Federal Judge in DC denies reporters request. TRANSCRIPT: 4/1/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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,
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
Is that the basic gist of what she`s conveying? Have I got the nut of that
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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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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