McConnell plans TRANSCRIPT: 1/20/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much

appreciated.

 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  You bet.

 

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

 

Exactly one year from right now, on January 20th, 2021, whoever wins the

next presidential election will be sworn in as president of the United

States. President Trump was sworn in three years ago today, either he or

somebody else will be sworn in one year from right now.

 

In what better way to celebrate the occasion than by kicking off the Senate

impeachment trial of President Trump tomorrow. Kind of the numerology and

the coincidence of dates here is remarkable.

 

Regardless of what happens here in the impeachment proceedings, I mean, if

the president is not removed from office through this impeachment process,

if the Senate doesn`t convict him on one or more articles of impeachment

and thereby remove him from the presidency, if he manages to stay president

through 2020, you know, through the election on November 3rd, it will still

always be true for the history of this presidency that day one of his

fourth year in office started with day one of the trial in which U.S.

senators will decide whether or not he should be convicted and removed from

his post. I mean, that is how this is going to look from a wide-angle lens

in history. This is how we are starting year four of the Trump presidency.

That`s the wide-angle lens.

 

If you look through the narrow lens of this particular news cycle, though,

it`s a little bit crazy, it`s at least remarkable, that it wasn`t until

after the close of business tonight, it wasn`t until roughly 6:00 Eastern

Time tonight, the night before the trial is due to start that the

Republican leadership of the Senate finally released their proposed rules

for how the trial`s going to be conducted. I mean, you kind of think that

all of this time since the president had the articles of impeachment passed

against him in the House more than a month ago, you think that the senators

would have been preparing, the House impeachment managers would have been

preparing for how they`re all going to handle their individual, specific

roles in this all-important trial that`s due to start tomorrow. I mean, I`m

sure they`ve all been preparing in general, but none have been preparing in

specific detail on what each of them individually is going to do because

before just tonight, nobody has known how the trial was going to be

conducted because it was only tonight when for the first time Mitch

McConnell released this four-page resolution laying out how he`s proposing

the trial should go.

 

And it turns out, now that we can finally see his proposed rules that the

way he wants it to go is that he wants a significant proportion of the

trial of the president to happen after midnight on week nights. Oh. We`re

going to get some expert advice on this in just a moment.

 

But just from a layman`s point of view, just from a president`s point of

view reading this stuff, I mean, looking how the Republican leadership of

the Senate is saying they want to conduct this trial – I mean, it`s almost

hard to believe that what they`re doing is something that they want to be

called a trial. First of all, at least as I read it, there are no

guarantees that the Senate will hear from any witnesses at all. We`ll have

more on that in just a moment.

 

There`s also appears to be no guarantee that they will accept any new

evidence that`s been obtained or made public since the impeachment

investigation wrapped up in the House and the articles of impeachment were

passed against the president. So, no new evidence guarantee either. We`ll

have more on that in a moment as well.

 

But what is surprising to me, maybe even shocking to me, is that this

resolution explaining how the trial is going to go, it appears at least to

me to not even allow that the evidence from the House impeachment

investigation will be admitted in the Senate either, by which I mean they

may not even consider the evidence that produced the articles of

impeachment. They may not even consider as evidence the formal evidence as

compiled by the House, just the stuff they`re going to get from the House

that is the results of their investigation that led to the articles of

impeachment.

 

I mean, we had known there were going to try to make a stink to block new

evidence from being introduced, but the existing evidence? They might not

allow the existing evidence from the House? I mean, what they`re laying out

here, what the Republicans in the Senate are planning on is a trial

potentially with no witnesses and no documentary, evidentiary record at

all.

 

So it will be, like, I don`t know, charades? Abstract arguments about the

theory of the case, I guess, but you`re not actually allowed to try to

prove the case or document its existence in any way? Again, not a lawyer

and this is how it appears to me. We will get expert advice on this in just

a moment.

 

But as remarkable as that is in terms of what they don`t necessarily plan

on considering as part of this trial, the proposed time line is even more

impressive in terms of what they`re trying to do here. You remember that

the House impeachment managers, this group of Democratic members of

Congress appointed by Speaker Pelosi, remember they function essentially as

prosecutors in the Senate trial. They`re the ones who are supposed to lay

out the case for the jury for the full Senate, the case against President

Trump.

 

It is hard enough to imagine how they`re going to do that if they`re not

allowed to refer to any evidence at all potentially. But McConnell`s

resolution tonight also says that the full 24 hours that those prosecutors

have been given to lay out their arguments to make their case against the

president, those 24 hours of argument they`re being given must be delivered

over the course of no more than two actual days. So that means 24 hours in

two days, that`s 12 hours a day for two days.

 

And remember that these proceedings don`t start until the afternoon. They

don`t start until 1:00 p.m. at the earliest because Chief Justice John

Roberts, who`s overseeing the Senate trial, still has to do his day job

over at the Supreme Court. He does that in the mornings. He can`t be at the

Capitol until 1:00. So, that means the prosecutors are being given a full

24 hours in which to make their case, but they have to use those 24 hours

over two days, and the clock doesn`t start on each of those days until well

into the afternoon.

 

So, they basically want to lay out the case against the president in this

trial significantly after midnight likely on Wednesday and Thursday night

with no guarantee that any evidence whatsoever can be cited by the

prosecutors or referred to during the trial at all. And only after that,

after the president`s defense counsel is also allowed their midnight run,

same deal, 24 hours over two days maximum not starting until the afternoon,

either of those two days, only after that amazing display will anybody will

allowed to even bring up the question of whether there should be witnesses.

 

But that apparently is the plan. For it to be sort of a dead of night,

marathon, fact-free, testimony-free cram session designed to repel public

interest.

 

When the trial formally convenes tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. eastern once chief

justice is done at the Supreme Court for the day, they are expected to take

up this proposed resolution laying out Mitch McConnell`s plans for the

trial that will essentially be the first order of business. Senator

McConnell has asserted he can pass this resolution with Republican votes

only and he appears happy to do so.

 

That said, we expect that the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck

Schumer, will also offer proposed amendments to the resolution. We shall

see. But again, Mitch McConnell has been essentially crowing about the fact

that he doesn`t need or necessarily want any Democratic votes for what he`s

doing and he thinks he`s got all his Republicans in line.

 

If you remember the Clinton impeachment from 1999, or if you`ve studied it

in school, you`ll remember that this equivalent moment then on the eve of

the first day of Senate trial for President Clinton, the equivalent of this

was not passed on anything like a partisan party line vote. In 1999, the

equivalent to this resolution that we just got tonight was worked out on a

fully bipartisan basis and was passed by the Senate unanimously, a vote of

100-0.

 

Mitch McConnell in contrast appears to be happy to do this vote with the

Republican votes alone for 2020. Obviously, though, we`ll be watching

closely tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. to see what happens to the Democratic

amendments and then to the resolution as a whole. And as I said, we`re

going to have some expert advice in terms of assessing what this means we

should expect in terms of the overall process.

 

I would just point out just a couple things before we get to that

discussion, though. One of them is about the evidence. I mean, the headline

tonight is yes, they`re not guaranteeing they want to hear any new

evidence, they might not even accept the existing evidence from the House.

But it is also worth noting that new evidence has not just been piling up

since the articles of impeachment were passed in the House.

 

New evidence – I think it`s fair to note here, is going to keep coming out

throughout the trial, including on day one tomorrow. I mean, this is just

one piece of it. Look at this announcement from American Oversight, which

is one of the watchdog groups that brought a big Freedom of Information Act

lawsuit against the presumption to pry loose documents about the Ukraine

scheme. Look at the timeline by which they are expecting court-ordered

releases of documents from the Trump administration about the Ukraine

scandal, right?

 

Today is January 20th, look, documents are expected tomorrow by court order

on January 21st. Tomorrow, day one of the trial, documents from OBM, the

Office of Management and Budget, which we learned broke the law when they

withheld U.S. aid from Ukraine on the president`s orders. New, OMB

documents about the Ukraine scheme are due to be released tomorrow.

 

And thereafter, presumably when the trial is still going on, they`re also

expecting new document releases about the Ukraine scheme from the Energy

Department and the State Department and on and on, on a basically weekly

basis.

 

So if the Senate decides they`re just going to pretend that new evidence is

not being revealed, is not being shown to the public, that`s going to

become more and more difficult each passing day as the trial coincides with

new evidence being provided to the public by court order, new evidence that

potentially she does not light on what the president did. While the

Republican-controlled Senate pretends they don`t know anything about it.

Don`t talk to me, I`m pretending it doesn`t exist.

 

So the not looking at evidence thing is remarkable on a few different

levels, but it is going to continue to be remarkable and I think difficult

and awkward and hard to explain to the public throughout each day of the

trial if they really are going to try to wall themselves off from the

evidence.

 

Also, on the point of witnesses, “Washington Post” is reporting tonight

that the White House is so freaked out about John Bolton, they`re so

freaked out about the prospect of Trump national security adviser John

Bolton testifying to the impeachment trial that even though they`re trying

to do everything they can to get the Republican Senate to block witnesses

overall, even though they`re going to try to make sure that every

Republican senator toes the party line and doesn`t vote for any individual

witnesses, including John Bolton, in Bolton`s case specifically, they`re so

worry about the prospect of him testifying and what he might say that

they`re also, according to “The Post” tonight, considering a sort of

doomsday contingency plan.

 

Quote: One option being discussed, according to a senior administration

official, would be to move John Bolton`s testimony to a classified setting

because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.

Quote: That proposal discussed by Senate Republicans is seen as a final

tool against Bolton becoming an explosive figure in the trial.

 

Oh, so that`s what classification procedures are for. So you can call

something a national security concern that must be classified because it

might show the potential to incriminate the president at trial. Is that the

national security you`re worried about? Is that what the classification

process is for? That seems pretty desperate.

 

I will also just note for the record that “The Wall Street Journal”

reported earlier today that the White House also appears to be freaked out

about the prospect of Senate testimony from Lev Parnas, who I was able to

interview last week and who was a sort of right-hand man and fixer for the

president`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, throughout the Ukraine scheme.

 

According to “The Wall Street Journal,” Trump`s team aims to block any

attempt from House managers to include in the Senate trial testimony,

include in the Senate trial, testimony from Lev Parnas.

 

Given the claims that Mr. Parnas has made about the president`s alleged

direct involvement and supervisory role in the Ukraine scheme, including,

according to Mr. Parnas, the president directly employing Vice President

Mike Pence as a tool of pressure against the Ukrainian government. Because

of all that and all of the other assertions and documents Mr. Parnas has

made public, you can understand why they don`t want him to testify at the

trial. The question is why the power – why the White House believes they

have the power to block him from testifying, right?

 

I mean, technically, it`s the Senate that runs this trial under the

guidance of the chief justice. The White House may not want Lev Parnas to

testify, but in the end, it won`t be their call either way, right? It will

be the Senate`s call, even though the Trump White House appears to believe

they could block him?

 

Here we go. I mean, it`s starting. Year four of the Trump presidency, one

year to go exactly until the next presidential inauguration, and day one of

the president`s trial. Here we go.

 

Joining us now is Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general under

President Obama.

 

Mr. Katyal, it is great to see you. Thank you for being here tonight.

 

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank

you.

 

MADDOW:  So I`m not a lawyer. I don`t even purport to play one on

television. As I just laid out what I understand is being –

 

KATYAL:  And I agree (ph) with Dershowitz, so don`t worry about it.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MADDOW:  Well, that`s your assessment. Did I get anything wrong in terms of

how I explained what`s been revealed tonight by the Senate majority leader?

 

KATYAL:  No, I think you got it exactly right despite not having a law

degree. And, you know, basically, here we are. we`re on the eve of one of

the most important trials not just in our lifetimes but in American

history. And these rules have just been dropped on us on the 11th hour. And

like every one of my students who drops a paper at me in the 11th hour,

it`s fairly shoddy.

 

And this isn`t – I think you`re – Rachel, you`re right to say, you used

the phrase from a citizen`s point of view, let`s evaluate this. I think

that`s exactly right because I don`t think this is about the Republicans

winning in these rules or the Democrats losing. I think ultimately, it`s

the American people who are profound victims if these are the rules that

are allowed to take place, because what they`ll do is force the trial to

occur, parts of it at midnight over the next week, when nobody`s watching.

 

And we know why that is. I mean, you know, the only things that happen at

midnight are trash collection and the execution of prisoners. I mean, those

are the kinds of things that happen. Government – major government

decisions and certainly government trials don`t happen at that time.

 

But all these rules are united by the McConnell rules announced tonight

have the same basic theme, which is how do we hide as much information as

possible from the American people, and that`s the travesty of these rules.

 

MADDOW:  The – one thing that truly surprised me, I mean, I didn`t know

exactly what to expect overall, but I was very surprised to see what

appears to be no commitment to even review the evidence collected by the

House when they conducted their investigation of this scandal and when they

passed the articles of impeachment.

 

It made me wonder, if they`re not committing at the outset to accept that

evidence from the House, the way, for example, they did in the with Clinton

impeachment, as far as I remember, does that open up to a situation in

which Senator McConnell could try to sort of cherry-pick specific pieces of

evidence from the House investigation. So, like when Ambassador Gordon

Sondland said he got a call from the president, where the president said

there`s no quid pro quo. They accept that, but then they wouldn`t accept as

evidence the part where Gordon Sondland said he didn`t believe the

president on that phone call and he believes there was a quid pro quo.

 

I mean, could they actually try to engineer their own facts by cherry-

picking?

 

KATYAL:  Totally. You got, Rachel, at this point, my juris doctorate

degree. I mean, that`s exactly right.

 

So, what would happen – you know, into the Clinton rules, the evidence

from the House was admitted to the Senate. Here, this allows a case-by-case

adjudication of all the evidence that was already generated in the House.

Remember, these are Trump`s own administration people. It`s not like these

are, you know, people, you know, wide-eyed, you know, people who are anti-

Trump people or something like that from outside the government. These are,

you know, very respected folks and there was a process there.

 

And look, I understand that there are a bunch of people, Republicans, who

say Trump did nothing wrong and so on. That`s exactly what trials are all

about. Get that evidence admitted, have some new evidence if you have any

that exculpates and points to Trump being innocent. The problem is, they

can`t point to anything that shows Trump`s innocence, and so, what they`re

doing is they`re saying, well, let`s try to have a really fast trial all at

midnight, no witnesses, no documents, and maybe we`ll just get it through

the American people that way.

 

MADDOW:  Yes, let me ask you one last thing and feel free to not answer

this if it makes you uncomfortable. But if you were advising the Senate

Democrats tonight, looking at what`s been proposed by Mitch McConnell in

terms of how he wants to run this thing, and you know the political

dynamics at work here as well as the law.

 

Is there anything that you would advise them to do to try to make sure this

trial is as fair as possible and as complete as possible given that Mitch

McConnell is proposing as a framework?

 

KATYAL:  Yes, two things. One, the Republicans are claiming these are the

same rules as Clinton. They`re not for exactly the reasons you identified.

So, just hit control F, call up the document in the Clinton impeachment and

the rules, hit control F and swap Trump for Clinton, play by those rules.

That`s number one.

 

And number two, there is a difference between Clinton and here, and one

that requires witnesses. Here, remember in Clinton, there were already a

bunch of witnesses that came before an in earlier stages of the

investigation. Here, Trump has gagged them all. And McConnell, I think, and

the Senate Republicans have shown they want to hide the truth from the

American people.

 

At that point, I think the Democrats have one really good option left. It`s

the one our Founders gave them in the Constitution, which is the chief

justice presides over the impeachment proceedings. Under the existing

rules, Rule 7 and 16, I think it`s the chief justice`s call as to whether

witnesses should testify.

 

John Bolton has said he wants to testify. This is the president`s own guy,

the national security adviser. Let him testify. Mick Mulvaney is the

president`s chief of staff. If what the president did is so beautiful and

perfect, let`s hear from him and, indeed, let`s hear from Trump himself.

 

I mean, if he`s afraid to come and testify, that tells you all you need to

know about whether that call was perfect and beautiful.

 

MADDOW:  Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general – thank you so much

for being here on the eve of the trial, Neal. It`s good to see you. Thanks

for being here.

 

All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight on the eve of President

Trump`s impeachment trial. There is a very important new book that is going

to be a huge best seller that comes out tomorrow, with lots of previously

unreported news about the Trump administration and specifically the

behavior of the president. We`re going to be speaking with those authors

tonight. I got an excerpt from that book coming up.

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  OK. The timeframe here is August 2018. President Trump has just

announced he`s going to strip the security clearance from former CIA

Director John Brennan. Well, here is part of the response to that in detail

that we have never known before this. Quote, too many professionals in the

national security community, this extraordinary action crossed a red line.

 

Among those shocked was William McRaven, former Navy admiral who`d been a

commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and had led the 2011

raid on a Pakistani compound that killed Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda

terrorist mastermind of 9/11.

 

McRaven had considered Brennan a trusted friend and critical partner in

that unique mission. Now, McRaven was enjoying his semi-retirement,

visiting a friend in the Colorado Mountains, when he heard the news that

Trump was revoking Brennan`s security clearance.

 

The next day, August 16th, McRaven has plans to go fly fishing in a

beautiful river valley, but felt an urge, a duty even to speak out on

Brennan`s defense. McRaven had spotty cell reception and no wireless

connection, so sending an email was not an option. He asked his host if he

could use the landline at his home.

 

First, he gathered his thoughts and scribbled a few phrases on a piece of

paper. Then he called the cellphone of a reporter he knew and trusted.

 

As a child growing up in San Antonio, McRaven had been in the same fifth

grade class as Karen Tumulty, who had been a distinguished political

correspondent for “The Washington Post” and had recently moved to the

opinion section as a columnist. McRaven figured he would give her an on the

record quote she could share with whichever “Post” colleague was writing

about the Brennan controversy.

 

Tumulty was heading to a doctor`s appointment when the admiral dialed. She

didn`t recognize the Colorado number, so she let the call go to voicemail.

Not sure when he could call her back, McRaven decided to speak aloud into

the voicemail message saying what he would tell Trump directly if he had

the chance.

 

Here was what I`ve come up with, he said, do whatever you want to with it,

Karen. Then he dictated his comment verbatim.

 

Former CIA Director John Brennan, whose clearance you revoked on Wednesday,

is one of the finest public servants I`ve ever known. Few Americans have

done more to protect this country than John. He`s a man of unparallel

integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except

by those who don`t know him. Therefore, I would consider it if you would

revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of

men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

 

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would

rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs. A good

leader tries to embody the best qualities of his organization, a good

leader sets the example for others to follow, a good leader always puts the

welfare of others before himself or herself.

 

Your leadership however has shown little of these qualities. Through your

actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us

in the world stage, and worst of all, divided us as a nation.

 

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the

voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue

until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

 

Waiting in the representation area to see her doctor, Tumulty played the

mystery caller`s voicemail. She was stunned by what she heard. She called

McRaven back but only talked briefly because he was finally heading out to

go fish. She told him she felt sure “The Post” would publish some of his

reaction. McRaven said he would be you have to pocket for a while but he

trusted she would handle it. They hung up.

 

As Tumulty sat in the waiting room, transcribing McRaven`s voicemail

recording, she felt certain more than a few quotes and a new story. A

national military hero had called the president a national embarrassment

and a poor role model for America`s children.

 

She consulted with her editors and they agreed they should publish

McRaven`s impromptu speech word for word as an opinion piece.

 

McRaven`s essay went viral. It drew notice deep in the bowels of the

country`s national security apparatus, where public servants working many

rungs below McRaven had been silently disgusted watching Trump disrespect

them and their brethren. They took private comfort reading McRaven`s words.

As one of those low level cogs described it, finally somebody revered a

bold faced name was declaring in essence, no more.

 

Before Trump, this government aide had always felt the presidency had a

kind of magic. No matter which party the president came from, he bore the

weight of history on his shoulders with the seriousness it deserved. But

not anymore.

 

This aide said of President Trump, quote, he ruined that magic. The disdain

he shows for our country`s foundation and its principles, the disregard he

has for right and wrong. Your fist clenches. Your teeth grate. The hair

goes up on the back of your neck.

 

I have to remind my self a said an oath to a document in the National

Archives. I swore to the Constitution. I didn`t swear an oath to this

jackass.

 

This aide saw Trump`s move against Brennan as one of the first steps of

undercutting America`s democratic system of government and the believe

system upon which it was founded. Quote, if he wanted to, how far could he

push this, the aide asked? Look back. Did people in the 1930s in Germany

know when the government started to turn on them?

 

Most Americans are more worried about who`s going to win on “America`s Got

Talent” and what the traffic is going to be like on I-95. They aren`t

watching this closely. I like to believe Trump is too self-engrossed, too

incompetent to get us to 1930. This aide added. But he has moved the bar

and another president that comes after him can move it a little farther.

 

The time is coming. Our nation will be tested. Every nation is. Rome fell,

remember. He is opening up vulnerabilities for this to happen. That is my

fear.

 

That is from “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump`s Testing of America”

written by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig who are both Pulitzer Prize-

winning reporters at “The Washington Post”.

 

This book comes out tomorrow, and I have to say, the number of scoops and

previously unreported behind the scenes detail here is really remarkable.

Just as an example, they go from that story I just excerpted there, to what

happened later on that same week when on the same day, the president`s

personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty, and the president`s campaign

chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of multiple felonies. And on that

same day, President Trump nevertheless spent the day on the phone calling

Japan, trying to get the Japanese prime minister to nominate him for the

Nobel Peace Prize, the same day Cohen pled guilty and Manafort was

convicted.

 

Now, of course, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig`s book is being published

tomorrow. It is, they couldn`t have known, the first day of President

Trump`s impeachment trial. I will say one of the only defenses the White

House and Republicans in Congress have mounted against the factual record

of the case against the president was that President Trump maybe wasn`t

pressuring Ukraine to help himself politically or to hurt his political

rival. One of the arguments the White House and Republicans in Congress

have advanced is that the president was only pressuring Ukraine because

he`s just very concerned about foreign corruption. That really bothers him.

It`s very heartfelt concern for him.

 

One of the other things that Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig document for

the first time in this book is that President Trump explicitly proposed and

tried to get rid of the U.S. law that bans Americans from paying bribes to

foreign officials in foreign countries, right? I mean, for a president very

concerned about foreign corruption, that`s a strange thing to have a

president literally try to legalize American participation in foreign

corruption. But for that reporting to be published on the day he`s going on

trial – Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker join us live here on set, next.

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Ahem. In the spring of 2017, as aides gathered in the Oval Office

one day to brief President Trump on upcoming meetings with foreign leaders,

they made a passing reference to some government foreign officials who were

under scrutiny for corruption for taking bribes. Trump perked up at the

mention of bribes and got rather agitated. He then told Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson he wanted him to help get rid of the Foreign Corrupt

Practices Act.

 

Quote: It is just so unfair that American companies are not allowed to pay

bribes to get business overseas, Trump told the group. We`re going to

change that.

 

Looking at Tillerson, Trump said, I need you to get rid of that law, as if

the secretary of state had the power to magically repeal an act of

Congress. Surprised at Trump`s request, Tillerson first paused, then found

his words. Mr. President, he said, I`m not the guy to do that.

 

In a somber kind of Schoolhouse Rock episode that had become a regular

feature of the Oval Office education of this president, Tillerson then said

that Congress would have to be involved in any such repeal of the law.

Trump didn`t miss a beat. He was unmoved by Tillerson`s explanation and

turned instead to Stephen Miller, the White House`s senior policy adviser

who had long before proved that he could be relied upon to dutifully

execute almost all of the president`s wishes.

 

Stephen, I want you to draft an executive order and repeal that law, Trump

decreed. Evidently still unaware or unconvinced that he alone did not have

the power to repeal the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

 

Remarkable timing, right? For Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig`s new book,

including that reporting to be released tomorrow on the actual day the

president is going on trial in the United States Senate for his own alleged

shakedown of a foreign leader, the defense to which is that he was trying

to kibosh foreign corruption, and that`s all he meant.

 

Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters at

“The Washington Post”. The new book is called “A Very Stable Genius: Donald

J. Trump`s Testing of America”.

 

Carol, Philip, congratulations.

 

CAROL LEONNIG, CO-AUTHOR, “A VERY STABLE GENIUS”:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  It`s really, really good to have you here.

 

PHILIP RUCKER, CO-AUTHOR, “A VERY STABLE GENIUS”:  Thank you very much,

Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  It`s a big deal to have you guys here the night before this comes

out. The president appears to be quite enraged at both of you and with the

reporting in the book. Has he taken substantive issue with what you have

reported, or is he just insulting you?

 

LEONNIG:  He`s largely saying that we`re low-profile, low-rate reporters,

and it`s part of the fake news that he has to battle with all the time.

 

And, of course, as you know, Phil and I both put a ton of vetting and

rigorous reporting into this book, and we`re confident that it`s accurate,

and we stand by it.

 

MADDOW:  So there`s no factual rebuttal that you feel like you had to

contend with. It`s just his anger?

 

RUCKER:  It`s his anger and reaction to the book itself, to the title

perhaps. We don`t know what motivates him. But we know what motivated the

more than 200 Trump administration officials and other advisers of the

president who spoke to us, some of them for the first time.

 

MADDOW:  So, three years of reporting, more than 200 sources. As you say,

some sources speaking to you for the first time.

 

Tell me about the range of motivation for these sources. Obviously, with

that many people, there`s a lot of different human stories behind what

they`re doing. Some of what people told you, though, is – I mean, stuck

with me. Having read 400 pages of the book, I`m still stuck at some stuff

that was said on page 5.

 

A senior national security official told us, I`ve served the man for two

years. I think he`s a long-term and immediate danger to the country.

 

Another senior administration official said the guy is completely crazy.

The story of Trump, colon, a president with horrible instincts and a senior

level cabinet playing whack-a-mole.

 

I mean, that stuff isn`t funny. That sticks with me. People were telling

you very grave, fire alarm kind of things.

 

LEONNIG:  Absolutely. It stunned us too.

 

As reporters for “The Washington Post,” Phil and I were in the business of

getting this information and putting it in the newspaper. But at the time,

a lot of these people wouldn`t come forward and speak.

 

And you asked the perfect question about motivations. There`s a range of

motivations, but one of them was people wanted history to be accurate.

There are a lot of national security people here who don`t talk to

reporters as a part of their business, but they wanted this truth to be

told about their experience with Donald Trump.

 

There are others who came to us and didn`t want to give their names

obviously. There are a lot of anonymous sources in this book, and they were

afraid of the treatment and the belittlement that the president has shown

he`s capable of on Twitter, using that platform to retaliate against

anybody who speaks the truth.

 

MADDOW:  That was part of the long excerpt that I read just a few minutes

ago, part of the reason I wanted to tell that is because I do feel like

it`s not faded into the background. It`s just become part of the context of

this administration that people who have spoken out against the president

or who have spoken truth to power in a way that has proved detrimental to

him have – it`s not an idol threat. They have had their careers destroyed.

They have been personally targeted. They have found themselves feeling like

they`re in physical danger from the president`s supporters.

 

That over the course of the three years that it took you to write this, and

you guys have been reporting, has that had a chilling effect in terms of

people being willing to talk with or without their names attached to their

comments?

 

RUCKER:  It certainly has, Rachel. That`s why you don`t see very many of

these officials talking on the record in newspaper stories. They`re not

coming on TV. They`re not talking to a lot of reporters, except for the

ones they trust.

 

And it`s because the president is so fixated on perpetuating his own power,

on brandishing his own self-image, on establishing loyal not to the

country, but to himself – loyalty to himself throughout the federal

government. Those have been the main themes of this presidency, according

to the people who have worked for him, who talked to us for this book. And

it`s one of the reasons we`ve seen this chilling effect in the government.

 

MADDOW:  I would also put, again, just from reading the book, maybe even a

starker cast on it. It just feels like revenge has become a number one – a

top tier priority. That even when the destruction of a critic isn`t going

to be of additional benefit to the president, somebody`s life getting that

much worse, somebody`s career being that much foreshortened, isn`t going to

cause him additional material benefit.

 

There is a – it would appear there`s an affirmative value placed on the

idea of revenge and on making an example of the harm you can cause one`s

enemies. Is that fair?

 

LEONNIG:  I feel like Phil and I are journalists. We can`t get inside

someone`s head and tell you what Donald Trump`s motivations are.

 

But the one thing we can tell you is what the more than 200 people told us

– 

 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

 

LEONNIG:  – a large portion of them at least, which is that the

perpetuation of his power and his ego, the perpetuation of a glorious self-

image is paramount to Donald Trump. So, everything he does is about making

sure he looks good and that it is often the first thing on the order of

business in the White House above a lot of national security interests,

above a lot of the – just basic interests of what`s best for the country.

 

MADDOW:  I want to take a quick break here. When we come back, we`ll have

to talk about what is obviously the grand conspiracy here, the way that you

guys arranged for the impeachment trial to start on the day the book was

published.

 

Obviously, I`m kidding. But the timing is remarkable. I want to talk about

some of that when we come back.

 

Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, again, both Pulitzer Prize-winning

reporters. They are the authors of “A Very Stable Genius”, which comes out

tomorrow.

 

We`ll be right back with them after this. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  We`re back once again with Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker from

“The Washington Post,” both Pulitzer prize winners. They`re the co-authors

of a new book called “A Very Stable Genius: Donald TJ. Trump`s Testing of

America,” which is out tomorrow.

 

There`s a number of instances in the book, some of which have had a lot of

attention already in reviews of the book about the president having

demonstrated ignorance about important and embarrassing things, not knowing

that China borders India and then suggesting as much to the Indian prime

minister, for example. Not understanding the basics of the Pearl Harbor

attack, like the very basics of the Pearl Harbor attack. And some other

things that are just very hard to imagine from anybody in national life,

let alone the presidency.

 

But I want to ask about something that is maybe a little more specific and

related to the impeachment. You do document that the president was trying

to get rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That`s the law passed in

1977 which says that Americans can`t bribe foreign officials in other

countries in order to get stuff done.

 

When he suggested that to a roomful of people, including Rex Tillerson and

Stephen Miller, he obviously didn`t get what he wanted. They didn`t try to

get rid of it. Why is that not surfacing until now? Who sat on that for a

couple of years until you guys could publish it now?

 

I mean, I`m not asking for your source, but that`s a remarkable thing for

nobody to have said anything about.

 

LEONNIG:  Well, one of the amazing things about this reporting again,

Rachel, is from my perspective, we were working our tails off as reporters

at “The Post”, and people started to basically crack, if you will, when

they knew we were going to be digging deep into some of these scenes and

also when they knew it was going to be a tome for history and they wanted

to share this.

 

And there are a lot of flies on the wall. There are a lot of people briefed

after the fact. You know, we don`t want to identify any sources but there

were people who were afraid to tell us and then ultimately did.

 

MADDOW:  The title is an allusion – is a quote of the president, calling

himself a very stable genius. It`s also – it`s also a feat of irony

because the portrait that you portray of the president is neither genius

nor stable.

 

I wondered if in all the sources that you talked to and when you went to

the White House for comment, I know at one point you might get President

Trump to do an interview.

 

RUCKER:  He agreed to initially.

 

MADDOW:  And then withdrew on what grounds?

 

RUCKER:  He initially agreed early in the reporting of this book to do an

interview with us. And then as we were finishing the project, we kept

trying to get it scheduled and we were told through his aides that he

decided not to talk to us. He didn`t want to share his memories of these

events. We wish we could have included his perspective, but he didn`t offer

that to us.

 

MADDOW:  When you were seeking his comment, when you were seeking White

House comment on all of these – all of these vignettes that you describe,

did you ever get effectively exculpatory evidence about the president`s

stability or genius? Was there anybody who works closely with him and is in

a position to know who could tell you a more reassuring portrait about his

mental state?

 

LEONNIG:  Absolutely. There were people we interviewed who give Donald

Trump immense credit, and we do in the book as well. We`re not trying to

mock him with this title by the way. We`re trying to hold it up as a

mirror.

 

It`s his word choice, his definition of himself, and we wanted to sort of

stress test his definition of himself with all the people around him. But

to your point, there is a small subset of people who say, this guy is a

master at messaging. I watched him connect with working white working class

people who were elated to see this man fighting for them, who see him as

their champion.

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the sum total of all this work, your ongoing reporting

at the post, the fact that this is now about to hit the public on the same

day the president`s impeachment trial is starting, what`s your sense at

this point of what the president`s mindset is and how well equipped he is

both personally and in terms of his advisers to deal with what`s coming up

over these next few days?

 

RUCKER:  Yes. Our reporting shows but also the president`s Twitter feed

shows he feels very much understand siege right now. He feels like this is

a scarlet letter against him, having been impeached only the third in

history, and he feels like this is unfair, that the Democrats are doing

something they have no right to be doing.

 

He does not acknowledge that he did anything wrong in that call with

Ukraine, in withholding the foreign aid. He doesn`t see why that`s wrong,

and he thinks this is a political witch hunt, much as he saw the Russia

investigation for two years as a political witch hunt. And he`s just

digging in and trying to fight back.

 

MADDOW:  But given that sense, that diagnosis of him about what`s wrong

with the situation, what did you learn from your performing about what we

should expect about how he will therefore act in these contacts under this

pressure which each of these days going to like to present evidence that

things are as bad as he thinks they are.

 

LEONNIG:  You know, I think the president has shown us in this reporting

for the last three years what we show in the book. Phil and I found source

after source who said this is a presidency of one. There`s one guy who

thinks he`s his own best lawyer, his own best general, his own best

communicator in chief, and I think in the halls of the West Wing, but as

well at Mar-a-Lago at some table or in another room where he`s with his

aides, he`s the person barking out the orders. He`s the person saying,

we`re going after every single person who questions me and who tries to

share something that I find embarrassing.

 

MADDOW:  Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of “The Washington Post,”

congratulations on this book. I`m sorry about the opprobrium you`ve had to

deal with from the president himself, reacting to this and going after you

for it. You don`t deserve it. It`s an honor to have you both here.

 

LEONNIG:  Thanks, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you so much.

 

RUCKER:  Thank you very much. Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  Good luck.

 

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL:  Did Ambassador Sondland say who his

agreement on this White House meeting was with?

 

FIONA HILL, FORMER RUSSIA EXPERT AT NSC:  Later, he said that he had an

agreement with chief of staff Mulvaney, that in return for investigations,

this meeting would get scheduled.

 

GOLDMAN:  And was he specific at that point later about the investigations

that he was referring to?

 

HILL:  He said the investigations in Burisma.

 

GOLDMAN:  After both meeting when you spoke to him and relayed to him what

Ambassador Sondland said, what did Ambassador Bolton say to you?

 

HILL:  Specific instruction was that I had to go to the lawyers, to John

Eisenberg, our senior counsel for the National Security Council, to

basically say, you tell Eisenberg Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not

part of this whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Fiona Hill, former top Russia official on the National Security

Council, giving explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry in November,

testifying that she was essentially witness to the quid pro quo at the

center of the scandal for which President Trump`s now been impeached in the

House. That testimony put former national security adviser John Bolton at

the top of Democrats` wish list for witnesses for the Senate trial of

President Trump.

 

Fiona Hill interacted with all the players at the center of the Ukraine

scandal. She was there for many of the meetings at the center of the

scandal because her position, top Russia official at the White House, just

put her at the center of the drama, she ended up being at the center of the

inquiry.

 

So, here`s something to watch for now. When Fiona Hill left her job as the

top Russia official in the National Security Council last summer, she was

replaced in that job by Tim Morrison, seen here also giving critical

testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Tim Morrison lasted less than four

months at that job. He quit literally the night before he gave his first

closed-door impeachment testimony. He walked into that deposition and

announced, surprise, he had resigned from the White House the previous

night.

 

Well, after that in November, that job, the top Russia job on the National

Security Council at the White House, went to a new guy, this guy. His name

is Andrew Peek. Mr. Peek at been at the State Department before moving over

to the White House. He has been in this job less than three months after

Morrison was there for less than four months.

 

But on Friday, this weekend, he was reportedly escorted off the White House

grounds according to Bloomberg News. “Axios” was first to report. NBC News

has since confirmed that Peek was, quote, put on indefinite administrative

leave amid a security-related investigation. He was expected to travel with

President Trump to Davos this week, but not anymore, not after getting frog

marched off the White House grounds.

 

We don`t have details yet as to what this is all about, but I mean this job

of all jobs, right? This is the top Russia post at the White House. It is

now vacant for the third time in less than a year since Fiona Hill left.

 

Watch this space. If past is prologue, we`ll find out soon enough what is

going on here. We`ll be right back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Get a good night`s sleep, you guys. Your country needs you, and we

don`t know how long this is going to go on.

 

Special coverage of the president`s impeachment trial in the United States

Senate starts tomorrow here on MSNBC at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, with coverage

hosted by Chuck Todd. Ari Melber will take over coverage from 10:00 a.m. to

11:00 a.m. Eastern. And then starting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, we will be in

rolling special coverage over the course of the day, hosted by Brian

Williams and Nicolle Wallace, and they will hold on to it for the duration

as the Senate rolls into day one.

 

We are not exactly sure what they are going to get through tomorrow, but we

know it`s going to start with a fight over how the trial is going to be

conducted.

 

Deep breath, everybody. Here we go.

 

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

 

Good evening, Lawrence.

 

                                                                                                               

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