ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Thank you to both of you for joining me tonight. Jennifer Rubin and Mickey Edwards.
And that is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour.
We`re going to start with some breaking news that has come in from "The New York Times." This is the news that honestly we`ve been sort of expecting for some time or thinking that if things got really bad, it might come to this. As of tonight, according to "The New York Times", it has come to this.
As you see, this is the headline just posted. Justice Department is said to open criminal inquiry into its own Russia investigation. I`ll quote to you from the article. Again, this just posted tonight.
Quote: President Trump has repeatedly attacked the Russia investigation, portraying it as a hoax and illegal. Even months after the special counsel closed it. Now, Mr. Trump`s own Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into how it all began.
So this is about the review that Trump`s attorney general, William Barr, has been overseeing and has been very personally involved in for the last few months. He technically assigned the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, to oversee this, but William Barr himself, the attorney general, has apparently been an investigator in this probe and has been overseeing it and has been personally involved in it. It`s involved William Barr hopping around the globe searching for evidence to bolster a right-wing conspiracy theory that the real scandal of the 2016 campaign was not that Russia intervened in our election, that Russia attacked our election with the goal of helping Donald Trump win that campaign.
No, according to this conspiracy theory, Russia didn`t do that, Russia didn`t intervene. What actually happened is that it was the Obama administration that was setting this all up as a frame job. They were colluding with foreign countries to set up Russia, to make it look like Russia was interfering and to set up the Trump campaign to make it look like they were getting help from Russia. But it was all a frame job. It was all a false flag operation set up by the Obama administration to somehow get Trump elected and then undermine him once he was in office?
It`s never been totally clear how it all worked. But that`s the conspiracy theory, that the attorney general of the United States appears to have been going around the world trying to prove.
Just yesterday, we had this remarkable reporting about the prime minister of Italy who was dragged before that country`s parliament. The intelligence committees of his parliament to answer questions about what he and the Italian government and Italian intelligence service had been talking about with Attorney General Bill Barr who has twice visited Italy over the past several months. The Italian prime minister was summoned to parliament to explain what those conversations were about.
He later told reporters that what Barr had asked him, what Barr had asked Italian authorities to do was, quote, verify the operations of American agents. That is, Barr`s question was to try to verify what the American intelligence did. In other words, America`s top law enforcement official has been traveling around the world going to other countries asking if those other countries can provide him dirt on U.S. intelligence officials, because that will somehow help his boss, the president, undermine his own intelligence agencies, which of course are unanimous in their view that actually it was Russia that interfered in the 2016 election.
I should mention also in terms of this -- the Italy stuff in particular, which we have the most recent information about, that sort of gives us the clearest window into what William Barr and John Durham have been pursuing here. It appears that what they were doing in Italy, according to reporting from "The New York Times" this morning, is this assertion by President Trump and his supporters that when George Papadopoulos, who was working on the Trump campaign, was told that Russia had thousands of emails, had all of this dirt from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign and that information was given to George Papadopoulos weeks before, months before anybody actually knew that Russia was hacking the Democratic Party, hacking the Clinton campaign, Trump and his associates have asserted without evidence that the person who told that information to George Papadopoulos was not a professor with links to Russia, as special counsel Robert Mueller`s report states.
The right-wing conspiracy theory that Barr has been pursuing in Italy is that the guy who gave George Papadopoulos that information, who said, hey, Russia has all of this dirt from the Democrats and from the Clinton campaign, according to Trump and his associates, that guy was actually a Western intelligence asset working as part of an Obama administration plot to spy on the Trump campaign.
So the origins of the Russia investigation were that U.S. intelligence learned that someone in the Trump campaign was bragging, hey, you know what, Russia has tons of Democratic emails, they have all of this hacked stuff. Nobody knew that. It turns out to have been true, but why did the Trump campaign have advance notice of that, right?
That`s the predicate for opening the initial investigation into what Russia was doing to interfere with our election and whether the Trump campaign had been given advance notice, was somehow in on it that they had been given this advance word. The way that is explained away from this conspiracy that`s been pursued by the Trump White House and now by the attorney general of the United States, is that when that information about what Russia had done was given to the Trump campaign, that was an Obama administration operative who was trying to make the Trump campaign look bad and also trying to make it look like Russia was doing this interference in the election when they really weren`t.
I mean, it`s -- that was like the fringe of the fringe of the fringe of the fringe in terms of the right-wing resisting the Russia investigation. It apparently now is the White House`s line on this. And it is the grounds on which the attorney general of the United States has been traveling the globe talking to foreign countries pursuing this theory and trying to get evidence for it.
What`s so embarrassing about this is that even with our ally, Italy, they find this to be absolutely ridiculous, right? They know that this is not true. Whatever is being put on them as having been part of this Obama administration plot, they`re telling William Barr this is not true. But nevertheless, here`s Barr pursuing it.
And now, according to "The New York Times" tonight, that is not only an investigation, a review by the Justice Department, that`s now a criminal inquiry, one that has the power to bring criminal charges.
I mean, when the Italian prime minister was talking to reporters about what this visit was like from Attorney General William Barr for this bizarre investigation that the Trump Justice Department is pursuing, I mean, he`s being very open with the press in his own country. He told reporters in his own country, quote, our intelligence is completely unrelated to the so- called Russia-gate and that has been made clear. Like don`t try to drag me into this. That`s crazy what you guys are pursuing.
But now, according to this new scoop from "The New York Times" tonight, which has in the last few minutes been confirmed by NBC News, this bizarro world treasure hunt for dirt on our own intelligence services, to try to set up Russia`s interference in our election as a false flag operation planted by the Obama administration, this is now a criminal probe by the U.S. Department of Justice. According to "The Times" tonight, that gives the Justice Department prosecutor in charge of this investigation the power to, quote, subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.
Among the things that prosecutor John Durham has apparently been asking in the course of this investigation that he has been carrying out in conjunction with Attorney General William Barr is, quote, whether CIA officials might have somehow tricked the FBI into opening the Russia investigation. Tricked them. As "The Times" notes tonight, quote, the opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump is certain to see the criminal investigation as a vindication of the years that he and his allies have spent trying to discredit the Russia investigation.
And I mean, we have seen -- we have seen this -- I mean, from the very beginning, right, we get Sally Yates during the transition, during the start of the Obama administration as the acting attorney general. She goes to the White House and tells President Trump, the newly sworn-in president, hey, your national security advisor has been having secret conversations with the Russian government that he`s publicly lying about. That means he`s compromised by the Russian government. You should maybe take action. The president takes no action, but within a couple of weeks, Sally Yates is fired.
FBI director at the time is James Comey. James Comey announces to the world that there is both a criminal -- a criminal and counterintelligence investigation into what Russia did, but also into the question of whether the Trump campaign was in on it. Why did they have advance notice, for example, of some of the things that the Russians did before anybody else knew those things had happened? James Comey, of course, also gets fired by the White House, fired by the president, and excoriated and called a traitor and everything else thereafter.
When James Comey is fired, it`s the deputy FBI director who steps up and becomes FBI director, Andrew McCabe. In his role as acting FBI director after Comey was fired, McCabe expands the counterintelligence investigation so that it also includes the president himself. Was the president compromised by Russia?
Andrew McCabe then fired, right? Excoriated. Came very close to being charged by the Justice Department. We`re still not sure if he won`t be.
A judge who is overseeing the case in which Andrew McCabe maybe charged has demanded that the Justice Department make their decision about that, since they have been threatening to criminally charge him for months now. I mean, and below them too, the top Russia counterintelligence agent in the FBI gets drummed out, gets excoriated, named by the president, dragged through the mud.
The top Russia organized crime expert at the U.S. Justice Department gets excoriated, gets demoted, gets made famous and screamed at by the president. His name becomes an occasion for people screaming at his rallies, right, screaming for blood. We`ve got the CIA director who was the head of the -- head of central intelligence when the Russia investigation began. President Trump has not only gone after him as a traitor, tried to strip his security clearance as a punitive action because this is such a terrible person. The guy who was the director of national intelligence when the Russia investigation is opened has been denounced by the president and the president`s supporters.
The whole framework of upper echelon intelligence and law enforcement officials, Republican and Democrat and neither, especially the ones who had direct contact with this investigation or who were experts in Russian counterintelligence or Russian organized crime, they have all already been drummed out of the government, and in many cases turned into household name villains by the president and his supporters.
Now under William Barr, this attack on all of those people, everybody involved in the Russia investigation from the very beginning apparently has risen to the level that it is a criminal inquiry. A Justice Department headline in "The New York Times" is said to open a criminal inquiry into its own Russia investigation, raising the prospect that President Trump`s Justice Department under William Barr will seek to criminally prosecute members of the Justice Department who were involved in opening this inquiry in the first place.
Joining us by now is -- joining us by phone is Katie Benner. She`s a Justice Department reporter for "The New York Times" who`s the lead on this ground-breaking story tonight in "The Times."
Ms. Benner, thank you so much for making time to be with us.
KATIE BENNER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So I tried to summarize your reporting, as I best understand it. I also added some of my own understanding of the context here. I just want to give you a chance to tell me if I got any of that wrong or any of that seems off base.
BENNER: You know, I think you added a lot of context and took viewers back in time to the beginning of the Trump administration which is very helpful background, so thank you for doing that.
I think too that one of the things that we need to understand is that as a criminal investigation, certainly, Mr. Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, can bring criminal charges but he`s also known to be a very careful person. So we`re not really sure how long this will take. It could be a while. His last big criminal investigation into possible justice -- into possible government wrongdoing was the CIA torture review and that took three years.
MADDOW: OK. Obviously, Mr. Durham has a reputation that precedes him both for being careful and for having handled very sensitive matters like this in the past.
One of the things that has been unusual which you touch on in this reporting tonight is the direct involvement of the attorney general, William Barr, in this. Usually on a sensitive matter like this, the Justice Department would take pains to make sure that everybody knew this was an independent matter, that this was not being steered by the White House or by political appointees close to the White House. But in this case, it appears that the attorney general has been doing -- is not only involved, has been sort of doing some of the investigating himself in this inquiry.
First, I want to ask if my understanding of that comports with how you understand it through your reporting, and what the implications of that might be in this change of the status of the investigation?
BENNER: Well, certainly you`re correct that Bill Barr has been very, very hands on in this investigation. He traveled to Italy, he spoke with Australian officials when they were in Washington for a state dinner this fall to talk about this -- concerns that he had about the opening of the Russia investigation and he`s reached out to our allies. So he has been incredibly involved every step of the way. That is not wrong at all.
Also, keep in mind that Bill Barr expressed skepticism of the Russia investigation very, very soon after he was made attorney general this winter. You know, he said that he wanted to scrutinize how it all started. He used a very charged term, spying, before congress. He said I do think spying was done on the Trump administration -- excuse me, on the Trump campaign, but he said -- he was very careful to only say that he wanted to determine whether investigators had lawfully made the decision to surveil the Trump campaign.
He did not actually accuse any single person of wrongdoing and he has not yet done so. But his working premise is when they decided to spy, his word, on the Trump campaign, did they do it lawfully? Was everything done by the book?
And that`s sort of what we`re going on now. That was the initial reason for the review. And in order to change this into a criminal investigation, John Durham would have had to find something because in the U.S. attorney manual, there has to be an objective factual basis for initiating an investigation and their hunch is insufficient. We still do not know what it was that Durham found he could bring to Bill Barr to make this change.
MADDOW: The reporting that we`ve seen from people who have been questioned as part of this inquiry or for people who are sort of familiar with what kind of questions have been asked has suggested that the line of questioning here, the sort of theory of the case that Durham and Barr have been pursuing does hue fairly closely to the way this has been discussed in very partisan, conservative media. And you touch on that a little bit tonight in your reporting when you described what Mr. Barr may have been doing in Italy.
The way you say it in your reporting tonight, I`ll just quote you: Mr. Barr is closely managing the Durham investigation, even traveling to Italy to seek help from officials there to run down an unfounded conspiracy that`s at the heart of conservatives` attack on the Russia investigation, that the Italian government helped set up, meaning help frame the Trump campaign advisor who was told in 2016 that the Russians had damaging information that could hurt Clinton`s campaign.
I feel like from a distance I have been watching that conspiracy theory and other related conspiracy theories spin out in conservative media for a very long time. Is there any indication that those things have been developed factually at all other than in conservative partisan media?
BENNER: There`s no indication that things have been developed factually. There`s no indication there`s any evidence to support those theories which to your point have never been proven.
However, there are two ways to look at it. One, is it an errand done at the behest of the president? Certainly, we see that a lot. We see the allegation all the time.
Also, keep in mind, in order for John Durham to come up with any results, to say that this is a finding, if he has not run down some of those conspiracy theories, you can see that this investigation will again hold zero weight with the right and they`ll say you did not look at everything.
So, again, I would like to reserve judgment about John Durham and about what he would find. But I do recognize that certainly they are pursuing, to your point, things that conservative media have been sort of obsessed with for the last two years.
MADDOW: Katie, let me also ask you about one specific line in your piece that I highlighted a moment ago that I`m not sure I understand the implications of. You write that Mr. Durham, the prosecutor, has also asked whether CIA officials might have somehow tricked the FBI into opening the Russia investigation.
I mean I know what all of those words mean in a colloquial sense but I`m not sure I understand the implication there. Can you expand on that a little bit?
BENNER: Sure, of course. You know, one of the outstanding questions and I believe that one of the reasons why Durham and his team have been talking to our allies who provided information that helped bolster the decision to surveil the president`s campaign is, you know, he wants to know was any of this information, did it come in biased, was it wrong, was it something that was taken out of context, how was this determined, and then was it used to bolster something that the FBI may have already believed without enough evidence to actually open up an investigation? That`s sort of one theory amongst people who have been interviewed by Durham`s investigators that that`s how he`s looking at what happened with intelligence from the CIA.
Was it somehow manipulated? Was it exaggerated? Did people withhold information about the intelligence they knew would sort of tarnish it perhaps in the eyes of the FBI when they received it? If the FBI was already moving in one direction, you know, were they manipulating and goading the FBI.
This is just from of course interviews from people who have been interviewed by Mr. Durham`s team. We do not actually know exactly what Mr. Durham`s working theory is right now. We`re piecing it together.
MADDOW: Last question for you, Katie, and thank you for joining us on short notice as you`re breaking this story. I just wanted to ask about whether we should be looking here for agency conflict between the Justice Department and the CIA, between the law enforcement and intelligence? Obviously, there`s some interesting personnel matters here.
I mean, Gina Haspel, who`s head of the CIA, was, I believe, senior CIA officer, senior CIA official in London at the time the Russia investigation was starting. That would have put her actually in a key role in terms of that initial intelligence that led to the opening of the Russia investigation. There was a provocative sort of permission slip that was given by the president to William Barr at the outset of this investigation, giving him full and complete authority to declassify matters and to access intelligence information he might not be otherwise able to get without negotiating things with the CIA.
We -- as far as we understand it, senior CIA officials haven`t been -- haven`t been interviewed here as part of this probe. Is it your sense that there is a clash here, that this is the Justice Department sort of going after the CIA or the CIA might perceive that this way?
BENNER: Well, I mean, I think that the CIA would feel under the gun, because to your point, when the president gave William Barr the declassification authority in this matter, he really holds all the cards, right? So, nobody from the CIA is going push back too hard when he makes a request because he could declassify things that they want kept secret. And that is one of the very most important powers that the CIA has is to keep things secret, right?
So the fact that Bill Barr can say, you know what, I`m going to usurp that power is going to force their hand and they`re going to be more cooperative. So, that -- you know, putting that aside, yes, they`re going to be more cooperative certainly. I don`t -- I don`t know that there will be a lot of conflict yet, one, because they are sort of -- because they`re at this point now essentially forced to do what Bill Barr asks them to do.
Interestingly, though, if you`re -- in any investigation one way to think about it is you want to gather as much information from the perimeter before you go in and interview a key witness because you need to know exactly what questions to ask. So, it does kind of make sense that Bill Barr and John Durham would be going to our allies who collected some of the intelligence for us and speaking to them first, speaking to others, speaking to people in the FBI before speaking to former CIA officials. It helps them hone their questions and it helps them kind of determine how they`re going to approach those very important witnesses.
MADDOW: Katie Benner, "New York Times" justice reporter, congratulations on breaking this news tonight. This is a really, really, really, big important story. And thank you for joining us in such notice to help understand it. Really appreciate it.
BENNER: Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say that if you just step back from this for a second, the reason I think this is such a big deal is because we have seen the president and his supporters absolutely go after, you know, guns blazing every senior law enforcement and intelligence official who they have been able to identify as having played any kind of key role in opening up the Russia investigation, right? But now that this has turned into a criminal investigation of the origins of the Russia investigation, that means they are considering bringing criminal charges against people who had the temerity to investigate Russia`s attack on our election and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in it.
I mean, that -- you would -- you would assume that maybe you`d get to that development in a non-banana republic if the idea that Russia interfered in our election had been disproven or shown to be a hoax or if the potential involvement of the Trump campaign, of having known about or having been in cahoots with this attack on the election to benefit them had been shown to be something that didn`t happen and there was nothing to it or it was made up or fabricated. There is no evidence of that at all. Russia did in fact -- did in fact attack our election.
If you don`t believe the special counsel`s investigation, perhaps you would believe the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which just within the past two weeks produced a bipartisan report affirming wholeheartedly without reservation the intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia attacked our election in 2016 and actually doubling down, becoming more emphatically than the intelligence community did on the specific fact Russia was intervening in our election to help the Trump campaign. I mean, that is undisputed as a matter of fact.
Nevertheless, this attorney general under this president is now seeking to turn it into a criminal act that somebody investigated that. And it`s one thing for them to say they`re reviewing it. It`s another thing for them to be planning to bring criminal charges against law enforcement and intelligence officials who did their job of recognizing that Russia was interfering in our election to help a specific candidate and checking out whether or not that candidate`s campaign was in on it.
This is the Justice Department investigating itself, potentially bringing criminal charges against its own officials. That itself would be -- that would get you a page in the history books under any circumstances. Under these particular circumstances, it`s -- this is -- this is stunning.
Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg, who is a former senior official in the Justice Department and an MSNBC contributor.
Chuck, thank you very much for making time to be with us tonight. I know you jumped up from what you were otherwise doing and rushed to the studio when this broke. Thank you.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I`m glad to do it, Rachel.
MADDOW: You may also know me well enough to know that by the time the story broke, I had a whole other show written, which I have now thrown away and we`ll come back to it some later date. That means that I`ve just been talking off the top of my head these past 25 minutes, absorbing this myself and trying to make sense of it.
I therefore have to ask you if I have described this in any way or tried to put this in relevant context in a way that strikes you wrong or you think I might be misfiring here at all?
ROSENBERG: No. There`s a lot of discordant notes here. Rachel, your introduction I think was spot on. We see again and again and again the president and his minions targeting, you know, senior law enforcement and intelligence officials. Deeply disturbing.
On the other hand, Rachel, I know, I like and I admire John Durham. I trust him. And so, that`s why to me this is very discordant and I`m trying to make sense of it.
I can tell you this. When you look at the Mueller report, they tell you, they explain in their preface that they put dozens of witnesses in the grand jury, I think it was 2,800 subpoenas. Those tools are not available to John Durham if he`s just doing a review.
So if you really wanting a thorough examination of what happened, and we should, particularly if nothing bad happened, we want it to be thoroughly determined, you do need a grand jury to help you through that. People don`t have to comply if you ask them for an interview if it`s only on a voluntary basis. But a grand jury can compel their testimony.
So on one hand everything you outlined is right and true and accurate and is deeply disturbing. On the other hand, if we want John Durham to get to the bottom of this thing, whatever this thing is, a grand jury is going to help him do that.
MADDOW: Well, the question of what the thing is seems central here. I mean, I think where I`m stuck is that I`m trying to imagine another circumstance. With your experience both as a U.S. attorney and in the Justice Department, I think maybe -- if this example exists you`ll know it.
I`m trying to think of another example where a crime was committed. It was understood to be a crime by, let`s say, intelligence or directly by law enforcement. They investigated. They found it to be a crime. They brought charges related to that crime. People were convicted and in fact served prison terms related to those crimes.
And then, therefore, it was decided that it was a crime itself for that crime to have been investigated. That the law enforcement officials or the intelligence officials who first started looking at that were themselves criminals for having identified and looked into that crime.
I can`t -- I just don`t -- I don`t know of any other example like that. I can`t even conjure a hypothetical.
ROSENBERG: Nor can I. And the way you describe it would almost require a cabal, a conspiracy, a whole bunch of people getting together and acting in bad faith to bring criminal charges against another group of bad actors.
I have not seen anything like that. I haven`t even seen that in the movies, Rachel. And so, this is very hard to imagine.
Of course, John needs some factual basis in order to open up a grand jury. Let`s presume he has it. It doesn`t mean in the end that credible charges criminal charges are going to be brought.
You know, John Durham has been asked to do things like this before and as Katie Benner has mentioned has closed those investigations after several years without bringing charges. So, opening a grand jury does not necessarily mean someone is going to jail, but it does mean that it`s certainly become more serious. And I imagine there`s a lot of people very unhappy tonight to know that even if they didn`t want to talk to John and to his team and they didn`t do it voluntarily, now they can be compelled.
MADDOW: Let me ask you a sort of peevish question about this and this may be obvious. You do need -- as you said, you need a reasonable indication that a crime has occurred. You need some sort of factual basis on which to open a criminal case. It can`t be a hunch.
We do know that -- from people who have either been questioned or people who are familiar with the questioning in this inquiry thus far, people who have been sort of following what William Barr has been traveling around the world asking people about this, that the lines of questioning reportedly follow pretty closely the wildest conspiracy theories from the conservative media about how this was a gigantic Obama conspiracy to falsely blame Russia for something they didn`t do and really it was Ukraine and there`s a secret server -- I mean, that`s the line of questioning they have been pursuing.
What that makes me wonder is who John Durham has to get approval from to open a criminal investigation? Obviously, there has to be a factual basis. But who is the arbiter who says, yes, that`s a fact?
ROSENBERG: In the normal case, and I know we may not be dealing with the normal case, Rachel, a United States attorney would have that authority on his own. John is a sitting United States attorney.
In a case like this, I would imagine that the leadership of the Department of Justice, at least the deputy attorney general and in this case it seems very likely the attorney general would be involved. But in terms of permission in the normal case, a U.S. attorney`s office opens grand jury investigations every day. It happens all the time.
And so, this one seems a little bit different, to put it mildly. I imagine that whatever John is doing is being run up the flag pole.
MADDOW: Do you think that this news tonight and the prospect of criminal charges being brought against intelligence and law enforcement officials who were involved in the opening of this inquiry, what sort of impact do you think that will have both on the people who are potential targets of this criminal investigation, potential targets of criminal charges if it gets that far, but also other people who are working right now in those kinds of jobs, in the intelligence community and in law enforcement who are working on sensitive investigations, who are working on foreign influence operations, who are working on the kinds of things that might be politically unpopular some day?
ROSENBERG: Right. I always worry about that chilling effect. The politicization of the Department of Justice sends a signal to folks who are doing hard jobs around the world. Now, look, if someone broke the law, they ought to be held accountable for it. I don`t think anybody would disagree with that.
But political differences historically have never been settled through the administration of justice. If it turns out that this is just that, this is just the president, again, and his minions targeting people because they don`t like what they did and what they said, it not only hurts the people who are asked to do these hard jobs, but it hurts everybody around them because they see it, they hear it, they smell it, and they know that you can punished, at least under this administration, for doing difficult things.
You have to be so careful in the Justice Department not to chill difficult but lawful conduct. Now, you know, Rachel, that`s also what the inspector general is for. His report is due out soon. We may get a read from the inspector general of the Justice Department about what is going on, what some of the predicate facts are.
I trust John, but I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown. Every time I talk about the Justice Department, I expect Lucy to hold the football and she never does and it concerns me. I don`t know exactly what`s going on here, but it concerns me.
MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former senior official in the Justice Department, former U.S. attorney -- sir, thank you so much for your time again, on short notice. Chuck, I really appreciate you getting to the studio for us.
ROSENBERG: Glad to do it, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we are following this breaking news tonight from "The New York Times." They have jut broken the story the Justice Department is said to open a criminal inquiry into its own Russia investigation.
What this means in non-lawyer shorthand is that the president and his loyalist attorney general, Bill Barr, appear to have moved on to the next phase so they are no longer just vilifying all of the law enforcement and intelligence officials who were involved in opening the initial inquiry into Russia interfering in our election and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign was somehow complicit in that. They are no longer just vilifying those folks, firing them, calling them traitors, stripping their security clearances, getting angry crowds to yell their names and consider them villains. They have now moved on to the next phase, which is now, this is a criminal inquiry into the work of those law enforcement and intelligence professionals with the threat of criminal charges against them.
This is the sort of thing that you don`t imagine the Justice Department doing when it comes to their own officials. But that`s where we are as of tonight. Breaking news.
We`ll be back with a member of House Intelligence Committee right after this.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So we are following this breaking news from "The New York Times" tonight that the Justice Department review of the Russia investigation has now become a criminal matter. This is the investigation that Attorney General William Barr announced as a review several months ago. He has since spent several months traveling around the world, reportedly trying to enlist other countries` leadership and intelligence agencies into an effort to disprove the fact that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in 2016.
The fact that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in 2016 to benefit Donald Trump is something that has been unanimously affirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies. Just two weeks ago it was unanimously affirmed by the bipartisan Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, that Russia did it.
But the position of the Trump administration, of course, is that Russia didn`t do it. And now the attorney general`s inquiry, which is apparently designed to prove that, now that is a criminal investigation with, quote, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges. That means that the law enforcement and intelligence officials who were involved in investigating Russia`s attack on our election are now potentially the subjects of criminal charges.
This, of course, is happening against the backdrop of impeachment proceedings in the House. I`m sure that is totally unrelated.
Joining us now is Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is the lead committee on the impeachment matter.
Sir, thank you for being here.
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Great to be with you.
MADDOW: So, I had a whole bunch of different things to talk to you about but then this news broke. I have to get your reaction to it.
MALONEY: Well, it`s alarming because we know Trump is itching to politicize the Justice Department and the attorney general has been super shady on the Mueller report and on Ukraine, where he killed the whistle- blower report for a while and also is a subject of that complaint and still hasn`t recused himself.
Having said that, I have a little different take on this. You know, by all accounts, this prosecutor, John Durham, is a credible prosecutor. I think every prosecutor wants a grand jury to be able to put witnesses in without lawyers to get testimony, to have that capacity. I have a feeling this is going nowhere.
And for the reasons you said, that the consensus of the intelligence community. In January 2017, reinforced by several hundred pages of findings by Bob Mueller, dozens of indictments of specific named Russian individuals and entities by Mueller and now the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee report have all established beyond per adventure that Russia did this.
So, where is this investigation going? It makes no sense. So bring it. Bring it, Attorney General Barr. I don`t see what you got.
But I`d love to understand what the basis of it is. I`d love to understand what the pretext of it is because they have been silent on that.
MADDOW: I`m interested exactly along those lines. The basis of it has to be a factual basis. The Justice Department doesn`t open criminal investigations on the basis of hunches, as it say in their manual.
But if William Barr is the one who says, yeah, I consider that to be an adequate factual predicate and if William is -- sort of lives in Hannityville and believes that this was all a conspiracy organized by the deep state and Russia didn`t do it and it was really Ukraine and Barack Obama and Eric Holder did it or something, whatever their line is that they have been pursuing on this, if Attorney General William Barr is the one who`s decided that that factual predicate is enough for him, I mean I don`t have any reason to question prosecutor Durham either. But it really does seem like this is the attorney general`s investigation as much as it is that prosecutor`s.
MALONEY: And that part is alarming, I`ll give you that. By the way, is the theory that the Obama administration decided to dump all that embarrassing material from John Podesta`s email account and from the DNC server to help Hillary Clinton? Is that the theory?
MADDOW: To make it look like Russia was attacking Hillary Clinton when they really weren`t.
MALONEY: See, they could have helped Trump but that`s just what you`d be expecting. Instead --
MALONEY: So, I don`t -- I don`t understand -- I don`t understand the theory, and like all conspiracy theories, it makes your brain hurt.
And that is why I do believe at the end of the day, they`re going to have to show something. Look what`s been happening in the Intelligence Committee led by Chairman Schiff. We have had an extremely productive few weeks where we have credible witnesses providing important information, because they have direct knowledge or information to provide. The substance has been overwhelming in just that short period of time.
The Mueller report is an extraordinary piece of work, whatever you think of the ultimate conclusions. But just the work that went into it and documenting what happened. What is this report going to have that`s comparable to that?
So I guess my point is, I`m not afraid of the facts.
MALONEY: I`m OK with the facts. If they`ve got facts, let`s have them. We do.
And there`s facts in that Mueller report and there sure are a lot of facts on the Ukraine investigation. And that`s what needs to be our guide.
MADDOW: In terms of the way the impeachment proceedings are moving forward, obviously two days ago, it did feel like the world changed a little bit when Ambassador Bill Taylor came forward and said, yes, he could attest as the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who saw these things happen with his own eyes, he could attest that U.S. meetings, White House meetings and calls were withheld from the Ukrainians to try to pressure them into announcing these investigations that military aid was delayed and threatened specifically to try to get these investigations out of them and that the president was personally involved in insisting on those things.
It did feel like once Bill Taylor said that, once it became clear that he had the documentation to back it up, I think we`ve seen things go a little haywire since then in terms of people that are defending the president.
I wanted to ask you, though, we felt watching from outside, on the other side of that closed door, that Taylor must have documentation to bolster these assertions that we read in his opening statement. Was he able to provide documentation to the intelligence committee? Does the State Department have that and you have to fight the State Department to get it? Were you able to get corroborating information from him?
MALONEY: Yes, that`s a great point. In fact -- so it turns out -- it turns out that he`s not just a 50-year veteran of both the military and the Foreign Service. He`s not just a former infantry officer who`s with 100 First Airborne Division in Vietnam who served in a bunch of hot spots over the world for decades, it turns out this guy is a copious note taker.
It turns out that he responding to a lawful subpoena came and testified and has turned over his documents to his employer, the State Department. They need to release those. If they aren`t afraid of the facts, let them release the notes that Ambassador Taylor took. Let them release the other documents that have been called for, because they`re on the one hand saying they want to participate in this process. On the other hand, they`re stonewalling it.
And so, two things happened this week. One was Ambassador Taylor gave that heart-breaking testimony that made clear that an American president engaged in this kind of conduct. That doesn`t make me feel good. It makes me feel terrible that any American president would have put his shabby political interests above the security of Ukraine, our national security.
Another thing happened, which is that this circus came to town in a space usually reserved for serious work. You know, those of us who have the honor of serving on the intelligence committee work alongside Republicans who are adults too, who take the work seriously. We`re talking about China or we`re talking about counterterrorism operations, there`s very little disagreement in that room. There`s no shouting, there`s no yelling, there`s no carrying on.
They`re professionals and they deserve credit for that. That`s not what happened this week. They let the yahoos in. I mean, I mean, Steve King, who they have kicked off every other committee because he`s a racist, remember that? He was in the room.
So is it their position that now they want Steve King involved, that it`s not enough that 45 of their members have every right to be there for every deposition, that their lawyers get equal time, that their members get equal time, and, of course, the funny part is, is very few of them have taken advantage of that because apparently they don`t want to do the actual work.
MADDOW: Republican members haven`t been sitting in on the depositions even when they`re allowed to?
MALONEY: Very few. But those who have are the president`s most ardent defenders, people like Jim Jordan, people like Mark Meadows, people like Lee Zeldin. They`re there and they`re free to ask all the questions they want.
One more point if I may. Ask yourself why no facts favorable to the president have leaked from the Republican side. It`s not because they don`t leak. It`s because there aren`t any. It`s because a guy like Bill Taylor is ultimately unassailable because he knows what he`s talking about. He took good notes and remembers it. He`s been doing this for 50 years.
MADDOW: And the information we have got from the different witnesses seems to be mutually collaborative.
MADDOW: They`re all telling the same story.
MALONEY: Well, and, of course, it`s an odd case where maybe the strongest evidence came out first, the president`s own words, the call memorandum, the whistle-blower complaint which by the way is an extraordinary document in retrospect because it seems to be right in every respect that I know of, ha been corroborated by every piece of evidence we`ve seen come out since.
And so, yes, that is reinforcing a central substantive conclusion. So what do they do? They engage in cheap character assassination of a really good man and a good chairman, Adam Schiff, and engage in this silliness around process because they have nothing else to say.
MADDOW: And now, the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the people who opened the Russia investigation in the first place and they will try to make that the story instead of this impeachment.
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- sir, thanks for coming in. Really appreciate having you.
MALONEY: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. I want to bring into the conversation now, Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. She`s a Democratic candidate for president. She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and she joins us tonight on short notice, as almost all of our guests have, as we are reacting to this breaking news.
Senator, thank you so much for making time. I really appreciate it.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Thanks so much, Rachel. Thanks for getting on this right away.
MADDOW: Sure. I`ll just reiterate for our viewers, the breaking news that I`m talking about is just posted by "The New York Times." The story that the Justice Department is said to open a criminal inquiry into its own Russia investigation. This is the investigation that Bill Barr has been traveling around the world trying to enlist other countries in this theory that Russia didn`t really attack our election in 2016 and the real criminals are those who investigated it within our own government.
Senator, just -- what`s your top line reaction to this news story if "The Times" reporting bears out?
KLOBUCHAR: We have an incredibly important investigation going on right now and the facts are there. The whole country can look at the partial transcripts where the president looked for dirt on a political opponent from a foreign leader. And in fact, now you have multiple witnesses that have come forward, including Ambassador Taylor with his 50 years of experience, come forward and corroborated this and even added more context to it. That`s going on.
And so I am supposed to believe that at the same time this is just a fluke that the Justice Department would decide to bring this case and bring at least this investigation, which as you point out under their standards it has to have a factual basis, it can`t be a hunch. It specifically says that`s insufficient. And to me, the president has repeatedly called for going after his opponents, so many arrows here point toward this being politically motivated and some kind of abuse of power.
MADDOW: The Justice Department being used in this way is a different type of crisis for the country. I mean, as "The Times" notes from this report tonight, quote, the opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump fired James Comey, the FBI director, under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry and has long assailed other top enforcement and intelligence officials involved in this investigation.
I know you, as a former prosecutor yourself, somebody who takes her role in the Judiciary Committee very seriously, you think about these things in very stark terms.
KLOBUCHAR: I do.
MADDOW: And very sober terms. I feel -- I feel worried about the prospect of the Justice Department being used as a tool of this president or any to accomplish political goals. And this feels like a really bad signal of that.
KLOBUCHAR: It really does. I mean, I always looked at my job as a prosecutor, you convict the guilty. You protect the innocent. You are ministers of justice. You simply can`t let politics get involved.
You have defendants all the time that may know people, that may have contacts, that are Republican Republicans or Democrats, victims of same and you can`t let that steer your decision. That is the prosecutor`s creed.
And what really bothers me about this, you look at the professionals who have been appointed by Donald Trump, many of whom are now gone, like Dan Coats, former intelligence director, clearly said Russia is did this and now they`re getting bolder. Christopher Wray, the current FBI director under oath has said Russia did this. Every single intelligence officer has backed up that this happened. They tried to hack into 50 states voter systems and got as close to the voter information in Illinois, actual addresses and information.
We also know they put out endless propaganda and ads that were completely false to try to influence the election. And we just had Richard Burr, who is not exactly a liberal, conservative Republican senator, with Senator Warren on intelligence reports summarizing all of this. So, there`s ample evidence of conservatives and intelligence professionals backing this up and every single time the president tries to undermine it. That`s what`s so damaging for our countries, our laws and our Constitution.
MADDOW: Senator, you`re in the running to become the next president of the United States. I congratulate you today. You qualified for the next debate. So, we`ll be seeing you in Georgia when that rolls around.
I just want to close by asking one last question, because of that high office that you are seeking, I`m thinking tonight about the members of the intelligence community and law enforcement who were involved in recognizing that Russia was attacking our last election, who were involved in the revelation that the Trump campaign appeared to have advanced knowledge of some of what Russia was doing before anybody else did, who set about investigating that as a criminal matter, as a counter-intelligence matter and now themselves are the subject of a criminal inquiry and potentially subject to being prosecuted by this country, by the U.S. Justice Department for having the temerity to engage in that investigation.
Obviously, a chilling effect is something you think about in terms of stuff moving forward. I`m thinking about them feeling their country turning against them for having done that patriotic work. I just wonder what you would say to those folks tonight.
KLOBUCHAR: I would say that there are so many of us that have their backs. They were just doing their job. They were looking for a foreign -- at a foreign power that was trying to invade our elections. This time, yes, it greatly hurt one candidate, a Democratic candidate. The next time, it could be on the other side. And they were doing their jobs.
And you have to stand up for them. That`s what I would do as president. And I am just appalled by what keeps going on with Barr, with the president. The truth doesn`t matter, the facts doesn`t matter.
If it ends up somehow before a grand jury I just have to hope that the American citizens will stand up, the people that served on that grand jury and look at this in the way that they should, in an unbiased way, because we should not be allowing politics to interfere in the justice system. Truth matters.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, Democratic presidential candidate, former prosecutor -- Senator, thank you so much for your time tonight. I appreciate you making time for us.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. I`m going to bring in somebody else into this conversation who has got a very unique perspective on this. Somebody who, himself, was there for the beginning of the Russia investigation at the Justice Department in a very key role. His name is David Laufman and he was the head of the counterintelligence section inside the Department of Justice under President Obama but then also for a year under President Trump, which means he was there heading the counterintelligence section when the investigation into what Russia did and whether they had American help, as those investigations both took shape and rolled forward.
David Laufman, thank you for talking to us on short notice tonight. I really appreciate you getting to a studio. Thank you, sir.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF DOJ`S COUNTERINTEL & EXPORT CONTROL SECTION: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: What`s your reaction to this news tonight that this has been a criminal investigation?
LAUFMAN: Well, like my colleague and friend, Chuck, I have high regard for John Durham and for the other former prosecutors and FBI agents he has surrounded himself with to carry out this investigation. I have high regard for him. He is a distinguished prosecutor.
But this investigation, if not born in sin, was born in political taint. And there`s just no mistaking its origins that this is something that the president wanted to see happen to vindicate political grievances about the 2016 election. So, it`s just hard to rationalize those two things, those two discordant elements that Chuck was referring to.
MADDOW: We have learned from people who have either been questioned by or are familiar with the line of questioning that`s been pursued by Attorney General Barr as he has been apparently conducting some of this review himself. Yes, prosecutor John Durham who you and Chuck have discussed and praised tonight is not only in charge of this, but it appears the attorney general is personally involved in this, and people who have -- are familiar with the kinds of questions he`s been asking suggest that`s been pursuing a lot -- a sort of theory that Russia didn`t really intervene in our election, that they didn`t really attack us, that it was a conspiracy by the Obama administration and by the intelligence agencies in this country and by law enforcement in this country to make it look like Russia did that when we didn`t. And really, it was all about framing Russia and trying to make the Trump campaign look bad because of their association with it.
I just have to ask if there is anything that we should be taking seriously, at all about that, about that line? If you`ve ever seen anything that would indicate this wasn`t conjured after the fact to try to make this go away?
LAUFMAN: That whole line of inquiry is preposterous and nonsensical. I have vivid recollections of the origins of this investigation. It was correctly, factually predicated. Everybody that I knew to be involved in it was seized with the same alarm and concern that it appeared to be the possibility that a foreign influence operation being carried by one of our greatest foreign adversaries was engaged in an effort to, you know, improperly influence the presidential campaign and possibly the next administration where that candidate successful for office -- we would have been derelict had we not pursued that line of investigation at that time. All these other things are just efforts to discredit an investigation that relied on a consensus, bedrock conclusion by the intelligence community, by the FBI, by the Department of Justice.
MADDOW: If the Justice Department under Attorney General Barr is going to be turned to target the people who you just described, it is going to be turned to make them into the criminals here for having pursued those investigations, it`s going to bring them into a criminal investigation in which they are the subjects and potential targets of that investigation, what does that say to you about the Justice Department as an institution, what does that say to you about the things that are supposed to stop the justice department from being used as a tool to punish the president`s enemies?
LAUFMAN: Well, you have the whole coterie of regulators that an investigation could be initiated or carried out in any manner except for a professional manner constituent to the Department of Justice policies and procedures. And, again, you know, that`s hard for me to imagine that John Durham would associate himself with the frivolous association of a criminal investigation.
But at the same time, it`s hard to look away from the origins of the investigation, from the probably unprecedented nature of the attorney general`s personal involvement in spearheading fact-gathering with foreign government officials pursuing lines of inquiry that come right out of fantasy world of the right wing extremist land.
So, it`s really hard to tell what`s going on here. I have every confidence that John Durham will withstand any pressures that may buffet him to go down a road that he thinks is not supported by facts and law. The mere fact that this is taking place will aggravate the chilling effect on the Department of Justice lawyers, on the FBI, men and women in the intelligence community who are already plenty concerned about the inception of this investigation in the first place.
MADDOW: David Laufman, who`s the head of the counterintelligence section inside the Department of Justice -- sir, thank you for joining us tonight, particularly, again, on short notice. I really appreciate you getting to a camera.
LAUFMAN: Thank you, Rachel. Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Again, the breaking news that we`ve been following all this hour, the Justice Department has, according to "The New York Times," and now confirmed by NBC News, has opened a criminal inquiry into the Russia investigation, and what that means is that the law enforcement and intelligence professionals who opened that investigation, who carried out that investigation into what Russia did, they, themselves, are now being targeted by the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
The Justice Department has a history that is as varied as any part of the U.S. government. There have been U.S. attorneys -- excuse me, there have been attorneys general who have been sent to prison in this country for misusing the Justice Department to go after the enemies of the president. In this case, it being used on that investigation at this time, when the president is on the verge of being impeached feels like a very signal moment. This is a fraught development. Let`s leave it at that. Leave it there way. Leave it there way. Leave it at that.
That does it for us tonight. I`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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