRIPT: 1/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
And she joins us here live, next.
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
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.
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
Obviously, it is striking to see John Kelly`s signature on that letter as
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
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 –
MADDOW: – who rely on checks on what`s supposed to be a good job.
HARRIS: It`s no joking matter.
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`
MADDOW: The Democrats are fully unified on this issue.
MADDOW: The Republicans, as you say, joined in that unanimous vote in the
Senate before Christmas –
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.
MADDOW: So we can take a zoological path.
HARRIS: There are all kinds of metaphors, but yes. There has to be a
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
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
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.
MADDOW: Back with us now for the interview is Democratic Senator Kamala
Harris of California. She is a newly declared candidate for president in
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.
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
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.
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. –
MADDOW: – you elected to not seek the death penalty for the person who
killed Officer Espinoza.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
HARRIS: Kaiser babies.
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.
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 –
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.
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the