Federal Judge in DC denies reporters request. TRANSCRIPT: 4/1/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests:
Katie Townsend, Raja Krishnamoorthi
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

 

It has been a busy news day today.  Lots going on. 

 

One developing story we are keeping an eye on tonight is that it looks like

President Trump`s latest appointment to the Federal Reserve board may be

falling apart.  President Trump`s nomination of Stephen Moore to the

Federal Reserve Board was sort of a difficult choice to begin with, but now

tonight it is producing ominous headlines like this one at “The Wall Street

Journal.” 

 

Do we have that headline?  Thank you. 

 

About how the White House is standing behind the Stephen Moore nomination. 

You never have to stand behind something in a headline unless there is a

reason to think a nomination like that is in trouble. 

 

Since President Trump first nominated Stephen Moore and described him

publicly as a respected economist, it has emerged sort of sequentially and

with increasing awkwardness that: A, he is not an economist.  B, he owes

over $70,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS.  C, he was recently held in

contempt of court for not paying over $300,000 in child support and

alimony.  D, Mr. Moore apparently lost his last job as a newspaper

columnist, thanks to an ethics dispute with his paper about giving paid

partisan speeches which is a thing he was not supposed to do while having

that kind of a job.  E, the political action committee where he worked had

to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in FEC fines for legal violations

occurring during the time he was in charge of that PAC. 

 

I mean, I don`t know how far we`re going to get down through the alphabet

when it comes to Stephen Moore, but hey, he did also write a book called

“Trumpomics.”  So, obviously, that trumps everything.  Pun intended. 

Clearly that alone makes him the best man in the country for that job, or

for any other. 

 

But Stephen Moore`s nomination to be on the Federal Reserve board, a job he

admits he knows nothing about, it does appear to be sort of teetering

tonight as this torrent of bad news about him and the White House`s

apparent total failure to vet him for this nomination continues to pile up

in a bad way. 

 

For what it`s worth, I will just mention Steve Benen who writes the blog

for this show at maddow.com, Steve normally a very reserved guy.  He is an

understatement kind of guy.  But I have to say Steve Benen called this one

from the very beginning.  If you read maddowblog.com, you will recognize

this.  When Stephen Moore was first nominated by President Trump, Steve

then said, quote: Stephen Moore isn`t just an unfortunate personnel

selection for this president, he is a uniquely ridiculous choice, quite

possibly the least defensible personnel appointment of the entire Trump

presidency to date. 

 

Strong words upon the appointment of Stephen Moore.  Again, as of tonight,

the “Wall Street Journal” says the White House is standing behind the Moore

nomination.  But this one feels like it is on its way out.  Keep an eye on

that. 

 

We`ve also got a little bit of exclusive news tonight.  I believe that we

are first to report anywhere that there is going to be another bunch of

protests this week on Thursday over the Trump administration`s decision

thus far to not release the report of the special counsel`s investigation

by Robert Mueller. 

 

It is, of course, now ten days since Robert Mueller submitted his report. 

So far, Trump`s newly appointed Attorney General William Barr has only

released statements about the report, but he has released none of the

report itself.  The weird vagueness with which William Barr has been

describing Mueller`s findings came to sort of its absurd apex on Friday

night when Barr released yet another statement, a third statement in a week

about Mueller`s findings.  In that third Friday night letter, Barr oddly

insisted that nothing he had said about Mueller`s findings thus far should

be described as a summary of Mueller`s findings. 

 

He wants it to be known that he is definitely not summarizing what Mueller

said.  Although in plain English, it is hard to understand what exactly

he`s been saying about Mueller`s report when he has put out what appeared

to be a summary of Mueller`s principle conclusions.  In any case, the

continued effort by Attorney General William Barr to hold back the Mueller

report itself is running into stiff resistance.  Six committee chairmen in

the how many times set tomorrow, Tuesday as the deadline for Barr to hand

over an unredacted copy of Mueller`s report to Congress.  The attorney

general does not seem intended to meet that deadline, but we shall see. 

 

If the attorney general misses the deadline to hand over the report

tomorrow, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler now says his committee will meet

the following day on Wednesday to consider issuing a subpoena to obtain the

report.  And we still do not know how Attorney General William Barr would

respond to that kind of a subpoena if one was issued. 

 

A reporter for a local ABC News affiliate says tonight that he got the

chance to ask Attorney General William Barr if Barr plans to comply with

any such subpoena that tries to obtain Mueller`s report.  In response to

that question, Barr, quote, laughed, and then said, we`ll have to follow

the law.  So we will see. 

 

If William Barr does not meet the deadline set by Congress to hand over

that unredacted report by tomorrow, and if he is subpoenaed for it on

Wednesday, and if the subpoena on Wednesday also doesn`t compel him to turn

over the report to Congress, then on Thursday, we can report tonight a

group called the Trump is not above the law coalition, they`re planning

over 175 protests all over the country on Thursday in response. 

 

This is a coalition group that has a lot of big name members.  It`s

component organizations include groups like Move On and Indivisible and

People for the American Way, and a whole bunch of other groups.  And this

coalition planned actions like this in advance, basically, on speck, saying

that they would – these demonstrations would be triggered if steps were

taken by the Trump administration to go after the Mueller investigation. 

This group formed in advance and made this plan in advance to try to plan

public demonstrations and public response to protect Mueller and his

investigation in anticipation that the Trump administration would take

steps to block it or would try to keep Mueller`s findings secret. 

 

Again, ten days into the Mueller report having been submitted but not yet

release, that coalition confirms to us tonight that unless the Mueller

report is out by Thursday, those folks are going to be out in the streets

that day in response. 

 

To that point, though, you should also know that late today, we got a

ruling in the mystery case.  Did you hear what I said?  I said “the mystery

case”.  That`s better. 

 

This ruling we just got late this afternoon, it`s an interesting thing

about the mystery case, but I think it may also be a little bit of a heads

up for all of us about what`s going to happen with the Mueller report and

when.  You probably remember the basics here about the mystery case and why

it is so mysterious. 

 

In July of last year, some unknown company that is owned by an unknown

foreign country, they received a subpoena to provide evidence to a federal

grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia.  This was the D.C. grand

jury that was convened to handle a whole bunch of special matters derived

from the Mueller investigation.  So, Mueller`s grand jury in D.C. is the

grand jury that approved the indictments of campaign chair Paul Manafort,

whose 70th birthday is today. 

 

Happy birthday.  That`s both nice for him because it`s his birthday.  It`s

also sad for him because he is spending his 70th birthday in prison. 

 

Nevertheless, the same grand jury that approved the indictment of Manafort

also approved the indictment of Trump`s deputy campaign chair Rick Gates. 

Also, their business associate Konstantin Kilimnik who is said by

prosecutors to be associated with Russian intelligence.  This is the same

grand jury that handed down indictments against the GRU, the Russian

military intelligence officers, also the Internet Research Agency, the

troll farm and Concord Management, this company that was allegedly

organizing and funding them in Russia. 

 

When this mystery company owned by some foreign country, we don`t know

which, when this mystery company received their subpoena from that grand

jury July 11th last year, they initially negotiated with the special

counsel`s office, apparently trying to find some way out of having to

respond to that subpoena.  According to court documents, after about a

month of negotiations, the mystery company moved to quash the subpoena. 

And that started months and months of litigation that was both sort of

straight forward, but also still shrouded in mystery, because the basis of

the legal fight was easy to understand, even for those of us who aren`t

lawyers. 

 

The legal fight was that the mystery company tried to argue in court that

they didn`t have to comply with the subpoena from Mueller`s grand jury

specifically because they were a company owned by a foreign country.  And

because they were owned by a foreign country, that made them immune from

this whole part of the U.S. legal system.  That was their legal argument. 

They fought that out in federal court in D.C. and they lost. 

 

Then they appealed it to the appeals court in D.C., and they lost.  Then

they appealed it to another iteration of the Appeals Court in D.C., they

lost there.  Then they appealed to it the Supreme Court, the United States

Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, no, we`re cool with the lower

courts that have ruled against you thus far.  We are not going to hear your

appeal and potentially overturn this. 

 

So they`ve taken this all the way to the very top and they`ve lost every

step of the way.  That means in legal terms, the straight forward part of

this is very straight forward.  The mystery company is in a simple legal

dead-end. 

 

I mean, according to the U.S. court system, mystery company has to comply

with the subpoena to provide evidence to Mueller`s grand jury.  They have

to.  And for every day that they don`t, they have to pay a fine of $50,000

a day.  And that has now been in place for long enough that that`s starting

to add up, right?  Even if this is a very rich foreign company owned by

some very rich foreign country, 50 grand a day, day after day after day, it

adds up. 

 

So, that`s the part of it that`s straight forward, the legal fight.  The

mysterious part of it is that we still don`t know who this freaking company

is or what country they`re from.  And last week, we got a surprise in this

case, because there is a First Amendment group called the Reporters

Committee for Freedom of the Press that has been trying to intervene in

this case to say the American news media and the American public have an

interest in knowing what`s going on in this case, what company this is

that`s refusing this subpoena, what foreign country this is.  That`s

incurring $50,000 a day fines rather than hand over evidence to Mueller`s

investigation. 

 

Again, this company is not seen as a target of Mueller`s investigation. 

They`re just a witness.  But they`re willing to incur a $50,000 a day

penalty to avoid handing over evidence as a witness in this investigation? 

 

Who is this company?  Who is this country that has that kind of interest in

this investigation and with doing everything they can to block it? 

 

Well, last week – so, after Robert Mueller handed in his report, after we

got this announcement from Attorney General William Barr that the special

counsel`s investigation is over.  Mueller has completed his work.  He`s

completed his report.

 

After all that happened, last week, that First Amendment group, the

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, they went back to court to

try to clean this thing up once and for all, right?  Because you think this

might be the point where they could finally get this settled.  They could

finally lift the mystery here and tell all of us, the American public what

this whole fight has been about and who the players are in this part of the

investigation. 

 

It seemed clear going into that court hearing on this case late last week

that finally, the mystery would be solved, right?  Mueller`s investigation

we`ve been told is done. 

 

We would assume that means that the grand jury Mueller had convened that

issued the subpoena to the mystery company, we would also assume that they

are now done with their grand jury investigation as well, right?  So they

would no longer need whatever information they would have been trying to

get from this company.  So this thing is moot now, right?  We can figure

out who the parties are now, right? 

 

No.  The surprise in the story came in open court late last week when the

chief judge of the federal district court in D.C., Judge Beryl Howell,

turned to the prosecutors in open court, who are now handling the mystery

case, quote, let`s start with the first question.  Is the grand jury

investigation over?  To which the prosecutors responded, quote, no, your

honor.  It is continuing.  I can say it is continuing robustly. 

 

The judge then immediately moved to clarify saying, quote, all right.  So

this is the situation where the court must evaluate the reporters committee

request for unsealing in the context of a robust and ongoing grand jury

investigation.  Is that correct?  The prosecutors respond, exactly.  And

the judge responds, all right. 

 

So that was a surprise.  Robert Mueller may have closed up shop at the

special counsel`s office.  The special counsel`s office may have handed off

all of its ongoing cases, including the mystery case to other prosecutors

and other U.S. attorneys offices, but we have now learned in court, in

Judge Beryl Howell`s courtroom, that the grand jury investigation that was

being ran by Mueller, it continues robustly. 

 

And on that basis, tonight we got a ruling from Judge Howell in federal

court in D.C. in the mystery case. 

 

Quote, the grand jury investigation to which the underlying subpoena

relates is ongoing.  Redactions must thus be applied to maintain the

secrecy of all matters occurring before the grand jury. 

 

Quote: As the reporters committee conceded, the need for secrecy is

heightened during an ongoing investigation and warrants redactions to

preserve grand jury secrecy. 

 

Quote, the Reporters Committee has no constitutional common law or rules-

based claim of entitlement to learn the corporation`s identity.  Certainly

not while the grand jury investigation persist. 

 

Quote, at this time, the court will not direct that the public records

identify the mystery corporation. 

 

So we still don`t know who the mystery corporation is because the grand

jury investigation that this pertains to is ongoing.  And I should say in

this ruling tonight, Judge Beryl Howell goes on at length about all the

reasons why it`s so important that the secrecy of information before the

grand jury is preserved as long as the grand jury investigation is ongoing. 

 

So this is important now when it comes to the mystery case.  These still

outstanding questions about who this entity is, what country this is that`s

going to these crazy lengths to avoid giving Mueller any evidence, this is

important about the mystery case.  But this is also now potentially really

important for the whole kit and caboodle, for the whole Mueller report and

when and if we are going to get to see it. 

 

I mean, it`s ten days already.  How is it going to be decided?  How is it

going to be decided when it goes to Congress and what goes to Congress? 

How is it going to be decided when it comes to us, the public, and what`s

in it when it does? 

 

Judge Beryl Howell, who wrote this ruling tonight in the mystery case, as I

mentioned, she is the chief judge in the federal district court in

Washington, D.C., that means that she now holds the job which used to be

held by this guy, John Sirica. 

 

John Sirica was the chief judge in federal district court in D.C. in 1964

when Watergate exploded.  John Sirica, 1973 and 1974, he is the judge who

presided over a whole bunch of the Watergate trials, but because the grand

jury convened to investigate Watergate by the Watergate special prosecutor

was convened in D.C. and Sirica was the chief judge of the federal court in

D.C., he was also the judge who made the call when that Watergate grand

jury decided that the information they had obtained, the evidence they had

amassed and reviewed that pertained to potential criminal conduct by

President Nixon, when they decided that information should be sent over to

Congress, to the House Judiciary Committee in March 1974, they made that

plea to judge John Sirica, the chief judge. 

 

The grand jury wrote to the chief judge, Judge Sirica, and said hey, we`ve

amassed a whole bunch of evidence that pertains to potential criminal

behavior by President Nixon.  We the grand jury strongly recommend that

this information be conveyed to the House Judiciary Committee for them to

consider what to do with it. 

 

The grand jury information obviously is usually secret for very good

reasons.  It usually gets conveyed nowhere because it is used only for the

purposes of drawing up indictments, supposed to be sort of a closed system. 

You either indict with that information or it disappears. 

 

But in the case of the grand jury`s information that they had collected

about President Nixon, President Nixon, who they did not believe they could

indict because he was a sitting president, that grand jury went to Judge

Sirica and asked him basically to make a special dispensation so that they

could do something useful with the evidence that they had amassed.  They

asked Judge Sirica to issue a court ruling allowing that the grand jury

information about Nixon could be shown to the Congress, specifically, to

the House Judiciary Committee in Congress.  That was the decision that

Sirica had to make in March of 1974.  And it was a really, really dramatic

and important turning point in the whole Watergate saga. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good evening.  Judge John Sirica said today he will

send a secret grand jury report on President Nixon and the Watergate cover-

up to impeachment investigators in the House of Representatives.  Sirica

allowed lawyers in the case two days to appeal his decision. 

 

In that decision, Sirica said he had no choice but to send the grand jury`s

report and supporting evidence to the House.  The judge described the

report as a compilation of information and said it contained no formal

charges, was not accusatory.  But he said he feels that the evidence in the

report is material to the impeachment inquiry and said it is obligatory

that the information on the president be given to the Judiciary Committee. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Said the judge, the person on whom the report focuses

is the president of the United States.  He said he had carefully examined

the contents of the report and that there was no question regarding their

materiality to the House impeachment inquiry.  Said the judge: The court

concludes that delivery to the committee is eminently proper and indeed

obligatory. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Eminently proper and indeed obligatory.  It`s information about

the president that is material to the House Judiciary Committee in terms of

oversight there was a reference there to the judge when he issued this

order giving a two-day window during which an appeal could be filed against

his decision. 

 

In fact, there was an appeal.  Nixon`s White House chief of staff, H.R.

Haldeman, who was indicted by that same grand jury, Haldeman did appeal

Judge Sirica`s decision.  Haldeman tried to get a higher court, tried to

get the D.C. Appeals Court to block Sirica`s decision, to block the

conveying of that grand jury information to Congress, but Haldeman lost

that appeal quickly. 

 

And so, ultimately, actually, that same week as those reports, the grand

jury information about potential criminal conduct by the president, it did

get conveyed to the House Judiciary Committee.  It became the road map for

the impeachment articles that were ultimately drawn up against Nixon. 

 

But there is two interesting/amazing things about the way that all landed,

that I think now we need to figure out what they mean for us.  In what

really feels like an allegorical time to that moment in history, we are at

this – we`re in between moment, right, where Mueller`s report is in. 

We`re told by the attorney general that Mueller`s report contains some

amount of grand jury information.  The attorney general says he won`t let

anybody see Mueller`s report, not yet. 

 

One of the things he says he is doing before he lets anybody see Mueller`s

report is he is going through it to take out any grand jury information

that`s contained in Mueller`s report. 

 

Well, the first thing that may be material here in terms of the historical

precedent is that when John Sirica issued his opinion in 1974, which was

upheld on appeal, which allowed the grand jury information to be conveyed

to Congress, that grand jury information about Nixon, I mean when Sirica

issued that landmark ruling, one of the things he noted in his opinion was

that most of the typical concerns that might exist about releasing grand

jury information didn`t apply in this case because he said in his ruling,

quote, here for all purposes relevant to this decision, the grand jury has

ended its work. 

 

Again, this was about the Watergate grand jury.  Because the Watergate

grand jury had ended it work, quote, therefore there is no need to protect

against flight on anyone`s part, to prevent tampering or restraints on any

jurors, to protect grand jury deliberations or to safeguard un-accused or

innocent persons with secrecy.  In other words, all the reasons we might

otherwise keep grand jury information secret doesn`t apply here, in part

because here for all purposes relevant to the decision, the grand jury has

ended its work. 

 

In 1974, part of the reason the grand jury information was conveyed to

Congress by this court order is because the judge essentially said in his

ruling that he was more comfortable doing that because the grand jury

investigation for all purposes relevant to this decision was not ongoing. 

 

Well, in this case, in the one we`re living in right now, the judge, who

has Sirica`s old job, the judge who will be called on to make ultimately

likely I guess I should say this same decision that Sirica made in 1974, if

she is asked to issue a court order allowing the conveying of grand jury

information about president Trump to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

Well, she has now laid down a predicate in open court and in this ruling

that she`s just issued tonight in which she says in our experience now, in

the grand jury that was convened by the special counsel by Robert Mueller

she has now laid down the predicate that that grand jury investigation is

not over.  It is ongoing.  It is continuing robustly, and she has already

cited that as a reason, this judge has cited that as a reason that she does

not want to release grand jury information, at least from the mystery case,

at least when it comes to us learning the identity of the mystery

corporation that won`t comply with Mueller`s subpoena. 

 

The other amazing thing about where this lands is that when John Sirica

ordered that grand jury information to be released to Congress in 1974. 

That grand jury information was only given to Congress.  He wasn`t

releasing that information to the public. 

 

The only reason we the public ever got to see all that grand jury

information about Nixon is because last year, 2018, there was litigation on

the Nixon case asking to open that material up to the public for the first

time, 45 years down the road.  Open it up in the interest of the historical

record. 

 

The judge who ruled last year to allow the Nixon grand jury evidence to

release to the public for if first time 45 years down the road, that was

Judge Beryl Howell, the same judge who is now the chief judge in D.C. who

will likely field any legislation about whether Trump grand jury

information can be released to this Congress this year in 2019. 

 

So, if you think that the grand jury information in Mueller`s report that

pertains to potential criminal behavior about this president, if you think

that information is going to be key to us understanding as a country what

happened in this scandal and the president`s potential liability here,

you`re in sort of a glass half full, glass half empty situation here

tonight, right?  Because now we know the judge who will likely make that

determination about the release of grand jury information.

 

She has recently ruled in favor of transparency when it comes to that kind

of information, at least when it comes to a president who wasn`t in office

– who hasn`t been in office since 1974.  This judge has ruled in favor of

transparency when it comes to grand jury information about Richard Nixon. 

 

But this same judge also says this year that the grand jury proceeding that

started under Robert Mueller isn`t done.  It`s ongoing.  And she has ruled

tonight in the mystery case that the fact that the grand jury is an ongoing

concern is a reason to continue to keep information under wraps right now. 

 

And as of tonight this is no longer just an academic or theoretical

dilemma, because as of tonight, this judge, Judge Beryl Howell in D.C. has

in fact been asked to wade in now and make the call when it comes to Trump

and whether or not grand jury information about him in the Mueller report

can be released to Congress or the public.  She has already been asked to

do it.  She has already been asked to rule.  And the lawyer who filed that

request joins us next. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  In an application filed with the federal district court in

Washington, D.C. tonight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

has asked that court for an order allowing any grand jury information in

Robert Mueller`s report to be released to Congress and ultimately to the

American people.  In response to assertions from newly appointed Attorney

General William Barr that he intends to redact any grand jury information

from the Mueller report before he lets even Congress see it, the Reporters

Committee argues tonight, quote: The material at hand – excuse me, the

material at issue is of singular historical and public value.  The public

should be able to access it. 

 

Joining us now is Katie Townsend.  She is legal director of the Reporters

Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

 

Ms. Townsend, I really appreciate you being here tonight.  Thanks for your

time. 

 

KATIE TOWNSEND, LEGAL DIRECTOR, REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE

PRESS:  Thanks for having me, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  So, you guys are at the intersection of two really interesting

open cases here.  One is the mystery case where we don`t know the identity

of this foreign-owned company that is facing a $50,000 a day fine rather

than comply with the subpoena from Robert Mueller`s grand jury.  And now,

also this effort to try to pry loose the grand jury information from

Mueller`s report so at least Congress can see it. 

 

Do you see these two cases as essentially part of the same effort, or are

you pursuing them on two different tracks? 

 

TOWNSEND:  We see them a bit on two different tracks.  I mean, ultimately,

our goal is transparency, getting as much information to the press and

public as possible about the grand jury – about the Mueller investigation

as a whole.  I think there is a distinction between the grand jury

investigation and the mystery foreign-owned company matter that is ongoing

that is being handled by the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. and the Mueller

investigation, which we know is finished.  It`s closed. 

 

The special counsel`s investigation is over.  The final report has been

submitted.  So, I think in some ways, they are on two different tracks. 

 

MADDOW:  When the judge said in the mystery case ruling today that – she

said in court in a way that was dramatic and had the big reveal last week,

and then she reiterated essentially the same reasoning in her order today,

saying that because the grand jury proceedings are ongoing as pertains to

the mystery case at least, she cited that as a reason for you guys to not

be able to unseal the identity of the mystery foreign corporation. 

 

Was that reasoning from her a surprise?  And it sounds like you`re drawing

a distinction between that reasoning as it pertains to the mystery

corporation and how that might relate to the Mueller report more broadly? 

 

TOWNSEND:  I am.  I can say it was surprising at the hearing when we heard

that this aspect of the grand jury investigation was continuing robustly,

in the words of the prosecutors.  That was a surprise.  When we heard that

and given Judge Howell`s approach in the hearing, I don`t think it was

terribly surprising that she concluded at this time, she was not going to

order the public records that were being disclosed to include the name of

the mystery company, at least for now, given the ongoing nature of the

investigation. 

 

But, again, I do think there is a distinction between that matter, which is

being handled by the U.S. attorney`s office now in D.C. and the Mueller

investigation, which as you know is completed.  And I think is in a

different posture. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you also just about the issue of who has standing to

ask for the release of that grand jury information.  I mean, looking back

at that precedent from 1974, not every case is the same and things change. 

And special prosecutors aren`t the same as special counsels.  I get that. 

 

But in `74, when that grand jury information was released to Congress, it

seems to have originated with a request from the grand jury itself asking

the judge in that case please, we`d like to let this stuff go to Congress. 

Obviously, the special prosecutor at that time supported that.  The White

House didn`t object to it formally, although some defendants did. 

 

In this case, Jerry Nadler on the Judiciary Committee has suggested that

the Attorney General William Barr himself should make a request to the

judge, to Judge Howell that this grand jury information be released, that

it be cleared to be conveyed to Congress.  He clearly thinks the attorney

general has standing to do that.  You guys have asked the judge to release

that grand jury information. 

 

I`m wondering why we haven`t seen Nadler himself ask the judge to release

that information.  I mean, could I ask?  Could anybody ask?  Who has

standing? 

 

TOWNSEND:  That`s a great question.  I think Congress certainly has

grounds.  It has a basis to request access to this, to the entire Mueller

report that may differ from the grounds that are being asserted by the

reporters committee.  We`re arguing on behalf of the public.  We are

arguing that the court, which has the power to issue an order allowing

grand jury material to be disclosed publicly, not just to congress, but

publicly, should do so here. 

 

Attorney General Barr, as you mentioned, has made it clear that he does not

believe that he has the power or he is unwilling in light of Rule 60 of the

federal rules of criminal procedure to release these portions of the

Mueller report that contain grand jury information to the public.  We

wanted to take that prohibition away.  And the court can do that. 

 

So, we`ve asked in our application that the court do that and say to both

the attorney general and to Congress, if Congress obtains the report that

you can release these portions that the attorney general is now redacting

to protect grand jury secrecy to the public. 

 

MADDOW:  Katie Townsend, legal director of Reporters Committee for Freedom

of the Press, you guys have been running a full-court press on this, trying

to pry loose information in these various strands of this investigation. 

You`ve had a ton of success thus far.  It`s been interesting.  And I think

satisfying as an observer to see the judge give you guys so much respect in

terms of the way you guys have pursued this thus far. 

 

Please keep us apprised.  This has been an amazing thing to watch. 

 

TOWNSEND:  We will.  Thanks so much, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks.

 

All right.  Another big, intriguing story in the news tonight is just ahead

involving the security clearance crisis at the White House and how that may

be starting to unfold as soon as tomorrow morning. 

 

Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  The White Pagoda is a big white tower and a beautiful national

park in China just northwest of Shanghai.  Very nice. 

 

Three years ago, 2016, the Chinese government announced plans to build a

smaller duplicate of the White Pagoda here in the United States, in a new

Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.  And right

away after they made that announcement, people started to kind of freak out

about the possibility of a new Chinese White Pagoda in downtown Washington,

D.C. 

 

This is how “The Wall Street Journal” explained it.  Quote: The project was

deemed a national security risk because it included a 70-foot-tall white

tower that could potentially be used for surveillance. 

 

Quote: The garden was planned on one of the higher patches of land near

downtown Washington less than five miles from both the Capitol and the

White House.  “The Journal” then reported that this woman was believed to

be lobbying for that white tower behind the scenes on behalf of the Chinese

government. 

 

Her name is Wendi Deng Murdoch.  She is a prominent Chinese-American

businesswoman.  She used to be married to the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. 

She is known to be close friends with the president`s daughter and son-in-

law, Ivanka and Jared Kushner. 

 

Last year, U.S. intelligence officials reportedly warned Jared Kushner that

his friend Wendi Deng Murdoch might be acting as an agent of a foreign

government to help try to get the big white tower built, specifically

telling Jared that she could be using her friendship with him to, quote,

further the interests of the Chinese government. 

 

Now, she denied any such thing, but the reporting is still striking, right,

and dramatic.  Intelligence officials having to warn the president`s son-

in-law that he was the target of an ongoing covert influence campaign. 

Around the same time, there was other public reporting that U.S.

intelligence agencies had started picking up intercepts from foreign

countries in which they could hear foreign officials talking about ways

they could try to manipulate Jared Kushner, taking advantage of his

business interests and his lack of experience to influence U.S. policy on

behalf of other countries. 

 

Reportedly, the FBI sent a top agent to warn Jared Kushner that he was a

top target for ongoing foreign influence operations.  The real problems for

Mr. Kushner began when he applied for his security clearance to work in the

White House as a senior adviser.  When he applied for a security clearance,

he failed to report, for example, his meeting with the Russian ambassador

and a Russian banker and more than 100 other foreign contacts.  Jared

Kushner had to revise his security clearance application a whole bunch of

times before he finally got it anywhere near right. 

 

Now, if it`s your job to decide who gets a security clearance, if you`re

the one combing through the personnel files to get to decide who handles

the government`s most sensitivity secrets, this is your biggest nightmare,

right?  It`s the president`s son-in-law with secret foreign contacts he is

not reporting who is turning into a magnet for ongoing foreign covert

influence operations.  Should he get a security clearance?  If no, who do

we say no to? 

 

I mean, that`s perhaps why Jared Kushner needed some help to get his

security clearance.  In January, NBC News reported that when Jared Kushner

first applied for his clearance, he was initially rejected until the career

officials who made that decision got overruled by highers up in the Trump

administration.  “The New York Times” followed up with this bombshell that

it was actually the president himself who ultimately intervened so Jared

could get his clearance. 

 

In short order, CNN reported that it wasn`t just Jared, it was also the

president`s daughter Ivanka Trump who had to have her dad weigh in and

pressure White House staff to get her a clearance she otherwise wasn`t able

to get.  So, high-ranking official applies for security clearance.  High-

ranking official gets turned down for serious security reasons.  That

decision gets overruled by the White House, specifically on orders from the

president. 

 

We had heard reports of that happening in the Trump White House two times. 

Well, today, the overruled security clearance determination list got a lot

longer.  The Democratic chairman of the oversight committee, Elijah

Cummings, has sent this letter to the White House in which he says an

employee at the White House, a veteran employee who works in the security

clearance office, has now told his committee that security clearance

applications were, quote, not always adjudicated in the best interests of

national security.  She is reporting what Congressman Cummings calls,

quote, grave and continuing failures when it comes to the security

clearance process in this administration. 

 

Cummings says this whistle-blower kept a list of all the times the career

staff rulings about who could safely hold a security clearance got

overturned by the Trump White House.  Quote: Her list eventually grew to 25

officials, including two current senior White House officials as well as

contractors and individuals throughout different components of the

executive office of the president.  According to the whistle-blower, these

individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving

foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct,

financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.  Other than that, it`s

a totally normal White House. 

 

But now, Democrats say they want that list.  They want that list of 25

people who were turned down by career staff for their security clearances

because of stuff like that who the White House, the Trump White House

nevertheless intervened to ensure they got their clearances anyway. 

 

Key member of the oversight committee joins us next.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Tomorrow, the Oversight Committee is expected to issue a subpoena

to the former security director at the White House personnel office.  A man

named Carl Kline.  Mr. Kline was the person in charge with approving

security clearances for White House staff during the time when a

whistleblower now says as many as 25 officials who were turned down for

clearance by career security staff nevertheless got their clearances anyway

because of intervention from on high. 

 

As of tonight, neither Mr. Kline nor the White House has given any

indication of whether they are going to comply with this subpoena that

again is expected to be issued tomorrow. 

 

Joining us now is Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from

Illinois.  He is a member of the House Oversight Committee. 

 

Congressman Krishnamoorthi, I really thank you for being here tonight. 

Thanks for your time.

 

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  Thank you,

Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  So, today, we saw this memo from your committee summarizing

testimony from this whistleblower about the Trump administration ignoring

red flags in the security clearance process, and the list was striking to

me – foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal

conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct. 

 

Despite all those red flags, she is saying that the White House intervened

in the process to make sure people with those kinds of problems got

clearances anyway. 

 

Is that the basic gist of what she`s conveying?  Have I got the nut of that

here? 

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  You do.  You know, basically, since it`s baseball season,

she is alleging a baseball roster full of individuals, 25 individuals had

their cases adjudicated by her and her staff.  This is Tricia Newbold, and

basically, the White House then overruled the judgment of the staff with

regard to whether they should have access to top secret materials.  And

there is all kinds of irregularities in the process as well. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the irregularities in the process, that appears to be

a key part of what Newbold is alleging, because obviously if the president

wants to walk down Fifth Avenue handing out security clearances willy-

nilly, basically, it`s his right to do as the chief executive.  He can be

as irresponsible with security clearances as he wants to be within his

rights.  But she`s alleging that when these decisions were made to overrule

the recommendations from career staff, there was basically no process.  It

was sort of done capriciously. 

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Correct. 

 

MADDOW:  Why is that so much more of a concern to her than just the

clearances being awarded themselves? 

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  So, it`s true that the president has the prerogative to

award these security clearances, but there is a process by which the staff

vets people.  So, just as an example, one of the things that they do for

everybody is they basically require a credit check of all applicants which

makes total sense.  Well, believe it or not, they stopped doing credit

checks as part of this process. 

 

MADDOW:  Wow. 

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  And why should anybody who fails a credit check have

access to top secret materials?  So, these are the types of questions that

are being raised because of the irregularities in the process. 

 

MADDOW:  And when the process works properly, it`s my understanding and

again, I only know this from reading the news and from reading information

that Congress released about this process.  This is usually a pretty

secretive thing. 

 

But as far as I can tell from how it looks when the process works properly

is that if you do get somebody who`s going through the security clearance

application process who would be a valued member of the presidential or

White House staff or the administration otherwise, the administration has a

strong interest in them getting clearance despite the fact that some red

flag has appeared, usually when the process works properly, there`s some

effort made to mitigate any risk that may have arisen from that person`s

red flag.

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes, that`s correct.

 

MADDOW:  From this list – if it`s concerning personal conduct of a

specific kind or financial problems or the kind you described, some

mitigation plan would be arrived at in order to make sure the clearance

could still safely be given, right?

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  That`s exactly right.  They have a process whereby they

basically list the factors that are concerning.  And then the supervisors

basically say, OK, well, this is how we`re going to address each of these

factories.  There might be a mitigation plan with regard to each of those

factors or maybe some of those factors or maybe some of those factors, they

decide they`re going to weigh less heavily than some other considerations. 

 

But in a lot of these cases, they were just completely ignored.  And this

gentleman named Carl Kline basically overruled the judgment without

addressing any of those factors or presenting a mitigation plan and just

basically handing the top secret clearance or the higher clearance to that

individual. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the Oversight

Committee, we do expect that a subpoena will be issued to the gentleman you

just described that Trump appointee, Carl Kline, we`ll see how he responds

when he gets it.  Sir, thanks for helping us understand tonight. 

 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes, Rachel, thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to come.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  The presidential campaign of California Senator Kamala Harris has

just in the last hour announced she has raised a total of $12 million in

the first quarter of this year for her presidential campaign.  To put it in

perspective, that is what we technically call a lot. 

 

Also, the Harris campaign says 9 percent of its contributions were under

$100.  That`s important because it means the Harris campaign can go back to

those donors again and again without them hitting their donation maximum. 

 

The reason we`re getting this declaration from Senator Harris is because we

just hit the end of the first quarter of the calendar year.  And that means

all the campaigns, all of the presidential candidates have to report their

fund-raising totals.  So, we`ll start to get those totals in.  They`re due

every quarter. 

 

We also got numbers today from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana whose star

is rising as fast as his name recognition in the field thus far.  Pete

Buttigieg has raised over $7 million in the first quarter.  Again, that`s

versus $12 million for Senator Kamala Harris.

 

I should also tell you that Pete Buttigieg will be on live with Lawrence

O`Donnell in the next hour.  You definitely want to stick around and see

that interview. 

 

Every declared candidate that was going to have to release these numbers

and pretty soon.  And you know, numbers aren`t anything and money isn`t

everything.  But these fund-raising totals will tell us a little bit about

how much cash these candidates are going to having to run their campaigns. 

It`s also going to matter in the practical sense that fund raising is part

of how people are going to make the cut or not to get into the first

Democratic debates. 

 

So these fund-raising numbers are important in terms of understanding how

well these candidates are doing in the money part of the race, but also

whether they`re going to be on stage when it comes time for the first

debate in June. 

 

Now that the first quarter is done, we`ll get fund-raising totals from all

the other candidates today following Harris and Buttigieg.  They`re going

to start to trickle in.  I`m also happy to tell you, in the meantime, that

one of the first candidates to launch a campaign is going to be right here

for the first time tomorrow night, Julian Castro, former secretary of the

Department of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama. 

 

He will be my guest right here on studio.  We`ll be speaking for the first

time since he launched his presidential campaign right here tomorrow night. 

I am already studying. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with the great Lawrence O`Donnell. 

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                                               

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