House subpoenas E.U. Ambassador Sondland. TRANSCRIPT: 10/8/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: That time is now is everything
actually. That`s sort of our lives.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Whereas on the Rachel – on the Chris Hayes
show, that time is now. On THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, it`s usually like, that
time is 1917, in September.
MADDOW: Anyway! Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: Take care.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Speaking of history, the two independent special prosecutors who pursued
the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration were Archibald Cox,
in the first instance, and Leon Jaworski. Jaworski ended up getting
appointed after President Nixon initiated the so-called Saturday Night
Massacre, when he forced the firing of first Watergate special prosecutor
Archibald Cox. He had to fire his way through the upper echelons of the
Justice Department, until he`d find someone who would go ahead and fire
Archibald Cox for him.
I mean, ultimately, we know how all of that ended, right? Leon Jaworski
got Archibald Cox`s old job. He, much to Nixon`s dismay, carried on with
the investigation that Archibald Cox started. The evidence that had been
produced over the course of that investigation was ultimately handed over
to Congress in a document that has become known as the Watergate road map.
Congress used that evidence that was collected by the Watergate special
prosecutors to themselves draw up really damning articles of impeachment
against Richard Nixon. And then it all came to an end. Nixon, knowing
that he was not going to survive an impeachment vote, ended up resigning
But whatever happened to old Archibald Cox? The first Watergate special
prosecutor, the guy who was fired at the end of the Saturday Night
Well, turns out after Nixon fired him, he landed at a good government
organization called Common Cause. And at Common Cause, just ten years
after Nixon resigned, in the year 1984, common cause, under the leadership
of Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, they did something they had
never done before. They issued a public report and sent a letter to every
single United States senator, urging, for the first time ever, that a
nominee for a cabinet position be rejected by the Senate.
Common Cause had never done something like this before, but they decided
that this particular nominee was so bad, so dangerous, had such a terrible
record, particularly when it came to ethical issues and corruption issues,
that they just decided they had to take a stand. Archibald Cox warned the
Senate that this nominee had a, quote, lack of ethical sensitivity, that he
had shown a blindness to abuse of position.
So, that good government group, Common Cause, they did kind of go out on a
limb, telling senators, say “no” to this guy. We`ve never said this before
about a cabinet official, but this one, do not let this one be confirmed.
That nominee they were so opposed to was named Ed Meese. Ronald Reagan had
nominated Ed Meese to become attorney general.
Now, Ed Meese, had, in fact, by this point, sort of already had his share
of scandal, even before Reagan nominated him to be attorney general. Meese
had been involved in the Reagan campaign when Reagan won the presidency in
1980, and the transition was underway with the Carter administration
getting ready to leave and the Reagan folks getting ready to come in and
To run the operations of the Reagan transition, the incoming folks had set
up a financial entity called the transition trust. And during the
transition, before the start of the Reagan administration, that transition
trust wrote Ed Meese a $10,000 check. Hmm, which he then promptly
deposited in his own personal bank account.
And what the transition trust said that $10,000 was for was something they
recorded as moving expenses. Now, it`s, of course, kosher for there to be
a reasonably well-funded effort to set up an on ramp for the new
administration to give them office space and get all their ducks in the row
and start doing briefings with the outgoing administration, right? But
$10,000 checks for moving expenses, for one individual person from the
campaign. That`s not right.
And after Ed Meese was informed that him taking a $10,000 check from the
transition for moving expenses is something that would likely be considered
a crime, he took swift action. And you might think in such a circumstance,
particularly at the outset of a new administration that really wasn`t
looking for scandal right out of the gate, you might think what you would
do in such a circumstance, if only to avoid being a distraction at the
start of your candidate`s new presidency, you might think what you would do
is return the 10,000 bucks, right?
Oh, no, in Ed Meese`s case, they just had them erase the designation that
the check was for moving expenses and he instead had him re-categorize it.
So now the $10,000 check to Ed Meese would be listed as consulting fees.
And then he just kept the money.
Oh, it can`t be moving expenses? That`s a crime? Well, we`ll just erase
that and call it something else. Ka-ching!
That was Ed Meese during the transition before Ronald Reagan was even sworn
in. Ed Meese then became a staffer during the Reagan White House as a
White House official. He got himself involved in further scandal. He came
under investigation by a court-appointed special counsel, who looked at him
for multiple allegations of corruption, specifically, Ed Meese was alleged
to have given a whole bunch of different people jobs in the administration
after those people had provided him various forms of financial assistance.
So when Ronald Reagan said, after all of that scandal, that he would put Ed
Meese in charge of the Justice Department and make him the top law
enforcement official in the country, this good government group, you know,
Common Cause, run by Archibald Cox of Watergate investigation fame, they
took a hard look at Ed Meese`s record, including the independent special
counsel`s report on those allegations of corruption against Meese as a
White House official. Meese was not criminally charged after that
independent counsel did that investigation into him. And because he wasn`t
indicted, he claimed he had been totally vindicated by that investigation,
turns out if you actually looked at the report of that investigation, Meese
had not been totally vindicated. The report was very critical of his
judgment and his ethical standards.
Archibald Cox took a hard look at that report. Common Cause produced a
digest of that report, that was easier to understand for the public. They
took a look at Meese`s history and decided that for the first time in the
history of Common Cause, they would prevail upon senators to please not
vote for this guy. Please, not confirm this guy as attorney general.
He nevertheless was confirmed as attorney general, and thus started one of
the more disastrous terms in U.S. history for a sitting attorney general.
I mean, probably the thing for which Ed Meese is both remembered by both
his supporters and detractors is that Ronald Reagan put him in charge of a
presidential commission on porn. Ed Meese was assigned to head up the
anti-pornography crusade of the Reagan administration, which resulted in,
among other things, a 2,000-page report, which was very poorly received,
because it did not appear to be at all based on any empirical evidence.
Nevertheless, Attorney General Meese formed what he called an obscenity
strike force inside federal law enforcement. He then led the Justice
Department to prioritize new and creative means of bringing prosecutions to
try to blot out and eliminate the scourge of pornography from America. And
while that must have been exhausting, Ed Meese also became the sort of
animating legal force in the Reagan administration behind the Iran Contra
Some day, someone will make an amazing blockbuster movie about how astonish
the Iran Contra scandal was, because I think I`m in the L.A., I`m keep
thinking about that. Some Hollywood person out there, you should option
Jane Mayer`s old book about the Iran Contra scandal. It should be –
But for all of the craziness of that scandal and the indictments and the
crazy cowboy adventuring of that scandal and the miracle that Ronald Reagan
did not get impeached for that scandal, the bull`s-eye at the center of
Iran Contra is that it was just so blatantly, blatantly and knowing
knowingly illegal. Right before the Iran Contra scandal happened, right
before the Reagan administration did what they did, Congress kind of knew
what Reagan wanted to do and they passed a law to stop him.
Congress passed a law, there was an American law in effect and on the
books, which said, the Reagan administration can`t give aid to the Contras
in Nicaragua. And then the Reagan administration definitely gave aid to
the Contras in Nicaragua, secretly, even though there was an explicit law
prohibiting them from doing so. They sold missiles illegally to Iran to do
it, to get the money that they were – I mean, this whole crazy thing.
But the reason the Reagan administration ended up getting in so much
trouble for Iran Contra is because they just blatantly broke that law,
which specifically said they couldn`t do what they did. And the reason
they broke that law, ultimately, is because of Ed Meese. Because Ed Meese,
Ronald Reagan`s attorney general, very soberly concluded, when it comes to
following the law, presidents don`t really need to do that.
Yes, there was an explicit law just passed by Congress that very clearly
and unequivocally intended to stop the Reagan administration from doing
this thing that everybody knew they wanted to do. When the Reagan
administration went ahead and did it anyway, Ed Meese was like meh, I know
there`s a law, but if the president does it, it`s not really illegal.
The laws don`t actually apply to presidential behavior. You want to break
the law, Mr. President, I got your back. That was his legal advice. That
was the legal spine on which they built the whole Iran Contra scheme, for
which I contend, it is a miracle that Reagan never got impeached.
During that Iran Contra scandal and the subsequent big investigation into
it, a whole bunch of documents that Ed Meese was supposed to be securing
and preserving for that investigation mysteriously ended up getting
shredded by White House officials. The stuff that Meese was supposed to be
making sure was retained. Miraculously, all that stuff ended up in the
This is when he was serving as attorney general of the United States. Ed
Meese also, as attorney general, came under scrutiny yet again from yet
another independent counsel for a whole new raft of new corruption charges
while he was serving as A.G. That independent counsel was reported
contemporaneously at the time to be investigating, quote, whether Meese
violated the law in helping a New York defense firm obtain an Army
contract, whether Meese violated the law in contacting officials on behalf
of a friend who put together a $1 billion Mideast oil pipeline project.
And whether Meese violated the law in participating in telephone regulation
matters at a time he was trying to sell his own stock in phone companies.
So, he`s under investigation for all of that alleged criminal behavior
while he`s serving as attorney general, the first one that I mentioned
there, the Army contract thing. That ended up being a doozy. Meese`s
friend, who he helped hook up with that Army contract, and his own
financial adviser, who he shared with that friend and a bunch of other
people all ended up getting indicted and convicted and going to jail in
that scandal. It was called the Wedtech scandal. Meese ultimately had to
testify in some of those cases and was forced to admit from the stand that
he had been way more involved in that scandal than he had publicly admitted
But this, again, was while he was serving as attorney general of the United
States, all of this stuff was happening. He`s under investigation for all
of those criminal allegations. And because of that, under Ed Meese at the
Justice Department, there was a sort of famous revolt at the Justice
Department sort of executive level right underneath him. I mean, he`s the
attorney general, the number one official in the Justice Department, the
number two official in the Justice Department is the deputy attorney
general, the job that Rod Rosenstein famously had early in the Trump
Well, under Ed Meese, his deputy attorney general resigned in protest of
having to work under somebody like Ed Meese. Also, the head of the
criminal division at the Justice Department resigned in protest at having
to work under somebody like Ed Meese, who was under all of these multiple
criminal investigations while still running the Justice Department himself.
Four other top officials resigned at the same time, along with those top
Justice Department officials.
All of those officials had actually conveyed a demand to the White House.
They told White House chief of staff James Baker that Reagan needed to
remove Ed Meese for the good of the country, needed to get him out as
attorney general. Get him out for the good of the country, the good of the
Justice Department, if Reagan wouldn`t do that, they said they would all
resign in protest.
They all ended up resigning in protest, because Reagan wouldn`t remove Ed
Meese. He still liked Ed Meese. He was his longtime friend. He wouldn`t
let him go.
Ultimately, the only way they were able to pry Ed Meese out of the Justice
Department is when that last independent counsel who was investigating him
released his own sort of mammoth report on the corruption allegations
against Meese. The day the independent counsel submitted his report on
Wedtech and on the working on phone stuff when he was trying to sell his
phone stocks and all those other investigations, it was only the day he
submitted his report on those corruption allegations against Ed Meese, that
day was the day Meese finally resigned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Where I intend –
REPORTER: Attorney General Edwin Meese today with a surprising
announcement about his future.
MEESE: I have informed the president that I will be leaving the
administration towards the end of July or early in August, in order to
accept new opportunities in the private sector.
ANNOUNCER: “NBC Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening.
Attorney General Edwin Meese`s announcement that he will resign by the end
of July or early August came shortly after the special prosecutor today
filed a lengthy report. As NBC`s James Folk reports tonight, even if Meese
escapes prosecution, he leaves behind a record that has been criticized by
Republican and Democrat alike.
REPORTER: When the special prosecutor`s report was carried into the
courthouse after a year-long investigation, Meese was on a drug-busts trip
to California. Meese did not wait to read the report before telephoning
the president to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ed Meese never ended up going to prison the way that Nixon`s
attorney general, John Mitchell, did. But among all of the attorneys
general we have ever had in this country, he`s really right up there in
terms of having one of the most scandal-ridden, ethically challenged
tenures at the top of the Justice Department. Up to and including the fact
that he was the subject of multiple criminal investigations himself, and
that last independent counsel ended up referring Meese`s conduct own
Justice Department for review and potential censure.
And I mean, I know we in some ways, we`ve kind of got it bad right now. I
think it`s helpful to look back on other times in U.S. history and remember
that we have had it bad in some of the same ways in other times of our
history, too, and we`ve figured out a way to make it through. So like the
Ed Meese story is good to remember, the John Mitchell story is good to
remember, when you look at the Justice Department under William Barr and
you think about how bad it could get and how abused the Justice Department
could be, like the Justice Department has been in pretty bad hands before,
and there`s been consequences for it. And it`s worth keeping that in mind.
And you know, in the Ed Meese case, it turns out to be particularly
instructive for us today in 2019, in part because of where all of these
folks who were involved in his scandal-ridden tenure in Washington, where
they all ended up. I mentioned that during Meese`s disastrous tenure as
attorney general, other senior officials resigned when the White House
wouldn`t remove Meese from his position. One of the very high-profile
Justice Department guys to resign, the guy who was the head of the criminal
division at the Justice Department, who stepped down in protest against
Meese`s alleged corruption, his name was William Weld. Bill Weld.
Where did he end up? Well, today in 2019, he`s running for president as a
Republican primary challenger to president Trump.
Where did Ed Meese himself end up? Well, Ed Meese is still around and
kicking. Ed Meese himself today turned up at the White House because
President Trump today awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the
highest award he can give. And if time is a circle, it`s a circle in the
form of a snake both biting on and choking on its own tail, because there
is Ed Meese, literally the anti-pornography crusader, the guy who launched
the obscenity strike force at the Justice Department, and dedicated himself
to eliminating the scourge of pornography from America, there`s him today
receiving his medal from the man you can see here in one of his several
roles in Playboy features.
This was the Playboy film`s centerfold feature, sort of a soft core number
from the year 2000. He also appeared in Playboy movies in the year 2001
and even way back in 11994, which was still within very reasonable memory
of attorney general Ed Meese launching his presidential commission on
pornography and his obscenity strike force with which he intended to wipe
out all pornography in America.
Attorney General Ed Meese today appeared delighted to be receiving his
medal today from the president who has been identified as individual one in
a case that put his own lawyer in prison for breaking federal campaign
finance laws in order to pay hush money to a very well-known porn star
before the 2016 election at the direction of President Trump. Mr.
Obscenity Strike Force Meese, as I said today, just appeared to be happy to
be getting his medal.
And at this event today, with President Trump, he did go out of his way to
give a shout-out, specifically, to President Trump`s current attorney
general, who will likely be on the same page of the history books about a
certain type of attorney general in the annals of the U.S. Justice
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEESE: You have risen to continue the string of great attorneys general in
this country and I certainly appreciate what you`re doing now. I must say,
from my own experience, I understand what you`re going through now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hats off to you, Bill Barr, I know you`re at. I`ve been there.
You know, I didn`t get indicted in the end. Take heart. And now, look,
you guys are giving me a medal.
So this was just another remarkable day in the news. I mean, Ed Meese is
at the White House getting his medal, while simultaneously this White House
was sending a letter to Congress insisting that as far as they`re
concerned, this whole impeachment thing isn`t really happening. The letter
was signed with an enormous signature from White House counsel Pat
Cipollone today, not so much a legal argument from the White House counsel
as a political argument about how presidents don`t really need to pay any
attention to impeachments. It`s a very Meesean argument about laws and
other forms of accountability just not applying to presidents.
I don`t know if they timed this specifically to happen on the day that Ed
Meese was in the House, Ed Meese who claimed that their presidents don`t
need to follow the law and preserve documents while they`re part of ongoing
investigations, but this letter appearing while Ed Meese was in the White
House getting a medal seemed particularly apt.
When we all woke up this morning and check the news, we learned that last
night, after midnight, the State Department had contacted Gordon Sondland,
U.S. ambassador to the E.U., who had been expected to appear before the
impeachment committees today for a deposition. Sondland`s attorney said
that although he had intended to give his deposition and hand over
documents and he had flown to Washington specially for that purpose, the
State Department in that 12:30 a.m. phone call intervened and told him not
to show up today.
CNN later reporting that it was actually the White House counsel`s office
that decided that Ambassador Sondland would not be allowed to testify
today. The president online took credit himself for blocking Sondland from
testifying, which might not have been wise, given the thing he`s blocking
Sondland from testifying in is in his own impeachment proceedings.
Today, we also learned that the whistle-blower from the intelligence
community who basically pulled the fire alarm to alert Congress and the
country as to what was happening, the whistle-blower`s whose initial
account of President Trump getting on the phone with the president of
Ukraine and asking for help against his potential Democratic opponent in
the 2020 election, that whistle-blower, we learned today, in addition to
going to the CIA general counsel to notify the agency about that alleged
crime and in addition to filing his official whistle-blower complaint with
the intelligence community`s inspector general – in addition to that, that
same whistle-blower apparently, contemporaneously, at the time he learned
for the first time about the president`s call where the president made this
demand that this foreign country start investigating Joe Biden, the day he
learned – or as soon as he learned about that call, the whistle-blower
apparently wrote up a contemporaneous note to file or kind of a note to
self, memorializing what he had learned.
Fox News was first to report on this today. It was then picked up by ABC
News and “The New York Times” and a number of other outlets. If you sort
of piece together the different descriptions of that memo that the whistle-
blower wrote to himself as soon as he learned about what happened on that
call, we get a pretty good idea of the general vibe of it.
Fox News describes it as a two-page, single-spaced memo that was written
only July 26th, the day after the Trump/Zelensky phone call. According to
Fox, it starts with this, the following is a record of a conversation I had
this afternoon with a White House official about the telephone call
yesterday morning between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr
According to ABC New, the memo then states that the White House official
who spoke with the whistleblower described the call as, quote, crazy,
quote, frightening, and completely lacking in substance related to national
security. Quote, the official who listened to the entirety of the phone
call was visibly shaken by what had transpired and seemed keen to inform a
trusted colleague within the U.S. national security apparatus about the
So after that conversation, between the White House official and the
whistleblower, the whistle-blower then says, quote, I render to my office
and wrote up my best recollection of what I had heard.
This is what intelligence and law enforcement people are trained to do,
right? Then “The New York Times” has this, purportedly, quoting directly
from the memo. Quote: The White House official stated that there was
already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to
handle the discussion – meaning the discussion between president Trump and
the Ukrainian president on the phone call – because, quote, in the
official`s view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by
urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of
advancing his own re-election bid in 2020.
Well, that memo from the whistle-blower was reportedly given to the
inspector general of the intelligence community, who presumably used that
memo as part of the basis of his own investigation, which we know led him
to conclude that the whistleblower`s complaint was credible and urgent.
The inspector general has now given that document to Congress, as they
continue to look into the whistleblower`s allegations as part of these
impeachment proceedings. And now it`s gone to Congress, presumably it is
somebody in Congress who has leaked it to all of these different media
It does really put a spotlight on why the White House might desperately be
trying to stop somebody like Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the E.U., from
testifying in these impeachment proceedings, as he was supposed to do this
morning. I mean, we know from Sondland`s own accounts and internal
communications that he spoke to Trump right before the call with the
Ukrainian president. That`s the call in which at least some White House
officials concluded the president committed a crime.
We also know from Sondland`s communications that have already been
disclosed as part of the impeachment probe that he was the one,
specifically, who was both in contact directly and personally with the
president on this matter and he specifically was pushing the Ukrainians not
just to do this investigation into Biden, he was pushing for them to make a
public announcement about it. I mean, if it was just a corruption matter,
as the White House and some Republicans continue to insist, it shouldn`t
have mattered whether or not the Ukrainians were going to make a public
statement about their investigation of Biden, right? They should have only
cared that an investigation was underway.
But what Sondland pushed them for was what he described as the deliverable
that President Trump wanted here, was a public statement from the Ukrainian
government about investigating Biden. And of course, the reason they
wanted a public statement about the Ukrainian government about
investigating Biden was so that that ginned up investigation would be
announced out loud for public consumption for the kind of political effect
that Trump wanted for his re-election effort.
It wouldn`t do him any good if all they did was investigate, not if Trump
couldn`t crow about it, right? Not if the Republican Party couldn`t run
ads about it.
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson also says that Ambassador Sondland
is the guy who directly told him that Trump was, in fact, looking for a
quid pro quo from Ukraine. That he was specifically making Ukraine`s
military aid from the United States contingent on Ukraine first giving them
this Biden investigation that Trump figured would help his campaign.
So, yes, you can understand why they want to block Ambassador Gordon
Sondland from testifying, no matter the cost. But the cost here is
starting to get clearer, in part because the history is never far below the
surface. I mean, alongside everything else today, there was the Justice
Department, under William Barr, ordering – arguing in federal court today
to a federal judge that the Justice Department shouldn`t have to hand over
any evidence in its possession about these allegations against the
And when pressed by a seemingly incredulous judge, Bill Barr`s Justice
Department argued today in court that Nixon himself, effectively, should
never have been impeached for Watergate, because Congress should have never
been given the evidence against Nixon, which Archibald Cox and Leon
Jaworski assembled against him in the Watergate investigation before they
put it into a road map and handed it to Congress, which allowed Congress to
draw up its impeachment articles. What Bill Barr`s Justice Department
argued in court today is that Congress never should have been given that
evidence, because that evidence was about the president.
Here`s your medal, Ed Meese.
Judge Beryl Howell responded to that argument today from the Justice
Department lawyer by saying, quote, wow, OK. As I said, the department,
meaning the Justice Department, is taking extraordinary positions in this
When a federal judge looks at you and says, wow, really, that`s your
argument? Beyond seeming utterly unpersuaded by what Bill Barr`s Justice
Department is trying to make happen here in terms of the president`s
immunity from all investigation, like the other federal judge who ruled
against the president yesterday in the tax returns case, the case derived
from the porn star hush money scandal, like that ruling in the tax case
yesterday in New York, in this ruling today in D.C., this was a second
federal judge in two days who not only scoffed at the Justice Department`s
arguments that the president can`t be prosecuted or investigated, but this
in two days was the second federal judge who went further than that, to
question the long-standing Justice Department memos that say that a
president can`t be criminally charged.
So, if judges are now starting to go at those Justice Department memos that
say that presidents are immune from prosecution, it`s starting to look like
the White House and Bill Barr may have bitten off way more than they can
So this is all happening very fast. It`s all happening at once. Grand
jury materials collected during the Mueller investigation, which may be
relevant to the current impeachment proceedings, looks like those grand
jury materials are going to be handed over to congress, as they pursue
these impeachment proceedings against the president. That`s where it looks
that`s where it looks like this case is going.
Some of the first disclosures from the Mueller report, or from the Mueller
investigation that Congress has been trying to get, including FBI 302
forms, so FBI records of interviews with various witnesses, those forms are
starting to be described to the court tonight, because that judge today in
D.C. ordered the Justice Department to respond by tonight in terms of their
intentions in that regard. So this sort of dam is starting to break. And
the Congress is starting to get the stuff they are demanding.
The House also tonight moved quickly after Ambassador Gordon Sondland
didn`t show up this morning, they have already issued a subpoena to him.
So he`s now compelled to appear. They say they want his documents by
Monday and his presence in person for that deposition by Wednesday of next
If the White House continues to try to block witnesses from these
impeachment proceedings, the chairman of the committees leading the
impeachment inquiry today made clear, that, you know, just as the first
article of impeachment against Nixon was for him obstructing the
investigation into his own behavior, trying to block witnesses and evidence
from being handed over to Congress, they`re being quite clear now that
they`re prepared to do the same thing against president Trump in this White
House. They`re prepared to draw up the same kind of impeachment article
against President Trump that was the article I of the impeachment
proceedings against Nixon. And it seems like they might be moving fast to
make good on that promise.
So, I mean, today will go down in the history of this impeachment as the
day they gave Ed Meese his medal? What we all get out of this is the good
news that irony isn`t dead.
We`ll be right back tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Senate Intelligence Committee today released volume II of
their report on what happened during the 2016 presidential election. This
one is on the way that social media was used as a battlefield for the
Kremlin-directed efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
And the report has a bunch of new details, including this weird account of
Russians at the Internet Research Agency, which is run by a Kremlin-
connected oligarch, saying that they celebrated with champagne when the
news arrived that Trump had won the election on election night in 2016.
They popped champagne, because it meant that their efforts from that
Kremlin-directed troll farm in St. Petersburg has been successful. They
got what they had been working for.
Beyond eye-popping new detail like that, though, the most important thing
is the stark top-line result of what Senate Intelligence Committee
concluded, especially because they did so on a bipartisan basis. Bottom
line, as far as they`re concerned, is, quote, the intelligence community
assessed that the Russian government aspired to help President-elect
Trump`s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton
and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.
The committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost
invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump and to the detriment of
Secretary Clinton`s campaign. They also concluded bluntly that this social
media effort to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances and help Donald Trump`s
chances was directed from the Kremlin. So, in short, it was Russia and
Russia did it. And this should not be a surprise to anybody who has been
paying attention, right?
Except for the fact that alongside the thing for which the president is
being impeached now, him asking Ukraine to help him against his potential
opponent in 2020, the other thing we now know that President Trump was
asking for from that nation, from Ukraine, and the thing that the attorney
general right now is pursuing around the world is an effort to prove that
Russia didn`t attack the 2016 election after all. That it wasn`t them.
That maybe it was Ukraine or somewhere else or maybe it was all made up and
there was no attack after all.
The Senate Intelligence Committee saying today, on a bipartisan basis,
that, yes, there was an attack. Yes, it was big. Yes, it was to support
Trump getting elected, and yes, it was directed by the Kremlin.
Joining us now is Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He`s a member of both
the House Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee in the House
Sir, thanks very much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So I know there is a lot going on right now. I do want to ask you
about this very blunt conclusion from your counterpart committee in the
Senate, the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, which is run by the
Republicans, led by Senator Richard Burr, that it was definitely Russia, it
was a big deal of a campaign, it was directed by the Kremlin, and they were
trying to elect Trump.
I wonder if you feel like that is going to have a knock-on effect for any
of the impeachment proceedings you guys are pursuing or anything else that
you`re confronting right now when it comes to Bill Barr and the Justice
Department and the White House?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, I think it reinforces the fact that, you know, for –
since 2016, America has been resolute in its determination that we not let
what happened in 2016 happen again. And that`s, I think, part of the
reason why I think American public sentiment is so in favor of this
impeachment inquiry right now, because the allegations at issue are that
the Trump administration is trying to get a foreign power to meddle in our
democracy again, and this time in 2020.
And so, I think it just reinforced why this impeachment inquiry is actually
so important and it`s something that the American people favor.
MADDOW: I was, I guess, not surprised, but interested in the way that
Ambassador Sondland decided not to show up today. Ambassador Sondland
appears to have been a very important witness and participant in terms of
this scheme that the president is being impeached for now.
If you listen to his lawyers, they say, listen, he traveled back to
Washington to do this, he prepared the documents that he had been asked to
hand over. He`s not only prepared to participate in this deposition, he
was enthusiastic and ready to do it and wanted to be as helpful as he
could. He was only blocked from doing this because of a post-midnight call
from the State Department and with a heavy heart, he`s bound to do what
I feel like there`s a little bit of drama, a melodrama in the way that they
are portraying this. What`s your perspective on him backing out of that
deposition and what might happen next here?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, we`re going to make it just a little easier on him,
Rachel, and that means we`re going to give him a subpoena, which we
delivered tonight, just to make sure that he has a personal invitation to
appear. I think that, you know, Mr. Sondland is really at the heart of the
allegations of the complaint. As you pointed out before, apparently, he
talked to the president just a few minutes before the July 25th call with
President Zelensky, and in aftermath, he had various conversations to
basically effectuate this pressure campaign on Zelensky.
According to the “Wall Street Journal”, he apparently talked to Senator Ron
Johnson of Wisconsin who had been asking, what`s going on with this
military aid, why is it being held up? And apparently, he was very frank
with Mr. Johnson, Senator Johnson, and just told him, well, it all depends
on these investigations happening with regard to Mr. Biden, as well as the
Ukraine supposedly interfering in the 2016 elections, as opposed to Russia,
which is, of course, a big bogus claim, which we can talk about that
But it`s very important that we hear from Mr. Sondland.
MADDOW: Do you expect we got this letter from the White House today
essentially saying that we`re going to pretend that the impeachment
proceeding isn`t happening? As far as we`re concerned, it`s not a real
thing, so don`t expect to get anything from us.
I didn`t read that as a legalistic argument from the White House counsel`s
MADDOW: It seemed like sort of a declaration of intent. Do you think that
will change anything in terms of trying to get witnesses in evidence?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, I don`t think so. I think that just a couple of
things. One, I think that anybody who doesn`t appear for testimony or
anybody who blocks documents from being produced, I think they will figure
into an obstruction count with regard to this impeachment inquiry.
And the second point, which is very important, is that I think that their
blocked testimony or documents will likely invite the inference that those
documents and testimonies support the allegations of the complaint. And
now, Rachel, I think that because of public sentiment the way it is, in
support of this impeachment inquiry, I think that, quite frankly, the
president and the White House stalling and delaying doesn`t play well. And
it actually hurts their position, because I think there`s a presumption now
that something serious went wrong with that July 25th call. And that the
whistle-blower`s complaint may have, you know, more weight than meets the
MADDOW: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, member of the House Intel
Committee and the Oversight Committee – sir, thanks for being here
tonight. Much appreciated.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Quoting from the judge`s ruling: The president asserts an
extraordinary claim in the dispute now before this court. He contends that
the person who serves as president while in office enjoys absolute immunity
from criminal process of any kind.
Bared to its core, the proposition the president advances reduces to the
very notion that the founders rejected at the inception of the republic and
that the Supreme Court has since unequivocally repudiated that a
constitutional domain exists in this country in which not only the
president, but derivatively, relatives, and persons and business entities
associated with him are in fact above the law. This court finds aspects of
such a doctrine repugnant to the nation`s governmental structure and
constitutional values. Repugnant.
That was part of the ruling yesterday in federal court in New York that
allowed a subpoena to go forward for the president`s tax returns against
targets from the president`s lawyers that he is immune from any such thing.
But if you think this ruling went poorly for the president, including the
word “repugnant” being applied to his lawyer`s arguments, if you think this
went badly for Trump, you should see how badly this actually went for Vice
President Mike Pence, who is the real loser here for a surprising reason,
and that`s next.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the
Eastern District of Michigan. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
Barb, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, thanks, Rachel. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: So, here`s what I wanted to talk to you about. The committees
that are pursuing impeachment proceedings in the House have already said
explicitly that in addition to investigating the president, they`re
investigating Vice President Pence for what appears to be his role, too, in
this scheme to get election help from Ukraine. In this court case that the
president basically lost yesterday related to his taxes, I went back and
looked at the arguments the president`s lawyers made, and I was surprised
to find that the president`s lawyer, William Consovoy really seemed to get
out of his way, to say that the immunity he was arguing for for President
Trump explicitly doesn`t apply to Mr. Pence.
He said in the transcript: The country can persist without a vice
president. A president subject to proceedings in a state court, the
distraction that would create, the multitude of problems that could arise,
are unique and different in both degree and kind from anything that would
attend to a proceeding against the vice president.
So, that now sticks out for me like a beacon. And I just wanted to know
what you make of that. Is that something that would have naturally arisen
in this case? Does it strike you as strange?
MCQUADE: It does strike as strange. It was kind of a gratuitous comment.
No one was talking about the vice president. There`s no reason to talk
And, you know, you couple it with President Trump`s comments to Congress
that you really ought to look at Mike Pence`s phone calls as well as my own
makes him wonder if he isn`t attempting to throw Mike Pence under the bus.
And why might he want to do that?
Well, the line of succession for presidency is the president, the vice
president, and the speaker of the House. And so, perhaps President Trump
sees Mike Pence as expendable because if Nancy Pelosi is next in line,
perhaps the Republican-controlled Senate will say, we don`t want to impeach
President Trump because that means we would have a President Nancy Pelosi.
MADDOW: So if Pence got impeached first, then the scheme wouldn`t work
because Trump could replace him with someone that would not be impeached.
But if Pence and Trump were getting impeached simultaneously, that might be
sort of an insurance policy for the president but because he could then
guarantee that Republicans wouldn`t vote impeach and remove both of them,
because aye yai yai.
Well, as a substantive matter, whether or not this is that kind of a Hail
Mary, as a substantive matter, do the president`s lawyers have a point? I
spent a long time looking into the Spiro Agnew case. I`m not sure that I
was ever totally clear on the question of whether or not vice presidents
have the same kind of immunity from prosecution that presidents do.
MCQUADE: Yes, I don`t think so. If you look at the reasons behind
suggesting that the president is immune from impeachment or from
indictment, it`s because he is himself the head of the executive branch,
and so, he gets to call the shots and it`s sort of a metaphysical
impossibility, the thinking goes, to indict the president. They also talk
about the stigma of not being able to lead the country if have been in
charge of a crime, the inability to discharge the duties of the office.
So other members of the cabinet can be impeached, executive branch cabinet
officials, Supreme Court justices. So, I think it is just the argument for
whom this argument applies. And even that is not set in stone. It`s still
just an OLC opinion.
MADDOW: Which makes it a very interesting gambit if they`re trying to get
Mike Pence impeached as an insurance policy for Donald Trump.
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan,
thank you for joining us, Barb. Good to see you.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel. You too.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So, as you may know, the next Democratic presidential debate
happens a week from tonight in Ohio. Twelve candidates will be on stage
for that, Tuesday of next week, 12 podiums. That`s more podiums than they
have ever had this year.
But now tonight, there`s some news. The Democratic Party has just
announced the next debate after that one, debate number five in Georgia –
it will be happening in Georgia on November 20th. I`m delighted to say it
will be hosted jointly by “The Washington Post” newspaper and by this
network, MSNBC. They just announced that today. They have not announced
the moderators will be.
So far, eight of the Democratic candidates have already qualified for that
fifth debate including Andrew Yang who just punched his ticket for that
debate today with the national Quinnipiac poll showing him at 3 percent.
That puts him over the threshold. He will definitely be in.
But the news for now for tonight, “The Washington Post”, MSNBC are hosting
this next Democratic presidential debate, co-hosting, Georgia, November
20th. Got it.
MADDOW: We`re just about wrapping up for this hour, but I just want to
tell you about something that has been starting to break as we`ve been on
the air this hour. Following President Trump`s sudden announcement that
U.S. troops be pulled back in Syria to allow Turkey to take territory
currently held by the Kurds, with whom the U.S. has been allied there.
Reports are just now this hour starting to come in that Turkey is poised to
cross the border into Syria, quote, shortly. David Ignatius of “The
Washington Post” reports that his sources are telling him, the U.S.
officials have just informed the Syrian Kurds that Turkey is likely to
attack on air and ground in the next 24 hours. Quote, the Turkish attacks
appeared to be coordinated with the Russians. Russian-backed forces are
mobilizing to invade.
David Ignatius pointing out the other terrifying possibility here of
thousands of ISIS detainees, quote, breaking out of camps and prisons with
no American backup plan for that. He writes, quote, this is a major
disaster coming at us because of Trump`s decisions. Quote, hours left to
Again, this is being reported by “The Washington Post`s” David Ignatius who
does tend to have very good sources on these matters. We`ll continue to
follow this as it continues to break over the course of the night.
That does it for this hour, though. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
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