Impeachment trial TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
John Yarmuth, Mazie Hirono
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Yes, fair enough, you know me well. Thank you,

my friend. Thanks a lot.

 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”:  You bet.

 

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

 

Yet another day in our living history as American citizens where the front

pages of our local newspapers kind of feel like things you might want to

save. This is “The Dallas Morning News” today: Impeachment trial begins.

With ritual and rancor, senators sworn in and allegations read.

 

This is “The San Diego Union Tribune”: Senate begins historic trial.

“Chicago Tribune” sort of went with the dramatic picture lead over the big

headline.

 

Do we have that “Chicago Tribune”? Well – I`ll show you that one in a

minute. Probably, we don`t have it yet.

 

Do we have “The Washington Post”? “The Washington Post”, three, two, one,

thank you. Five columns atop page one: Senate trial of Trump begins.

 

“Wall Street Journal”? Yes. Senate opens historic trial of president.

 

“The Portland Press Herald” in Portland, Maine: Historic trial of Trump

begins.

 

In Hawaii, “Honolulu Star Advertiser”: Trial set in motion. “Philadelphia

Inquirer”, very dramatic: The trial begins.

 

“St. Louis Post Dispatch” often has very, very good front page headlines

for all big occasions. This time they went with I think a very good one.

Trump on trial.

 

But I will say, as much as I love “The St. Louis Post Dispatch” headline

writers, I think they have a run for their money today in terms of the best

headline nationwide.

 

Check out “The Parkersburg News and Sentinel” from Parkersburg, West

Virginia. Their headline is perfect. Look: Jury duty. Get it? Jury duty, as

in you are the jurors, senators, do your duty.

 

It`s so good. Jury duty. Trump`s trial begins, senators vowing impartial

justice.

 

This is “The New York Times,” all six columns, the full width of the front

page. Trump`s trial opens as new evidence emerges.

 

This is “The Birmingham News”, Birmingham, Alabama. Trial begins with pomp

and bombshell.

 

Today, the formal summons of the president notifying him that he is on

trial arrived at the White House. The White House is expected to make a

reply to that in writing by tomorrow evening.

 

Also by tomorrow evening, the House, essentially, the prosecutors, are

expected to file their first trial brief for the president`s impeachment

trial. The president`s side, in effect the defense, will have their first

brief due on Monday.

 

So this is joined now. This is on. And as noted by those last two front

pages we just showed from Birmingham, Alabama and New York City, there is

this very unusual dynamic at work in this impeachment, which is that the

impeachment trial is opening as new evidence emerges, as “The Times” puts

it, or as proverbial bombshells continue to drop, which is the way “The

Birmingham News” put it.

 

You know, the fact that new evidence is coming out, new witnesses are

coming forward, everybody has noted that puts pressure on the Senate in

terms of whether they`re going to consider witness testimony and

documentary evidence as new and potentially important witnesses continue to

present themselves, as that new documentary evidence just continues to pile

up. Will the Senate pretend none of that happening? Or will they actually

look at that stuff as part of considering the scandal, considering the

record of the president`s behavior they`ve got before them?

 

We`re going to speak with a key U.S. senator tonight about how that is

playing inside the Senate and how that may ultimately be resolved.

 

But the fact that new evidence is still coming out right now in real time,

new witnesses are coming forward and saying stuff that is potentially very

consequential for the case against the president, I think somewhat

unusually, it also means that the politics of this impeachment are very

much in flux as the trial gets underway. I mean, not trying to be naive

about this or Pollyannaish about this, but what the public knows about what

the president did is an evolving beast, right?

 

I mean, as more evidence comes forward, as the public learns new things

about what the president did, that`s very much going to affect the public`s

expectations for now they want and expect senators to judge the president.

It will affect how the public views senators in terms of the seriousness

with which they are approaching this solemn jury duty. Thank you,

“Parkersburg News and Sentinel”.

 

It will also affect the public`s perception of the president`s alleged high

crimes and misdemeanors and whether or not he should be held accountable

for those things.

 

So, this is a live thing. Impeachments are always unpredictable. They`re so

rare. But the fact this one still has more evidence, sometimes very

compelling evidence coming to the surface, being surfaced by Freedom of

Information Act lawsuits, being surfaced by witnesses coming forward who

have tales to tell, it matters in terms of how humble we should be about

our expectations for this impeachment as it goes forward.

 

And I should mention – can we go back to “The Birmingham News” front page?

Thank you. One of the things “The Birmingham News” is highlighting as sort

of a late breaking development that is important in terms of the Senate

trial starting right now is that as the trial is kicking off, the

nonpartisan investigative body, called the Government Accountability

Office, a government agency, has just determined that when the president

withheld aid from Ukraine as part of this scheme for which he`s being

impeached, it was against the law for him to do that, it was illegal for

him to do that.

 

There has been a talking point from the White House and among Republican

supporters of the president and the Congress that this impeachment is a

scandal for which there was no technical crime. There was a crime, it turns

out. And that official determination that the president acted illegally in

withholding those funds from Ukraine, that official determination by the

GAO right as the trial starts, I know that`s something that has been a

little bit swamped by other developments this week, but that may also end

up being really important as this goes forward.

 

That is one of the late breaking bombshells still coming to fore, coming to

public notice as the trial starts. We`re going to speak with somebody very

close to that story about the GAO ruling in just a moment tonight as well.

So, we`ve got a lot to come.

 

But I have to tell you even just tonight, the House has released still more

evidence that pertains to the impeachment scandal, more texts and call

records and communications, even a voicemail they received from Lev Parnas,

the same Lev Parnas who I interviewed this week in New York and who had a

key role in the Ukraine scheme as essentially Rudy Giuliani`s right hand

man for the duration of this pressure campaign.

 

The things Mr. Parnas told me in this interview this week are explosive on

a lot of different levels. He bluntly implicated not only the president,

but also a number of other senior administration officials, including

cabinet officials in the way he told the story about how that Ukraine

scheme worked.

 

And I know that the White House and conservative media in particular have

tried to discount his assertions and his allegations by saying that Mr.

Parnas is under federal criminal indictment and that is absolutely true.

Nobody is hiding the ball about that whatsoever.

 

The problem with that politically is that it cuts both ways. Yes, Lev

Parnas is facing federal felony charges, but that puts him in pretty good

company in Trump world. I mean, why is it that so many people connected to

this president are in prison or have plead guilty to felonies or have been

convicted or felonies or are otherwise up on felony counts.

 

I mean, the president`s campaign chairman, prison. The president`s deputy

campaign chairman, prison. The president`s foreign policy adviser from the

campaign, prison.

 

The president`s national security advisor, awaiting maybe prison. The

president`s personal lawyer, no not that one, the other one, prison. And

now the guy who was with Rudy Giuliani running this Ukraine scheme for the

president, yes, he is facing prison.

 

But like I said, that`s a big team. You know, it`s easy to take shots at

him for his legal problems. But at some point, don`t you look around and

wonder how come this president has so many people around him who we

recognize from their mug shots?

 

It`s like, there`s a glass houses problem with people like, don`t trust

this guy in the Trump orbit, he`s facing felony charges. Yes, dude, who

isn`t?

 

But the other problem with this effort to dismiss these allegations and

these assertions made by Mr. Parnas is that it turns out, I learned in

speaking with him this week and reviewing very carefully everything that

has been released by the House Intelligence Committee that he handed over

to them, what we`ve learned about him as a witness to this scandal is that

he is that remarkable thing that prosecutors and investigators look for,

which is the person who not only was involved at all levels of the scheme

that`s being investigated, he is the person who did that while keeping all

the receipts.

 

He kept everything, it turns out. He has provided reams of documentary

evidence, text messages, letters, photos, WhatsApp messages, I mean, you

name it. He has handed it all over to the House impeachment investigators

who bit by bit have been making it public over the course of this week.

 

And it turns out those materials can be used to corroborate his story, to

corroborate some of the assertions that he made to me in any interview this

week.

 

For example, “The Washington Post” today took a close look at what I think

is actually the most explosive claim that Lev Parnas made in my whole

interview with him and I know Mr. Parnas made a lot of very explosive

claims. But I just want to focus in on one of them that I think might end

up being the most consequential, and it`s the basis of this “Washington

Post” report today sort of checking out as best they can from the public

record Mr. Parnas` assertions.

 

I`m not going to reply this whole section of the interview in which Mr.

Parnas made these claims that are about the vice president. I`ve cut it

down a little bit to pare it down to his essence. But you should see it one

more time to refresh your memory. Here it is.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Did you meet with a Ukrainian official named Sergei Sheyfir?

 

LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE:  Yes, I did.

 

MADDOW:  Sergei Sheyfir is a very senior aide to President Zelensky?

 

PARNAS:  Correct.

 

MADDOW:  It has been reported as far as we understand from public reporting

that you conveyed to Mr. Sheyfir the exact quid pro quo, that you wanted

Zelensky to announce investigations into Joe Biden or military aid would

not be released to Ukraine. Is that accurate?

 

PARNAS:  There`s a little bit more to that. Basically the message that I

was supposed – that I gave Sergei Sheyfir was a very harsh message that

was told to me to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant

way.

 

MADDOW:  Who told you to give it to him in a harsh way?

 

PARNAS:  Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after meeting at the president, the

White House, he told me he called him in there and he doesn`t want him

flying out. All of Ukraine was already buzzing by the time we woke up that

Rudy Giuliani came on TV and said that Zelensky is surrounded by enemies of

the president.

 

They got became very concerned, they didn`t know what to do because they

understand that relationships are getting – that something is going to be

bad. Everybody started getting the 911 (ph) up that something`s going on.

 

And then I got a call from Lutsenko, a text message saying here`s Sheyfir`s

number, he`s waiting for your call.

 

MADDOW:  Sheyfir, at this point, a very senior member of the incoming

administration.

 

PARNAS:  He`s the most senior. He was –

 

MADDOW:  The Ukrainian government is freaking out because Mr. Giuliani had

thought he personally was coming to Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky

to make these demands. The meeting was cancelled. He`s upset that the

meeting is cancelled. He`s making public statements about how Zelensky is

surrounded by bad people and enemies of the president.

 

PARNAS:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  Everybody`s upset. In the midst of that upset, you in Kiev are

told you should talk to Sheyfir?

 

PARNAS:  Give him one last chance.

 

MADDOW:  OK.

 

PARNAS:  And the last chance, the message was it wasn`t just military aid,

it was all aid. Basically the relationships would be sour, that we would

stop giving him any kind of aid that – 

 

MADDOW:  Unless –

 

PARNAS:  Unless there was an announcement made. In the conversation I told

him that if – he doesn`t – the announcement was the key at that time

because of the inauguration, that Pence would not show up, nobody would

show up to his inauguration.

 

MADDOW:  Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S.

officials, particularly Vice President Mike Pence would not come.

 

PARNAS:  Particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

 

MADDOW:  So the day after that meeting that you had with Mr. Sheyfir –

 

PARNAS:  This was Sunday the 12th.

 

MADDOW:  I believe it was the following day that, in fact, Vice President

Pence`s visit to the inauguration was cancelled.

 

PARNAS:  It was after my phone call.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Lev Parnas, in my interview with him this week, made explosive

claims about the president, about Attorney General William Barr, about

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Congressman Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani and,

and, and.

 

But for my claim, for my money, the claim that he laid out about Vice

President Mike Pence is sort of stunning. I mean, in the biggest picture

sense, it is stunning because senators are being convened in this trial

right now to decide whether or not President Trump`s behavior in this

Ukraine scheme is sufficiently bad, sufficient illegal, sufficiently

violative of his responsibilities under the Constitution, that senators

should remove the president from office.

 

If they remove the president from office, they would de facto elevate Vice

President Mike Pence into the Oval Office. So in that circumstance, it

would be good to know if Vice President Pence was also involved or indeed

knowingly complicit in the core scheme for which the president has been

impeached.

 

I mean, there`s the possibility here that you are like arresting Bonnie but

promoting Clyde, right? If they were doing this together and Vice President

Pence was knowingly complicit in the heart of this scheme, you know,

demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Joe Biden or you get

your aid cut off, if he was knowingly complicit in that scheme, if he was

part of it, that`s a big deal for senators who are now solemnly weighing

the prospect of removing President Trump from office for his role in that

scheme if Vice President Pence also had an overt and knowing role in the

same thing.

 

But Lev Parnas` assertions about Vice President Pence, explosive as they

are, as fascinating as they are, they don`t just live out there in space on

their own. They are bolstered, as the “Washington Post” lays out point by

point, they are bolstered at every turn by documentary evidence that

supports the timeline of what Mr. Parnas is describing.

 

Quote: Text messages and oh documents released by the how is this week as

well as congressional testimony during the impeachment inquiry corroborate

the timeline that Parnas detailed in interviews about the episode.

 

Mr. Parnas explained to me that he was in contact with a very senior

Ukrainian government official named Sergei Sheyfir, that in fact is

bolstered by the string of text messages between Lev Parnas and Sergei

Sheyfir that have now been made public by the impeachment investigators. I

mean, Mr. Parnas told me that he was given Mr. Sheyfir`s number and he

first got in touch with him when he was in Ukraine on May 11th.

 

Well, it turns out that checks out. Here`s that text message written May

11th from Lev Parnas to Sergei Sheyfir. It`s written in Russian.

 

The Intelligence Committee has translated it as: Good evening, Sergei. My

name is Lev Parnas. I`m a friend of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Please call me

back. Thank you.

 

Nine minutes later to prove who he was and the connections he was bragging

about, Lev sent along a copy o a letter that Giuliani had sent the previous

day to President-elect Zelensky. It`s not a public letter. This is

something that only somebody actually connected to Rudy Giuliani would

have. Lev sends over that letter basically to establish his bona fides. Mr.

Sheyfir responds 10 minutes later. Understood. Thanks.

 

Later that night, in a couple of hours, Sheyfir sends Lev Parnas by text

the name of a fancy restaurant in Kiev where he apparently wants to meet

Mr. Parnas. He`s going to get that meeting.

 

Following morning, we know Lev is on his way. Good morning, Sergei. I`m on

my way but I`m running late. About 15 minutes, I`ll be there about 10:15 or

10:20. Thanks.

 

Sergei responds and we don`t need to translate this. OK is Ok in any

language.

 

Now, at that meeting, at that restaurant, that is what Lev Parnas described

in his interview with me. That`s where he said he was harsh, that he made

this harsh demand of that senior aide to the Ukraine president that if they

didn`t announce investigations into Joe Biden, not only were they not going

to get military aid, they would get no aid, it would be the end of their

relationship with the United States and they would definitely get no Mike

Pence at the inauguration of President Zelensky. Pence would cancel his

inaugural visit.

 

And just as Mr. Parnas said, after that meeting happened, which did not go

well, it was very heated. He said he was very harsh. He said Sheyfir made

no commitment on behalf of the Ukrainian government to announce the Biden

investigation, which is what Lev was demanding in no uncertain times on

behalf of Giuliani, on behalf of the president of the United States. I

mean, just as Lev said, after that meeting which did not go well, he told

me in this interview that he didn`t hear back from Mr. Sheyfir after that

meeting.

 

And so, later that night – it had been a breakfast meeting in Kiev. Later

that night, Lev Parnas started texting the guy to find out if he was going

to give him an answer. That`s what he told me in the interview. In fact, it

checks out.

 

Here in these texts, we`ve got Lev Parnas the night of the 12th texting Mr.

Sheyfir. Sergei, good evening, is there any news?

 

Sergei does not write back. We can see from the complete string of text

messages that a couple of weeks later, Lev tries again. Hello, Sergei,

hello? That`s a couple of weeks later.

 

A couple of months later, question mark, hello, are you blocking me? In

fact, Sergei Sheyfir never writes back to Lev again, just as Lev said. He

said he cut me off from that conversation.

 

And then what happened next after he didn`t hear back from Sergei Sheyfir

on the night of the 12th, according to Lev, the way he tells it, he relayed

back to Rudy Giuliani in Washington or in the United States that it was in

Lev`s words a no-go. Remember the threat was that Vice President Pence

would cancel his plans to attend Zelensky`s inauguration unless they agreed

to announce those investigations.

 

The way Lev told the story, he relayed home to Washington it`s a no-go,

they`re not going to do it. Rudy told him, they will see. And in fact, by

the next morning, the 13th, Mike Pence would cancel his trip to Zelensky`s

inauguration. That`s what Lev had threatened on behalf of the White House.

 

The White House made good on that threat. The way that Lev explained it,

the way that Lev laid out this bombshell assertion about Vice President

Pence and his involvement in this scheme, in this pressure campaign on

Ukraine to make a visit and all these other things the Ukrainian government

wanted and needed from the U.S. government, make it contingent on them

announcing that investigation, which on the 12th they would not do.

 

I mean, the way Lev explains it, that meeting happened on the 12th. He

reported home about it the night of the 12th. And the cancellation of

Pence`s visit in fact happened on the 13th.

 

That is what Lev Parnas alleges, as explosive as it is. It turns out that

last part of it checks out as well.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JENNIFER WILLIAMS, VP PENCE`S AIDE:   We had already stopped the trip

planning by that point.

 

STEVE CASTOR, GOP COUNSEL:  When did that happen?

 

WILLIAMS:  Stopping the trip planning?

 

CASTOR:  Yes.

 

WILLIAMS:  On May 13th.

 

CASTOR:  OK. And how did you hear about that?

 

WILLIAMS:  I was called by a colleague in the vice president`s chief of

staff`s office and told to stop the trip planning.

 

CASTOR:  And did you have any knowledge of the reasoning for stopping the

trip?

 

WILLIAMS:  I asked my colleague why we should stop trip planning and why

the vice president would not be attending, and I was informed that the

president had decided the vice president would not attend the inauguration.

 

CASTOR:  OK.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Kind of seems like Lev Parnas was speaking for President Trump

after all.

 

President Trump contacted Vice President Mike Pence and told him he

wouldn`t be going to that inauguration.

 

This dramatic story that Lev Parnas tells about Vice President Mike Pence`s

trip being cancelled to Ukraine, to make good on the White House threat,

that that visit would be cancelled unless they announced the Biden

investigations, it is bolstered – I mean, as shocking as that claim is and

as potentially important as that claim is about the involvement of the vice

president, you may doubt Lev Parnas because of who he is, but what he said

is explicitly and exactly bolstered by corroborating documentation and

testimony from disinterested witnesses.

 

Now, a senior administration official talking to the “Washington Post”

about this chain of events even with the protection of anonymity would,

quote, not share what reason president Trump gave vice president pence for

cancelling that trip.

 

Well, somebody should maybe ask President Trump what reason he gave Vice

President Pence to cancel his trip to Zelensky`s inauguration. Somebody

should ask Vice President Mike Pence what reason President Trump gave him

for cancelling his trip to President Zelensky`s inauguration.

 

Or did he really just, you know, cancel his planned trip to Zelensky`s

inauguration on direct orders from the president of the United States by

saying yes, sir, please don`t tell me why, sir? I mean, maybe that`s how

things operate at the highest levels of the Trump administration, but

somebody should ask.

 

I will also say that in the materials just released by the House tonight,

Mr. Parnas` claims that Rudy Giuliani arranged for Mr. Parnas to have John

Dowd, the president`s one-time lawyer, represent him when he was summoned

to speak to the impeachment investigation, that claim about Giuliani

setting him up with John Dowd, that is also bolstered by these text

messages released tonight by the House.

 

Also, when Mr. Parnas told me in the interview that he was shocked that

California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes was taking a leading role in

the supposed investigation of the scandal. He said he was shocked by that

because he, Lev Parnas, had arranged for a Devin Nunes staffer to actually

participate in this scheme by trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden from

corrupt Ukrainian officials. That too is bolstered in these many text

messages released tonight showing Lev Parnas doing just that with a top

staffer to Congressman Devin Nunes setting up interviews between that

staffer and Ukrainian officials who were making these claims against Joe

Biden.

 

What Lev said to me is bolstered by the documentation that you would go to

look for if you were trying to prove it. And I understand they want to

attack Lev Parnas as an accused criminal. And point taken, he is an accused

criminal and one of many around this president and this administration.

 

But whatever Mr. Parnas` own situation in his own criminal case, the guy

does seem to have kept everything, every photo, every text, every WhatsApp

message, every attachment so his claims, in fact, can be checked. The White

House has denied all documents from the entire federal government to the

impeachment investigation. Turns out Lev has a bunch, though, and he`s

handed them over.

 

Turns out even the most – what I believe to have been the most explosive

claim he made in my interview with him in very important ways it turns out

by the documentary evidence we can corroborate it by, it checks out.

 

More ahead. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  It was a signal moment when White House Chief of Staff Mick

Mulvaney stood up in the briefing room last year and admitted out loud in

front of the whole world, that yes, there was a quid pro quo involving the

withholding of aid to Ukraine in exchange for them announcing

investigations that the White House was demanding. But it`s easy to forget

because of how large that claim looms.

 

In that same press conference Mick Mulvaney also admitted to something

else. He admitted in that press conference as well that there were concerns

inside the White House inside the Office of Management and Budget over the

legality or the potential illegality of the hold on the aid to Ukraine.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  We were concerned about

over at OMB about an impoundment. I know I just put half you folks to bed,

but the Budget Control Act, Impoundment –Budget Control and Impoundment

Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money, you have to spend it.

We knew that money had to go out the door by the end of September, or we

had to have a really, really good reason not to do it. And that was the

legality of the issue.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was the legality of the issue. There`s legal constraint on

us, that we were – that presser is remembered for Mick Mulvaney admitting

to the quid pro quo, but he also admitted that there were concerns inside

the White House, inside OMB about the legality of that part of the quid pro

quo, that part of the quid pro quo that was withholding the U.S. aid from

Ukraine.

 

So that press conference was in October, the following month in November,

there was a career official from OMB testifying to the impeachment

investigation that, in fact, he was among the people who had raised

questions about whether withholding those funds from Ukraine was illegal.

 

More explosively, that official Mark Sandy testified that two other

officials at OMB had not only shared those concerns that this was

potentially illegal, he told the impeachment investigation that two OMB

officials had actually resigned, at least in part due to their concerns

over the legality of the hold.

 

Well, we now know those officials who resigned, they were not alone in

their concerns and it would seem to be proven now that their concerns were

well-founded. The White House has refused to hand over any documents that

could shed light on these matters. But just before Christmas, heavily

redacted documents did start spilling into the open, thanks to Freedom of

Information Act lawsuits filed by watchdog groups.

 

Those documents showed that senior political appointees within OMB knew

that the hold might be in violation of the law and they activity took steps

to try and keep it as quiet as possible. Earlier this month, reporting by

Just Security revealed that Department of Defense officials also expressed

explicit and urgent concern about the potential illegality of the hold.

 

The president and his allies have insisted consistently, right, that no

crime was committed in relation to any part of this impeachment inquiry.

It`s not true. And the officials who were concerned early on that what was

going on around them might be illegal, they were right.

 

Yesterday, the GAO, the independent nonpartisan congressional agency that`s

tasked with investigations, that`s tasked with reviewing this matter,

concluded that, yes, the Trump administration did in fact break the law

when they withheld that money. That decision said House Budget Chairman

John Yarmuth confirmed that President Trump broke the law by withholding

critical security assistance for Ukraine. He said, quote: This is only the

latest proof that he brazenly and knowingly abused his power.

 

Joining us is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Kentucky

Congressman John Yarmuth.

 

Congressman Yarmuth, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for making time to be

here tonight. I really appreciate it.

 

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY):  Good to be with you, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  So, I ran down a little bit of the history of this part of the

scandal. Let me ask you if I got any of that wrong or events have overtaken

me and I left out something important.

 

YARMUTH:  No. You got it exactly right. The Impoundment Act of 1974

prohibits the administration from withholding funds unless there`s some

kind of programmatic program. For instance, if there were a grant program

that Congress established and nobody applied for the grant, then obviously

they couldn`t disperse the funds.

 

But other than that, the government is obligated, the administration to

spend the money Congress appropriates pursuant to our Article I powers. And

if they don`t, they have to come to Congress in advance and explain why

they want to withhold the funding. Of course, they did none of that.

 

What GAO said was that you cannot, definitely cannot withhold funds based

on policy. You can under certain circumstances, again the programmatic

technicalities, you might. But when it`s policy, you can`t do that.

 

The administration came back in response to the GAO report and said we

believe we have the right to withhold funds based on the president`s

priorities which is policy. So, basically, they`re saying they don`t agree

with the law. Well, they cannot agree with the law, but they have to abide

by it.

 

The problem we have is there`s really no enforcement mechanism. We can

impeach him, which we`re doing. And, obviously, this is part of the entire

scheme, which is part of the Article I charge that he abused his power. In

this case, he actually broke the law in abusing his power.

 

So, we`re going to – we`re going to be looking at ways to tighten down the

Impoundment Act so that there actually are some consequences if the

administration does something that`s against the law.

 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one of the sort of intriguing human dynamics

behind this part of the story, which is that it does appear from the

documents we`ve been able to see, from the testimony we got from people

like Mark Sandy, that there were people at OMB working in the White House,

there were people at the Defense Department certainly who seemed pretty

convinced or seemed very worried that this was illegal, that this hold on

this aid was not in compliance with the law and that there would be

consequences when it became known. And those people raced concerns,

explicitly committed them to writing, seemed to run those concerns up the

chain as far as they could.

 

And then we also see other Trump administration officials, political

appointees, seeming to try to keep this quiet, seeming to try to keep this

as something that wasn`t getting widely circulated and wasn`t being widely

discussed after they had been warned that it was illegal. That sort of

perceived culpability, for people who knew that they might have been

furthering a criminal act, it just seems like – it just seems like people

other than the president did stuff that was wrong here.

 

YARMUTH:  Yes, exactly. And there`s another piece of evidence here in that,

normally, what we call the apportionment letters which actually has to go

out when you dispense money or when you`re delaying the dispense of money,

are signed by career officials, career employees at the OMB.

 

That was done to a certain point and then they took it out of their hands

and put it in the hands of a political appointee at OMB. They took it out

of the normal process. And this was part of their, I think, again, response

to the fact they knew they were something – they knew they were doing

something wrong. They didn`t want the career officials to have a hand in

it.

 

And we know there were wide reports that Mick Mulvaney also had asked OMB

lawyers to see if they could come up with a legal justification for what

they were doing. So, they all knew they were doing something wrong. There

was never any question about that.

 

And they had – that was on the technical side, the legal side. On the

policy side, there were people within the administration, very high up in

the military and the diplomatic sphere who were arguing against it, saying

it was bad policy, that we needed to actually put this money out so

Ukrainian – the Ukrainians could defend themselves.

 

MADDOW:  Congressman John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee -

- thanks for helping us understand this. It is a dramatic thing that the

president acted illegally in this scheme as his trial is beginning. But

it`s helpful to have clarify for us, sir. Thank you very much.

 

YARMUTH:  Well, when Mick Mulvaney said he put half the people to sleep,

maybe we put the other half to sleep, a very important event.

 

MADDOW:  Also putting people to sleep is an important skill. America needs

to sleep better.

 

YARMUTH:  Absolutely.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you, sir. Much appreciated.

 

YARMUTH:  Sure.

 

MADDOW:  All right. We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  In 2016, the very first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump

for president was a Republican congressman from Buffalo, New York, named

Chris Collins. Once Trump, in fact, became president, Chris Collins became

one of Trump`s most vocal and ardent defenders on Capitol Hill, right up

until the point in 2018 when Chris Collins was arrested on felony charges

related to an insider trading scheme.

 

Congressman Collins fought those charges in court for over a year. He was

actually reelected in 2018 – go Buffalo – despite being under indictment

for federal crimes. It was not until late last year, 2019 when Congressman

Collins finally resigned from Congress after he decided that, OK, after all

he was going to plead guilty.

 

Well, now with the impeachment trial of Donald Trump officially under way

with senators and the chief justice being sworn in yesterday, today, we got

a stark and sobering reminder of where the Donald Trump era in politics

really began, because today, the first congressman who endorsed his

presidential bid, Chris Collins, he was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in federal

prison for his role in that insider trading scheme.

 

I should note that the second member of Congress who endorsed Donald Trump

for president is a gentleman named Duncan Hunter. He just submitted his

official resignation to Congress last week after also pleading guilty to

felony charges. He`s set to be sentenced in March.

 

More to come in every possible way, I`m sure of it.

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Earlier tonight, I showed you a bunch of newspaper front pages

today from this historic time, this historic date in our history. I want to

focus for one minute on this one. This “New York Times” headline: Trump`s

trial opens as new evidence emerges.

 

I mean, it`s – we`re living this and so, we know what this feels like but

it`s a remarkable thing. I mean, as the articles of impeachment moved from

the House to the Senate this week, as the Senate convened its trial, nearly

every day this week has brought forth significant new information related

to the factual record of this impeachment scandal. How does all this new

information affect how the Senate trial is likely to be conducted, and are

senators talking about this amongst themselves or changing their minds

based on the new information they`re getting that may be sort of affecting

the way they otherwise thought they would approach these things?

 

Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, she was sworn in yesterday as one

of the 100 jurors in this historic trial. She joins us live tonight.

 

Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

 

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):  Good evening.

 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you if I`m right to focus in on this as a notable – as

a notable factor heading into this trial. The new information that`s coming

out every day, is it affecting what your expectations are for how the trial

will run?

 

HIRONO:  It certainly adds to the corroboration of what we know President

Trump already did, which was the shakedown of the Ukraine president for his

political purposes and using almost $400 million in taxpayer money as a

bribe. So, all of this corroborating evidence is emerging, thanks so much

to you.

 

But if these were more normal times, somebody like Lev Parnas would already

have testified in the House impeachment inquiry, because he was subpoenaed

to testify and he was prevented from doing so. All the evidence that was

requested, 71 subpoena requests for documents, which the White House said

no way.

 

So they`ve been stonewalling the impeachment inquiry all the way. This is

one of the reasons, Rachel, that I think you`ve done a great service to let

people understand that there`s more evidence out there.

 

And Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to prevent the senators and

the American people from hearing this evidence. Thankfully, though, in this

age of social media, all of the Parnas evidence – and there`s a lot of it

– is on the website, the House website.

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the information that has been conveyed forward for the

investigation.

 

HIRONO:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  You know, I wonder how sensitive you think the Senate is as a

body, how Mitch McConnell, I guess, is as its leader, its majority leader,

to public perceptions on this stuff. Because, I mean, part of what`s weird

and interesting about the fact that this information is coming out through

Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and through public interviews with

people like me on TV – 

 

HIRONO:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  – is that the public knows all this stuff. The public gets to see

all this stuff and that changes public expectations for what the president

is actually going to be on trial for.

 

How sensitive do you think McConnell is to what the public knows and what

the public is going to want answers to?

 

HIRONO:  I don`t think Mitch McConnell is very sensitive at all. This is

the same person who prevented Merrick Garland from getting on the Supreme

Court. And he didn`t prevent the government shutdown that hurt 800,000

government workers. So he`s not sensitive at all.

 

The only thing Mitch McConnell cares about is retaining control over the

Senate, just as the president is totally interested in his own retention of

the presidency. These are the kind of people we`re talking about.

 

But, thankfully, the American people want evidence and witnesses at the

trial. The majority of people understand that that is what a fair trial

looks like.

 

MADDOW:  In a conference call with reporters in your home state of Hawaii

today, you said the president is trying to rig this trial – 

 

HIRONO:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  – by not producing any documents and forbidding his people from

testifying. What do you mean by using the word “rig” there?

 

HIRONO:  Just as he tried to rig his reelection by getting the Ukrainian

president to do his political bidding and using $400 million as a bribe,

he`s trying to rig this trial using Mitch McConnell to prevent any

witnesses or documents from being produced. This is for the – I think

rigging is the right word. Another word is cheating. He`s cheating the

American people.

 

MADDOW:  Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, thank you so much for

your time tonight.

 

HIRONO:  Aloha.

 

MADDOW:  I know next week is going to be a huge week. Thanks for being with

us.

 

HIRONO:  Yes. Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  All right. More to come. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  All right. We`re going to have to warm up the chart.

 

All right. You remember this? This was the state of play the last time we

checked in. This is something we have been tracking and trying very hard to

keep to accurate scale. This is what the presidential contenders have spent

on TV and radio ads thus far. This was their spending to date when we last

checked in on them a week or so ago.

 

But now, as of tonight, we have an update. With the new numbers we got in

today, boop. Cha-ching. There is a little movement across the board. But

the dynamic in this race remains wholly unchanged.

 

The billionaires running in the Democratic primary, Michael Bloomberg and

Tom Steyer, are just playing a qualitatively different game when it comes

to how much they are spending on ads.

 

Everyone else is on a bicycle, somehow faster, bicycles or slow as

bicycles, but they`re like in a spaceship, right? A different thing. It`s

almost impossible to fit that kind of difference on your screen, let alone

in your brain.

 

But here is something also mind bending in the new numbers, which tells a

whole different story.

 

Obviously, you know, Iowa is first in the primary and then New Hampshire.

But then the next two states are Nevada and South Carolina. It turns out,

something fascinating is going on with the spending in those two states in

particular.

 

I want to show you Nevada. When you add it up, the 2020 candidates have

spent almost $12 million on advertising, TV and radio ads, in Nevada. But

when you look at how that $12 million is spread out across the candidates,

you realize, though, wow, it`s not really spread out at all.

 

Tom Steyer has spent more than $10 million on ads in South Carolina, 91

percent of the ad buys in South Carolina are Tom Steyer. Sorry, in Nevada.

Sorry.

 

And it`s the same thing in South Carolina, $17.5 million have been spent on

2020 ads in South Carolina. Of that $17 million, Tom Steyer spent almost

$15 million of it all by himself. Eighty-five percent of the money spent on

ads in that state, spent by that one candidate.

 

Now, we already know Tom Steyer has translated millions of dollars` worth

of TV time in a huge boost in the polls in those states specifically. That

bottom to last minute spot at the debate this past week.

 

But with him dominating the ad spending, not in some states down the road

but in the states that go third and fourth, Nevada and South Carolina, with

those contests, and they are now fast approaching, will that money, that

dominant money in the ad world be translated into votes, as well? We shall

see.

 

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  How about a best new thing in the world? Ready for one? Here we

go.

 

Exactly 100 years ago today, alcohol became illegal in this country. It was

the start of prohibition. On that first day, more than 1,500 federal agents

spread out across the country conducting anti-alcohol raids with local

authorities. Barrels of wine were poured into the streets. Bottles of booze

were unceremoniously smashed.

 

In New York City, the police commissioner himself personally dumped

$100,000 worth of liquor into the East River. Come on. In Chicago, barrels

of Milwaukee lager were tossed into Lake Michigan. Authorities were

zealous.

 

The government began employing, specifically, female agents to go

undercover to facilitate the raids. The most famous of whom went by the

nickname Lady Hooch Hunter. Weirdly, that`s my drag name now.

 

I`m not lying when I tell you that the actual Lady Hooch Hunter quit the

second she was assigned a desk job. She was a hooch hunter. You got to lock

her up in the desk?

 

Despite all those efforts, prohibition, of course was a massive failure.

People still drank. Bathtub gin, speakeasies, bootlegging, booze cruises

took passengers beyond our territorial waters as a way to bypass the law.

 

Organized crime flourished. Gangsters had a massive new revenue stream

after all, thanks to smuggling alcohol and the huge demand for it.

Prohibition was ineffective at achieving its stated aims. It was also a

huge strain on the economy. And it bred a huge and malevolent new species

of gangsterism.

 

Federal, state, and local governments lost billions of dollars in tax

revenue. It was an engine of misery and failure.

 

When the Great Depression hit, there was a massive push to finally be done

with it and have prohibition overturned, in part, because it might provide

an economic boost. Protestors took to the streets with signs that said we

want beer. And I`m no camel. I want beer.

 

It took almost 14 years, but prohibition was finally gotten rid of, finally

overturned in 1933. That leads me to the best new thing in the world.

 

The anniversary, the centennial of prohibition, I feel is a timely reminder

that sometimes our country makes terrible, terrible decisions. Decisions

that cause terrible harm to this country and to our – to its inhabitants.

 

But when we do that, we should remember that we can change our minds. We

can undo those things. We can get smarter and resolve to never do those

things again. We are capable of growth and learning as a country. And that

is the best new thing in the world today. Cheers.

 

That does it for us tonight. I will see you again very soon. Actually, see

you tomorrow morning when I will be a guest on “A.M. JOY” at 10:00 Eastern

Time. That`s tomorrow morning.

 

I will also tell you, on Sunday night, starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern,

MSNBC is going to re-air both of the parts of my interview with Lev Parnas

again Sunday night 10:00 p.m. See you there.

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD”, where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence

tonight.

 

Good evening, Ali.

 

END

 

                                                                                                               

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