Trump opposed White House aides testifying. TRANSCRIPT: 4/26/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests:
Ezra Levin
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Ali.  Have a great one. 

 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Good to have you here

on a Friday night. 

 

Super interesting news day today.  There are surprising developments afoot

among the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, including one that is at

least on its face, quite constructive, actually, probably quite good news

for the Democrats as a group.  We`re going to have that story ahead

tonight. 

 

Also, as the NRA met for its annual convention today, and the president of

the United States gave a fairly blood curdling speech to that organization,

including calling for the scalps of his political enemies.  We`ve got a

snapshot from the courtroom today from where Russian agent Maria Butina was

sentenced for operating within the NRA and within Republican Party circles

on behalf of the Russian government.  This case took a turn at the end into

really interesting counterintelligence territory, which I think speaks to

what we just learned about the Trump administration in the Mueller report. 

 

So as the NRA convenes, the NRA infiltrating Russian agent was sentenced

today.  We will have that report ahead as well, along with some expert help

to sort that out.  What prosecutors were trying to tell us in the

resolution of that case today, that`s coming up. 

 

We are, of course, one week out now since the redacted report was released

from Robert Mueller`s investigation.  The president, of course, had

initially said that Mueller`s report was the best news for him ever, now

every day, he is denouncing the report and everything in it, to the point

where he is now publicly accusing his own White House counsel, Don McGahn,

of having lied to the special counsel`s office. 

 

McGahn told the special counsel and the FBI that President Trump had

directed him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and then told McGahn to

create a false document to cover that up.  And you can see why the

president wouldn`t want to own up to that kind of behavior once you see it

in black and white there in Mueller`s report. 

 

But the way the president is pursuing this now is maybe causing some new

trouble of its own for him because don McGahn, of course, subpoenaed by

Congress to testify about those same things he described to the special

counsel.  President Trump and the White House have said they`ll try to stop

don McGahn from testifying to Congress.  But what do you think about how

this is going to end here? 

 

I mean, do you think the White House could really count on Don McGahn

putting himself in potentially dire legal jeopardy by defying a subpoena

because the White House says he should because Trump says he should?  I

mean, do you think Don McGahn could be counted on to be in a generous or

even self-sacrificing mood here? 

 

Because at the same time the White House is telling Don McGahn that he

needs to defy that subpoena and potentially put himself in legal jeopardy

by doing so, there`s this awkward and counter-strategic thing that the

president is now doing, which is that he is now publicly accusing McGahn of

being a liar.  He`s accusing McGahn of lying to investigators which is a

federal crime. 

 

Now, Don McGahn, however much he loves President Trump and liked his White

House service and all the rest of it, he might reasonably want to defend

himself from that kind of allegation.  But the White House is demanding

that Don McGahn shouldn`t be able to defend himself from the charge, he

should not be allowed to testify about what he knows and what he saw.  He

should not be allowed to back up and explain the evidence that he provided

to the special counsel. 

 

It has been eight days since we learned from the redacted special counsel`s

report how much President Trump really has to worry about in terms of Don

McGahn.  Both “The New York Times” and the “Washington Post” have reported

this week that the president is convinced and the president has been

telling people that McGahn testifying in Congress would be a huge threat to

him in terms of the prospects of him being impeached, that`s apparently

front of mind for the president. 

 

Well, if the president is worried about don McGahn posing that kind of a

threat to him, this new he`s a liar, he`s a liar strategy is probably not

helping, in terms of the magnitude or the present nature of that threat. 

 

“The Washington Post,” for example, is now reporting directly, some Trump

advisers are saying privately they fear Trump`s ire towards McGahn could

eventually prompt McGahn to speak to protect his reputation.  Yes, duh. 

Other legal observers including one former presidential lawyer now warning

that the president`s attacks on McGahn and the president`s campaign firing

McGahn`s law firm after the Mueller report came out, that could all be

construed as criminal witness retaliation by the president. 

 

The president retaliating against McGahn for the witness testimony that

McGahn gave in this federal investigation.  That`s a crime for which the

penalty is 10 years in prison and for which the five year statute of

limitations starts anew every time the president takes an action that could

be considered criminal under the witness retaliation statute. 

 

So, I mean, this is getting dicier and dicier by the day.  While the

president is cultivating and aggravating his very own 21st century John

Dean problem and the White House is trying to figure out how they can block

that probably inevitable testimony from Don McGahn. 

 

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress are over the course of this week, they

have been assessing their options for how to deal with the White House and

the administration now that the president has decreed that all subpoenas

will be defied, that no information will be handed over to congressional

investigations but they will not allow the handing over of any documents,

they will not allow any testimony, even with legally actionable subpoenas. 

 

Well, how are they going to enforce that?  What are their options? 

 

“Bloomberg” was first to report this week at the Judiciary Committee, the

chairman there, Jerry Nadler, considering fines, financial penalties for

any person who does not comply with the subpoena from Congress.  Now, there

has also reportedly suggested that federal officials who refuse to obey

subpoenas could even be jailed. 

 

And I know that sounds jarring, but that prospect has now been echoed by

Congressman Gerry Connolly who`s on the Oversight Committee.  He tells CNN,

quote, we will go to the max to enforce the constitutional role of the

legislative branch of government, including explicitly saying that may

involve incarcerating some people who defy subpoenas. 

 

The same sentiment echoed by Congresswoman Robin Kelly who was also on the

Oversight Committee.  She now tells MSNBC, we`ll be talking about fines,

we`ll talk about actually putting people in jail that are not cooperating

if we have to go to that extreme.  I don`t think anyone wants to do that

but the congresswoman says, quote, if they don`t cooperate, I`m for putting

people in jail.  Again, she`s on the Oversight Committee. 

 

Same sentiment was echoed by Congressman David Cuccinelli from the

Judiciary Committee.  He is now citing a precedent from the 1930s in which

assistant secretary of commerce really was jailed for contempt of Congress,

jailed for defying a subpoena, to show up and testify and produce

documents. 

 

I should say, in that case from the 1930s when that assistant commerce

secretary was jailed, they jailed him at least for a while at the Willard

Hotel in D.C. because they didn`t feel they had a suitable jail.  The

Willard Hotel was then and is now quite nice.  So that might have softened

the whole constitutional confrontation part of that standoff. 

 

I mean, jailing government officials and regular American citizens who defy

legally actionable subpoenas from congressional committees, that is

literally what was threatened by Watergate Committee Chairman Sam Ervin in

1973 when the Nixon White House tried to stop federal employees from

testifying to that committee, including specifically, Nixon White House

counsel John Dean.  After Nixon and the Nixon White House tried to block

Nixon aides, including John Dean from testifying to that committee, Sam

Ervin literally called the press conference and said he would issue arrest

warrants for any officials who didn`t turn up to testify. 

 

And of course, we know they did ultimately turn up to testify.  But I mean,

even looking at the whole historical record on that and the number of times

that`s been hinted at or threatened, we`re there.  We have already jumped

right to the point where subpoenas are being defied and jail is being

threatened.  I mean, right away, we are up to that point again within 8

days of the redacted Mueller report being made public.  And it still is

only the redacted version. 

 

And don`t worry, you are not the only one who may be feeling a little shaky

about where the country is headed next here given how fast we seem to be

careening down this cul-de-sac.  Ultimately, the issues of accountability

for what we have just been through are very much still in process.  That

doesn`t even necessarily feel like a process but at least feels like

they`re still in motion.  And at least feels like we`re still in that

tumble dry cycle. 

 

Recall, for example, just one of the incidents of alleged criminal

obstruction of justice by the president that was detailed in volume two of

the Mueller report.  This is the one we`ve talked about before on the show

since the report came out.  This is the one where the president tried to

draft his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to help him shut down

the special counsel`s investigation.  That was June 2017. 

 

“The Washington Post” just reported Mueller`s investigation wouldn`t only

encompass stuff from the campaign and what Russia did and whether anybody

in the Trump campaign helped and what Russia did to the campaign.  “The

Post” reported in June that the investigation would also include actions

that Trump took as president and specifically, the question of whether he

had obstructed justice by trying to obstruct that investigation as

president. 

 

Now, what the Mueller report explains is that after that report came out in

the “Washington Post,” the president freaked.  And he told his White House

counsel Don McGahn he needed to call the Justice Department and get Mueller

fired and Don McGahn said, no. 

 

The president then took a meeting with Corey Lewandowski of all people. 

Corey Lewandowski, a private citizen at that point, no government or White

House role whatsoever, the president sat Corey Lewandowski down in the Oval

Office, he told him to take dictation.  Corey, write this down, told him to

write down a message that was essentially a draft statement that he wanted

Attorney General Jeff Sessions to deliver. 

 

That draft statement he wanted Jeff Sessions to deliver would have Jeff

Sessions announcing that he was unrecusing himself from the Russia

investigation, he was taking over control of the special counsel`s

investigation, and he was directing Mueller that he could no longer look at

anything that happened in the 2016 election.  Instead, Mueller henceforth

must only look at future crimes.  He must only look at crimes that Russia

might commit against future American elections that hadn`t happened yet. 

But all of 2016, that`s no longer what Mueller is looking at. 

 

Now, as the Mueller report describes, Lewandowski got this direction from

the president, wrote it all down and then actually did take action to try

to reach Jeff Sessions to deliver that message.  They ultimately never got

together and Corey Lewandowski never delivered him the message.  But

Lewandowski then decided to hand the task off to a White House official, to

Rick Dearborn, who was then deputy White House chief of staff.

 

According to Mueller`s report, Dearborn said, OK, sure, I`ll do it.  I`ll

take care of it.  I`ll pass on that message to Jeff Sessions, I`ll get Jeff

Sessions to do this crazy thing.  But then Rick Dearborn did not actually

pass the message on, did not actually do it. 

 

Now, we`ve talked about this specific incident on the show since the

Mueller report came out because it`s freaking ridiculous, right?  Because

it`s comical.  Corey, write this down.  But also because Mueller lays this

out very clearly, not just in terms of the facts in his report. 

 

He lays out very clearly, very plainly, like a choose-your-own-adventure

novel but one that had only one available ending.  Make your choice

carefully but there`s one choice.  I mean, Mueller laid out forward as

straight as possible that ridiculous incident with the president telling a

private citizen to go get the attorney general to give this speech

unrecusing himself, limiting Mueller`s investigation to future crimes.  He

then told Corey Lewandowski he should feel free to fire the attorney

general if the attorney general wouldn`t agree to do that, right? 

 

Mueller lays that out, in terms of the facts, as potential criminal

obstruction of justice and then he explains why that looks like criminal

obstruction of justice.  You need three elements under the law to bring

obstruction charges and try to prove them in court. 

 

You need obstructive act, in this case, the president directing the

curtailing of Mueller`s remit.  So, it would no longer apply to anything

having to do with Donald Trump.  You need a nexus to an ongoing

investigation.  The Mueller investigation was the ongoing investigation. 

 

And you need evidence of corrupt intent on the part of the person carrying

out the obstructive act.  And on that, Mueller was very blunt in volume two

of his report.  Substantial evidence of Trump`s corrupt intent to enact

this act of obstruction which is related to an ongoing investigation and

the intent was to try to save himself by curtailing this investigation that

posed a threat to him. 

 

So, obstructive act, check.  Nexus to an ongoing investigation, check,

check.  Evidence to obstruct, check, check, check, right?  It`s all there.

 

And Mueller lays it out in black and white.  It`s not even in legalese. 

It`s easier to read.  It`s a comical situation but he lays out how it`s a

crime. 

 

Upon receiving the report, Attorney General William Barr announced that

didn`t look like a crime to him.  That didn`t look like obstruction of

justice to him.  I wouldn`t charge that. 

 

Now, of course, we got that assertion from Attorney General William Barr

before Mueller`s report, even in the redacted form was ever released to

anybody else other than him.  He just said, I`ve got the report, you don`t,

I`ve looked at it all and decided that none of these things are crimes. 

 

Like, we never got any explanation from William Barr as to how he arrived

at that conclusion.  Let alone, how he could have instantly arrived at that

conclusion, not just on that alleged crime but on all of the other alleged

criminal behavior along those lines described in excruciating detail over

hundreds of pages in this report. 

 

He was able to just somehow, like, absorb the whole thing that he just held

the whole thing to his chest like, breathe in, nope, no crimes there.  I`m

the attorney general.  You know, I can just sniff.  There`s an odor that I

can, nope, it`s fine. 

 

He`s never explained how he processed all of that so quickly and all

uniformly, no crimes here.  Now, what we`re now realizing eight days in to

Mueller`s report being at least in redacted form being public, we`re now

realizing that it`s possible that William Barr is a little embarrassed

about how he has handled this.  Now that we have all seen what`s in this

report, which he took a deep whiff of and decided he smelled no crimes, we

can tell now he may be a little uneasy with the public having an

understanding of the distant between his proclamation there was no crime

here and what we can see about Mueller laying out evidence of a crime and

why it should be charged. 

 

The reason we can tell he`s maybe a little embarrassed about that, maybe

feeling a little heat about that is because “The Washington Post” now

published a long piece based on anonymous Justice Department sources who

are, quote, people familiar with the thinking that led to Barr`s

conclusions.  Hmm. 

 

Now, why would people familiar with the thinking that led to William Barr`s

conclusions be speaking to “The Washington Post” about the content of his

conclusions?  I mean, I don`t know and neither do you.  That`s the beauty

of anonymous sources, even those who speak on the condition of anonymity

because of the sensitivity of the matter. 

 

But the argument that is now being spelled out to “The Washington Post” to

try to make Barr look good, to try to justify what Barr did here, his

conclusion that he doesn`t see any crime here, it`s honestly not a great

argument. 

 

I mean, what Barr is telling “The Washington Post” here, I mean, I`m sorry. 

What people familiar with the thinking that led to Barr`s conclusions are

telling “The Post” here is that that particular instance of alleged

criminal obstruction I just described involving Corey Lewandowski and the

president telling Corey to take a memo and bring a draft speech to Jeff

Sessions and tell Jeff Sessions he`s going to have to unrecuse so he can

kibosh Mueller`s investigation of what happened in 2016, if he doesn`t do

it, Corey Lewandowski is supposed to fire the attorney general. 

 

I mean, that particular instance of obstruction, according to Barr`s

thinking as described in the “Washington Post” now by these anonymous

sources, Barr`s thinking is that that shouldn`t have been charges of

obstruction of justice because it was a scheme to obstruct justice that did

not work.  It didn`t actually succeed after the president tried to set that

obstruction in motion. 

 

Quote: Bringing a prosecution on these facts would have been complicated

because the obstruction relies on multiple people in a chain all doing

something.  And since all the people in the chain didn`t all do what they

were directed to do, that meant the obstruction didn`t work and therefore,

it`s not obstruction.  That`s the argument that`s being spelled out to “The

Washington Post” so we can all have a better understanding about how Barr

arrived at his conclusion. 

 

Now, I am no lawyer, but let`s just do a thought experiment.  Let`s say you

are sitting on your front step and a dude runs past you.  Runs past you.  A

loud alarm starts sounding at the bank at your corner.  All of the

employees, all the customers run out of the bank on your corner and say,

that guy, that guy who just ran past you, he just robbed a bank. 

 

As you`re observing this information, then a cop comes running down your

street, coming from the direction of the bank and he is going after the guy

who just ran past you.  Everybody`s pointing at that guy, that`s the bank

robber, the cop is yelling, stop, thief, stop, I`m police, stop. 

 

At this point, you, sitting on your front porch, stick your foot out and

trip the cop.  Under this purported reasoning from Attorney General William

Barr as spelled out in the “Washington Post,” that`s fine.  You`re good. 

As long as ultimately, that bank robber still got caught at some point,

you`re good.  Your obstruction effort, you tried but it didn`t work, which

means you`re fine. 

 

Now, do not try this at home.  This is not how the law actually works, but

this is the way that William Barr or rather, people familiar with the

thinking that led to the conclusions of William Barr, that`s how they are

explaining how he arrived at this idea that president Trump didn`t commit

the crime of obstruction of justice based on Robert Mueller plainly

explaining exactly that the president committed the crime of obstruction of

justice. 

 

So, why is this in the “Washington Post” now?  Why has this purported

justification of William Barr`s conclusions that the president didn`t

commit a crime here, why just appeared in “The Post”?  Regardless of what

you think about the quality of the reasoning being explained here and the

quality of the lawyering that Barr is trying to have ascribed to him, why

is his thinking process, why is his reasoning being described by anonymous

sources to the “Washington Post” today? 

 

Is it possible that William Barr is feeling a little bit of heat now about

his decisions, look, given what we can see and even the redacted version of

Mueller`s report?  And I mean, this, Corey Lewandowski mishegoss, this is

only one of the alleged incidents of obstruction of justice by the

president that is spelled out in totally plain language in Mueller`s

report.  There`s a whole bunch of incriminating incidents with as much

damning evidentiary and legal support and as much clarity from Mueller on

how the president`s acts meet every legal action of obstruction of justice. 

It`s not just this Corey Lewandowski one, there`s a whole bunch of them. 

Don`t take it from me, but this is a actually a pretty good summary. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  What do we do if the president

commits a crime?  Let him get away with it?  The crime is not a difficult

one to understand.  Obstruction of justice, the statute making obstruction

criminal prohibits interfering or attempting to interfere with a criminal

prosecution or an investigation of the government`s conducting. 

 

So when Bob Mueller said the president of the United States did about a

dozen things to slow down, impede, negate or interfere with the

investigation of his campaign or of his former national security adviser

General Michael Flynn, that`s a serious allegation of criminal activity. 

So when the president asked his former adviser and my former colleague at

Fox, K.T. McFarland to write an untruthful letter to the file, knowing

government would subpoena it, that`s obstruction of justice. 

 

When the president asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to

get fired, that`s obstruction of justice.  When the president asked his

then White House counsel to get Mueller fired and then lie about it, that`s

obstruction of justice.  When asked Don McGahn to go back to the special

counsel and change his testimony, that`s obstruction of justice.  When he

dangled the pardon in front of Michael Cohen in order to keep him from

testifying against him, that`s obstruction of justice. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Yes, I told you there were more examples.  That`s a good list. 

That`s Andrew Napolitano, who`s a former state court judge in New Jersey. 

He`s now the chief legal analyst on the Fox News Channel and his take on

the implications of the Mueller report in terms of the president and how

Attorney General William Barr handled this, it is not unlike what you may

have been hearing in legal circles for the past week since the redacted

report was released but definitely unlike what this president and this

administration have gotten used to hearing about themselves on Fox News. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

NAPOLITANO:  Why not charge him?  Because the attorney general of the

United States would have blocked such a charge.  Because the attorney

general of the United States is of the view that obstruction of justice can

only occur if you`re interfering with a criminal investigation of yourself. 

But that`s not what the obstruction statute says and that`s not what law

enforcement believes and that`s not what prosecutors do. 

 

Prosecutors prosecute people who interfere with government functions and

that`s what the president did by obstruction.  Where`s this going to end? 

We don`t know. 

 

If he had ordered his aides to violate federal law, to save a human life or

to preserve human freedom, he would at least have a moral defense to his

behavior.  But ordering them to break federal law to save him from the

consequences of his own behavior?  That is immoral, that is criminal, that

is defenseless and that is condemnable. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  And that is the Fox News Channel, which might explain why Deputy

Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a super defensive speech last night in

New York City declaring that everything that went wrong here happened

before he got there and none of it can be blamed on him.  It may explain

why the president himself is trying this incredibly risky gambit of trying

to block all testimony by people who served as witnesses for Mueller

including his own White House counsel. 

 

It may also be part of the heat that Attorney General William Barr appears

to be feeling.  At least as evidenced by the anonymous sources popping up

in the news, bearing blind quotes about how totally unreasonable William

Barr`s decisions have been despite visible evidence to the contrary. 

William Barr will be testifying in the open session in the Senate on

Wednesday and then open session in the House on Thursday.  Which means over

the weekend, I bet you dollars to donuts that we will get more blind quotes

from anonymous officials talking about really, if you think about it, how

reasonable William Barr really has been in this whole process despite what

you might have heard and actually, really, if you think about it, he`s kind

of a hero of the story, isn`t he?

 

Honestly though, given Barr`s performance, when it comes to handling

Mueller`s findings thus far in this week since we`ve been able to see him,

why is Congress bothering to hear from him at all?  Haven`t we sort of

heard from William Barr and got a sense from where he`s come from and how

he fits into this process?  I`d be happy to just stick with anonymous

officials describing William Barr`s take on things. 

 

Why don`t they just bring in Mueller instead?  Why are they bringing in

Barr next week and what`s the wait to getting Mueller to testify? 

 

Tick-tock.  Lots to come tonight.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  They convene at 10:00 a.m. 

 

Quote, the judge: Good morning, everyone.  Good morning, Ms. Butina.  We`re

here for the sentencing of Ms. Butina who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy

to act as an agent of a foreign government. 

 

I know that there`s some materials here that have been filed under seal and

there may be representations that you want to make to me under seal.  If

you do, we`re going to try and approach the bench.  I really don`t want to

have to clear the courtroom. 

 

That`s how the judge opens up and they don`t end up clearing the courtroom

during this sentencing. 

 

The sealed stuff at this point in the case of Maria Butina who was

sentenced today for her role in a Russian government directed effort to

influence conservative politics and the Republican Party, in large part

through the NRA, the sealed part of the proceedings involving her at this

point seemed to be most about her cooperation.  She pled guilty.  She

helped prosecutors, prosecutors say she helped them a lot with we don`t

know.  It`s all sealed. 

 

But her case, her case today got its ending.  For the prosecution, it was

assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Eric Kenerson. 

 

Quote: While it is certainly true that the defendant was an American

University student, and is a devoted daughter and sister, she was

simultaneously in her own words as quoted in the government sentencing

memorandum, executing a plan to establish unofficial contact based on

common views and a system of conservative values with key politically

minded organizations in the United States, including the executive level of

Political Party 1. 

 

Political Party 1, of course, is the Republican Party, which is funny,

currently led by a person who is referred to in court as Individual 1. 

From Political Party, see, it rhymes. 

 

Prosecutor, Mr. Kenerson, continues, quote: Defense is not contesting that

Ms. Butina was here trying to establish a back channel of communication

with Russia.  The defense does not contest that before she was a student,

she was able to get meetings with the Russian ambassador and that at that

meeting, she promised to send him contact information for a prominent

American and the name of an adviser to a presidential candidate who would

come to Moscow or that she was drafting notes that talked about how to

exert influence over U.S. foreign policy or noting how downplaying the

Kremlin hand will help the Russians exert the speediest and most effective

influence in the decision making apparatus of the U.S. establishment.  The

defense is not contesting that she sought the Russian governmental feedback

on someone she thought would be a secretary of state candidate believing

that the Russian opinion would be taken into account in the United States. 

 

So this is the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C., prosecutors here, laying out

the case for why the judge should sentence Maria Butina to 18 months in

prison for working as an unregistered Russian agent in the United States. 

They lay out that case from the prosecution`s side. 

 

The defense then lays out their case to the judge, saying Maria Butina

shouldn`t serve more time in prison.  She`s already done plenty of time

while she`s been awaiting trial.  They say she wasn`t a spy.  She was just

a curious graduate student.  She was keen on learning as much as she could

about the NRA and top leaders of the Republican Party. 

 

Ms. Butina herself has spent about five minutes addressing the judge,

expressing her remorse saying it had never been her intent to harm the

American people.  She said this was all a big misunderstanding.  It was

simply a failure to officially register as a foreign agent of Russia but

basically that was a paperwork problem. 

 

That`s how it started off today.  Prosecution made their sort of blistering

case.  Defense said, really, she did nothing wrong.  Butina said, I meant

to do nothing wrong.

 

And then it was the judge`s turn to have her hand down the sentence and

that was the hot, hot fire part of the day and that`s next. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Here`s how the judge started.  The judge, quote: With regard to

the nature of the offense as the former assistant director of the FBI`s

counterintelligence division noted in his sentencing declaration, the

United States is Russia`s primary target for malign and intrusive

intelligence operations. 

 

The judge says, quote, in targeting the United States, Russia works to

obtain not only classified material or trade secrets but also to collect

any information that could by itself or in conjunction with other efforts

assist the Russian government in increasing its geopolitical power or

undermining and harming that of the United States. 

 

Quote: contrary to defense counsel assertions in its sentencing memorandum,

this was no mere failure to provide the U.S. government with required

information.  This defendant was not simply seeking to learn about the U.S.

political system.  She was seeking to collect information about individuals

and organizations that could be helpful to the Russian government, and she

was doing this under the direction of a Russian official for the benefit of

the Russian government at a time when the Russian government was acting to

interfere and affect the United States` political and electoral process. 

 

Her activities, organizing gun rights organization, meaning NRA visits to

Russia, U.S./Russia friendship dinners, these were all used to establish

back channel lines of communication to advance Russian interests.  The

conduct was sophisticated and penetrated deep into political organizations. 

 

One of the things that Ms. Butina should have learned in the studies of the

country is that she was able to participate in our political system and

make connections because this is a country where our Constitution protects

individual`s freedoms to associate, gather and exchange ideas free from

governmental interference.  But this is also a country where the rule of

law means something, and our laws require her to declare her true business

in this country which was to gather information and to develop

relationships that could be used to Russia`s advantage. 

 

Quote: This was no simple misunderstanding by overeager foreign student,

the judge said.  Quote: There can be no doubt that the offense that Ms.

Butina has pled to is serious and jeopardized this country`s national

security. 

 

The judge then accepted prosecutor`s recommendation in sentencing Maria

Butina to 18 months in federal prison.  The defense counsel had asked for

time served because she`s already spent 9 months behind bars.  Part of the

reason Maria Butina has been in jail for nine months this entire time since

she was charged last year is because prosecutors had argued the minute she

got let out of jail on bail, she would immediately go to the Russian

embassy or have some Russian diplomatic vehicle picked up her on the street

and she`d be gone out of this country faster than you can say nyet. 

 

So, she was kept in jail this whole time but she didn`t get time served. 

She will do nine more months in prison on top of the nine months she`s

already done.  Court affirmed today after handing down her sentence that

she will be deported immediately to Russia upon the conclusion of her

sentence. 

 

And so this does sort of bring this case to a wrap, but number one, still

don`t know what she cooperated in.  Prosecutors actually argue that she

should get a lighter sentence because of the help she gave with other

cases.  We don`t know what those other cases are. 

 

And then there`s also the fact that this case wrapped sort of this week in

a way that feels quite resonant.  What the judge said there at today`s

sentencing reflected the way Justice Department prosecutors set up this

sentencing, right?  Saying that even though Maria Butina cooperated, even

though she pled guilty, what she did was super damaging to the national

security of the United States. 

 

This wasn`t some technical violation.  This was something that harmed

America.  Well, what she did do, right, what she admits to doing on behalf

of the Russian government was making contacts with influential people in

political circles in the United States for the purpose of serving Russian

intelligence needs. 

 

And according to the Justice Department, that is hugely harmful to the

United States.  It also rings a bell, right?  Because it has been a week

now that we have had the redacted Mueller report which seemingly details

those exact same kinds of contacts for that exact same type of purpose. 

And those targets not only landed, right, they succeeded in cultivating

multiple people who are currently serving in the federal government and who

were part of the Trump campaign. 

 

I mean, what Maria Butina did, we know lots of other Russians did when it

came to the Trump campaign, transition, and the Trump administration.  We

learned that from the Mueller report volume 1 this week. 

 

Regardless of the individual fate of Maria Butina, should we see today`s

sentencing of her, should we see the way that the Justice Department

spelled out the national security harm of those types of intelligence

operations by Russia, should we see this as sort of meaningful

communication from the Justice Department about the kind of harm that can

be caused by these type of operations? 

 

I mean, Robert Mueller we now know did not do a counterintelligence report. 

Robert Mueller apparently did not even do a counterintelligence

investigation of the president, his campaign or his administration.  Even

though we thought he was going to, the report makes clear that he didn`t. 

Is this case, the one sort of trailing end of that concern that we are

allowed to see? 

 

Joining us now is Frank Figliuzzi.  He`s a former assistant director for

counterintelligence at the FBI.

 

Mr. Figliuzzi, thank you for coming on the show.  I really appreciate you

being here. 

 

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGNECE AT THE

FBI:  Thanks, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  So let me ask you.  Hearing from the prosecutor there, hearing

from the judge there, knowing what was in the declaration from your former

counterpart at the FBI, what do you make about the way the Justice

Department and the judge in this case are spelling out the kind of harm

that was caused by the type of operation Maria Butina was engaged in and

whether that does have any wider resonance? 

 

FIGLIUZZI:  It`s noteworthy, Rachel, that the federal judge in the Butina

case chose to publicly link fact set in that case with the time period that

it was happening in and pointing directly to the Russians` efforts to mess

with our campaign and with the election.  That`s not something that`s

haphazard, that`s not something a federal judge just pulls out of thin air. 

She knows the fact of this case and she knows the level of cooperation that

Maria Butina offered to the U.S. government and she`s choosing to say

publicly she did this during a time where Russia was trying to influence

our elections. 

 

There`s a linkage there.  I`m not going to go far to say it`s a signal to

us that there`s a major connection but, look, the special counsel spent at

least a hundred pages of his report detailing contact after contact,

attempt after attempt by the Russians to get next to, successful attempts,

by the way, to get next to campaign officials, those in President Trump`s

circle. 

 

So, we see in Butina`s case a microcosm of what we see in the Mueller

report.  This is just one individual being sentenced today but realized

that the Mueller report details dozens and dozens of attempts in a hundred

pages, at least, in his report of Russia trying to do this over and over

again.  So I view this as a signal to us that, look, Russia is engaged in a

new kind of spying with a new kind of spy.  They tried to do it in the

Maria Butina case and they`ve done it to us already in spades in the 2016

campaign. 

 

MADDOW:  And, I mean, the way you`re putting that is clarifying for me.  I

feel like what we got from Mueller`s report, the redacted version of the

report we`ve got is, as you say, a description of dozens and dozens of

these efforts from the Russian side to get close, as you say, to people who

were involved in the Trump campaign, in Trump`s circles and Trump`s

business orbit, n the orbit of the transition and the administration. 

 

What we don`t hear from Robert Mueller is any sort of explanation as to

whether or not those things might have negative national security

consequences for the United States.  What the counterintelligence, what the

intelligence or counterintelligence cost might be of those dozens of

successful overtures to people in the president`s orbit. 

 

Am I missing it?  Is that there or should we expect to hear that from

somewhere else or the closest we get the declaration we got in Maria`s

sentencing? 

 

FIGLIUZZI:  You`re right that we have a gap here.  Let`s remember that the

whole special counsel inquiry started as a Russian C.I. case, a Russian

counterintelligence case.  And let`s remember that Andy McCabe, then acting

director of the FBI, chose to add the president`s name based on predicated

evidence to the Russian C.I. case.  Where is it? 

 

Has – we don`t know today, Rachel, whether the president`s name has been

removed from the title of that counterintelligence case.  And we aren`t

certain at all that the House or Senate Intelligence Committees have yet

received a briefing from the FBI on the status of that Russian

counterintelligence case.  And there`s D`s associated with

counterintelligence and what your objectives are.  It`s detect, deter and

defeat the adversary, OK? 

 

So, when it`s the president of the United States that you`ve opened a case

on, put a title, put his name in the title of, how do you defeat that and

detect and defeat that when he`s trying to obstruct the investigation

itself and where is that going?  We may never know.  We`ve got – in

American history, certain mysteries that remain under seal, whether it`s

tapes involving Martin Luther King, whether it`s something in the National

Archives about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

 

Is this going to be another one of those American mysteries where we simply

don`t know the answer? 

 

MADDOW:  It better not be.  Not while we`re living through it, it seems

inconceivable. 

 

Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the

FBI – Frank, thank you for being here.  We really appreciate it. 

 

FIGLIUZZI:  My pleasure.

 

MADDOW:  All right.  We got much more to come tonight.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  As the 2020 Democratic field hits numerological nirvana with now

20 candidates declared in the race, the progressive group Indivisible

signed up six of the 20 candidates in two days to what they`re calling the

Indivisible Pledge for a Constructive Campaign. 

 

Joining us now is Ezra Levin.  He`s co-executive director of Indivisible.

 

Ezra, thank you for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate you being

here. 

 

EZRA LEVIN, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDIVISIBLE:  Thanks for having me,

Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  So, the pledge is both for candidates and for people who are

supporting a Democratic nominee in 2020.  Is the pledge the same for both

groups? 

 

LEVIN:  The key points are exactly the same because as you mentioned, we`ve

reached this point of having 20 candidates in this primary.  And news

flash, 19 of them are not going to become president of the United States. 

We know that right now.  That`s a fact. 

 

And so, our contention is that number one, primaries are great.  Primaries

are an opportunity to debate the future of the progressive movement.  There

are differences between these candidates. 

 

There are differences around what we should do about concentrated wealth

and corporate power and the status of our democratic institutions and what

to do about climate change.  These are things we absolutely should be using

the primary to debate.  And also, at the end of the day, once we have a

nominee, it is our responsibility to rally around whoever wins and not just

endorse but do the work to beat Donald Trump because, you know, I don`t

care whether it`s your number one pick who wins or your bottom number 20th

pick who wins this nomination, they are Abraham Lincoln compared to Donald

J. Trump. 

 

And we need to do the work to put them in office. 

 

MADDOW:  So, you`ve asked candidates and people supporting the eventual

Democratic nominee to pledge to, number one, make the primary constructive,

number two, pledge to rally behind the winner, and number three, pledge to

do the work to beat Donald Trump. 

 

Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to sign on.  In a space of like two

days, you got Sanders, then Cory Booker, then Jay Inslee, then Julian

Castro, then Pete Buttigieg.  And now, this evening, Elizabeth Warren has

signed on.

 

Usually, candidates are allergic to pledges at this point.  Do you feel

like, did you have to lobby to these candidates to do it, or did you –

were you pushing on an open door here? 

 

LEVIN:   I think we`re going to get all the candidates here.  I think we`ve

got almost a third on board.  We`ll get the rest.  It`s where the

grassroots this. 

 

Look, this is not the Ezra Levin movement.  This is the Indivisible

Movement.  There are thousands of leaders all over the country who are

going to be asking these candidates on the stump to do the exact thing. 

 

So, you know, we have about a third of them.  We want to get the rest. 

 

And as you said, this is isn`t just about the candidates.  We as citizens

have a responsibility to do the exact same thing.  We`ve got about 16 weeks

in between the Democratic National Convention in July of 2020 and the

November 2020 election. 

 

We`ve got to be knocking on doors.  We`ve got to be making texts.  We`ve

got to be making calls in order to actually win. 

 

And actually, we`ve already started preregistering unity events for the

weekend after the convention.  We have Indivisible events in Ohio, in

Colorado, in Arizona and some of the key states being led by people who

say, look, I may have a preference in this primary.  But I know at the end

of the day, my role is to rally voters all around my community in order to

replace Donald Trump. 

 

MADDOW:  Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, again, these

things seem to be catching fire.  Six of the 20 candidates already signed. 

 

Ezra, keep us apprised.  Thank you. 

 

LEVIN:  Thanks so much, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Joe Biden`s campaign announced he raised $6.3 million in the first

day of his campaign.  That`s the largest total figure we`ve seen from any

contender thus far this year.  At least for now, that top fund raising

number matches his status at the top of the polls, as well. 

 

But here`s another metric: Joe Biden put Charlottesville and President

Trump`s comments about fine people on both sides at the heart of his

campaign announcement.  That had the instant and very unusual effect of

putting President Trump back on his heels and on defense. 

 

Today, President Trump awkwardly trying to explain his both sides fine

people thing with praise for Robert E. Lee.  Trump being asked about that

based on Biden`s announcement video asking him people asking him to defend

his comments on Charlottesville.  The president not having a good defense

for being able to do that, reminding us that defense isn`t his strong suit. 

 

Biden hasn`t even been in the race for 48 hours and already got Trump to do

that.  That`s something.  That`s a metric.  Ready, set, go.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Thank you for being with us on this fine Friday night.  I`m going

to spend the weekends chasing shad and failing to catch them.  But I will

see you on Monday and if I had any fish stories, I will bring them back for

you. 

 

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

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                               

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