McGahn failed to attend House Judiciary hearing. TRANSCRIPT: 5/21/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: The grassroots mobilization is not because of the
administrative state. The grassroots mobilization happens is because of
abortion, that is what gives it its fuel in this entire thing and it`s the
thing Leo has so sort of usefully married.
MELISSA MURRAY, CO-AUTHOR, “REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS AND JUSTICE STORIES”: And
it`s the thing that makes Donald Trump so integral to this.
MURRAY: Leonard Leo and Donald Trump do not see eye to eye.
HAYES: No, they`re partners of convenience, very much so.
MURRAY: This is marriage of convenience, exactly that.
MURRAY: Donald Trump is simply the vessel in which the federal society can
make these dreams a reality.
HAYES: Shawn Boburg and Melissa Murray, thanks for being here.
That is ALL IN for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Do you know I had a whole show planned for tonight? A whole show that you
can now find on the floor of my office. Off to cable news show heaven as
That`s OK. That is the nature of the news these days. You must change
course when newsbreaks and news has broken. “The Washington Post” has just
reported on something that is sort of astonishing, but honestly now that I
see this story, now that “The Washington Post” has broken this news and
posted this document, honestly I can tell we probably should have seen this
You see the headline there. Confidential draft IRS memo says tax returns
must be given to Congress. Oh, OK. This is going to be interesting.
The broader context here, of course, is that we are in this whole universe
of conflict ever since the Mueller investigation was ended, right? Sixty
days ago. It has been 60 days since Mueller turned up – since Mueller
turned in his report and the Justice Department announced his investigation
was done. In that 60-day period, we have seen neither hide nor hair of
Robert Mueller himself. What happened to him?
I mean, his investigation is done. There are findings, there were
conclusions. There were many, many questions raised as to what he looked
at and what he concluded. But he in this whole 60-day period has not said
a word. We`ve not heard anything from him since his report was submitted
apart from this release of this one short angry letter from him to Attorney
General William Barr, complaining to Barr angrily and directly that Barr
was misrepresenting the findings of Mueller`s investigation, and he was
giving the American people a mistaken impression as to what exactly Mueller
and his team found.
That`s it. That`s the only thing we`ve heard from Mueller. So they appear
to have Robert Mueller bound and gagged and tied up in a proverbial closet
somewhere for the past 60 days since his investigation was ended. Even 60
days on, we still have no idea whether and when we`ll be allowed to hear
from him and his team about their findings.
Congress is nevertheless pressing ahead trying to get documents from the
most important witnesses to Mueller`s investigation, which led to among
other things this fairly dramatic scene today where the former White House
counsel who described to Mueller myriad instances of the president
attempting to obstruct justice, and trying to fire the investigators and
inducing anybody he could to not cooperate with the FBI or Mueller`s
question, that witness former White House counsel Don McGahn today was the
no show star show witness at a Judiciary Committee and that was convened to
hear his testimony. But he didn`t show up and they setup an empty chair
Now, Don McGahn didn`t just decide to stand up the committee for scheduled
testimony, he defied a subpoena that legally required him to be there
today. He defied that subpoena on orders from the White House. The
Judiciary Committee rejects that. They now say they`ll take every action
regardless of what the White House says.
The Judiciary Committee also tonight announcing two new subpoenas, to other
important Mueller investigation witnesses, former White House
communications director Hope Hicks, also Annie Donaldson, who was Don
McGahn`s chief of staff during his time as White House counsel. Those
subpoenas have gone out to Hicks and Donaldson tonight. Now, presumably,
the White House will try to block those subpoenas as well, to block those
subpoenas from testifying as well.
Presumably, the Judiciary Committee will hold those witnesses in contempt
as well. They will pursue legal remedies against Hope Hicks and Mrs.
Donaldson and just as they have for Mr. McGahn, and just as they will all
for the rest of them as they continue subpoena Mueller`s witnesses and they
then try to enforce those legally binding subpoenas while the White House
orders those witnesses to not peep.
The Justice Department meanwhile is scrambling itself to try to hold off
the prospect that Attorney General William Barr is himself going to be held
in contempt again tomorrow for again defying a subpoena. This one issued
by the Intelligence Committee to hand over materials related to Mueller`s
So, I mean, it sort of feels like I think now because we`re 60 days into
it, oh, this must have been the way it`s always been. It`s not. This is
the new universe that we live in now that is a 60-day old universe.
Ever since Mueller had his investigation ended and had his report submitted
60 days ago, that was the start of this new conflict zone we`re in, where
Mueller can`t be heard from, where Mueller`s full report can`t be released,
where Mueller`s evidence can`t be released, where the intelligence behind
Mueller`s investigation can`t be released, where Mueller witnesses are not
allowed to testify, where documents related to Mueller`s investigation
can`t be handed over, where all those things are blocked. All those fights
are joined now. This is the 60-day fight we are in since Mueller wrapped
And then on top of all that, there is the financial front, right? Part of
what we learned in Mueller`s report is that Mueller apparently didn`t look
at Trump finances at all. For whatever reason, he does not appear to have
followed the money as part of his investigation. That has led
congressional committees to prioritize that avenue of inquiry as they try
to flush out and follow up Mueller`s investigation themselves.
Now, the president`s absolutely palpable desperation to prevent his
financial history and his tax history from being reviewed by anyone, I
think that provides a lot of the frenetic energy bordering on panic on the
White House side of these confrontations, right? I think that`s in part
the president seems concerned above all else that his financial history,
his tax history might make it into circulation or it might be looked at by
investigators or prosecutors. I think that`s part of what drives the sort
of frenetic energy and panic on the White House side of this, is the
president`s priority on making sure that information is not exposed.
But I think that energy on the part of the White House and that panic and
desperation is also driven by the fact the White House is clearly losing
the fights right now over the president`s finances and taxes. And the
president has already lost the first lawsuit he filed to try to stop
financial firms, including his banks and accountants from handing over his
financial documents in response to subpoenas. Trump`s lawyers today filed
an appeal in that first case they already lost.
But those efforts look pretty hopeless for the White House and the courts
are moving through these things quickly. And honestly, we`re expecting a
big dose of drama on that front tomorrow. We`ll get to that a little later
on in the show tonight.
But even with all of these conflicts in this 60-day universe we`ve been in
now, you know, no, you can`t have any documents, no, you can`t have any
witnesses, no, it doesn`t matter if you issue subpoenas, we`ll defy the
subpoenas. We`ll fight them in court. We`ll hire whole new fleets of
lawyers to gum up this stuff anyway we can.
Even in the context of all of these different fights, which we`ve just seen
exploding day after day over the past 60 days, even with that whole
universe sort of within our grasp, you have to know that the IRS thing
specifically is different. The IRS thing is not just another one of those
fights like all the others. Because when the chairman of the Ways and
Means Committee tells the IRS he wants to look at someone`s tax returns,
it`s not a run of the mill request. It`s not a congressional request like
This IRS thing is different because there is a law, a statute, an overt
clear simple law that has been on the books since the 1920s which makes it
clear in no uncertain terms when the chairman of the Ways and Means
Committee wants to see a tax return, he gets it. No questions asked. The
law just bluntly says hand it over, right?
Well, now the chairman in question here is Richard Neal. He`s a veteran
Massachusetts congressman. Incidentally, he`s my congressman. Even though
he`s my congressman, I would have a hard time picking him out of a line-up
at a distance. He`s just a low profile dude. He doesn`t go on TV a lot.
He doesn`t make a big stake about this fight he`s waging now or anything
But he`s been plugging away and pursuing this in his own sotto voce kind of
way, his own one foot in front of the other careful way. And whether or
not you like that about him statistically – I mean, stylistically, whether
or not you sort of – you know, you are in tune with the way he`s been
pursuing this, Richard Neal having a different approach than all of the
other members of Congress and all the other combatants who are fighting all
these other fights with the White House, Richard Neal having a different
approach is to be expected given that his fight is the effort to get the
president`s tax returns on a totally different basis than all the other
fights in Washington are taking place on right now.
I mean, he`s got this law he`s trying to have enforced. He`s simply
telling the Treasury Department and IRS to follow the clear law and do what
the law says they must do. Now, how do you win a fight like that if you`re
Richard Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, I think we can
surmise that his strategy is to keep it simple.
He knows the law is on his side. He knows the law is a clear and simple
thing here. He just has to press that point until some court compels the
Trump administration to follow the law. That`s how he`s pursuing it.
How do you try to win this fight if you`re the other side, if you`re the
Trump White House and you will do anything to stop the president`s tax
returns from being released law or no law – well, that is what we`re now
seeing reported out tonight. I mean, as you know in the two plus years
he`s been in office, President Trump has not been the most diligent chief
executive when it comes to actually hiring people to important jobs in the
federal government, right, when it comes to actually filling out senior
jobs in the administration.
He hasn`t bothered, you know, to make sure all the jobs are filled. Look
at the cabinet right now. It`s like half acting secretaries or something.
He doesn`t care.
But he has taken particular care to install his own handpicked leadership
at the top of the IRS, and incidentally at the Treasury. I mean, the IRS
is part of the Treasury Department. The president installed his chief
fund-raiser from his campaign as head of the Treasury. That itself is a
But then beneath him as head of the IRS, the president installed a somewhat
obscure California tax lawyer who just happened to have written an op-ed in
“Forbes” during the 2016 presidential campaign that argued that Donald
Trump definitely shouldn`t ever show anyone his tax returns. That was sort
of a fringe view during the 2016 presidential campaign from either party.
There`s decades of precedent from every president and every presidential
candidate in the post-Watergate era they release their taxes, right, and
everyone knows the good reasons for it. I mean, all the other candidates
in 2016 on both sides of the aisle all released their tax returns, right?
Trump even felt compelled to say during the campaign, even if he didn`t
mean it, he felt compelled to say at one point of course he`s release his
tax returns. Of course, he would. It would be crazy not to. Everybody
knows that a presidential candidate has to release his tax return.
But this random tax lawyer in southern California published this op-ed in
“Forbes” saying he didn`t think Trump should release his tax returns. And
wouldn`t you know it Donald Trump gets elected and Donald Trump picks that
guy out of everybody to be the new commissioner of the IRS. I wonder why.
This is the point I should also mention that same guy also happens to own
some nice Trump condos. He owns multiple Trump properties as rental units
at the Waikiki Trump International Hotel and Tower in Hawaii, while serving
as Trump`s IRS commissioner.
Right, how did he get the job? He publicly opined during the campaign that
Trump shouldn`t have to show his tax returns. Yes, I wonder how he got the
IRS job. That`s the number one guy at the IRS under Trump.
Who`s the number two guy at the IRS under Trump? Well, the number two job
at the IRS is chief counsel, top lawyer at the agency. “The New York
Times” reported last month that President Trump became unusually and
personally involved. He became personally insistent that his choice for
the top lawyer at the IRS should be advanced through the Senate, should be
prioritized as an administration personnel move and that that person should
be confirmed as quickly as humanly possible.
And this guy doesn`t even want a defense secretary, right? But he wants to
make sure the top lawyer at the IRS who he chose personally is in the job
and fast. When “The New York Times” reported last month that president
Trump personally interceded with the top Republican in the Senate, with
Mitch McConnell to tell McConnell that as far as he was concerned, as far
as President Trump was concerned, confirming this guy to be the top lawyer
at the IRS was a bigger priority to the president than confirming William
Barr to be the new attorney general.
Get on it. Get the chief counsel into the IRS. I`ve picked the guy for
you. His name is Michael Desmond.
And after the president personally interceded with Mitch McConnell, Mr.
Desmond was, in fact, confirmed by the Senate to be the number two guy in
the IRS, the IRS chief counsel. He`s been there since February of this
year. No Republicans voted against him when he was confirmed in the
Now, Desmond was partners at a D.C. law firm with president Trump`s current
tax attorneys. Desmond also admitted during his confirmation process that,
yes, maybe it was possible that at one point in his career, he had advised
the Trump Organization on tax matters. But he insisted really that was no
big deal and there would be no conflict.
He said during his confirmation process that if any tax matter concerning
the president himself arose during his time as IRS chief counsel, he would
seek advice from ethics officials as to whether or not he should recuse
himself on such matters.
So, that guy has been in there since February. Now here it is May. And
now the IRS is definitely dealing with a specific matter related to the
president`s taxes, right? The IRS is confronted with this legally binding
demand from Congress that they need to – they shall hand over the
president`s tax returns to Congressman Richie Neal.
Now, who`s making the decision on that the IRS in terms of how to respond
to that legally binding demand? We have been trying for a long time now on
this show to find out whether the IRS chief counsel who the president
personally insisted should be expedited through the Senate so he could be
installed in that job quickly, we have been trying for weeks now to find
out from the IRS whether in fact Mr. Desmond consulted with ethics
officials as to whether he should may be recuse from this matter involving
the president, given the fact he worked with the president`s tax attorneys
and he personally advised the president`s businesses on tax matters before
taking this IRS gig.
The IRS will not say whether Desmond was recused from any of that decision
making. They just will not say.
But now, tonight, “The Washington Post” reports that before Desmond got
there, before he was installed in February at President Trump`s personal
insistence, turns out the previous chief counsel at the IRS had put down in
black and white, had put down in a legal memo the bad news for the Trump
White House or for any White House that was seeking to defy or wriggle out
of the legal requirement to hand over a president`s tax returns.
Quote: A confidential IRS legal memo says that tax returns must be given to
Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive
privilege, according to a copy of the memo obtained by “The Washington
The memo contradicts the Trump administration`s justification for denying
lawmakers request for President Trump`s tax returns. Trump has refused to
turn over his tax returns but has not invoked executive privilege.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has instead denied the returns by arguing
there`s no legislative purpose for denying them.
But according to the IRS memo, which is not previously been reported, the
disclosure of tax returns for the committee is, quote, mandatory, requiring
the secretary to disclose the returns and return information requested by
the tax writing chairs in Congress. The ten-page document says the law
does not allow the treasury secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing
the information provided the statutory conditions are met. The memo
directly rejects the reasons Steven Mnuchin has cited for withholding the
information from Congress.
So, this is new. This is something we had no idea of before. It`s an
internal memo at the IRS that says there`s no discretion here. Hey, IRS,
hey, Treasury Department, you have to hand over the president`s tax
returns. There`s really no wiggle room.
And the Trump administration has defied a subpoena on this. Not only did
they defy the legally binding demand, they defied a followed up subpoena.
They`ve been saying, no, no, no, we`re going to defy the subpoena. We`re
not going to hand these things over because we question your motives for
wanting this information.
Well, the IRS` own legal analysis of this law and their responsibilities
under the law say it doesn`t matter why Congress wants the tax returns.
They don`t even have to state any reason at all. They`ve just got to hand
it over. That`s what the law says.
Now, the one theoretical silver lining here for President Trump trying to
block his tax returns from being handed over is this, according to “The
Washington Post” tonight, the memo says the only basis that the agencies
could refuse to comply with the committee subpoena would be to invoke the
doctrine of executive privilege. You could just imagine the Trump
administration being like, OK, OK, we`ll exert executive privilege here,
right? Everything is executive privilege, to say that about everything.
Will that get out of jail here?
But even in this IRS legal memo itself, according to “The Washington Post”,
this memo says this law which requires them to hand over the tax returns,
quote, might be read to preclude a claim of executive privilege. Meaning
this law itself could also be interpreted to say, yes, you might try to
invoke executive privilege here, but you can`t invoke executive privilege
to deny a subpoena.
So, this is new. According to the IRS` own legal reasoning, the Trump
administration must hand over Trump`s tax returns to Congressman Richard
Neal of Massachusetts. They must. They can try to exert executive
privilege to block it, but good luck. That`s not going to work either.
The law might even block that.
Basically, you got to do it. It`s mandatory, says the IRS. No wonder the
president wanted to install a new chief lawyer at the IRS who might look at
these matters differently.
I mean, there is a fist to brick wall conflict right now on everything.
Over these past 60 days since Mueller finished his investigation, turned in
his report, fist to brick wall. As the Trump administration and the Trump
White House try to block investigators and try to block Congress from
accessing absolutely anything having to do with this president or anything
that might derive from Mueller`s investigation or anything that might fill
in the gaps as to what Mueller did or didn`t look at.
On the financial stuff in particular, which seems to most animate the
president, on the president`s accounting information, the president`s
banking information and now the president`s tax information, that fist to
brick wall conflict is looking to be more one-sided than you might expect.
The wall`s crumbling faster than all the rest of it, and I think the
president cares more about that part of the fight. I think he cares more
about keeping his finances and his taxes secret than he cares about all the
rest of this stuff. In which case – watch out here we go.
Joining us now is Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas. He`s a member of the
House Ways and Means Committee.
Sir, thank you very much for being here tonight. It`s a pleasure to have
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): Thank you, Rachel. You`ve got it just right.
MADDOW: That`s what I wanted to ask you. Let me – I wanted to get your
reaction to this “The Washington Post” reporting tonight and what it means
for this effort that your committee has been fighting.
DOGGETT: It`s just another amazing development. It means that when
Secretary Mnuchin told me in the committee hearing on March 7th that he
couldn`t answer my questions and he needed more legal advice, he already
had legal advice and he had it when he made these multiple subsequent
excuses in responding or not responding to the committee.
You know, I believe that there`s no legal advice that will stop the
lawlessness and the lies of this administration. And that`s why Congress
needs to act firmly now to use every tool it has available to get this
information that Trump so fears that the public will see and to – to take
action, I believe, it`s going to require fines or confinement under our
power of inherent contempt to get the information we need and to get all
these other people that under what seems to be gang rule are told don`t say
anything and don`t provide anything. Total silence, total obstruction.
MADDOW: Who would you expect would need to be fined or confined in your
words there in order to compel respect for this subpoena?
DOGGETT: Well, this subpoena is directed to the IRS commissioner who
you`ve mentioned has extensive experience on this matter. But Secretary
Mnuchin has never let him answer the question. He responds with all the
I think that both of them could be subject to fines or confinement. I
think, you know, there are so many people out there from McGahn to Barr and
others who are refusing to disclose and respond to the congress, it`s
probably a matter of selecting one of them and moving forward to show how
this power of inherent contempt could work. But here we are, you know,
approaching Memorial Day, June is approaching. And this Congress has not
filed any action concerning any of these matters.
And I think we`ve got to take action and take it promptly or the White
House will conclude we don`t really mean it, we`re just going to talk and
MADDOW: Congressman, let me ask you about one specific aspect of this.
MADDOW: I have been – I have been interested or it`s been sort of stuck
in my craw this issue of the number two official at the IRS, chief counsel
at the IRS. We now know from “The Washington Post” reporting that the
previous chief counsel at the IRS appears to have drafted this memo which
says bluntly, yes, that law makes it mandatory. We got to hand over the
president`s tax returns.
We know from “New York Times” reporting that the precedent interceded
directly to install a new chief counsel of the IRS of his own choosing as
soon as Democrats took control of the House and were sworn in. He was sort
of rushed through the Senate right away in February at the president`s
personal insistence. He had previously advised Trump businesses on tax
matters. He said during his confirmation process that he`d seek ethics
advice about whether he`d need to be recused from any decision making
involving the president`s own taxes once he was at the IRS.
We haven`t been able to get any word from the IRS as to whether he actually
did that or whether this person personally chosen by the president who has
previous experience working for the president might himself have been
involved with this decision making process at the IRS.
Is that something we should have a right to figure out, that you think we
might be able to chase down somehow?
DOGGETT: Absolutely. And recusal seems to have gone out of fashion in
this session with Jeff Sessions. But there certainly should have been a
recusal with this individual here.
You know, we can`t find out whether Trump is under audit, has ever been
under audit, has any basis we fight not only to get the returns, but to
determine whether the audit actually ever occurred or is under audit now.
That`s other information that he could provide and has not provided.
But it`s consistent as you pointed out with what he`s written in the past,
the position he`s taken of acting not on behalf of the public trust but on
behalf of Trump as his personal assistant much in the way that Attorney
General Barr has become his personal attorney.
MADDOW: Congressman Lloyd Doggett –
DOGGETT: Thank you.
MADDOW: – member of the House Ways and Means Committee – sir, it`s great
to have you here. Come back soon.
DOGGETT: Thanks so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, sir.
All right. It`s all moving very, very fast.
The vice chair of the Judiciary Committee is going to be here live in just
a moment. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): When this committee issues a subpoena, even to a
senior presidential advisor, a witness must show up. Our subpoenas are not
optional. Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled
appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee
will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.
President Trump may think he can hide behind his lawyers as he launches a
series of baseless legal arguments designed to obstruct our work. He
cannot think these legal arguments will prevail in court, but he can think
he can slow us down and run out the clock on the American people.
Let me be clear: this committee will hear Mr. McGahn`s testimony even if we
have to go to court to secure it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the Judiciary Committee today.
Now, what will happen if and when they go to court to secure Don McGahn`s
testimony now that McGahn is defying a subpoena to testify about the
Mueller investigation, I don`t know. That committee also today subpoenaed
Don McGahn`s chief of staff. They also subpoenaed former White House
communications director Hope Hicks today as well.
Those two were also both important witnesses for Mueller as was Don McGahn.
What will happen if Hicks and Donaldson defy their subpoenas as well just
as Don McGahn has? I don`t know.
What happens when the House finds Attorney General William Barr in
contempt, possibly now twice for him refusing to hand over subpoenas
demanding that he give Congress Mueller`s full report? What will happen
when he`s found in contempt again probably twice, I don`t know.
And honestly, now at 60 days since Mueller`s report was submitted, where`s
Mueller? What`s the actual hang-up with getting his schedule for testimony
so he can explain what happened with his investigation, what he looked at
and what he didn`t?
Joining us now is Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania. She`s
the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. She`s also a member of
Congress who spearheaded the effort a few days ago to read the Mueller
report cover to cover out loud to congress.
Congresswoman Scanlon, thank you so much for being here. I really
REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): Thank you for having me on.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about that last point first. Tell me about that
rationale in having yourself and others in Congress read that report out
SCANLON: Well, you know, there was this increasing frustration, the report
had been out for over a month and we kept hearing this drum beat of no
obstruction, no collusion. Anyone who`s read the Mueller report knows it
doesn`t say no obstruction, no collusion. It says, yes, there`s a lot of
evidence of cooperation and there`s a lot of evidence of obstruction of
So, you know, we thought it was important since we had been unable so far
to get in the witnesses or be able to start producing the underlying
evidence because of Mr. Barr`s defiance of our subpoena. We thought at
least we could start reading the Mueller report so that people heard what
was in it.
MADDOW: In terms of Mueller`s report and what`s in it, the one thing we`ve
heard from Robert Mueller since his investigation was wrapped up and that
report was submitted is we got access to that short little somewhat angry
letter from Mueller to William Barr just after Barr had started making
public statements about Mueller`s findings. And we know that Mueller wrote
to him basically to complain that Barr was misrepresenting his findings and
the nature of his investigation to the American public.
That little letter is the only thing we`ve heard from Mueller himself since
his investigation was wrapped up and his report was submitted.
Do you believe we are ever going to hear from him? Can you give us any
sort of update as to why he`s disappeared for the past 60 days?
SCANLON: Well, I know he`s been here and his representatives have been in
contact with the Judiciary Committee. There have been ongoing discussions
when he would come in to testify. But, of course, from the Judiciary
Committee`s point of view, we would like to have the full report and the
underlying evidence before we start questioning him because it makes for a
much better hearing if you have the base material there before you.
Now, that doesn`t mean that we`ll have the wait forever to get the material
first, but it would be the preferable way to proceed.
MADDOW: In terms of getting Mr. Mueller in the witness chair, we`ve had
sort of conflicting or at least fuzzy reports as to whether or not he wants
to testify. It`s not clear to me that that`s the most important issue.
Plenty of people don`t want to testify and end up testifying.
It`s also not clear to me despite Mr. Mueller`s wishes one way or the other
whether or not it`s the Justice Department interceding here to stop him
from testifying or whether it`s Mueller himself.
Do you have any clarity on that?
SCANLON: I`m afraid I don`t. I mean, certainly, we`ve heard the president
say now he intends to obstruct all investigation here, that he doesn`t
think there should be any further investigation. But I think that really
belies what the Mueller report said. The Mueller report said, you know, I
can`t make a prosecutorial recommendation of an indictment of a sitting
president but I`m going to preserve the evidence and Congress should do
something about this.
MADDOW: I wonder because it got me thinking when Attorney General Barr was
testifying to the Senate, he was talking – he`s asked about that letter I
just mentioned in which we see Mr. Mueller angrily expressing his
displeasure to Barr, that Barr has been misrepresenting his investigation.
And in response to questions about that William Barr said effectively that
he believed that wasn`t Mueller`s own writing, that that had been Mueller`s
staff that had been writing it. It was a snitty letter in his words, and
he believed this was Mueller`s team not Mueller himself.
Once Mueller`s team, the prosecutors who worked with him and the agents who
worked with him had been sort of denigrated that way by the attorney
general and cited that way to explain what seems to be an important point
of conflict between the attorney general and the special counsel`s office,
that raised the question for me as to whether or not, not just Mueller
should be testifying but whether his team, his prosecutors and agents who
worked on his investigation might also be asked to come in and talk,
whether the Judiciary Committee might also want to talk with them, either
on their own or with Mueller together.
Do you have any thoughts on that?
SCANLON: I mean, it sounds like a great idea although it seems a little
bit shocking the attorney general is saying that members of the special
counsel`s team are drafting letters and signing his name to them. I think
that sounds a little bit ridiculous.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, vice chair of the
House Judiciary Committee. Keep us surprised. This is – I know this is
fast moving thing at this point. Please keep us surprised.
MADDOW: We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here`s a story. Or here`s at least a series of events that may or
may not be connected but I`m trying to wrap my head around them.
It starts a little over a year ago. The U.S. government puts sanctions on
a Kremlin connected but I`m trying to wrap my head around them. Starts a
little over a year ago. The U.S. government puts sanctions on a Kremlin-
connected Russian oligarch, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir
Putin, a guy by the name of Oleg Deripaska. Used to do a bunch of work
with Paul Manafort, you ever heard of him?
Anyway, the new sanctions on Oleg Deripaska were punishment by the U.S.
government in part for Russia`s attack on our 2016 election. Those
sanctions on him also included sanctions on Deripaska`s giant aluminum
company, which is called Rusal. Well, after the sanctions were put on
Deripaska, there followed a robust and very expensive campaign by lobbyists
Deripaska got what he paid for in that lobbying campaign. The Treasury
Department soon announced that actually, second thoughts, they were going
to lift the sanctions on Deripaska`s company. They were going to lift the
sanctions on Rusal.
And then something remarkable kind of happened. A big bipartisan majority
in the House of Representatives said, actually, no. The U.S. government
should not lift those sanctions. Are you kidding? Oleg Deripaska was
sanctioned for a reason, for a good reason. Why is the Trump Treasury
department lifting those sanctions?
It wasn`t just Democrats in the House, it was 70 percent of Republicans in
the House who voted with Democrats to block the Trump administration from
getting rid of those sanctions on Deripaska`s aluminum company. So big
bipartisan vote in the house to tell the Trump administration, no, don`t
lift those sanctions. Those sanctions should stay. Then it goes over to
Senate turns out to be a different story. There were a whole bunch of
Republican senators who wanted to join the House in making sure those
sanctions stayed on Deripaska`s company. But the Senate Republican Leader
Mitch McConnell made sure that measure met a swift death on his side of the
capitol. And so, the Trump administration was allowed to, in fact, lift
those sanctions on Oleg Deripaska`s aluminum company earlier this year.
And since then, there have been a couple of notable developments, involving
Mitch McConnell. First, Oleg Deripaska`s company announced last month that
they have made a surprise decision to spend $200 million opening a new
plant in Mitch McConnell`s home state of Kentucky. They`ll come with a bow
on it. It`s a project they`ll say will bring billions of dollars and
thousands of jobs to Mitch McConnell`s state.
Secondly, just before that deal, that present to Mitch McConnell was
publicly announced, one of Rusal`s lobbyists was dispatched to give Mitch
McConnell a heads up about this big present he was getting from Oleg. This
heads up they`d be building a brand spanking new plant in his state after
all the good work Mitch McConnell did to make sure Rusal would have its
sanctions lifted. The lobbyist who delivered that good news to Mitch
McConnell, the guy who personally made the call is a man named David
You may have recognized him? Used to be a Republican senator from
Louisiana. Kind of famous for a sex scandal that never really resolved
What we`ve since learned is that within five weeks of David Vitter calling
Mitch McConnell to tell him that Rusal was going to put this plan in
Kentucky, Rusal is going to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into Mitch
McConnell`s home state, within five weeks of that call, the nomination of
David Vitter`s wife to be a federal judge, a nomination that had been
languishing for a year and a half because she was so humiliatingly,
embarrassingly unqualified for the job, whose confirmation hearing went so
badly it went viral and got her nomination buried. Turns out, without five
weeks of Mitch McConnell getting that call from David Vitter saying, hey, I
got an aluminum plant we`re going to put in your home state, thanks from
Within five weeks of that call, Wendy Vitter`s nomination got pulled off
the trash heap by Mitch McConnell, and Mitch McConnell expedited it, put it
at the top of the list and now she is a federal judge for life. It must be
We contacted David Vitter`s fancy lobbying firm today. They do not dispute
that David Vitter is the one who gave McConnell that heads up about Rusal
putting the plant in Kentucky after Mitch McConnell did what he did for
Rusal and Oleg Deripaska.
When we asked David Vitter tonight whether there was any connection between
that and his wife`s subsequent surprise confirmation to a lifetime federal
judgeship, he told through a spokesman, quote, absolutely not. We put the
same question to Mitch McConnell`s office tonight but we got no answer.
McConnell`s office says lifting sanctions, of course, had nothing to do
with the investment in Kentucky by the firm that he lifted the sanctions
But as for the lobbyist`s wife who`s now a federal judge, no response from
McConnell. I will tell you we are not the only ones asking questions about
this sequence of events. Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Several prominent House and Senate Democrats have just started
raising alarms about a $200 million investment in a Kentucky aluminum plant
from a Russian company. That was announced right after Kentucky`s senior
Senator Mitch McConnell green lit the Trump administration lifting
sanctions on that company and on the Kremlin connected sanctioned oligarch
who controls it.
Joining us now is one of the senators who`s raised the red flag on this and
calling for a review of that sequence of events, Senator Sherrod Brown of
Ohio, who`s top Democrat on Banking Committee.
Sir, great to see you. Thanks for being here.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Good to be back. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So you`re one of the senators who`s written a letter to the
treasury asking a review of this deal, asking the committee on foreign
investment in the United States to review this. What are your concerns
BROWN: Yes. I – you know, I – whenever the Russians or – particularly
the Russians and Chinese make major investments in this country, we wrote a
law – we strengthened a law about a year ago, bipartisan overwhelming vote
to make sure that we look at these investments and what it means to
national security, what it means if they come in and buy steel or aluminum
plants and who knows what their ultimate plans are.
Clearly, they`re buying influence. Clearly, whether it`s buying – whether
it`s the Chinese buying rail cars or the New York bus system or on
investment like that. So, we know it`s potentially a national security
issue. It`s always a local jobs issue. We want this investigated because,
in the end, we know why these companies – these countries often come in.
This is more complicated because Deripaska, Oleg Deripaska as you pointed
out was an oligarch that we sanctioned because of the elections, his
closeness to Putin and all that. And he`s had significant interest in
Rusal. That`s why the House overwhelmingly did what you talked about and
the Senate would have if McConnell had worked his magic with a bunch of
MADDOW: I want to ask you about that part in particular. Watching from
the outside, seeing that huge vote in the House, I mean, that was a
remarkable thing. Seventy percent of Republicans in the House voted to
defy the Trump administration and tell them, no, you shouldn`t lift these
sanctions on Deripaska and his company. Those sanctions are there for a
You don`t see House Republicans sort of flout the Trump administration very
often, but it was an overwhelming vote in the house. You`re saying in the
Senate the vote would have gone the same way, there would have also been
another rebuke of the administration in the Senate which would have
effectively stopped them from lifting those sanctions but McConnell is the
one, he was the decider who, in fact, tilted the balance on this, himself?
BROWN: Well, I think in the House, I don`t know for sure, but in the
House, it looked like because it was going to be such an overwhelming vote,
more and more Republicans thought it looked good to vote that way. In the
Senate, when Trump and McConnell are on the same side and when Trump is
protecting McConnell and McConnell is protecting Trump, which it looks to
be both ways here, a lot of – most of the Republicans went with him.
And I was the floor leader, if I recall, on this, I think because they came
out, it was our committee and the Banking Committee, and we saw what
happened in the House. We knew we were in trouble in the Senate because
McConnell weighed in like this. And then other things began to happen.
Whether it was our Deutsche Bank hearing today, or whether it`s Rusal
investing in the U.S. and the U.S. lifting sanctions, the U.S. Treasury
Department lifting sanctions, we know that the Russians and Trump and
McConnell are quite a, I guess to use the Russian word, quite a troika –
three way, I guess a slave, ultimately, takes us in a bad place.
MADDOW: I want to ask you about that Deutsche Bank hearing, sir. If you
wouldn`t mind sticking with us for one more second, I wanted to ask you
BROWN: Of course.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is our guest. We`ll be right back.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is back with us. Thank you, again,
BROWN: Sure. Of course.
MADDOW: So, yesterday, we got the report in “The Times”, “The New York
Times”, that Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering staff, it reported
multiple instances of suspicious activity in accounts associated with the
president and Jared Kushner. But “The Times” says the bank didn`t submit
those suspicious activity reports to the government, they essentially sat
on them despite their own employees throwing these red flags.
You`re the top Democrat on the Banking Committee. I saw you today asking
treasury officials about this. It made me just wonder if this was – was
this news to you? Had you known about any of this before? Does this seem
like an important development for you?
BROWN: Well, we didn`t know it because apparently the powers that be at
Deutsche Bank didn`t file anything which they should have done if “The
Times`” reports are correct. What we do know is Trump regulators, the
Trump financial regulators all across the board from the Federal Reserve
and OCC and FDIC and all the Trump pro-Wall Street regulators, I mean, I`ve
said on the show before the White House looks like a retreat for Wall
Street executives and they`re paying off these days by helping – by
weakening the regulations on foreign banks in the United States.
And many of these banks headed up by Deutsche Bank, they seem to the worst
offender, have broken all kinds of American laws in addition to what
they`ve done around the world on money laundering and other things. So,
you got the Trump problem with Deutsche Bank, which seems very, very real,
although the regulators wouldn`t tell us anything today from Treasury,
coupled with the deregulation they`ve done with the foreign banks in the
United States, pretty much after they promised the committee they wouldn`t
do it. And it`s a serious, serious problem. We need to know more.
MADDOW: Do you have confidence that your committee or that any of the
other committees that are now starting to look at this stuff may be able to
get to any of this?
BROWN: Well, I have confidence that the House will find more because they
have subpoena power. I have great faith in the media with most, much of
the media, believes, as you know, and afflicting the comfortable, and
comforting the afflicted. I think their aggressiveness on this, having a
free media and a free press matter a great deal in this country, and I`m
hopeful because of that.
And we will keep pushing and asking questions and watching. We don`t have
subpoena power in the minority, but we will keep raising this issue and a
special shout-out to Chris Van Hollen from Maryland who has really stood
strong on this issue, too.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown, top Democrat on the –
BROWN: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: – Banking Committee – sir, it`s always great to have you here.
Thanks a lot.
BROWN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One thing to watch for in tomorrow`s news, 2:30 p.m., federal
court in New York, a judge is going to hear arguments as to whether or not
Deutsche Bank has to comply with a subpoena to hand over the president`s
financial information, his own and his business. It includes a lot of his
federal tax returns.
This is the twin lawsuit to the other lawsuit involving the president`s
accounting firm that he lost in federal court yesterday. But 2:30 p.m.
tomorrow, a judge will hear those arguments about the Deutsche Bank part of
this. I cannot wait to hear those arguments.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH 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