“erious threat” to Ntl. Sec. TRANSCRIPT: 03/16/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
March 16, 2018
Guest: Barry McCaffrey, Harry Litman, Ned Price, David Cay Johnston, Ruth Marcus, Benjamin Wittes, Jill Wine-Banks; Michael Avenatti
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE
O`DONNELL. Good evening, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. So if you get a
standing ovation for pleading guilty, what do you get for pleading not
O`DONNELL: I mean, that`s – you get a car or something? You must get a
MADDOW: If Paul Manafort was able – well, despite the ankle bracelets, if
Paul Manafort was able to walk into that room, I imagine they would have
like – they would have declared him a saint. I don`t know.
O`DONNELL: Rachel, we got this extraordinary news tonight about the
President trying to move the Stormy Daniels lawsuit into federal court,
which, of course, is the place where he appoints the judges.
Stormy Daniels` lawyer is actually on an airplane at this moment. We hope
to hear from him as soon as he lands, but I want to bring you something
else which is what Barry McCaffrey – General Barry McCaffrey said tonight.
General Barry McCaffrey is going to be our first guest.
Now, I just want to get your reaction to what he said before I go to the
General. He tweeted, reluctantly, I have concluded that President Trump is
a serious threat to U.S. national security. He is refusing to protect
vital U.S. interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he
is, for some unknown reason, under the sway of Mr. Putin.
MADDOW: Wow. I mean, that`s remarkable because of who is saying it. To
have General McCaffrey – I mean, General McCaffrey is a four-star general,
O`DONNELL: Yes. That`s correct, yes.
MADDOW: There aren`t that many four-star generals in American history, let
alone in America. And to have him saying something that serious, talking
about it being under the sway of Pentagon and being a national security
threat, that`s – that is – that`s very grave.
I`m glad you`re going to have him on. I would love to hear him explain why
he has come to a conclusion that serious.
O`DONNELL: And we all remember the White House Press Secretary saying you
must never question or doubt the generals. I suspect that this particular
general might run into a little something from this White House.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Well, well done for him.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. And now joining us by phone is General Barry
McCaffrey. He`s a retired four-star general, decorated combat veteran of
Vietnam. He`s also an MSNBC military analyst.
General McCaffrey, thank you very much for joining us tonight. And I`m
wondering, why tonight? What was it that brought you to this point of
seeing this president as a serious threat to U.S. national security? I
know you didn`t choose those words lightly.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST (via telephone): No,
not at all. You know, I`ve been fairly critical of the President for a
variety of reasons. But what really, I think – the turning point in my
mind was his reluctance to personally stand with the Brits over what has
been a documented series of essentially Russian intelligence murders in
And the latest one being really a signature-attempted assassination of the
former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter using a chemical agent
that was clearly only available to former Soviet operatives. So I – you
know, it was clear that –
O`DONNELL: General McCaffrey, I`m going to have to interrupt you with some
breaking news now from the Justice Department. Jeff – Attorney General
Jeff Sessions has just fired Andrew McCabe, who was, briefly, the acting
director of the FBI.
McCabe, who had stepped down from his post earlier this year but remained
an FBI employee, had been accused by the Justice Department`s Inspector
General of authorizing the disclosure of sensitive information to a
reporter and misleading investigators when asked about it.
McCabe had been a lightning rod in the political battles surrounding the
investigation into Hillary Clinton`s use of a private e-mail server and
Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III`s probe into whether any Trump
associates coordinated with Russian agents to interfere in the 2016
And we are now joined by phone by Pete Williams, NBC News` Justice
Pete, what can you tell us about this?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, what
the Attorney General says in a statement that just came out a few seconds
ago is that he has accepted the recommendation from both the Justice
Department`s Inspector General and the FBI`s Office of Personnel
Responsibility, the OPR – the Professional Responsibility.
Both had recommended that Andrew McCabe be fired for two reasons according
to Jeff Sessions` statement. First, they say he authorized the
unauthorized disclosure of information about the Clinton investigation
while the investigation was going on. And what the Inspector General had
said is that violates FBI policy not to discuss investigations while
they`re going on.
But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what the statement from the
Attorney General says is that when McCabe was asked about this on more than
one occasion, including while he was under oath, his answers, they believe,
were not truthful. And on – for that reason, the Attorney General says he
concluded that it was right to accept the recommendation, so Andy McCabe
has been fired.
Now, what this means for his pension, which, of course, is an important
question. He was – he`s actual retirement date, Lawrence, was two days
from now, Sunday, his birthday. That`s the day he put – he actually
stepped down as Deputy FBI Director in late January presumably at the
urging of the FBI Director, Chris Wray, who was aware of these
But McCabe had said his retirement date would be this coming Sunday. So
this puts his pension in jeopardy, but it doesn`t necessarily mean that
he`ll lose it according to government personnel experts that I talked to
earlier today. He has some options. He can pursue – that he can pursue
that, perhaps, will preserve part of his pension.
But the bottom line here is that the Attorney General has accepted the
recommendation and emphasizes in his statement that this is what the
Justice Department`s Inspector General and the FBI recommended. Obviously
attempting to say that this was not politically motivated, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Pete, let me just get those distinctions clear. So it`s a
recommendation not just from the Inspector General but also a
recommendation from the FBI?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Right. So here`s the sequence. As you were
saying, the Inspector General, right after the inauguration, launched –
said he was launching an investigation into how the FBI handled the entire
Clinton e-mail investigation.
As part of that, he became aware that, in October of 2016, the FBI – “The
Wall Street Journal” was working on a story about the status of the Clinton
investigation and had picked up suggestions that the FBI was dragging its
feet on part of that, which is an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.
And what apparently happened here is that Andrew McCabe authorized someone
in the FBI to talk to “The Wall Street Journal” reporter and basically say,
no, that`s not the case. You know, we believe there`s still reasons to
keep that going.
So that is what got the Inspector General`s attention. And then when –
according to the I.G., when he was questioned about it, he wasn`t fully
forthcoming, Andrew McCabe. So the I.G. made a recommendation to the FBI`s
Office of Professional Responsibility that he be fired.
OPR looked into it, concurred, and then, in essence, that would have been
the end of it, except that McCabe appealed this to the Justice Department,
which is his right. And now, the Attorney General says he`s reviewed it
and thinks the recommendations are correct.
O`DONNELL: And, Pete, I just want to clarify for the audience, the
Inspector General is not a Trump appointee. This Inspector General is a
long-time Justice Department employee, isn`t he?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Right. He was – he`s been there – he served
under the Obama administration as well, Michael Horowitz.
O`DONNELL: And “The Wall Street Journal” article in question actually
cites sources at certain points that are labeled as sources close to
McCabe, and so it was pretty obvious that – where “The Journal” was
getting that help.
But the information that was coming from the McCabe sources actually read
as not – as somewhat anti-Clinton information. It was information that
pushed the investigation further in the direction of looking at what
Hillary Clinton was doing.
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Well, that`s right. I mean, two points about
that, Lawrence. One is, the article itself says that the FBI officials
that talked to “The Journal” reporter, who, by the way, is named Devlin
Barrett. He is now at “The Washington Post.” You know, he has covered the
Justice Department for many years and is a very smart guy.
The story said that the FBI pushed back at that suggestion, that they were
dragging their feet, that they thought there was something to the Clinton
So it`s not – you know, McCabe has come under a lot of criticism from the
President, from Republicans in Congress who thought he was too favorable to
Hillary Clinton in the e-mail investigation, but the statement that was
given to “The Wall Street Journal” is definitely not favorable to Clinton.
O`DONNELL: Pete, why 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night? What happened between,
say, 4:00 this afternoon and 10:00 p.m. tonight? What prevented the
Attorney General from doing this during normal business hours?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Well, only yesterday did Andrew McCabe meet with
the staff of the Deputy Attorney General. So the Deputy Attorney General
had to take his time with this and then pass it along to the Attorney
General, who was out of town yesterday. He was meeting with the
International Association of Chiefs of Police in Nashville and then had
another meeting in Louisville and didn`t get back until late today.
So Jeff Sessions didn`t have a chance to look at this – and we were told
earlier today that this process was moving very slowly. I think, you know,
to be quite candid here, Jeff Sessions was in, politically, for himself, a
no-win situation. This is somebody who had been – Andrew McCabe had been
criticized repeatedly by name by the President.
So if – no matter what happened – and also, people were well aware of
Jeff Sessions` own desire to please the President. So no matter what he
did, if he said McCabe should be fired as he has done, they`ll be people
criticizing him for that. If he said McCabe shouldn`t be fired, that would
not please the White House. I mean, it took – put him in a tough
position, but that`s the job.
O`DONNELL: Pete Williams, thank you very much for joining us tonight with
this breaking news.
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Yes, sir.
O`DONNELL: Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing the former acting
director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, just two days before Andrew McCabe`s
retirement date was to become official.
We`re now joined by Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and a deputy
assistant attorney general under President Clinton. Also Ned Price, former
senior director and spokesperson for the National Security Council and a
former CIA analyst.
Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at “The Washington
Post.” As well as David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Price-winning journalist
and author of “It`s Even Worse than You Think: What the Trump
Administration Is Doing to America.”
We have a panel who has seen everything.
Harry Litman, I want to go to you first. You`ve worked in the Justice
Department. What`s your reading of this?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: My reading is it`s a grave injustice, Lawrence.
There`s – Pete`s reporting is accurate, and there is a serious mark on
McCabe`s record. The record overall, though, is of 21 years of exemplary
service and respect by everyone within the Department.
What really stinks about this one is the rush to get this done by Friday,
which could – was only motivated to, in a petty way, take his pension away
Compare this with John Yoo, the author of the Torture Memos. The same
thing happened to him. OPR recommended a certain discipline. It then went
to the Attorney General. Yoo was given six months to write a long brief,
state his case to the Attorney General, which – who, in fact, did reduce
The fact that McCabe was rushed into this presentation yesterday and
Sessions turns it around today, I think, is completely abnormal and was
done only in order to be sure they could take away his pension before
O`DONNELL: Harry, let me stay with you on this distinction because the
case you just mentioned was not a member of the FBI. Is there, within the
Justice Department, a different, a higher standard for members of the FBI
in situations like this which, in the reports, indicates did not tell the
truth when he was questioned?
LITMAN: The short answer is no. McCabe was of a certain level that the
Attorney General himself needed to decide the issue, but the overall
procedural path from the I.G. – the same I.G. – to OPR to the Attorney
General is the same. It just happens that the OPR, in one instance, is
with the FBI and the other instance, Department of Justice.
No reason at all to do it on this timeline except to maliciously take away
this guy`s pension, something that FBI agents really think about, know
about, and are going to be shaken up about.
O`DONNELL: Ned Price, your reaction to this?
NED PRICE, FORMER ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, Lawrence, I
would agree with Harry. Something about this smells very fishy. And it`s
more than just the timing.
It`s more than the fact that this comes just 48 hours or so before his
retirement would kick in. It`s more than the fact that this takes place on
a Friday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. It`s also the fact that this
takes place separate and apart from the release of the Inspector General
The Inspector General Report on Andrew McCabe in the broader Hillary
Clinton matter, as I understand it, has been completed for a while now.
It`s been undergoing review.
So why rush this? Why has it aggregated to pull out the Andy McCabe
information, fire him well before, it seems, the I.G. Report is going to be
We also have to remember the point you raised before. The information Andy
McCabe is accused of giving to “The Wall Street Journal” was very damning,
was very troubling for the Clinton campaign. It did not look good.
There were previous instances of top Trump officials giving information to
news outlets that is exculpatory for the Trump people, that looks good for
them. They have never taken fire from that.
Mike Pompeo, it has been well-documented on at least one occasion – and I
highly suspect there have been more – have reached out early on in the
administration to news outlets to tamp down these rumors at the time that
there may have been rampant connections between the Trump campaign and the
Russians. We now know that to be true.
Mike Pompeo was not disciplined. In fact, Mike Pompeo was just nominated
to be the Secretary of State. So I suspect that if what Andy McCabe had
done was give information that was exculpatory towards the Trump campaign,
we would be seeing a very different outcome here. As it stands, this looks
more like anything than a purge.
O`DONNELL: Andy McCabe has given just a couple of comments to “The New
York Times” tonight, and he is saying that he believes his firing by Jeff
Sessions tonight was – is intended to affect the Special Prosecutor`s
investigation and particularly Andrew McCabe`s credibility in that
conversation – in that investigation.
He said, the idea that I was dishonest is just wrong. This is part of an
effort to discredit me as a witness.
And, of course, he means as a witness in the Mueller investigation.
He went on to say – Andrew McCabe did – it`s incredibly unfair to my
reputation after a 21-year career. The real damage is being done to the
FBI, law enforcement, and the Special Counsel.
David Cay Johnston, your reaction to this breaking news?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, “IT`S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK: WHAT THE TRUMP
ADMINISTRATION IS DOING TO AMERICA”: Well, first of all, I agree with both
the lawyers that this is extraordinary. There is a long history of people
in the FBI doing things they shouldn`t do and getting full official reports
that sort of take care of them. But Donald has a long history of going on
If he is accused of anything, he learned from Roy Cohn you go on the
attack. And so he needs to try and discredit and suppress the Mueller
investigation. And one of the things that will help him do that is to try
and make Andrew McCabe appear to be less credible. That`s exactly what
this is about exactly.
And it sends a secondary signal from this White House, which is you do your
job as a law enforcement agent and it`s going to cause me trouble as
president, we`ll get you.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, there`s another striking coincidence in this
breaking news tonight. There is a – there`s what would have been the
massive breaking news of the night which is the President of the United
States actively engaging in trying to move a lawsuit by Stormy Daniels out
of a state court in California into a federal court, the court where the
President appoints the judges.
That story now is competing with this new breaking news story. The
President has not tweeted about his legal move tonight, that he is a part
of, to try to move the Stormy Daniels case into federal court, but he has
just tweeted about Andrew McCabe.
I think we know which one of these stories he wants us to concentrate on.
He just tweeted FBI Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire
with full benefits.
This is actually a tweet that he did previously about this because the
President was eager to get this done before this retirement date. But it`s
so striking that with the Stormy Daniels story breaking – in less than an
hour after it broke, that the President was trying to move that into
federal court. Within the hour of that news breaking, Jeff Sessions
executes this firing.
LITMAN: Yes. We`ve gotten pretty used to nasty business coming on Friday
afternoon or evening. And here you`re right, we have a double dose of it.
I think he is going to want to tout the McCabe point which, again, serves
only as a kind of petty gesture to – in favor of opponents of McCabe just
stripping him of his pension for no good reason. And he is going to want
to dampen the fact that this motion requires him to acknowledge his role in
the Stormy Daniels controversy.
He is – he has moved to take this case from state court to federal court.
In brief, he has the right to do it. And the whole idea here, 100 percent,
is to try to use the arbitration clause in the hush money contract to keep
her from talking.
And his prospects are going to be a little bit better in federal court
because federal judges, he not only appoints them but they`re well known to
be more well-disposed to the sort of arbitration clause that he wants to
use as a sword here.
O`DONNELL: Ruth Marcus is joining us, “The Washington Post” columnist.
Ruth, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, we just got the filing on it just before
we were going on the air tonight. And then minutes later, we get this
firing by Jeff Sessions.
The Stormy Daniels lawsuit that the President is now actively engaged in
threatens Stormy Daniels with $20 million in damages. That`s specified by
the President and the President`s Lawyer in the filing that they issued
tonight. And then Jeff Sessions comes along right after that with this
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So if I
were Stormy Daniels` lawyer, I would tell her to sit tight and don`t worry
what number the President and his lawyers are coming up with to threaten
If she wants to talk, they`re not going to be able to stop her from
talking. We do not have prior restraint in this country for porn actresses
talking about their relationships with a President. If he wants to sue her
and she can then go and depose him and have a lawsuit and have discovery,
let them go ahead and do that.
I actually really don`t understand the President`s legal strategy, which
seems to be bringing maximum attention to Stormy Daniels rather – which he
insists she has no credible story to tell. He has just guaranteed that
everybody is going to be tuning in to a certain other network to see her
So on that, I want to descend slightly, just a little bit, on Andrew
McCabe`s story just for this reason. It`s totally clear and it`s really
upsetting and very disturbing that the President has been gunning for
Andrew McCabe since the campaign. He`s been gunning to get his pension
taken away from him.
This kind of Friday night massacre is a little concerning. On the other
hand, I do know the Inspector General at the Justice Department. If it is
true that he concluded that Andrew McCabe`s conduct was serious enough to
warrant firing, you can`t fire the guy, well, after he retires.
I just want to know a little bit more about the underlying conduct before I
go sort of whole hog with the rest of the crew in completely decrying this.
I am concerned by it. I don`t like to see somebody who`s worked for the
government his entire life stripped of his pension.
And there`s this magnificent Shakespearean quality to all of this, right?
Because if Andrew McCabe is fired and – as he was fired and if he loses
his pension as a result, it will be because he leaked something that was
harmful to Hillary Clinton. The guy who the President kept describing as a
pro-Clinton schill. So there`s just a certain magnificence to it.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman –
MARCUS: Ironic magnificence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ruth. I want to go to Harry Litman on this, as a
former Justice Department employee. The Inspector General who made this
recommendation is a career employee. He is not a Trump appointee.
He served in the Obama administration, served in – under the Bush
administration before that. He has served both Democrat and Republican
administrations. So this is not someone who was – had any apparent bias
on the Trump side.
LITMAN: Look, I agree. Michael Horwitz is his name. He is – he has a
well-earned reputation for professionalism and thoroughness, and he put his
finger on. McCabe disputes whether – McCabe was candid but Horwitz judged
My push back against Ruth, I take her point, just has to do with the timing
of this, notwithstanding when his retirement would have been. It`s just
100 percent clear this was driven by political pressure from the White
House for the petty reason of stripping him of his pension. That`s wrong.
That`s not the way it`s supposed to work.
O`DONNELL: I just want to repeat what Andrew McCabe said to “The New York
Times” tonight. He said, the idea that I was dishonest is just wrong. He
said, this is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.
And, David Cay Johnston, he means as a witness in the Special Prosecutor`s
investigation. He is a witness to, among other things we know he`s a
witness to, the Comey firing.
In that, we know that James Comey spoke to him about what the President
said to him. And so when James Comey is presented as a witness describing
what the President said and did to him, Andrew McCabe is part of that.
JOHNSTON: Yes, and Comey did exactly what you should do in that situation.
He immediately went and wrote a note, memorializing the conversation. And
courts tend to get give a lot of credence to immediately memorialized
And then he brought in his top people, including McCabe, to discuss this
and the significance of it, partly to make a record with them, but also
partly to make sure that he had correctly interpreted and thought about his
options in dealing with this.
So it`s important to Trump, in his effort to discredit Mueller, to try and
knock off witnesses wherever he can and take away their legitimacy.
O`DONNELL: Joining us now –
LITMAN: By the way, Lawrence, if I can just quickly say, the Horowitz that
is not finished, the bigger topic of it is what Comey did with respect to
the Clinton investigation when he came out and said it was extremely
careless of her. It may well be that Horowitz will yet also impugn Comey
in his broader report.
O`DONNELL: Joining the discussion now by phone is Ben Wittes. He`s the
editor-in-chief of “Lawfare.” He also knows some of the players involved
in this controversy, including James Comey.
Ben Wittes, your reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions tonight firing
former Acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe two days before his
official retirement date?
BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE (via telephone): I`m very
saddened by it. And I wish very much that the resolution of this had been
otherwise for the sake of everybody involved, particularly for Andy McCabe
who, you know, I still don`t understand and have not seen a factual record
that would justify this.
I understand that there is an Inspector General report that has, you know,
suggested that he engaged in, you know, conduct that justifies this action.
But the nature of precisely what he was supposed to have done and what the
evidence of that remains entirely opaque to the public.
And, you know, as far as I can tell, Andy McCabe is somebody who served
with a lot of honor and dignity under exceptionally difficult
circumstances. And so until I see – excuse me. Until I see a record that
would justify this action taken two days before he was due to retire by –
you know, in the face of presidential tweets demanding his scalp, I will,
you know, regard it as an action that may be very difficult to justify.
And that said, I will reserve judgment until I see what the Inspector
General has said and what I see when – what I – whatever I see Andy has
responded to that and so that I understand what the parameters of the
dispute really are.
O`DONNELL: The only response we have from Andrew McCabe at this point is a
comment he made to “The New York Times” tonight. And he said, the idea
that I was dishonest is just wrong. This is part of an effort to discredit
me as a witness.
And, Ben Wittes, he – obviously, he means as a witness in the Mueller
investigation. What is your reaction to that?
WITTES (via telephone): Well, I mean, he is a witness in that
investigation at least on the question of corroborating Jim Comey`s claims
about his interactions with Donald Trump.
And so to the extent that the FBI has concluded – or the Inspector General
has concluded that he was not honest with their investigation, that would
have a discrediting effect in the context of a different investigation.
Whether it`s justifiable or not, of course, depends on the evidence that
the public doesn`t have access to right now.
O`DONNELL: Andrew McCabe has apparently just released a statement tonight.
It`s a rather lengthy one. I will try to read some of it – actually, I`m
going to start reading it.
Ned Price, as you start – give us your reaction again to this, to the
possibility that this is actually, the timing of this, is related to the
Mueller investigation because Andrew McCabe is obviously a witness in that
investigation. As Ben Wittes just said, a corroborating witness to James
Comey. And if you can get him fired from his job for being untruthful,
that would have an effect on his credibility as a witness.
PRICE: Well, I think that`s exactly right, Lawrence. We know from what
Director Comey has said, what he has written, that he shared his
encounters, those encounters where President Trump may well have at least
attempted to obstruct justice. That he shared those encounters with a very
small group of people, all of whom have now been either sidelined or fired.
And in the case of Andy McCabe, he, of course, was sidelined weeks ago.
And now his firing, I suspect, as Andy McCabe himself is saying, was to
undermine his credibility as a fact witness, as Ben was alluding to.
The other point I think we have to remember here, though, Lawrence, is that
we haven`t heard from Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General. We have
heard from Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, someone who, of course, is
And we don`t have to go that far back in history. In fact, only to this
week, to recall what happened to Rex Tillerson and the account – the
differing accounts that we heard from the White House and what we heard
from the State Department.
The White House put out a statement leading all of us to believe that Rex
Tillerson knew this was coming, that he knew that his time was up, but the
State Department, it seems in a bit of candor that actually led to an
individual`s firing, said that this took him completely by surprise.
So I`m not sure we can give this full credence and credibility, knowing
that Jeff Sessions has squandered a lot of his credibility. And I,
frankly, want to hear from Michael Horowitz.
JOHNSTON: Lawrence, there`s also an issue here of proportionality. We`re
not talking about Andrew McCabe having paid somebody off not to tell a
story. We`re not talking about him having screwed up cases of the FBI`s.
We`re talking about how he handled an effort to deal with a journalist who
had a story they thought was wrong. So the punishment here is totally out
of proportion to the action, even if he was not fully candid.
O`DONNELL: Let`s hear from Andrew McCabe. This is his written statement
that has just been released. I will read portions of it.
He says, for the last year and a half, my family and I have been the
targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this
country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false,
defamatory, and degrading allegations against us.
The President`s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called
for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more
than 20 years of service.
And all along, we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the
mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us.
No more. The investigation by the Justice Department`s Office of Inspector
General has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my
credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI`s
involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton.
I was being portrayed in the media, over and over, as a political partisan,
accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI
was portrayed as caving under that pressure and making decisions for
political rather than law enforcement purposes.
Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation
stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record
straight on behalf of the Bureau and to make clear that we were continuing
an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.
The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a
reporter through my public affairs officer and legal counselor. As Deputy
Director, I was one of the – one of only a few people who had the
authority to do that.
It was not a secret. It took place over several days and others, including
the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.
It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director
oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work
that I continue to do under Director Wray at his request.
The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to
them, and so forth. During those inquiries, I answered questions
truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded
me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted
investigators to correct them.
But looking at that in isolation completely misses the big picture. The
big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is
politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to
cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those
institutions and people.
And, Harry Litman, I want to get your reaction to that much of Andrew
LITMAN: It`s true. It`s tragic. The broader story here – first on
McCabe, the broader story, as Ben and Ned say, is one of exemplary public
service, respected across the – from everybody, and an unfair tarring.
But this broader theme that he sounds at the end of his statement,
politicization of law enforcement, is just nauseating. And it`s continued
What they`re trying to do to him now – Trump had his Press Secretary go
out and call McCabe, to America, a bad actor today. It`s reminiscent of
the defamation that they visited on Comey when he was fired, and they said,
falsely, the whole FBI had turned against him.
This kind of assault on independent law enforcement by the White House for
the small ends of trying to affect the investigation against the President
is really dangerous and toxic.
O`DONNELL: I want to read one more passage of Andrew McCabe`s written
statement tonight. He says, here is the reality. I am being singled out
and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and
the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.
The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the
House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former
Director Comey`s accounts of his discussions with the President.
The OIG`s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented
effort by the administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me
from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension
that I worked 21 years to earn.
The accelerated release of the report and the punitive actions taken in
response make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday`s
comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.
This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to
slander me personally but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and
intelligence professionals more generally.
It is part of this administration`s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts
of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their
persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special
Ben Wittes, your reaction to Andrew McCabe saying that the reality here is
that he is being singled out.
He said, I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I
played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of
the firing of James Comey.
WITTES (via telephone): Look, we don`t know what the underlying evidence
that the I.G. has reported about Andrew McCabe is. We do know that the
singling out of the Deputy FBI Director by the President of the United
States on a repeated basis is a unique event in the history of the United
We do know that firing a long-serving FBI official two days before he is
due to retire anyway is a highly unusual matter. And we do know that the
political pressure on the Justice Department to do that was extreme.
So I can`t say that, you know, Andy McCabe`s protestations of innocence of
whatever it is the Inspector General has found about him are accurate. I
can say that the situation stinks.
And as I said before, I will evaluate the evidence that supposedly
justifies this action at the point in which it becomes public. And until
then, look, a lot of what Andy McCabe is saying in that statement is just
O`DONNELL: And, Ruth Marcus, as Ben just said, we don`t have the Inspector
General`s report, but we have Andrew McCabe`s written response to it at
this first stage of this news. And I`m going to zero in on the sentences
in which Andrew McCabe is directly dealing with what must be in that
Inspector General`s report.
He says, during these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as
accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I
thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct
And, Ruth, when we get to read the Inspector General`s Report, I believe
there will be several pages that describe what Andrew McCabe is describing
there, and we`ll have to hold one against the other.
MARCUS: Right. And two things can simultaneously be true, and Ben put
this well when he was describing it.
It is absolutely clear – name another Deputy Director of the FBI who was -
- became a household name. He became a household name because he was
attacked by, first, presidential candidate Donald Trump and then President
And he is – and he was attacked and I would submit, probably fired, for
largely political reasons. And I would throw in there the absolutely
shameful singling out that Sarah Huckabee Sanders did of him from the
But this episode that he alludes to, you know, it`s part of this behind the
scenes dance that`s a really necessary part of Washington that goes on,
where, on background, officials guide reporters to help reporters get their
stories more accurate, to make sure that things are not written that are
unfair to subjects or targets of an investigation.
This is a dance that has to go on, that needs to go on behind the scenes.
But something happened there that I – that, at least, it sounds like the
Inspector General found wasn`t exactly right. And something then seemed to
have happened with McCabe`s testimony that the Inspector General, I
suspect, had a problem with.
So the fury that McCabe has about the politicization of the FBI and about
his being fired, I totally get. I don`t want to say that it`s clear that
his conduct has been completely above reproach because it feels like it`s a
much more complicated story than that.
O`DONNELL: And, David Cay Johnston, it seems like Andrew McCabe has a lot
more that we`re probably eventually going to hear about this. And I think
we`re so lucky that we have experts from the – with Justice Department
experience here as well as reporters because this is a report – this is a
journalism story, too.
And McCabe is in trouble because of communication with “The Wall Street
Journal,” with reporters. McCabe describes that in his written statement
tonight as his job.
JOHNSTON: Right. Yes.
O`DONNELL: He says, this is one of the things that the Deputy FBI Director
is charged with doing, clarifying for the press, when possible, what the
FBI is doing or what it`s not doing.
And so he says here that he has done this – he said, it was the type of
exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times a
week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under
Director Wray at his request.
So he is saying the Trump-appointed FBI Director had him doing exactly the
same thing with the press.
JOHNSTON: Yes, you get to see the knife with that one.
JOHNSTON: Well, this is exactly how this stuff works. And, of course, the
FBI and other agencies are concerned. They don`t want a reporter who has a
story to mess up their investigation. Witnesses can be affected by these
And, no, we don`t know exactly what McCabe did, but I think there`s a very
pregnant line there about how when he evidently felt that the people who
questioned him didn`t get his answers the way he intended, he set out to
Now, unless there`s something showing that he was mendacious and obviously
so, it would seem to suggest that he may have been, to some degree, set up,
or – and he certainly clearly indicates he believes he was trying to make
the record as accurate as possible.
O`DONNELL: And describes in his first round of trying to remember truthful
answers about this, he says he was doing the best he could “amidst the
chaos that surrounded me.” And I think we all have a feel for what that
must have been.
We`re joined now by phone by Jill Wine-Banks. She`s a former assistant
Watergate special prosecutor, and she`s an MSNBC contributor.
And, Jill, I wish you could be on camera because we could see your St.
Patrick`s Green, again, which I saw earlier tonight, that you are wearing.
But, Jill, I want to get your reaction to this story. At first, we began
simply with the fact that Jeff Sessions, at 10:00 p.m. tonight
approximately, on a Friday night, fired Andrew McCabe, the former Acting
Director of the FBI with only two days left before his official retirement.
We now have a full written statement by Andrew McCabe that I`ve been
reading here. Your reaction to what we know about this so far.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR (via
telephone): Well, first of all, let me say we take St. Patrick`s Day very
seriously in Chicago, so that`s why.
O`DONNELL: I know you do.
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): Yes.
O`DONNELL: I know you do.
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): But on a serious note, I mean, at 10:00 p.m.
on a Friday night before his Sunday retirement becomes effective does throw
some doubt into the credibility and reasons for the action.
I do agree, of course, with Ben that we need to have all the evidence
before we pass judgment on what the recommendation was. We need to see the
I also think that his statement, the McCabe statement, is a very persuasive
and compelling one that I`d like to know more about the background of.
And I wonder whether the President realizes that all of these people that
he fires now have no reason not to cooperate fully with Mueller and to
speak out, and whether people are realizing how much distraction is
happening in the chaos at the White House from the Mueller investigation,
from the Stormy Daniels investigation, and from the overall effect of
trying to taint the FBI and Mueller and the Department of Justice, and
whether McCabe has been denied due process.
I cannot believe that he`s already had a hearing that would be entitled to
any senior service person, such as himself, before he gets fired. He
hasn`t had a chance to defend himself and tell his side of the story, so I
don`t think we should jump to conclusions that he`s innocent or that he`s
guilty. We need to see the full evidence.
And in the context of this president and how they have attacked not just
McCabe but the entire FBI and the Department of Justice and Mueller, it
makes me suspicious, it makes me suspicious and makes me wonder about the
truth of it.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, I want to go to one of the points that Andrew
McCabe raises, which he believes that this is a design to damage his
credibility as a witness in the Mueller investigation. What`s your
reaction to that?
LITMAN: Well, it`s true and that`s probably what – I mean, Trump has that
in mind as a practical goal. It seems to me he just has the more petty
mind – goal in mind of just gratuitously taking away the pension of
someone who has crossed him. To me –
O`DONNELL: But, Harry, can I –
O`DONNELL: Can I ask you to focus, as a legal practitioner –
O`DONNELL: – on the actual practical effect of this –
O`DONNELL: – on the perceived credibility of Andrew McCabe as a witness
going forward? If you were in the Special Prosecutor`s office and you had
the McCabe file, you were in charge of him as a witness going forward, how
would you feel tonight?
LITMAN: Look, you know, I would feel only a little worse. There are all
kinds of people they – that they use that will some impeachment material.
But, yes, here is how it all will be. He will testify if it comes to a
proceeding that Comey told him exactly what Comey said he said.
And then the defense attorney will say, oh, is that right? Well, are you
aware – isn`t it true, Mr. McCabe, that you were found to have committed
misconduct? Isn`t it true that you were fired, et cetera, et cetera?
And that impeachment will have whatever value it has in front of a jury. I
just want to say here, though, that it`s true, as Ben and Ruth says, that
part of what`s going on – we, of course, don`t know exactly what he did
and it`s very odd that Horowitz found these things.
But I just I think it`s all secondary next to two points. Whatever he did,
the timing of his being railroaded out is indefensible and political. And
most important of all, the political themes of demonization of law
enforcement that he sounds at the end of his statement, that those really
should be, I think, the headline for us as a country.
O`DONNELL: I have already brought up the timing coincidence that, as we
went into this hour of television, I believed that our hotter breaking news
tonight was going to be about the President`s attempt to move Stormy
Daniels` lawsuit into federal court.
I want to switch focus to that because it`s hard to believe that the timing
is coincidental tonight, that the President did – was not paying attention
to what was happening in this news cycle and how this announcement could
The President of the United States is actually asking a federal court in
California to take jurisdiction of Stormy Daniels` lawsuit against Donald
Trump. The President of the United States is asking the federal court to
take the lawsuit away from a California state court.
And tonight`s legal filing in federal court in California by a California
lawyer representing the President of the United States claims that Stormy
Daniels` lawsuit against Donald Trump should be moved from state court to
federal court because Stormy Daniels is a resident of Texas, Donald Trump
is a resident of Washington, D.C. and New York City.
And because of the multistate locations of the parties, the case should not
be heard in a California state court since none of the parties live in
The legal filing says that President Trump and his lawyers are, quote,
aware of at least 20 violations by Clifford – that`s Stormy Daniels` real
name – of the confidentiality provisions of this settlement agreement.
Clifford expressly agreed in these settlement agreements to liquidated
damages in the amount of $1 million for each breach of the confidentiality
provisions which is approximated to already be in excess of $20 million.
We are joined by phone now by Stormy Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti.
And, Mr. Avenatti, I know you learned about this when you were on a plane
tonight. What is your reaction to the President trying to move this case
into federal court?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS (via telephone): Well,
thanks for having me. I`m not at all surprised. We anticipated that the
President and Mr. Cohen might attempt to do this.
It`s really a prelude. It`s an interim step, if you will, to where they
really want to go, which is arbitration. They want this matter decided by
a private arbitrator in a conference room in a private office building as
opposed to a public courthouse that`s open to the people, where people can
actually judge for themselves the facts and the evidence.
This is just more of the same. I mean, it is consistent with the way they
have treated my client for some time now. They have attempted to bully her
and intimidate her. And ultimately, they do not want this matter public.
It`s just that simple.
This is more of the same, their attempts to gag and muzzle my client, and
we`re not going to stand for it.
O`DONNELL: It`s a really striking legal filing to see because there you
see the name of the President of the United States on the title page of
this pleading in federal court. And the name of the President of the
United States, typed in there by his lawyer, also has an alias beside it
typed in there by his lawyer.
The President of the United States has a lawyer who refers to him as Donald
J. Trump also known as David Dennison. That is how the President`s lawyer
represents Donald Trump in this case, a client with an alias trying to keep
everything that Stormy Daniels knows about him secret.
AVENATTI (via telephone): Well, I think what is truly remarkable about
this – if we just take a step back and really think about this for a
moment, I actually think this is a remarkable moment in our nation`s
I don`t think that there has ever been an instance – and I know that`s a
big statement but I stand behind it. I don`t think there`s ever been an
incident in the history of the United States where you have a sitting
president who undertook a personal vendetta against a private U.S. citizen
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
AVENATTI (via telephone): – who merely was –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
AVENATTI (via telephone): – who merely was looking for an opportunity to
tell her version of events and is seeking $20 million worth of damages. I
don`t think that`s ever happened before in the history of the United
States. It`s frightening, quite honestly.
O`DONNELL: Now, your client has already spoken to “60 Minutes.” “60
Minutes” has announced that they intend to broadcast that interview on, I
believe, March 25th. That presumably by the President`s definition will
constitute what he considers another breach or another several breaches of
So according to the President`s reading of the situation, do you expect at
the end of the broadcast of the “60 Minutes” interview for Stormy Daniels,
in the President`s view, to be liable for another $20 million or $100
AVENATTI (via telephone): No, we don`t. I mean, the President also thinks
he won the popular vote, so, you know, I don`t know what to say.
But, look, this $20 million demand or $20 million claim in damages is
laughable. And, you know, next I guess, we`ll hear $50 or $100 or $200
million. It`s an absolute joke. We don`t believe the agreement is going
to be upheld.
And even if the agreement is upheld, that liquated damages clause, it will
never be upheld because it is what is called legally conscionable, which
means, even if the parties agreed to it, and even if they read it and
understood it (INAUDIBLE) – confident that no court will enforce a million
dollars liquidated (INAUDIBLE) especially when the consideration monetarily
was only $130,000.
So this pie in the sky. It`s a bullying tactic. It`s designed to
intimidate my client and I. And clearly, they haven`t been paying
attention over the last who weeks.
We`re not going to pack up and go home. We`re not going to dismiss the
case. She`s not going to prevent the “60 Minutes” piece from hiring.
We`re going to let the chips fall where they may. We`re going to continue
to strive to tell the American people what happened here. And we`re going
to allow them to make a determination on who is shooting straight with them
and who is not. And it`s that simple.
O`DONNELL: And, Mr. Avenatti, I just want to go over one more point before
you go. And you know you got a lot of attention this morning on this
network on “MORNING JOE” when, in an answer to questions, you`ve said that
Stormy Daniels has been threatened and that she has been physically
Has she been threatened by anyone representing or connected to the
AVENATTI (via telephone): Again, I`m not at liberty to discuss that. I`m
confident that when people tune in to “60 Minutes” on the 25th of March,
they`re going to learn the details surrounding that threat or the threats.
And they are going to judge for themselves as to whether she is telling the
truth and whether she`s credible.
And at some point, Mr. Cohen and the President are going to have to account
for their various actions associated with attempting to silence my client.
And I am counting the days.
O`DONNELL: Did Michael Cohen threaten Stormy Daniels?
AVENATTI (via telephone): I`m going to stand by my same answer.
O`DONNELL: And when were those threats? When were the most recent
AVENATTI (via telephone): I`m not at liberty to discuss the details of the
threats. Again, I think when people tune in to the interview, they`re
going to learn about it.
O`DONNELL: Michael Avenatti, really appreciate you calling in. I know
this was difficult for you to do. I really appreciate it. Thank you very
much. Really appreciate it.
AVENATTI (via telephone): No problem. Have a good weekend. Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. And our legal panel is still here, everyone who has
been covering and following both of these.
I want to go to Ruth Marcus first because this – before we even get to the
legalisms of it, I just want us to pause over the fact that we live in a
country where the President of the United States has a lawyer type his name
in a legal pleading and then type his alias in right beside it and file
that legal pleading in a federal court, in a courthouse, where the
President appoints the judges.
MARCUS: Well, yes. And you know –
MARCUS: It has been quite a day of Stormy Daniels news, as you pointed
out, trying to get a little bit more information on what this threat and
physical threat was and who it came from. And I am just thinking about
where we are and where we`ve been.
And my reporting career spans the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings where
we thought we heard things that we could never get into our newspapers back
in those days when certain words weren`t allowed. And we managed to report
all of that in our newspapers.
And then we went to impeachment and Bill Clinton and blue dresses and all
sorts of other things that didn`t seem fit for a family audience. And we
got those into our newspapers.
And now here we are with a president and a porn star. And it`s a kind of
dreary trajectory of the kind of – of modern politics and the craziness of
this moment. And just the sordid nature of what we`re all being dragged
into writing about when there are actually serious problems facing the
There are serious policy issues to be decided, and we`re talking about porn
stars and threats and presidential aliases. So I`m just throwing up my
O`DONNELL: Understandable. David Cay Johnston, no one on this panel knows
more about Donald Trump as a litigant than you do. You`ve watched him both
be a phony bluffer –
MARCUS: I`m not hearing anything.
O`DONNELL: – as he was when he threatened to sue me.
O`DONNELL: And I begged him to sue me because I knew he was bluffing.
You`ve seen him actually sue people. You`ve seen him cave. You`ve seen
him settle $25 million on Trump University.
What do you make of this filing tonight? And is this the first one you`ve
seen where he includes an alias beside his name?
JOHNSTON: Yes, it`s absolutely the first I`ve seen with an alias. And
this is extraordinary. Now, of course, in making this filing, they
basically acknowledge that this relationship went on, and there was a hush
But this, again, is Donald`s bullying and going on the attack. And I`ve
done as you have. You know, I was – I`ve talked about Donald and the drug
trafficker and said, Donald, you know, if you think what I`ve said isn`t
true, sue me over it.
One of the interesting things about this case is the removal to federal
court. The 1925 Arbitration Act was passed to allow corporations in
different states to settle dispute. It was never intended to apply to
disputes between individuals, between individuals and companies.
If it were put up today in Congress, it would never pass if it was going to
apply to you and me if we were in a dispute.
And the lawyers on the panel are quite right that the federal courts have a
different inclination about this than the state courts. But this is not a
dispute that should be allowed under the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act
because we`re not talking about two corporations. We have one and –
created solely for the purpose of helping, they thought, hide the money.
O`DONNELL: Let me go to one of my lawyers. Jill Wine-Banks, your reaction
to what Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, just have to say?
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): Well, first of all, I would say he is doing a
wonderful job of representing her and making her look better than the
And David is quite correct that we now have absolute proof that D.D. is
President Trump, which is, I think, an unforced error on the part of his
lawyers who didn`t think two steps ahead when they filed this suit.
I think Michael was quite correct, Avenatti, in saying something about the
inequitability of this. For $130,000 payment, she agreed to pay $1 million
per every breach? That is not only unconscionable just under the norm
frames of contract law. You can`t enforce a contract that is so
inequitable. We have a principle, just in general, that that isn`t
And as to your earlier question about whether the credibility of McCabe is
so severely hurt, it`s certainly no worse than Flynn and the others who
have plead guilty to lying and who will now be the witnesses against the
President. And all of them are now free to tell the truth about the
So, again, it`s bad thinking on the part of the President`s lawyers to have
gotten into the situation where they`re allowing this to happen. I really
am just astounded at the bad lawyering on his part and – but they have
been effective in distracting us, as Ruth said, from policy, from his
bragging about lying to the Prime Minister of Canada, something for which
we should be all be apologizing to our neighbors to the north.
There`s so much other things of importance and the people of America can
hardly keep track from day to day of what`s important and so nothing
O`DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks gets tonight`s last word, weaving it all
together. Thank you – Ned Price, Harry Litman, Ruth Marcus, David Cay
Johnston, Jill Wine-Banks, Benjamin Wittes – thank you all joining us and
thanks to Barry McCaffrey for joining us at the beginning of the hour. THE
11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS starts right now.
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the