Fmr. Rep. John Dingell dies at 92. TRANSCRIPT: 2/7/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And we`re ready to have a political
showdown on climate change.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: All right. Well, we shall see. We`ll be watching
Senator Ed Markey, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.
And that is ALL IN this evening.
Marathon show to Rachel Maddow starts now.
Good evening, Rachel. I need a nap.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Joy, this is one of those days. It`s like one
of those what we train for kind of days. You know what I`m saying?
REID: Why you watch.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
You know, Joy is right. This is one of those days. Sometimes, some
nights, everything just happens all at once and when that happens, it`s
easy to get overwhelmed. It`s impossible to absorb everything all at once,
and in circumstances like these, the only way to understand the importance
of what has just happened in today`s news is not get overwhelmed by it, to
try not to get it all at once. Instead, you just do it piece by piece.
You do it one step at a time.
So that`s what we`re going to do tonight because a whole bunch of
interrelated stories have just had really important developments this
afternoon and tonight. We`re going to go through it piece by piece.
We`re going to start in federal court in the Southern District of New York
right before Christmas, in mid December, this past December. That`s the
day that the president`s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen was
sentenced to three years in federal prison. It was a dramatic day. He
wept in court. His family wept.
Cohen and his defense team and his family all clearly thought he was going
to get a much lighter sentence in recognition of his cooperation with
prosecutors from the special counsel`s office and for their part, Robert
Mueller, the special counsel and the prosecutors in his office, they did
recommend to the judge sentencing Michael Cohen that Cohen should be
treated leniently because he had been so helpful to him in his – in the
special counsel investigation, in Cohen`s cooperation with them.
But the prosecutors from the special counsel`s office were not the only
prosecutors involved in the Cohen case and they were not the only
prosecutors making their case to the judge that day. There were also
prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. Those were the
prosecutors who obtained guilty pleadings from Michael Cohen on a whole
bunch of felonies and those prosecutors from the Southern District of New
York told the judge sentencing Michael Cohen that Cohen really should do
And so, he`s going to do three years. He`s about to start the three-year
prison sentence a month from today. But on the day he was sentenced back
in mid December, that exact same day within about an hour or so of when we
learned that Michael Cohen was going to do that serious time, that same
day, we also got, surprise, a whole new thing that we weren`t expecting
from those prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
That day that Michael Cohen got sentenced, we also got this from the
federal prosecutors` office in the Southern District of New York. It`s a
non-prosecution agreement that those prosecutors entered into with an
entity called AMI, American Media Incorporated. They`re publishers of the
supermarket tabloid “National Enquirer”.
And that non-prosecution agreement with AMI, it was unsealed. It was made
available to the public, basically upon Michael Cohen being sentenced for
his crimes. It`s interesting. You can see from the date on it that it had
actually been entered into several months before. We learned about it that
day in mid December when Cohen was going to be sentenced by the date is
September 20th. It was in force since the fall, since September.
And you remember, of course, what Michael Cohen pled guilty to and
sentenced to prison for, right? This whole big long list of felonies, tax
evasion, bank fraud, all these things related to his personal business
interests, his own real estate transactions, something weird about him
selling an expensive purse, which I never totally understood. His business
work on the sort of shady side of the taxi medallion industry.
Most of the felonies, numerically, pertain to all that kind of stuff.
Michael Cohen`s business life. But then there were those two felonies that
Michael Cohen pled to that were really the real headline, right, that had
huge political resonance ever since. The two campaign finance felonies
that he pled to and those felony campaign finance charges were the ones
that derived not from his personal business life, they derived from paying
about a quarter million in hush money to these two women who are otherwise
going to go public ahead of the presidential election in 2016 with their
allegations that they had had extramarital affairs with then-candidate
Prosecutor`s descriptions of those crimes and Cohen`s own allocution in
court about those crimes made clear that he wasn`t the only one involved in
the commission of those crimes. Prosecutors and Cohen himself made clear
that the president himself was implicated in those felonies. Cohen himself
said Trump directed him to commit the felonies and the president was
described as Individual 1 in the charging documents, spelling out the
commission of the crimes.
What was also clear in those charging documents about the felonies is that
there was yet another party to the campaign finance felonies besides Cohen
and President Trump, another party that played a knowing role in that
transaction. But like individual one, like the president, that entity was
also not prosecuted, right? So in the description of that crime, we get
the description of a number of people involved in the felony. Cohen gets
prosecuted. He`s going to prison for it in a month.
Individual one, the president, does not get prosecuted for that felony
despite his alleged role in it and that may be in part because he`s the
president and there is legal ambiguity as to whether or not the president
can be indicted for anything while he is still serving as president.
But the other party that did not get prosecuted for his role in that felony
transaction was AMI, the publisher of “The National Enquirer”. And learned
that day in December, the day that Cohen got sentenced, we learned that AMI
wasn`t prosecuted for their role in the crime because they entered into an
overt, non-prosecution agreement with the federal prosecutors in New York,
who nailed Cohen for that crime and who designated the president as
In that non-prosecution agreement, prosecutors committed that they wouldn`t
prosecute AMI for its roles in those crimes and for crimes related to those
felonies and they would agree not to prosecute AMI, essentially as a reward
for AMI cooperating, for AMI helping prosecutors in their inquiries into
Now, that surprise revelation about that non-prosecution agreement that
prosecutors entered into with AMI, it also bolstered some reporting we have
got last summer from “The New York Times.” Last summer, “The New York
Times” have reported that the CEO of America Media, the president`s long-
time friend David Pecker, had himself personally done some sort of immunity
deal with prosecutors in exchange for his own cooperation in their
investigations. That seemed to be borne out when we got to see the non-
prosecution agreement unveiled by the court in December.
Now, as I said, sometimes, like nights like this, sometimes everything
happens all at once. So, we got that background, right? We know about –
we`ve all absorbed all that stuff about Cohen, that crime, the implication
the president was involved in it, the implication that AMI was involved,
the fact that AMI had a deal so they wouldn`t get prosecuted for it. That
all happened before tonight.
But tonight, a lot of the things initially raised by that set of
circumstances now seem to be coming to a head. First of all, there is the
question of the ultimate dispensation of Michael Cohen. He is going to
prison in a month. There is ongoing wrangling over whether over the course
of the next month, before he goes to prison, he will testify to Congress.
We can surmise that there is something important going on with his case and
his role in the larger Russia investigation because of that wrangling,
because the House Intelligence Committee announce yesterday that Michael
Cohen`s planned testimony tomorrow is being delayed, quote, in the
interests of the investigation, and they won`t say what exactly they mean,
but they did go ahead and rescheduled him to testify February 28th.
By deduction, we can tell that means they think something is going to
happen between now and February 28th, something that needs to be done and
out of the way before they take Michael Cohen`s testimony at the
Intelligence Committee. We don`t know what that thing is, what`s going to
happen between now and February 28th that will make it possible for him to
testify but presumably, we just have to wait and see, tick tock.
There is also further evidence today that something else is going on with
Michael Cohen and his case and his case`s connection to the larger Russia
investigation because today, we got this court ruling from a federal judge
in New York. This is a judge who is considering legal action by a bunch of
media outlets who have been trying to make public a whole bunch of material
related to the Cohen case. These media organizations want search warrants
and law enforcement affidavits and other materials related to the Michael
Cohen case, they want that unsealed and made available to the public just
in the public interest.
So this judge today was considering that request from media organizations,
and the judge ruled that in fact, some of the material that has previously
been sealed in Cohen`s case, it can be unsealed. It will be unsealed. It
will be released to the public and shortly.
Namely, what we should expect to be unsealed is the stuff about Cohen`s tax
fraud and bank fraud and the taxi medallion business stuff and other stuff
that didn`t get the lion`s share of attention when Michael Cohen first pled
guilty. But what it comes to the really high profile stuff he pled to,
when it comes to those felonies that Cohen pled to that purportedly
involved the president, that purportedly involved AMI, those hush money
payments to benefit the president`s campaign, those campaign finance
felonies, the judge today said actually those materials can`t be unredacted
and can`t be shown to the public any time soon because those are still live
legal issues that pertain to ongoing investigations.
So, here is a little bit from the judge`s ruling where he just lays it out
bluntly. Quote: This court concludes that disclosure of materials with
redactions strikes an apro – excuse me, this court concludes that
disclosure of materials with redactions strikes an appropriate balance
between the strong presumption of public access to search warrant materials
and to the countervailing interest identified by the government. In
particular, the government represents aspects of its investigation remain
ongoing, including those pertaining to or arising from Cohen`s campaign
Indeed, the search warrant applications and affidavits catalog an
assortment of uncharged individuals and detail their involvement in
communications and transactions connected to the campaign finance charges
to which Cohen pled guilty. According to the government`s ex-parte
submissions, these individuals include those cooperating with the
government, those who have provided information to the government, and
other subjects of the investigation. At this stage, wholesale disclosure
of the materials would reveal the scope and direction of the government`s
ongoing investigation and would also unveil subjects of the investigation
and the potential conduct under scrutiny.
The disclosure of such information may enable uncharged individuals to
coordinate or tailor their testimony and interactions with the government
and the judge says, if the past is any prologue, unmasking those
cooperating with the government`s investigation or who have provided
information to the government could deter further cooperation with the
investigation by subjecting those individuals to witness tampering,
harassment or retaliation. Accordingly, the judge says the portions of the
materials related to Cohen`s finance crimes shall be redacted.
Ruling today from a federal judge.
So Michael Cohen`s bank fraud, tax fraud, the expensive purse thing, fine.
That can come out and will all come out. But the stuff about the hush
money payments to benefit the president, the stuff that involved the
president`s campaign and the president`s business and AMI, all this stuff,
no, no, no, that stays redacted because that`s a live issue. And there are
witnesses and subjects of the investigation and cooperators that cannot
safely have that stuff disclose in public, at least when it comes to the
safety and integrity of that ongoing investigation, that live legal issue.
So, that stuff won`t be unsealed any time soon.
And remember, that`s the live legal issue. I mean, those are the charges
as described by prosecutors and as described by Michael Cohen in court,
those are the charges that implicate the president directly, as the person
who benefitted from that illegal scheme and who allegedly directed it.
The Trump Organization also appears to be implicated as the entity that
effectively laundered those illegal contributions, and this company AMI is
also implicated as participating in the hush money scheme, right? It`s
their gigantic illegal corporate contribution to the Trump campaign, their
help with this hush money plan. And they skated and they didn`t get in
trouble for it because they entered into a non-prosecution agreement.
I mean, remember, AMI`s involvement here as described by prosecutors is
that they effectively during the campaign entered into a deal with Donald
Trump they could contribute to his campaign as a corporation. They would
help him politically and materially by making adverse stories go away.
They would expend resources as a corporation that would never be declared
as campaign contributions but they would nevertheless be expended in order
to benefit Trump`s campaign and the hopes of his eventual election by
paying off or otherwise disappearing material that might hurt Trump`s
In the non-prosecution agreement that AMI entered into with prosecutors, we
learned AMI is told explicitly by prosecutors in the Southern District of
New York that they won`t be prosecuted for their role in the campaign
finance felony scheme that Cohen is going to prison for. They won`t be
prosecuted for their role in it as long as AMI, quote, truthfully and
completely discloses all information with the respect to its activities and
itself and its officers. Those activities as they pertain to the company
itself, its officers, agents and employees.
AMI pledges to cooperate fully with the Southern District of New York and
any other law enforcement agency designated by that office. AMI agrees to
provide all records. They agree to turn up at all meetings and it`s kind
of a throw away line at the end but AMI also in that agreement commits for
a period of three years to, quote, commit no crimes whatsoever. Oh.
Quote: It is understood that should AMI commit any crimes subsequent to the
date of signing this agreement or should the government determine that AMI
or its representatives have knowingly given false, incomplete or misleading
testimony or information, or should AMI otherwise violate any provision of
this agreement, AMI shall therefore, ahem, be subject to prosecution for
any federal criminal violation of which this office has knowledge. Oh.
The agreement goes on to say that if AMI commits crimes, any crimes after
signing this agreement, any statement made by AMI or by any of its
representatives to prosecutors or any other law enforcement agents or any
grand jury proceedings, any such statement, quote, shall be admissible in
evidence in any criminal proceeding brought against AMI. Think about the
situation that AMI is in right now. They had to come completely clean with
federal prosecutors about their role in those campaign finance felonies
during the 2016 election in order to get this non-prosecution agreement. I
mean, at least one other dude is going to go to serious federal prison time
because of his role in that crime.
Their role in the crime, uh-uh, they are OK because they got this
agreement. They had to come totally clean about their involvement in the
crime to get the agreement. But for a period of three years, if they
violate this agreement by, say, jaywalking or removing the tag from a
mattress, or I don`t know, continuing to engage in a criminal extortion
scheme designed to silence people who might hurt the president politically,
I mean, any crime, any crime at all, then everything AMI and all of its
officers and employees have said is fair game and admissible for their
prosecution on anything, including the crimes they have already fulsomely
And so, now, here we are tonight when everything is coming together, when
everything is happening all at once. This is a man who will recognize.
His name is Jeff Bezos. He is the founder of Amazon. He is one of the
richest men on earth.
Actually, today, we checked. Today, technically, he is the richest man on
the face of the earth. He`s also the owner of one of the greatest
newspapers on the face of the earth, “The Washington Post.”
The president has made no secret of the fact that he does not like “The
Washington Post”, he does not like the way “The Washington Post” and its
reporters cover him and his administration. He also been remarkably
unsubtle in connecting his complaints about the journalism of “The
Washington Post” to Jeff Bezos personally and to his concurrent ownership
role of both “The Washington Post” and Amazon.
In May of last year, for example, you might remember we learned that the
president had personally, personally, individually directed the postmaster
general of the United States that the Post Office should financially stick
it to Amazon, that they should hurt the company and by extension, Jeff
Bezos` personal bottom line by doubling the postal rates that the U.S. Post
Office charges Amazon to ship its packages. The president personally
giving that directive to the postmaster general in order to hurt Amazon, in
order to hurt Jeff Bezos, in order to hurt “The Washington Post.”
I mean, that itself would be the single biggest scandal in most modern
presidencies, right, or any other president. I mean, for this president,
that was like, you know, an average Friday morning, maybe it will make the
front page kind of thing but like honestly. But again, there is no
subtlety about the president`s antipathy for “The Washington Post”. His
personal antipathy for Jeff Bezos. It`s all quite out in the open.
Well, last month, “The National Enquirer”, the flagship publication of AMI,
they published private intimate text messages that were exchanged with Jeff
Bezos and a woman he was romantically involved. Mr. Bezos and his wife of
25 years upon that publication of that story announced the disillusionment
of their marriage, and their impending divorce, and president reacted to
that with glee.
The president said publicly, quote: So sorry to hear the news about Jeff
Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting I understand is far
more accurate than the reporting in his newspaper, the Amazon Washington
Post. Hopefully, the paper will be placed in better and more responsible
So, it`s the president delighting in Mr. Bezos` divorce of 25 years,
delighting in the role of the “National Enquirer” in bringing that about,
saying out loud that he should lose the paper. “The Washington Post”
shouldn`t be in his hands. Look what “The National Enquirer” turned up
Before long, there were signs that perhaps this story existed on more than
one level at once. Report that Bezos himself have launched a private
investigation what was behind this “National Enquirer” story, what was
behind their publication of his private text messages.
Yesterday, “The Washington Post” had this headline, was tabloid expose of
Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job? If it many was a
political hit job, one hot potential implication of that kind would be that
it was perhaps carried out by AMI to help President Trump politically, once
again, by hurting or trying to take out of the equation somebody who Trump
perceives to be doing him political harm.
I will tell you there is also a Saudi Arabia component to this with “The
National Inquirer”, which is a related but separate angle. We`ll get to
that in a different part of tonight`s show.
But now, tonight, this is how this all came together. Mr. Bezos tonight
published this ten-page post online. And it is titled, as you can see, “No
thank you, Mr. Pecker.” Mr. Pecker in this case is not an insult to
somebody, it`s the name of the CEO of American Media, David Pecker, long
time friend of President Trump.
No thank you, Mr. Pecker. In this post tonight, Mr. Bezos push
accomplishes what he says is the full unredacted, recent correspondence
he`s had with the “National Enquirer”, with Pecker`s company, AMI, which he
describes as a, quote, extortion and blackmail effort. Now, we should note
that NBC has not independently verified these emails. We`re going off what
Mr. Bezos has published, but here we go.
Quote: Rather to capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I have decided to
publish exactly what they sent me despite the personal cost and
embarrassment they have threatened. Bezos says, quote: A few weeks ago,
when intimate text messages from me were published in “The National
Enquirer”, I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained,
and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the
“Enquirer”. As it turns out, there are now several independent
investigations looking into this matter.
Quote: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us, meaning him and his
lawyers and this guy who he`s hired to lead an investigation for him,
several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker, David Pecker,
the CEO of America Media, is, quote, apoplectic about our investigation.
Quote: A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker`s apoplexy, we were
approached verbally at first with an offer. They said they had more of my
text messages and photos they would publish if we did not stop our
I guess we, me, my lawyers, the investigator we hired did not react to the
generalized threat with enough fear so then they sent this. And then Bezos
publishes what he says is the full letter that he received this week from
AMI, describing in graphic detail ten different personal and embarrassing
photos that “The Enquirer” has obtained and is threatening to publish in
order to hurt Jeff Bezos.
Quote: With “The Washington Post” poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors
of “The National Enquirer`s” initial report, I wanted to describe to you
the photos obtained during our news gathering.
AMI, according to Bezos, then goes on to demand that Bezos affirmatively
say publicly that he quote has no knowledge or basis for suggesting that
AMI`s coverage was publicly motivated or influenced by political forces.
And unless Bezos says that, they will publish these embarrassing photos of
him that they have obtained.
So, like I said, everything happens at once, right? But the bottom line
here is that Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the face of the earth, the guy
who owns “The Washington Post”, he has just blown this up by publishing
what he says is this extortionate, threatening, blackmailing, panic button
stuff by the “National Enquirer” and AMI. Don`t you say what they are
doing is politically, don`t you say that this has any political intention,
don`t you say that we did this for any reason other than embarrassing you.
Don`t you say that this comes from a political place, or we will drop this
nuclear bomb on you.
Whoa, why? I should tell you AMI declined to comment tonight since Mr.
Bezos has made public what he says is their correspondent. But there`s
questions here, right? Why is AMI freaking out? Why are they going nuclear
against Jeff Bezos now? I`m they`ve already exposed his affair. They`ve
already said his divorce in motion. They`ve already caused him all this
pain and embarrassment. The president has already danced on his divorce,
I mean, specifically, they appear to be quite panicked about him turning up
any evidence and making any credible allegation that they may have acted
once again with political intentions. And we know because we follow the
news that when AMI panics about that, we know they are doing so in the
context of their still active non-prosecution agreement with the Southern
District. It is still enforced.
AMI`s obligations under that continue until a period of three years from
the signing of the agreement which would be the fall of 2021, or the date
on which all prosecution are rising out of the conduct described in the
agreement are finally, whichever is later. So, at least the fall of 2021.
And frankly, when it comes to whether all the prosecutions are final, we
know from a judge ruling on the Michael Cohen case it sounds like the
prosecutions might not be over when it comes to those campaign finance
felonies that AMI is implicated in, that they have fully opened with
prosecutors about already under the protective umbrella of a non-
They are currently benefitting from this non-prosecution agreement as long
as they are still holding to it.
So, the wheels do appear to be coming off here a bit. One of the parties
to the two felonies in which prosecutors may have violated the terms of the
prosecution agreement while the judge today let slip the fact that the
prosecution of those felonies is an ongoing law enforcement matter.
And by the way, the acting attorney general who the president appointed to
oversee the Mueller investigation, who ignored ethics advice that told him
he had to recuse to overseeing that investigation, he`s going to appear in
Congress tomorrow to answer questions in open session. And the Saudi
Arabia part of this blew up, too, and some nights everything happens at
once but you get through it one step at a time.
Stay with us. More to get to.
MADDOW: Tomorrow, the Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is going to
testify in Congress in open session before the Judiciary Committee. This
was not at all certain for the rest of the day today, including a lot of
wrangling over whether Whitaker would be subpoenaed to appear, or whether
he would appear voluntarily.
End of the line, Judiciary Chairman Gerald Nadler now confirms that
Whitaker will be there 9:30 Eastern Time. That explains why your bodega
has already run out of jiffy pop tonight, because this should be fairly
There has been a lot of wrangling over this appearance. There`s reportedly
been a lot of consternation in the Justice Department about how Whitaker
might do in this hearing. Because of this back and forth and the questions
as to whether or not he would be able to appear, and I mean able in a
number of different ways.
Whitaker`s already been advised about a lot of the things he`s going to be
asked about. Questions about the firing of former Attorney General Jeff
Sessions and whether White House officials or the president himself
contacted Whitaker about replacing Sessions. Whether those discussions
included the possibility of whether Whitaker would recuse from overseeing
the Mueller investigation. Questions about whether Whitaker consulted with
the White House on his decision that he wouldn`t recuse despite the fact
that ethics advisers told him he needed to.
Also questions about these advisers who Whitaker consulted who told him it
was OK if he didn`t recuse. Questions about whether Whitaker was briefed
on the Mueller investigation and if he has shared information from those
briefings with anybody at the White House or the president himself or the
president`s legal team. Questions about reports that Trump lashed out at
Whitaker after his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty and
after federal prosecutors identified President Trump as individual one
associated with two of the felonies to which Cohen pled.
Questions about whether the president contacted Whitaker after Cohen pled
guilty or after the president was identified as Individual 1. They intend
to ask Whitaker if the president expressed concern or anger or frustration
with the Southern District of New York. The prosecutor`s office that
handled the Cohen case. Questions about whether the president discussed
the possibility of firing or reassigning anyone from that prosecutor`s
office in reaction to what happened there with Michael Cohen and the
individual one designation for the president in conjunction with those
Now whether or not acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is actually going
to answer those questions or how he`s going to try to not answer them once
he`s in that seat, that remains to be seen tomorrow morning. All we know
is that as of right now he is expected to show up.
Joining us now is Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He`s a member
of the both the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Swalwell, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: You, too. Thanks for having me back,
MADDOW: I have to tell you, I have lots of questions to ask you about this
Whitaker thing. I do actually want to ask you about some news that has
just crossed since I have been talking, which is that former Michigan
congressman, longtime, longtime Michigan congressman and beloved figure in
the Democratic Party, John Dingell, has just died at the age of 92. We had
heard from his wife yesterday that he had entered hospice care. His wife,
of course, is Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
John Dingell served in Congress for 59 years, longest-serving member of the
House. He has just passed at the age of 92.
I don`t know if you personally knew Congressman Dingell or if you had any
reaction to the news of his passing tonight, sir?
SWALWELL: It`s crushing news, Rachel. Thank you for bringing it up to
tribute his service.
I did know him. I was a freshman member during his final two years. He
was a giant of the Congress and set an example for us new incoming members
as to how congressional oversight was to be conducted. He was famous for
making every witness raise their right hand and go under oath because he
really deeply believed in congressional oversight of the executive branch.
I remember the first time I met him, I went up and introduced myself to
him. He was in a wheelchair on the floor and I kneeled down next to him to
introduce myself and he looked at me and said, you can stand up when you
talk to me. He didn`t want to be treated any different just because he was
in a wheelchair, but the character of this man, his integrity will last for
many, many years throughout – through his wife Debbie who serves now, but
also in the next generation who has come to know him through his sick burns
on Twitter. So, we`re going to miss John Dingell.
MADDOW: Yes, I will just say at a personal level, I had the opportunity to
meet with Congressman Dingell around the time that he was leaving Congress
just to personally chat, to talk about the news, to talk about his time in
Congress, not anything that he wanted to do on camera. He just wanted to
meet and talk human-to-human, and I was – it`s just –
MADDOW: – an incredibly impressive career but just an incredibly
impressive person to be with.
SWALWELL: And you remember he was seated next to President Obama when
President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act because of the work
that Congressman Dingell, Chairman Dingell had done on the Energy and
MADDOW: Yes, and the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the
Endangered Species Act. I mean, a giant.
Well, thank you for being willing to divert from news of the day and talk
to us about that as we get that news in, Congressman. But let me ask you
about what you are expecting tomorrow. There was a lot of uncertainty,
today in particular, but also in recent days as to whether or not the
acting attorney general would turn up tomorrow to answer questions.
What are you actually expecting to happen tomorrow now?
SWALWELL: Yes, this is about, you know, one individual, Acting Attorney
General Whitaker, but it`s also about something larger than that, and it`s
a damage assessment of the rule of law. As in, is it still standing after
two years of a wrecking ball being taken to it and very little
congressional oversight on the rule of law?
And so, we want to know, you know, is it still standing? Is the Mueller
investigation – does it have the freedom of movement to follow the
And then also just looking at the waypoints of Mr. Whitaker`s tenure so far
– the fishy way in which he got the job by essentially auditioning for it
through his opinions of the Mueller investigation, the fishy way he has
refused to recuse, despite opinions from the department that he should.
And the fishy way that he went out there and announced that the
investigation was nearly complete. You know, was that his wish and Donald
Trump`s wish or was that something contrary to what was going on with the
special counsel`s office?
So, there`s a lot of questions for him but it`s really a damage assessment
to the rule of law in our country.
MADDOW: After – given all the wrangling today whether he would be
appearing voluntarily, or under at least under the implicit threat of a
subpoena if he decided not to turn up. Do you expect he will actually
answer questions or are you expecting tomorrow is going to be a big fight
over what we can say and what he uses to try to evade answering some of the
questions that have already been put to him in writing in advance of
SWALWELL: We expect him to be there and to answer questions. We`ll be
ready if he does not. Rachel, you know, in what country does an executive
tell elected representatives that they are not going to come in if they are
subpoenaed? Well, I`ll tell you, it`s China, it`s Russia, it`s Iran, but
it`s not the United States of America.
So, the days of presidential immunity are over. And, you know, we`ll be
ready today. We authorized a subpoena in case we needed to use it. We did
this because we`d actually sent over last week the questions that we wanted
to ask him just to know if he was going to be obstructing or invoking
executive privilege so that we could be ready and they never responded.
So, that`s why we wanted to be ready with the subpoena in case that`s
necessary. I hope it doesn`t come to that. I hope the takeaway is that
the rule of law still stands and that he is honoring the Mueller
investigation and just letting it follow the evidence.
MADDOW: Congressman Eric Swalwell from the great state of California, I
really appreciate you being here tonight, sir. Good to have you here.
SWALWELL: Of course, thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Much more to get to tonight. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and “The Washington Post,” had his
private text messages published by “The National Enquirer,” supermarket
tabloid last month. That reporting appears to have led to the dissolution
of his marriage of 25 years.
Tonight, Jeff Bezos says “The Enquirer” has threatened him that they will
publish more of Bezos` text messages and intimate, embarrassing photos if
he doesn`t call off his investigation of “The Enquirer” and its parent
company AMI. He`s been investigating the question of whether their actions
against him were politically motivated.
Because of AMI`s involvement in the hush money scheme during the campaign
that resulted in felony charges against the president`s lawyer Michael
Cohen and federal prosecutors implicated the president in those felonies,
the immediate implication here is that any political motivation by AMI
might have been to help President Trump who has declared Bezos essentially
to be his sworn enemy. That said, Bezos writes tonight about that
potential political motivation, quote, for reasons still to be better
understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,
meaning a sensitive nerve with AMI.
He`s referring to, well, what – some of what you can see here. What
appears to be a strange relationship that AMI and its chief executive David
Pecker have had recently with the government of Saudi Arabia. You might
remember our reporting on this big glossy mash book that “The Enquirer”
published last spring celebrating the beauty and awesomeness of Saudi
Arabia and specifically its Crown Prince MBS. Also, there was Pecker`s
Oval Office visits with advisers to the Assad crown prince while Pecker was
reportedly trying to drum up some sort of business for his company in Saudi
Jeff Bezos is suggesting that AMI`s Saudi connection may be the reason that
Jeff Bezos was targeted by “The Enquirer” in the first place. He writes
tonight that as the owner of “The Washington Post,” quote, it`s unavoidable
that certain powerful people who experience “Washington Post” news coverage
will wrongly conclude: I am their enemy. Quote, “The Post`s” essential and
unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is
undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Since then, “The Washington Post” has been furious and relentless in trying
to get justice for their murdered reporter, particularly because of the
prospect that he was killed on orders from MBS, from the Saudi crown
prince, something the Saudi government has emphatically denied and the
Trump administration has emphatically ignored.
Well, tonight we have the latest damning evidence tying the Saudi crown
prince, MBS, to Jamal Khashoggi`s murder. “The New York Times” with
remarkably detailed reporting tonight on intelligence intercepts of MBS, of
the Saudi crown prince, the kind of material we rarely get to hear about as
members of the public, while the president has shown little interest in
finding out who was respond responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi in
that Saudi consulate, “The Times” reports that the intelligence community
has actually been working hard at, quote, sifting through years of the
crown prince`s voice and text communications, communications that the
national security agency routinely intercepted and stored.
Included in that material was reportedly a phone conversations the year
before Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in which the crown prince, MBS,
reportedly told an aide that if Jamal Khashoggi could not be brought back
to Saudi Arabia, either through enticement or by force, then he personally
would go after Khashoggi, quote, with a bullet.
And, yes, that`s the same guy featured on the cover and on nearly every
page of “The National Enquirer`s” inexplicable special issue, the new
transformative leader of the magic kingdom.
Tonight, “The Washington Post” says “The Enquirer” is threatening to
publish his private and embarrassing photos unless he says publicly that
“The Enquirer`s” parent company AMI definitely, totally has not been
motivated or influenced in any way by political forces as they have
launched this hit piece and these additional threats against Jeff Bezos.
Why are they so concerned about that? Hold that thought.
MADDOW: This story is so nuts but it boils down to a very simple question.
I mean, not so long ago, just back in the fall, the owner of “The National
Enquirer” acknowledged paying hush money to a woman who allegedly had an
affair with the president to prevent her story from influencing the
election. Federal prosecutors waited until December to reveal it, the day
that the president`s lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced, in part for his
role in that scheme.
Because of his role in that scheme, Michael Cohen is headed for prison next
month. But despite AMI also having a role in those crimes, AMI appears to
be off the hook, right? Because they cooperated with prosecutors and
they`ve been keeping up their end of a non-prosecution agreement that
prosecutors gave them. That agreement that they made with prosecutors
includes this line, quote, it`s understood that should AMI commit any crime
subsequent to the date of the signing of this agreement, AMI shall
thereafter be subject to prosecution for any criminal violation of which
this office has knowledge, including perjury and obstruction of justice.
So, the deal for AMI not getting prosecuted as only as good as AMI`s own
behavior from the day the company`s lawyers signed that agreement.
Tonight, Amazon`s CEO and “Washington Post” owner Jeff Bezos is publicly
accusing AMI of extorting him and blackmailing him when Bezos said AMI is
threatening to publish private text messages and embarrassing photos of him
if Bezos doesn`t stop his investigation into the tabloid and its
motivations for targeting him.
Now, AMI declined to comment tonight, but that accusation by Bezos against
AMI raises one kind of simple question, right? I mean, does the behavior
that Bezos describes and the behavior he`s published evidence of tonight in
a legal sense, does that amount to blackmail or extortion like he says? I
mean, AMI is in really, really, really big trouble if they have committed
crimes while they are still bound by a non-prosecution agreement that
requires them not to commit any crimes.
Are they potentially on the hook here legally, and is that what`s driving
their what appears to be panic toward Jeff Bezos?
Joining us now is Elliot Williams. He`s a former deputy assistant attorney
general in the Obama administration.
Mr. Williams, thank you very much for joining us. Much appreciate you
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF
JUSTICE: Hey. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Jeff Bezos says in his statement tonight after he publishes
what he says is this correspondence from AMI that they are attempting to
blackmail or extort him. I don`t know legally what the threshold is for
something being considered blackmail or extortion.
Does he have a case to make that this is criminal behavior?
WILLIAMS: So, look, sort of big picture, there`s no question this is an
act of sexual violence. It`s this increasingly common act of, you know,
sextortion is sort of the term that`s used, where these photographs,
whether it`s Jeff Bezos, a billionaire or a 16-year-old kid with photos on
their phone. It`s a violative act right now.
Can you charge this as extortion? Extortion is the big umbrella over a
bunch of conduct that includes blackmail. Extortion usually involves
violence. So, you`ve got some nice legs there, it would be a shame if one
of them had to break. You know, that`s the kind of thing, sort of give me
some money from that. That`s the kind of thing you get through extortion.
Blackmail is a little trickier, at least in this case because what you have
is, you know, if – with respect to let`s say you can`t do something –
like I will – I`m trying to think of the simplest way to put this. You
know, deriving a benefit from somebody not doing something, right?
So the question here is, is that transfer of information, is – is making
him make a statement a benefit to “The National Enquirer”? That`s really
complicated. Usually it`s give me money or I will embarrass you or give me
money or I will post these pictures. But, the question, does making a
statement counts as a thing of value?
So, you know, it`s not a slam dunk. There is no question that it`s bad.
It`s ugly conduct. Like I said, sexual violence.
But, again, it`s – you know, can you charge it? I just don`t know. It`s
a tricky question.
MADDOW: The thing that strikes me is what Bezos laying out is that this
activity by AMI may essentially mirror what they got caught up in when it
came to those campaign finance felonies with Michael Cohen and the hush
money payments to the women who were going to say damaging things about
Trump. Now, obviously, this is not happening in the context of an election
and an active campaign in the same way, but AMI does seem to be palpably
I mean, they already inflicted great harm on Jeff Bezos with their initial
story. They`re now threatening to inflict nuclear-level harm on Jeff Bezos
if he publishes information or if he comes to some sort of public, you
know, supported allegation that AMI is targeting him for political reasons.
And I guess the question is whether or not that is the sort of thing that
they might have to worry about when it comes to this non-prosecution
agreement that they`ve got with SDNY. Whether this might open up their
potential prosecution for all the things they`ve already confessed to
WILLIAMS: There`s no question about that. And, again, AMI exists in a
world of, you know, testing the bounds of where the First Amendment and
criminal law will allow you to go. The very concept of catch and kill,
which is this, you know, this practice of paying people off to not tell
their stories, which was at the heart of this Michael Cohen/McDougal and
Daniels story. It`s a legal practice, but it really steps up to the line
of what`s permissible under the First Amendment.
And so, what you`re seeing again here is testing the limits of what they
can get away with. And yes, this is going nuclear on Jeff Bezos. Now,
again, he`s an individual who perhaps to some, including the president of
the United States, is less sympathetic than many others. He`s a
billionaire and so on. But at the end of the day, this is very bad, very
threatening, very ugly conduct that steps right up to the line and probably
over the line of legal conduct.
And so, you know, there is – if you – maybe they can`t charge it
federally. Now, once they click that – sorry, once they click that e-
mail, it – once they click that e-mail it sort of becomes a more federal
offense, but it might be a state offense. So it`s not going to be good for
them, no question.
MADDOW: Right. And it doesn`t, as far as the way I read the non-
prosecution agreement, they don`t need to commit a crime for which they are
going to be prosecuted here.
MADDOW: If prosecutors believe they have committed a crime, they can
simply use that as an opportunity to open up everything else they know that
AMI has already confessed –
MADDOW: – that they`ve done.
Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama
administration, thank you for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Let`s say you live in northern North Dakota or northern Washington
state or Maine, if you live in one of those very northerly places, the news
from across the border in United States doesn`t necessarily feel like
international news to you. It can feel like news from your own backyard,
because it`s sort of is.
Same goes if you live in southern Arizona or the Rio Grande Valley or El
Paso, right? What happens in nearby Mexico is local to you in your part of
So when President Clinton ordered the clearing of an old mine field at an
American military base in Cuba, the editors of the nearby “Miami Herald”
saw that as kind of a local story and they sent a reporter from Miami to go
follow the dangerous work of digging up the old explosive mines and getting
rid of them safely.
By June 1999, the mine field had been cleared and “The Miami Herald” had a
reporter on staff with experience at the American military base at
Guantanamo. That reporter`s name was Carol Rosenberg.
And because she had covered that sort of extended backyard story for “The
Miami Herald.” Rosenberg was the natural choice to send back there when
news broke at Guantanamo again in January 2002, a few months into America`s
post-9/11 war. That prison at Guantanamo, that prison camp is still there
today, 18 years later. It`s still a sort of lay-by, in American legal
Through it all for 17-plus years, Carol Rosenberg has been covering this
secretive corner of American justice, hounding the prosecutors and the
defense attorneys at tribunals, scrapping information from Guantanamo to
D.C. to Mauritania. So all could better understand this strange forever
prison where we keep people indefinitely without any due process. In a
speech a few years ago, Rosenberg explained that she does this work
precisely because the U.S. doesn`t have an exit plan for Guantanamo. She
says we are stuck and, well, we`ve got her stuck with it, too.
And for that, Carol Rosenberg is a national journalistic treasure. He`s
been covering this from the beginning intensively. She`s the only one.
She`s a legend.
And Carol Rosenberg tonight is on the brink of losing her job. “The Miami
herald” and its sister papers the McClatchy chain have put 450 staffers on
a list for voluntary buyouts, for volunteering to take a lump sum and go
home. On that list so happens to be this nation`s sole full-time reporter
on America`s forever prison at Guantanamo, the one reporter who has
followed it from day one, who understands it better than anyone on earth
and who knows where to dig when stuff needs to be dug up.
Carol Rosenberg told “The Washington Post” this week, quote, I don`t want
to stop covering this story.
She has just under two weeks from McClatchy. She can take her chances,
decline the buyout, stay at the paper for now, maybe she won`t get laid
off, maybe another paper would pick her up if she did. But meanwhile Carol
Rosenberg keeps reports, she keeps filing.
Just in the past day, she has delivered the news that hundreds of suspected
ISIS fighters could soon find themselves at Guantanamo. For long, who
But nobody in America, nobody on the planet is better equipped to follow
that story for you than Carol Rosenberg, reporter for the “Miami Herald”.
Guantanamo is her backyard story. She wants to keep covering it. Frankly,
the nation needs her to keep covering it because nobody else can the way
that she has.
Does she get that chance? There has to be some kind of way, right?
Guantanamo is something that we will all own at the end of our lives.
Carol Rosenberg will be the reason we know the story of it. She can`t lose
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence. I`m sorry I took your minute.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the