Julian Assange indicted under espionage act. TRANSCRIPT: 5/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was a really, really, really important and
really good segment on that topic.
HAYES: Thank you.
MADDOW: And having both of those guys here are exactly the right people to
hear from and that was super – I`m about to talk about this same story but
that was super edifying.
HAYES: I`m glad you are. Yes, it`s a big one. It`s a big one.
MADDOW: And I think – I share your four-alarm sense about this. I think
– it`s interesting to me that this hasn`t taken over the news cycle all
day today. I think it may.
HAYES: I think partly because of the weirdness of the first set of
indictments that was superseding. If it led with this, it would have been
a bigger story out of the gate. It`s a weird thing they did there.
MADDOW: It is a weird thing. I think it`s going to have some weird
consequences in the short order. But I`ll get to that now.
Thank you, my friend. Well done.
HAYES: I`ll go watch. Thanks.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I`m happy to have
you with us.
And as I mentioned to Chris, I am sort of surprised that this story is not
more wall-to-wall everywhere right now. I do think in coming days as
people really absorb what this new indictment means, it may end up being as
big a story as it deserves to be.
As you by now may have heard, the WikiLeaks guy, Julian Assange, has been
newly indicted. Last month, he was taken out of that embassy in London
where he had been hiding for the past few years trying to avoid criminal
prosecution in multiple countries. It looks like Sweden is pursuing rape
charges against him now, the U.K. has prosecuted him and now jailed him for
But when he was pulled out of that embassy last month, he was charged in
the United States with a computer hacking charge. He was specifically
charged for helping a U.S. soldier, whose name is Chelsea Manning, helping
her try to break a password basically to cover up unauthorized access to
classified materials, which Manning was illegally downloading from a
Defense Department computer for the purpose of sending them to WikiLeaks to
Now, the U.S. laid that charge against Julian Assange. They said they
wanted to bring Assange to trial on that charge here in the United States.
But he is not here in the United States, he`s in the U.K. And the U.K. has
to decide whether or not they are going to extradite, whether or not they
are going to ship him over here to face that criminal charge. That was the
situation heading into today.
Now today, apparently, the United States government has decided maybe they
don`t want the U.K. to extradite Julian Assange here to ever face trial.
Or at least that would appear to be the intriguing, fascinating and very
worrying bottom line of this remarkable thing that the Justice Department
did today when they unsealed a new superseding indictment, so an additional
indictment against Assange. Only this time it is not the same kind of
criminal allegation they made against him in the initial indictment. It`s
not some hacking computer crime like they originally charged him with.
Now as of today they are charging him with 17 counts under the Espionage
Act. And these charges are not about stealing classified information or
outsmarting security systems in order to illegally obtain classified
information. It`s not about that. These new charges are trying to
prosecute Assange for publishing that stolen secret material, which was
obtained by somebody else.
And that is a whole different kettle of fish than what he was initially
charged with. There has never in this country been a successful
prosecution under the Espionage Act of some third party for publishing
something that somebody else stole or something that otherwise made its way
out of the government while the government was trying to keep it secret.
We`ve never in this country successfully charged somebody for publishing
But by charging Assange for publishing that stuff that was taken by
Manning, by issuing these 17 charges today, the Justice Department has done
something you might have otherwise thought was impossible. The Justice
Department today, the Trump administration today, just put every
journalistic institution in this country on Julian Assange`s side of the
ledger, on his side of the fight, which I know is unimaginable. But that
is because the government is now trying to assert this brand new right to
criminally prosecute people for publishing secret stuff. And newspapers
and magazines and investigative journalists and different entities publish
stuff all the time. That is the bread and butter of what we do, right?
There is a reason, it`s called the First Amendment, that the U.S.
government has never successfully made that a crime before. But here with
Assange, they are trying to do it. And as a matter of law, this is not at
all about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks doing what they did in the 2016
election. This is not related to them working with Russian intelligence
material in 2016 to try to help Trump win the election and to try to hurt
Hillary Clinton. This is not about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange personally
strategizing with Trump campaign staffers about how to beat Hillary Clinton
as they were releasing all of that information stolen by the Russians.
These new charges have nothing to do with that. These new charges also
frankly have nothing to do with the nature of the material that WikiLeaks
published from the Chelsea Manning documents in 2010. What this is, is now
a novel legal effort to punch a huge hole in the First Amendment by
labeling it spying, labeling it criminal espionage to publish secret stuff,
in a country where we have a long, proud journalistic history of
journalistic entities publishing secret stuff.
And, of course, this comes conveniently at a time when this administration,
this president personally, is calling the press the enemy of the people.
The president this week gleefully saying that his new attorney general is
looking at bringing criminal charges, bringing criminal investigations
against the president`s personal enemies. The president expressing glee
about that this week at a political rally that he likes his new attorney
general for doing that.
And I am sure this president would love to establish a new legal doctrine,
a whole new legal lane for the U.S. government that`s never existed before,
where anyone who publishes stuff the government doesn`t want published gets
prosecuted by the Justice Department under the most serious statutes
imaginable, facing long prison terms for doing it. I`m sure this president
would want that. I`m sure he is absolutely stupefied that he doesn`t
already have that power.
But he doesn`t have that power. He`s never had it before. No president
has. And this is the president who`s saying that the FBI is committing
treason. And the press is the enemy of the people.
I`m sure he`d be happy to say that the press is committing treason too and
espionage and all the rest of it.
But what`s going to happen next year is going to be fascinating, because in
order to pursue this prosecution, the United States will have to persuade
Great Britain, our great ally, that they should extradite Julian Assange
here to face these new charges. And from the U.K.`s perspective, I mean,
obviously the U.K. and the U.S. have an incredibly important and close
relationship that extends absolutely to having close and cooperative
relationships on all sorts of law enforcement and intelligence matters.
But I think there may be reason to not expect automatic British deference
on something like this. I mean, for one thing, however special the
relationship is between the U.S. and the U.K., it may have become
considerably less special once we inaugurated a new president that heads a
new White House where they literally can`t even spell the name Theresa May,
who was prime minister of the U.K. It`s not like it was a tough name.
They really can`t manage it, ever.
Theresa May right now, frankly, has bigger fish to fry. Her role as prime
minister is uncertain. The future of her government is very uncertain.
British politics has not teetered like this in a very long time but it
teeters right now more precipitously than ever thanks to the Brexit
disaster. That incidentally our own president has loudly supported and
tried to link to his own presidential campaign.
And honestly even if the U.S./U.K. relationship were as strong as ever, the
Brits really do have an unequivocally independent judiciary and legal
system that was always going to consider this critically because it was
always going to be controversial. It was controversial even when it was
just the one computer hacking crime, right? Now that it`s espionage? I
mean, it will not help the American case to extradite Julian Assange that
the U.S. is trying something totally novel on him, right? The U.S. has
never successfully brought these kinds of charges ever before.
I mean – I`m going to tell you the bottom line here is stay tuned on this,
but I think these 17 espionage charges against the WikiLeaks guy are a huge
deal and very dark development. Chris Hayes this evening called it a four-
alarm development. I absolutely share that.
And you know, I know you. Given everything else that we know about the
WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed
feelings about what I am saying, right?
I can feel what may be perhaps a certain lack of concern about Julian
Assange`s ultimate fate, right, given his own gleeful and extensive
personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interfere in
our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks`
help, right? I know. I feel you. I got it.
But it is a recurring theme in history. Heck, it is a recurring theme in
the Bible that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this
stuff on first. Despite anybody`s feelings about this spectacularly
unsympathetic character at the center of this now international drama, you
are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every
First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center swallow
their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump
administration is trying to do here, because it would fundamentally change
the United States of America. It would fundamentally change the balance of
power between the people and our government.
But as I said, in the first instance, it will be interesting to see what
happens in Britain, because they`re going to have first crack at this. My
guess is that these radical new charges, this novel new effort by the
Justice Department to turn pushing secret material into violation of the
Espionage Act for the first time ever, I think there`s a good chance that
will be viewed as controversial enough by U.K. authorities that it may
preclude them from ever sending him over here to stand trial. I mean, they
have rules of their own that preclude them from sending somebody to, for
example, face a political prosecution. I don`t know if that`s how they
will define this sort of thing, but they should recognize that what Assange
is being charged with, regardless of how you feel about Assange, it is a
fundamentally novel and radical thick that the Trump administration is
trying to do.
And that will matter to them when they make their extradition decision,
what wasn`t a sure thing anyway. And while that is happening, literally
today, Britain is boiling its own totally different kettle of fish that
will have profound implications for Theresa May, for the British
government, and for that country`s relationship with us and every other
country on earth. Today was the first day of voting in the U.K. and in the
Netherlands, in the European elections that are happening over the next
U.K. and the Netherlands vote today. Tomorrow, it`s Ireland and the Czech
Republic. On Saturday, it`s Latvia, Malta and Slovakia. And on Sunday,
it`s the other 21 European – other 21 countries in the European Union.
Now, these elections happen once every five years. These are elections to
fill seats in the European parliament, which has 751 seats. There`s going
to be hundreds of millions of people voting over these four days. It looks
like what we are likely to see as results from this voting is a whole bunch
of far right anti-immigrant and fundamentally anti-European parties doing
very well in these elections, which ironically will fill the European
parliament. Their idea is that they will hopefully destroy it from within.
You may remember back in 2016 how the Brexit referendum in the U.K.
happened just a few months before our presidential election that year, that
shocking result of that referendum where British voters defied the polls
and narrowly voted to pull up all the drawbridges and saw Britain off from
Europe, even though they had absolutely no idea what that would mean and
how they would do it. That Brexit vote in the summer of 2016 was a global
At the time for us as Americans, it was shocking. In retrospect, I think
we now look back at that vote from the summer of 2016 and recognize that
when just a few months later in that same year, November of that same year
when our own polls proved wrong, when Donald Trump was all of a sudden
elected president, of all people, I think now looking back with the
advantage of both hindsight and a wide-angle lens, it seems at least
plausible that that Brexit vote in the summer of 2016 was a little bit of a
harbinger for what was coming our way just a few months later in the fall
Well, now here we are again with these European elections starting today.
And we are seeing that dynamic that we saw at work in the Brexit election
in 2016 and the Trump election that fall, we are seeing that dynamic not
only not reversed, we`re seeing it accelerated in some ways, even as it is
still being ham-handedly supported by some of the same external forces
whose nefarious aims are quite clear and easy to see.
I mean, in the U.K. specifically, they literally just formed a party called
the Brexit Party. And in these European parliament elections where Brits
voted today, the Brexit Party is considered likely to win the most votes.
And again, these votes are for the European parliament, not for the British
parliament. But ultimately after today, if it`s the Brexit Party
representing the U.K. in Europe, the already teetering Theresa May
government back in London that already can`t hands the Brexit process,
either to stop it or go through with it or find some half measure middle
way through it, that Brexit party election to the European parliament is
going to give Theresa May`s government in London a really hard shove.
It`s worth watching what`s about to happen in Britain. It`s also worth
watching overall over these next few days, particularly because we
Americans are still living through our own ongoing drama from 2016. I
mean, just look at what we`re going through this week. Look at what we`re
going through these last couple of months.
We have had 63 straight days in Washington of what amounts to total
breakdown, total stonewall, total all-out brawling in Washington since
Mueller`s investigation was ended 63 days ago, since Mueller`s report on
what happened in our 2016 election and what happened with that Russian
interference effort was submitted to the Trump administration and then
submarined and we`ve never heard from Robert Mueller since.
I mean, we are still right now day-to-day living through our own drama of
our own bizarre 2016 election right now. And what happened with those
external factors to influence it. Well, this European election that`s
happening right now as we speak is a variation on the theme of what we went
through. This is the same patterns, the same dynamic at work.
Sometimes I think it`s even easier to see that pattern when it happens to
another country instead of your own. And it`s sometimes easier to see when
it`s freaking dramatic. You got a sense of how dramatic this was going to
be when we saw how this week of this big vote kicked off this week in
I know this is a little bit weird, but can we just talk about Austria for a
second? Whether or not you think you care with Austria, just trust me.
This is – it`s worth learning what just happened in Austria because once
you learn it, you are going to want to tell somebody else this story, like
in a bar this weekend or at the water cooler at work or over a campfire on
a long elevator ride. Like you`re going to want to tell this story, but it
really happened, and it`s just happened in the past few days.
All right. So Austria is in the European Union. They`re one of the
countries that are voting on Sundays I think is their vote. Their
chancellor is this guy who, yes, looks like it`s take your baby chancellor
to work day.
He is 32 years old. He won in 2017 the top job in the Austrian government
when his center right government got the most votes in the election that
year. But although his party got the most votes, they didn`t get enough
votes to form a government on their own and so the young chancellor had to
decide what other entity in the Austrian government he would go into
coalition with in order to form a majority that would then run that
And the young chancellor from the center right party decided that he would
look around and pick who he would form a coalition with. He decided to
pick the party that was founded by the ex-Nazis.
Now, I do not mean that as an insult. That is not like some ad hominem
hyperbolic attack. I mean, we`re talking about Austria here. This is a
party that was – this is a party that was actually founded by actual ex-
Nazis, real Nazis, just speaking factually.
The party founded by the ex-Nazis. It`s called the Freedom Party. And
it`s interesting, the government of Russia, Vladimir Putin and his
political party in Russia have taken a keen interest in supporting the
Freedom Party in Austria. The year before the Freedom Party, this group
founded by ex-Nazis, the year before they were invited to join Austria`s
coalition government and help form the government in that nation, the top
official of Austria`s Freedom Party was invited to Moscow to sign a
cooperation agreement with Putin`s party, with United Russia, which is
Then the following year was when that Freedom Party official got into the
Austrian government, he became the vice chancellor of Austria, the number
two guy in the whole government. That raised questions as to what the
impact would be of that party taking power in Austria while having a formal
cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin`s party in Moscow.
I mean, as part of the coalition deal, that center right young chancellor
joined with the Freedom Party in order to form a majority together. The
Freedom Party got half the cabinet agencies, including the foreign minister
and the defense minister. They got control of the nation`s intelligence
Western intelligence agencies were so freaked out by that, they stopped
sharing intelligence with the Austrian intelligence agencies because they
just assumed once the Freedom Party guys got ahold of anything sensitive
that might be of interest to Moscow, these Austrian guys would ship it
straight to Putin. They stopped sharing intel with the Austrian
Now, all along, the young chancellor in Austria who decided to partner with
these guys, he has had to defend the fact that he went into coalition with
these guys, you know, he`s had to defend them every time they come out with
some new racist statement, some new anti-Semitic trope. He`s had to defend
them shutting down all the law enforcement agencies against the neo-Nazis
in Austria, which is what happens when you put the ex-Nazis in front of –
in charge of the agencies that were supposed to be doing these things.
I mean, the young chancellor has gone out of his way, particularly when
talking to the international press, to say that he doesn`t worry at all
about the links between the Freedom Party and Russia. He`s gone out of his
way to say the links between the freedom party, his governing partners in
Russia, that`s all overblown.
Well, on Friday, this past week, two news organizations published this
video. There we go. Which shows the vice chancellor of Austria, the
number two guy in that government, the head guy of the freedom party.
That`s him on the right side of your screen with the wide neck shirt and
the creepy wristband thing.
The other guy on the left side of the screen standing up is another Freedom
Party official. In this video he functions as the translator here because
he speaks sort of elementary school level Russian. And the blonde lady
whose face is pixilated, she is posing in this interaction as the niece of
a Russian oligarch who would like to support the Freedom Party. That`s who
these Freedom Party guys think she is.
She`s visiting from Russia with a whole bunch of money to spend to help
them out. And in this video which stretches for seven hours, the vice
chancellor of Austria, the guy in front of the screen here, head of the
Freedom Party, this guy from this group founded by ex-Nazis who they
elevated to the number two person of that government, he chats with this
young woman about what he wants from her uncle. What he wants from a
Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch to support his party and to support his
He tells this woman that this Russian oligarch should use Russian money to
take control of the biggest tabloid newspaper in Austria, turn it into a
mouthpiece for the Freedom Party, help them get elected. Once they get
control of the government, the Russian oligarch should then form a
construction company and this guy, who will then be running the government
will make sure that all the road building contracts, all the big
infrastructure contracts in Austria would then go to the new construction
company secretly set up for that purpose and run by the Russian oligarch
who spent all that money to get the ex-Nazi party in charge.
So, you pay for us to get in power. We will pay you. You infiltrate our
country and our press on behalf of Russia. You install a Kremlin-friendly
far right political party in Austria. And once we`re in there, we`ll pay
you back with cash, with public contracts. Win, win, win. It`s all
The video was published on Friday. The vice chancellor of Austria, the guy
with the wide neck t-shirt and creepy wristband, he resigned the next day,
on Saturday. Number two official in the government.
Two days later on Monday, the interior minister who`s also a Freedom Party
guy, he was fired by the chancellor after he expressed not that much
interest in pursuing this as a potentially criminal matter. In responses,
all of the other Freedom Party ministers said they would quit too, and
yesterday they all did. That`s half the ministers in the government,
including the defense minister and the labor minister and the foreign
minister who invited Putin to her wedding.
And so the Austrian government just collapsed. They have to call snap
elections. Nobody knows what`s going to happen. But it`s happened
literally on the eve of the European elections, and now we`re about to find
out how well that Freedom Party, that exact same party, is going to do in
the European parliamentary elections when Austrians get their turn to vote
on those elections on Sunday. They have been favored to do very well. How
will they do now that all their ministers have left the government and the
government has been exposed for trying to sell out their government to
I mean, sometimes exposing Russian influence over a political campaign
leads to the collapse of the whole government. It`s amazing, right? It
But this – this dynamic is at large now, right? It`s not just one
country. In addition to that cooperation agreement that Putin`s political
party signed with the Freedom Party in Austria, Putin`s political party did
the same agreement with the right-wing ascendant political party in Italy
which is called The League. The League is poised to win tons of seats in
the European elections this weekend.
The Russian government has also been propping up Marine Le Pen in the far
right, racist National Front Party in France, which is also poised to win
tons of seats this weekend. There are open questions under investigation
in Britain as to possible Russian support for the funders of Brexit and for
the ongoing Brexit uprising in the U.K.
I mean all of these far right, anti-immigrant, anti-Europe groups are
poised to do very well in these elections that started today and that are
going to go over the next four days. In Italy, in France, in Austria, in
Germany and Hungary and the U.K. And all of them are supported by Russia
in one way or another.
For all or most of them, the feeling is also mutual. They also support
Russia. Here`s a picture of the head of the League party in Italy sitting
in the European parliament wearing a Vladimir Putin t-shirt.
The creepy American factor in all of this is that all of these far right
anti-immigrant, anti-Europe parties that are poised to destroy the European
Union from within, they are not only supported by Russia and supportive of
Russia, they are also being buoyed and to a greater or lesser extent all
being advised by Steve Bannon, who moved his operation to Europe after what
he did here for us in 2016.
So, sometimes, I think it helps us as Americans understand our own
situation to take a broader lens on this stuff, right? I mean, we are
still muddling our way through our own situation every day. I`m going to
talk with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in just a minute about
the latest fights to try to pry loose information and documents of
witnesses from this administration. We are still muddling through it.
But Europe is hitting this like wall this weekend, and this is a global
thing that we are in. It`s not just us. And in some places, yes, these
dynamics lead to whole governments collapsing suddenly and in shame and
disgrace. And in other cases, that doesn`t happen. In other cases, it
results in previously unimaginably shameful fringe figures not only making
it into power but clinging to it.
We`ve got a lot to get to tonight and there`s a lot going on, but man, this
is no time to check out. Your country needs you. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A little bit of breaking news tonight from the White House.
Honestly I`m not sure I understand totally. It`s just – it`s just sort of
It`s a brand new White House statement that says, quote: Today, at the
request and recommendation of the attorney general of the United States,
President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly
and fully cooperate with the attorney general`s investigation into
surveillance activities during the 2016 presidential election. The
attorney general has also been delegated full and complete authority to
declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with
the long-established standards for handling classified information.
Today`s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about
the events that occurred and the actions that were taken during the last
presidential election and will restore confidence in our public
Again, that statement tonight from the White House. The White House then
released this memorandum which is titled Memorandum on Agency Cooperation
with the attorney general`s review of intelligence activities related to
the 2016 presidential campaigns. Campaigns, plural.
Quote, the memo outlines the attorney general`s authority to declassify
information and intelligence, was sent to the Departments of State,
Treasury, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, along with the director
of the national intelligence and head of the CIA.
We are still running down the implications of this. We know that the
attorney general, William Barr, had said that he wanted to pursue some kind
of investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. We had had
reporting that that involved the U.S. attorney in the state of Connecticut
and maybe also the director of national intelligence and maybe also the CIA
director, Gina Haspel.
Attorney General Barr was said to be personally involved in whatever this
inquiry was. This is on top of the inspector general also pursuing an
inquiry along these same lines.
This memo tonight, we don`t exactly know what it means, but it makes like
they are somehow trying to clear a path for whatever it is that Barr is
doing. It`s not totally clear what this means yet.
But I want to tell you, we did get one really interesting response to this
news just a moment ago from someone who was there for the early stages of
the Russia investigation and also for the Clinton email probe. When this
memo was released tonight, we contacted David Laufman, who was chief of
counterintelligence at the Justice Department under President Obama, who
served at the beginning of the Trump administration as well. He was there
as the chief of counterintelligence at the justice department when the
Russia investigation was opened.
David Laufman tells us tonight that this new decision by the president is,
quote, a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further his goal
of political retribution, made worse by the spectacle of the Justice
Department as his handmaiden.
So, again, I think that`s the first response we`ve had from a senior
Justice Department official, former Justice Department official who was
involved in the origins of this inquiry tonight.
But again, David Laufman calling this a grotesque abuse of the intelligence
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler joins us
next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us now here on set is Congressman Jerry Nadler. He is the
chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which makes him one of the
busiest human beings in Washington today and the man with a lot on his
Sir, thank you for making time for us. It`s nice to see you.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: For coming in.
I want to get your – first, your top line reaction to this news that we
just got. The president is directing the intelligence community to
cooperate with Attorney General Barr`s investigation into surveillance
activities during the 2016 presidential election. He`s also delegating to
the attorney general full and complete authority to declassify information
pertaining to this investigation.
Do you have any idea what this is about?
NADLER: Yes. It`s part of the Trump and Republican plot to dirty up the
intelligence community, to pretend that there`s something wrong with the
beginning of the Mueller investigation and to persecute and bring into line
the intelligence agencies. This is the third investigation.
Remember, the inspector general of the Department of Justice launched an
investigation of Strzok and Page and all these people, and concluded their
political opinions did not interfere with their decisions in the probe and
there was nothing wrong with being in the probe. The attorney general, the
prior attorney general asked the U.S. attorney in Utah, Herd (ph) I think
his name is, something like that.
NADLER: Huber, to do a second investigation. We`re waiting for the result
of that. We don`t need a third investigation of the same material just
designed to further the propaganda against the Mueller investigation and
against an apolitical and properly functioning FBI and intelligence
MADDOW: To that point, I feel like we knew that – we knew that Attorney
General Barr was pursuing something along these lines because he talked
about it in testimony before the Senate.
What`s new tonight is this directive, this formal-looking directive in
which he says that the intelligence community is essentially ordered to
cooperate fully. That`s the part I don`t really understand.
NADLER: I don`t know what that means.
NADLER: It may just be public relations, I don`t know.
MADDOW: Yes, that`s what I was wondering.
NADLER: I don`t know.
The fact of the matter is this is all nonsense. There is no basis
whatsoever to believe that anybody in the intelligence community did
anything wrong in terms of starting the investigation or the Hillary email
investigation. What they`re really trying to do is to divert attention
from the Mueller report and from the president`s actions against the rule
of law to an imaginary scandal.
MADDOW: It`s been just over 60 days since Mueller`s investigation was
ended and since he submitted his report. We have seen hide nor hair of
Robert Mueller in that time. I don`t know where he is, I hope he`s well.
You have talked repeatedly about hoping to get him in to testify about his
own findings. Today, in fact, was one of the days that you had put on the
calendar as a hopeful date that he might come in.
What`s going on? What`s wrong with – what`s wrong with our expectations?
We had thought that it would be a big deal to get him in there.
NADLER: Well, we think it would be. We want him to come in and testify.
We want others to come in and testify.
There are a lot of people who should come in and testify, who the
administration is saying they will not permit to testify. They`re blanket
stonewalling of Congress and the American people. The president was silly
enough – was foolish enough to admit that he was engaged in blanket
stonewalling, and that includes McGahn and that includes a lot of other
Mueller, he – I think I can say at this point, that he wants to testify in
NADLER: I don`t know why. It`s – he wants – he`s willing to make an
opening statement but he wants to testify in private. We`re saying he
ought to – we think it`s important for the American people to hear from
him and to hear his answers to questions about the report.
MADDOW: Does he want to testify in private and have it be a closed session
where we, the people, would not even get to see a transcript of it?
NADLER: No, no, no. We`d see a transcript. But I – we`d see a
MADDOW: Do you have any sense of – I mean, why would witnesses usually
say something like that or do you have any indication why he might want
NADLER: He envisions himself correctly as a man of great rectitude and
apolitical and he doesn`t want to participate in anything that he might
regard as a political spectacle, especially if Republicans on the committee
start asking him questions about the beginning of the – about this stuff,
the beginning of the investigation. I`m speculating really.
NADLER: But he doesn`t want to be public in what some people will regard
as a political spectacle, I think.
MADDOW: It`s hard for me – I can see if he was advocating for a closed
session in which the public would never know. I mean we can read it, we
can act it out. We still have access to what`s said.
NADLER: You do very well acting out transcripts.
NADLER: But there`s a difference, obviously.
Let me ask about whether there`s any discussion about whether his team, his
prosecutors and investigators involved, should also be testifying. And the
reason I asked is not just because I`m interested to hear what they have to
say, but it`s because, among others, the attorney general and the president
and Republicans in Congress have singled out individual people on Mueller`s
team as being particularly bad actors or being the people who might explain
Mueller`s complaints to Barr about how Barr handled the investigation.
They`ve already been targeted. They had words put in their mouth. Should
we not hear from them as well?
NADLER: I think we probably will. I think we`ll probably hear from them
and a lot of other people.
You know, our intention in the Judiciary Committee is to open all of this
up to the American people, to have everybody relevant testify so that
people understand what was in the Mueller report, what wasn`t in the
Mueller report, to understand what was going on. We can ask questions
about other things, about the president`s derelictions of duty or about his
defenses of his dereliction of duty, about all of these things. People
have to understand it.
Now, the administration decided to use quite indefensible legal doctrines
to stonewall Congress, stonewall the American people and say nobody can
testify and nobody can bring documents. We`re going to beat them in court
because that`s ridiculous from a legal point of view, but they are going
try to waste a lot of time.
But we will have witnesses, those who will come in voluntarily, those who
will be subpoenaed, and we will enforce the subpoenas. And we will have,
I`m sure, other witnesses too like some of those 900 federal prosecutors
who said that based on the evidence in the Mueller report they would have
indicted if it weren`t for the opinion that a president can never be
indicted no matter what the evidence.
We will have hearings on other derelictions of duty. For instance, the
president`s intimidation of witnesses, his dangling of pardons, his
intimidating witnesses, his failure – it`s the duty of the Justice
Department, the duty of the Justice Department to defend the
constitutionality in court of any law passed by Congress, unless they can
rationally say it`s so off the wall that there`s no legal argument that can
So, why did the Justice Department switch from supporting the
constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, to opposing it and asking the
court to declare Obamacare unconstitutional and deprive 20 million people
of pre-existing condition coverage and of other things? These are
questions that I think – what about the decisions that led to tearing kids
away from their parents at the border? All of these are abuses of power
that we`re going to investigate.
MADDOW: And these sorts of hearings, this type of aggressive hearings
schedule that you`re describing, when does it start?
NADLER: Well, it starts as soon as we can get witnesses. I mean, we have
MADDOW: They`re never going to let you get witnesses –
NADLER: No, no –
MADDOW: – if they have anything to say about it.
NADLER: That`s right, but we`re going to win – I mean, you saw in court
this week, two key cases, and I anticipate we`ll win the other cases,
because the arguments of presidential privilege and absolute immunity are
pure nonsense. There`s no precedent for it.
So, we will win those cases and we`ll get them. Some of it will take time
because they`ll try to appeal it. But meanwhile we have – and meanwhile,
we`re doing a whole legislative program separate from the investigations.
We just passed this week, Dreamer legislation to protect the Dreamers.
That will go to the House floor June 4th.
We passed out of our committee legislation from an antitrust perspective
that should cut the cost of prescription drugs about $40 billion over 10
years. We`ve passed legislation on the Equality Act, major act to say that
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fair Housing Act, and few others includes
We passed major gun control legislation, universal background checks.
These aren`t getting the publicity they deserve because everything is
subsumed under the president`s scandals. But we`re showing that Congress
can walk and chew gum at the same time and that we can carry a full
legislative agenda to do what we promised the American people during the
campaign, at the same time that we`re holding the president accountable to
vindicate the rule of law and to make sure that we keep a democratic
government, with a small D.
MADDOW: Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, I have one more
matter that I want to ask you about tonight before I let you go –
MADDOW: – if you can stick with us.
We`ll be right back with the chairman right after this.
MADDOW: Back with us again is Congressman Jerry Nadler, he is the chairman
of the Judiciary Committee in the House.
Sir, thank you very much for sticking with us. Much appreciated.
“The Washington Post” reported this week that you helped make the case, and
you made your own case to Speaker Pelosi, that maybe this is the time to
open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump for the behavior described
in the Mueller report and other things.
Was that reporting accurate? And does that mean that you have evolved in
your thinking on this?
NADLER: Well, I`m constantly evolving on my thinking on this and frankly
going back and forth too because it`s a very tight question.
Yes, I urged the speaker to speed things up and to consider an impeachment
inquiry. Part of the rationale for that, which was that if you`re in court
seeking to enforce subpoenas, you have a better odds in court if you can
say this is part of your impeachment inquiry rather than just part of your
general oversight. That rationale is much weaker now than it was on Monday
since those two court decisions came down in our favor.
MADDOW: Uh-huh, meaning the courts are going your way anyway?
NADLER: Or they seem to be. So, that`s weaker.
But the fact of the matter is we have to pursue – what`s really important
t is that we pursue the investigations, we pursue the contempt citations,
we pursue the subpoenas. We lay it all out to the American people. We lay
the case out to the American people whether we call it an impeachment –
and we see where we go from there.
NADLER: Whether we call it an impeachment inquiry or not is I think of
secondary significance compared to actually doing what we have to do.
MADDOW: Is it clear to you that there really isn`t much legal advantage to
calling something an impeachment inquiry as opposed to not having that
open? I mean, I`ve heard both arguments on both sides.
NADLER: That`s speculative.
NADLER: I mean, you`re arguing to a court that the court must intervene
between two coordinated branches of government which it`s reluctant to do
and order one branch to do what we want them to do. And you`re arguing
that we have no alternative, you`ve got to do that because there`s no other
alternative. And certainly, if we`re doing it in pursuit of our
impeachment constitutional right, it`s a somewhat stronger argument at
least theoretically than if you`re doing it just for normal oversight.
But how much of a difference that makes? We don`t really know. And –
MADDOW: Well, the cost of opening an inquiry, though, I mean, that`s also
somewhat speculative. Everybody thinks there will be a political benefit
to the president of you opening an impeachment inquiry. That to me seems
also like speculation.
NADLER: Again, I don`t know. And the fact of the matter is, and I think
Lawrence O`Donnell pointed this out about six or seven weeks ago, if we
were to call – to hold an impeachment inquiry in the – and hearings in
the Judiciary Committee, how would they differ from what we`re going to be
doing if we don`t call it an impeachment inquiry? And the answer is they
MADDOW: Except they`d be under the headline “impeachment inquiry” in the
NADLER: Right, right, right.
MADDOW: – which tends to land with a punch.
MADDOW: Sir, Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee. Keep us apprised. I know you were in the middle of a lot of
pushmi-pullyus (ph) right now. I appreciate you taking the time to be
NADLER: Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s good to see you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There`s a lot of moving pieces tonight.
Joining us to help sort out some of what we learned just over the course of
this hour is the great Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the great
state of Michigan.
Barb, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Rachel. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: So, we just got news from Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary
Committee. He just told us and I think this is the first time this has
been bluntly articulated anywhere that in terms of negotiations with Robert
Mueller to testify in Congress about his investigation and his report and
his findings, that Robert Mueller wants to testify in private, not in a
closed session where we would never ultimately see the transcript of it,
but in a closed-door session that was transcribed and ultimately the
transcription would be released to us even though we couldn`t see it on TV.
What do you make of that?
MCQUADE: Well, you know, for curiosity seekers like me, it`s disappointing
because I would rather see him testify live. I think it`s probably more
compelling for the public to see live testimony. But, you know, just based
on pure speculation, I guess I might think Robert Mueller is one to sort of
shun the spotlight.
And we`ve all seen those hearings turn into sort of political theatrics.
He may want to avoid that sort of posturing by members of Congress as they
ask the questions and stick to the facts. So, it is sort of keeping with
his M.O. of just the facts.
MADDOW: In terms of how the Judiciary Committee is going to proceed here,
it`s a very interesting prospect in terms of Mueller. As Chairman Nadler
described it, he said that, you know, Mueller wants to avoid essentially
being politicized being on TV versus being on a transcript. It`s hard to -
- I don`t know. I mean, we`ll see how this works out.
There`s also the broader structural question as to whether or not the
judiciary committee can get further down the road of compelling witnesses
or compelling documents if they open up an impeachment inquiry. The
chairman suggested to him as a legal matter, it`s an absolutely open clear.
Do you feel like that is an unclear part of the law that we don`t know
whether that would help them?
MCQUADE: I don`t know that it does. I think they can get almost
everything they want and I think we saw that demonstrated this week with
the court orders. You know, this Judge Mehta who order that if Congress
has the power to legislate, they have the power – or the power for
oversight, they have the power to investigate.
So I think Chairman Nadler is correct whether they call it an impeachment
hearing or not, if they just want to continue to investigate, I think they
can do so and the subpoenas will have teeth.
MADDOW: The president tonight made a statement from the White House or a
statement was issued by the White House press office, and they released a
memorandum in which the intelligence community is directed to quickly and
fully cooperate with the attorney general`s investigation into surveillance
activities during the 2016 presidential election. The attorney general
also delegated full and complete authority to declassify information
pertaining to this investigation.
We assume this is whatever William Barr was talking about when he testified
before the Senate recently, and said that he`s looking into the origins of
Mueller`s inquiry. I don`t know what this new directive from the White
House is meant to signal tonight or if this is a substantive thing. How do
you see this?
MCQUADE: I think it`s actually very significant. You know, the idea they
should cooperate with each other, I have no problem with. But the idea of
giving William Barr the power to declassify all of the material within the
intelligence community is unprecedented. Ordinarily, each intelligence
agency controls its own information because they are best able to assess
whether it would compromise a source or method to disclose particular
information with the director of national intelligence over all of it.
Instead, President Trump has given all of that power to William Barr. You
know, when I was practicing and handling cases, there were times when I
wanted to bring a case but I was prevented from doing so because someone in
the intelligence community made a decision that it would irreparably harm
some source or method and that equity was worth more than my little case.
So, you know, I accepted that they were acting in good faith when they made
If William Barr who I think now has given at least the appearance that he
is acting in the best interests of President Trump as opposed to the best
interests of our national security has that power, I worry that it gives
him the power to create a whole lot of mischief within the intelligence
community and with the outcome of his investigation.
MADDOW: It may also suggesting that in this young investigation that he
has started, that he`s personally involved in, the intelligence community
has already been telling him no. He went to the White House to get
authority in order to overrule those nos. I don`t – I agree with you,
this is worrying but it`s not like anything we`ve seen before. So, I`m not
sure what we know, that, we know what it means yet.
Barb, thank you for helping us understand all the breaking news tonight as
it happens. I really appreciate you being here.
MCQUADE: You`re welcome, Rachel. Thanks very much for having me.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again
Now, it is the time for “THE LAST WORD” with the aforementioned Lawrence
O`Donnell who was quoted by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee right
here just moments ago.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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