Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 23, 2017 Guest: Colin Kahl, Tim Morris
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That`s "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you for joining us this hour.
When they brought articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974, there were three filed against him. One was famously for abuse of power. One was for contempt of Congress.
But the first one, the first one they filed, the first one they voted on was for obstruction of justice.
One of the things that went haywire in Watergate was that after, you know, the initial break in, after that little tip of the iceberg was exposed, that something weird and potentially criminal was going on in Washington politics, one of the things that went haywire after that initial petty crime is that the president and his accomplices ended up trying to stop the investigation. They tried to stop the criminal investigation into what had happened. When they say about Watergate the cover-up was worse than the crime, this is what that`s about.
It was spelled out in the first article of impeachment brought against Nixon. Richard M. Nixon using the powers of his office engaged personally and through his close subordinates in, quote, "interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force and congressional committees."
Endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of those investigations. That was the first article of impeachment against Nixon. Obstruction of justice.
And in the aftermath of Watergate, in the aftermath of Nixon`s resignation, in the aftermath of that national political disaster, there were a whole bunch of political reforms. And one of the reforms was a structural, basically technical fix to head off some of the sins outlined in that first article of impeachment, the issue of the president interfering in this case specifically with the FBI and the Department of Justice in one of their investigations.
In the 1970s, in the aftermath of Watergate, they started putting rules in place to stop that from happening again, to specifically limit contact between the White House and the Justice Department when it came to either ongoing or pending investigations.
Now, ultimately, as these rules have evolved over the years, there have been become areas that are carved out, there have been exceptions made for matters of national security and things that are imminently important to the president being able to do his work as president. But beyond those carve-outs, they set in place these new rules, restricting communication between the White House and the Department of Justice on pending justice investigations -- current investigations.
And it`s interesting the way those rules worked. I mean, it`s one thing to talk about that as a principle. It`s another thing to figure out how to enact it. They way they enacted it, fascinating. They put the responsibility for handling those kinds of communications properly, they put the responsibility for that on a very small handful of highly trusted, highly ranked public officials.
Those rules after Watergate said that only a very small number of people in the Justice Department could have contact with people on the White House. And on the White House side, there were only four people who were allowed to contact the Justice Department about some specific criminal investigation.
Four specific people. One, the president`s lawyer, counsel to the president. Two, that counsel`s deputy. Three, the president. And, four, the vice president.
That`s it. Those are the specific four people who were allowed toto contact the Justice Department or the FBI about some ongoing criminal investigation, nobody else could. You had to be that trusted. You had to be that big a deal to be able to make that kind of contact.
After the Watergate disaster, after all the ways Nixon impeded the rule of law, after all the ways Nixon tried to strangle the investigations that ultimately brought him down, this was an important post-Watergate reform, right? Preserve the independence of the Justice Department, let them do their job as law enforcement, independent of pressure, independent of politicized pressure from the White House, particularly when an investigation involves the White House but also in general, the White House shouldn`t be able to steer prosecutions, right? It shouldn`t be able to steer investigations.
The rule of law should be independent. The Justice Department should be independent. That rule put in place firmly and through this interesting mechanism in the aftermath of Watergate. And for good reason.
That said, nothing lasts forever. One of the scandals of the George W. Bush era is that they let that rule, they let that post-Watergate reform slide. Do you remember there was a scandal in the George W. Bush administration about them making federal prosecutor jobs, U.S. attorney jobs, making those jobs basically into political plums they handed out? Remember the phrase loyal Bushies?
In the George W. Bush administration, one of their big scandals was that they fired perfectly competent career federal prosecutors and replaced them with political hacks who they liked, right, and raising clouds of suspicion that those loyal Bushy very Republican favored new federal prosecutors would then pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions that were favored by the White House for some reason.
You know, it`s funny. It hasn`t been that many years, but given everything else that happened in the George W. Bush administration, right, everything from Iraq to torture to everything Dick Cheney touched -- I mean, all the rest of it over the years, it`s been interesting to see how this one particular George W. Bush administration scandal, the U.S. attorney scandal, it has sort of faded from view.
But it really was a big deal. It led to the resignation of an attorney general. And it was just a -- it was a bad issue to have a scandal on, right? This is a bad, corrosive, un-American kind of scandal, right?
It wasn`t just about petty politics. It was about petty politics -- but it wasn`t just about petty politics. It was one of these things that hurt the independence of law enforcement, which is a fundamental thing in our country.
We don`t have politicized prosecutions. We don`t have politicized criminal investigations. The rule of law is independent, non-partisan and not directed by any elected official, right? So, it was a bad scandal.
One of the ways the scandal got brewing in the George W. Bush administration is that they threw out that post-Watergate reform that limited the number of people that could speak to each other between the Justice Department and the White House.
In George W. Bush`s first term, his attorney general was John Ashcroft. John Ashcroft looked at that post-Watergate rule that said only four people in the White House could talk with the Justice Department about pending cases and John Ashcroft decided he would expand the number of White House officials who had permission to contact Justice. He would expand that number of people who had that permission from four people to 417 people. What?
Yes. Under John Ashcroft, they went from four to 100 times that number -- 417 different White House officials could call the Justice Department, call the FBI, get information on, communicate to investigators about specific criminal investigations.
Then, in W.`s second term, it got worse. It was Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez by the. He expanded it further. He increased the number of White House officials who were able to make those contacts, he increased it from 417 to 895. Basically everybody up to and including the White House pastry chef was now cleared to get read in on ongoing criminal cases and pending criminal investigations, to get involved in those investigations, to get their mitts in there.
There were a lot of bad things about the George W. Bush administration but this, I think, often overlooked scandal, this was a really, really bad thing about that administration. Them dropping the wall between Justice, between the FBI and what ended up being partisan White House meddling. That was a big mistake they made. It was a bad move. They paid for it.
The U.S. attorney scandal was a big deal. It led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. It led to the resignation of Karl Rove. That`s why Karl Rove had to leave the Bush White House. Karl Rove got subpoenaed to testify about the U.S. attorney scandal, never responded to the subpoena and instead he just quit.
A lot of us thought the George W. Bush administration would collapse without Karl Rove in it, but that -- it didn`t and that`s the reason he had to go.
And it`s interesting. They course-corrected before the end of that administration. After Alberto Gonzalez, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez lost his job over that scandal they had to bring in a new attorney general to replace him, that was Michael Mukasey.
Mike Mukasey came in. He surveyed the wreckage that led to the previous A.G. having to resign and Michael Mukasey decided to put back in place those old rules. Those old post-Watergate rules.
So, starting in 2007, the White House went back to the old post-Watergate rules. They reestablish it had principle that the White House can`t just get in on FBI and Justice Department investigations willy-nilly anymore. They reinstated that old strict limitation that only those top four people, the president, the vice president, president`s counsel and that counsel`s deputy, those four people only can make a call to the Justice Department about an ongoing investigation.
And, yes, they made some carve-outs for national security and stuff, but in general, they reinstated that rule because of the scandal that they had only just barely survived and that some prominent members of the George W. Bush administration did not survive.
But I think it`s fair to say they also reinstated that rule because it was plainly the right thing to do, right? It is such a serious thing. It is such a fundamental thing in terms of who we are as a country that we`ve got a Justice Department that is independent. We`ve got federal law enforcement that is independent, that has loyalties only to the rule of law and that operates independent of partisan meddling.
So, those rules -- yes, they screwed that up badly in the George W. Bush administration but before they left, by 2007, those rules were back in effect. In 2008, we had a presidential election. In 2009, it was Eric Holder who came in as the attorney general. Eric Holder right after he started as attorney general reiterated that that rule, that that post- Watergate rule would stay in place in the Obama administration as well, they were not going to mess with it. Only the president, the vice president, the president`s counsel and that counsel`s deputy, only they can contact the Justice Department on a pending matter or a current investigation.
As far as we know in the absence of any proclamation to the contrary from this new administration, as far as we know, that`s still the rule. But CNN reports tonight and NBC News has now confirmed that maybe it`s not the rule. We don`t know that they`ve changed the rule but it seems pretty clear tonight that they`re not following that rule.
CNN reports tonight that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus earlier this month leaned on the FBI, leaned on the FBI personally and specifically about FBI investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
CNN was first to report this, NBC News has now confirmed it from NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams. The story is that a White House official, CNN says specifically it is Reince Priebus, a White House official contacted the deputy director of the FBI and told that deputy director that the FBI should make public statements about their ongoing investigation, about this ongoing question of Trump staffers communicating with Russian government or intelligence officials during the presidential campaign while Russia was working to influence the outcome of our presidential election campaign.
The question of those contacts, of course, between the Trump campaign and Russian government, those contacts are the subject of multiple ongoing FBI investigations. According to the reporting this evening, the White House told the FBI they should publicly knock down press reports about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Again, the FBI is currently investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. You want us to do what now?
The FBI deputy director -- and this is confirmed by both CNN and NBC -- the FBI deputy director refused that request from the White House. Said no, we`re not going to do what you want on this investigation.
And now, of course, unnamed officials are telling reporters at multiple news organizations about the White House leaning on the FBI with regard to this incredibly important incredibly sensitive investigation. You can`t do that.
I mean, one, take a civics class, right? I mean, like as a matter of principle, right? When there is an ongoing serious criminal investigation that affects the president, you can`t have people close to the president, you can`t have the president`s chief of staff meddling in that investigation or giving directives to the people conducting that investigation. Just as a matter of basic principle. Ask a fifth grader.
As a matter of the rules, though, it would appear somebody like Reince Priebus is not cleared in any circumstance to be talking to the FBI, about any of their investigations -- unless Jeff Sessions changed the rules without telling anybody.
And, of course, this happens in the broader context of Jeff Sessions. This new attorney general refusing to recuse himself from overseeing these multiple investigations into the Trump campaign and their contacts with Russia even though he himself was part of the Trump campaign when they were reportedly making contact with Russia. And you couple that with the White House leaning on the FBI about these investigations overtly, I mean, that`s as serious as a heart attack, right?
That said, maybe it`s not a heart attack, maybe it`s gas. Sometimes a gas pain can feel like a heart attack. You think it`s the most serious thing in the world but it`s just a little body burp. Oops, how did that happen?
OK, to extract myself from this metaphor here, what I`m trying to say is this could be death of the republic. This could also just be stupidity, right? Benefit of the doubt. You really don`t know this is a problem?
I mean, is it possible the White House, including the White House chief of staff doesn`t know you can`t tell the FBI what to do about their ongoing investigation into the White House? You can`t give them directives about that. You can`t nudge them on their investigation. You can`t tell them what public comment to make about that investigation.
Could it be the White House, including the chief of staff, just doesn`t get that that`s a bad? Oops, my bad, sorry, didn`t mean to interfere. Am I not supposed to?
I mean, that`s the best case scenario here, presumably that will be their defense. On matter this is serious, it`s a little unsettling to be caught between on the one hand this could be the death of the republic on the other hand, these crazy kids, they don`t know what they`re doing, they don`t understand the first thing about America, right? But those are your options. That`s where we are at with the investigations into Trump and Russia.
But you know what? That`s also weirdly where we`re at on the handful of other big national security matters right now, in a way that`s unsettling either way. I mean, take this report from politico.com which says the chief digital officer at the White House was removed from his White House job, quote, "after being unable to pass an FBI background check."
This is the second report from "Politico" on this subject in the last week or so. They reported last week that not just one or two but six White House officials were dismissed all at once, all for failing to pass an FBI background check. From "Politico`s" reporting, we have the name and title of two of what they say are these six people. One of them was the director of scheduling for the president. That name was reported last week. Now, today they`ve reported the name of the White House chief digital officer, both of them reportedly being fired for the same reason.
"Politico" reports that these two White House staffers were among six White House staffers who got marched out of the White House complex we believe on Thursday, February 9th, after all of them failed to pass FBI background checks. I should tell you, that that jibes with our reporting here at MSNBC which we have been working to confirm.
We have reporting that indicates that at least three other people, White House staffers, at least three other people in addition to this chief digital officer who was named today, we have reporting that indicates they were marched out of the White House two weeks ago on February 9 after their FBI background checks turned up unfavorable or somehow disqualifying or troubling information.
We are further advised by former White House officials tonight that while it`s not unheard of for an individual staffer here and there to have a problem with an FBI background check, six people inside the White House failing all at once? After already being on the job at the White House? And all of them getting picked up at their desks and marched out? Six of them at once?
We`re advised by former White House officials tonight that that is unusual. We certainly have found no press reporting to indicate anything like this has ever happened before. Why are all these people failing their FBI background checks already working in the White House?
Why did this White House hire such an unusually large number of people who can`t pass FBI back ground checks? Is that nefarious? Is that stupid? Is this an indication of something really, really, wrong and worrying, or is it an indication of incompetence and stupidity? You tell me. Which do you prefer?
This follows news that before Michael Flynn was fired as national security adviser, one of the top level staffers he hired on the National Security Council, a senior director position at the National Security Council, was denied his request for a security clearance.
One of Flynn`s top staffers at the NSC lost his Security Council job because he couldn`t get a security clearance. Why was this administration trying to put people in the top levels of the National Security Council who couldn`t qualify for a security clearance? Is that nefarious or is that just stupid and incompetent? Which do you prefer?
Peter Baker at the "New York Times" reports today on efforts to try to salvage the National Security Council in the wake of Mike Flynn`s disastrous not even one month long tenure in the job as national security adviser leading the NSC. Peter Baker reports the very, very controversial decision by the Trump White House to reorganize the NSC, to take out the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the CIA director and the director of national intelligence, to take them all off the Principals Committee at the National Security Council and instead to put Steve Bannon on the Principals Committee.
Peter Baker reports today that reorganization is something they might have kind of oopsed their way into. They may not have fully understood it when they did it. The president may not have understood it when he signed the order to make the change.
Quote, "President Trump was surprised by the intensity of the blowback to the initial order and complained that Michael Flynn had not made him understand the significance of the changes, or how they would be perceived."
Trump`s team did not intend to reduce the role of the intelligence director of the Joint Chiefs chairman. Quote, "In crafting their organization order, Trump`s aides essentially cut and pasted language from an old organization chart." The Trump team, quote, "did not realize", end quote, who they were cutting out of the NSC by doing it that way. Quote, "As a practical matter, Mr. Trump`s aides may not have intended a substantive change."
So, turning the National Security Council inside out, throwing out the military and the intelligence community in favor of Steve Bannon, I mean, that could be quite nefarious or might be they accidentally tied one shoe lace from the right shoe to the other shoe lace from the left shoe and when they started running -- how come I keep falling down? Oh, these crazy kids, we didn`t realize that`s what we`re doing.
Which is it?
On all of these national security matters, your choices are super scary or super dumb. Which is going to keep you up at night?
And I have one more of these tonight and this is the most serious of all. This happens to be life or death. That story is next.
MADDOW: The first military operation, the first special operations raid that we know is directly approved by this new president happened basically exactly one week after he was inaugurated. It happened in Yemen. The raid went disastrously wrong. A decorated U.S. Navy SEAL was killed. We had previously been told three other Navy SEALs were wounded in this raid. It now turns out that four other Navy SEALs were wounded.
The Pentagon says there was also a high civilian death toll in this raid, including a significant number of women and children.
The raid basically went bad from the beginning. They lost the element of surprise. The SEALs ended up being in a sustained firefight. They lost an aircraft, an Osprey, a $75 million piece of equipment, had to be left on the ground, ultimately destroyed by a U.S. airstrike so it wouldn`t fall into the hands on the ground of anyone in Yemen.
We had previously reported that the White House appears to have lied about the process that led to that raid being OK`d by the brand new president. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that that raid was green lit specifically by the Obama administration. He said a deputy`s meeting at the National Security Council on January 6th when Obama was still president gave the OK for that raid. That`s where the yes had come from to let that raid go ahead. Blame Obama, it was green lit by the deputies meeting of his National Security Council.
Well, a person who was at that deputies meeting at the National Security Council on January 6th later came forward, among other places on this program, to tell us that what the White House was saying about that was not true. He told us he was there in person, that specific day at that specific meeting and the operation was not green lit at that meeting.
He says what they decided at the deputies meeting that day, at the National Security Council, was that they were just going to forward information about this possible raid to the Trump administration, expecting that the new administration would hold a deliberate process to evaluate whether or not it should go ahead. Once he was sworn in in his first week in office rather than convene any sort of formal deliberate process with any sort of structure to evaluate the risks and benefits, to make that decision, instead, the president decided to green light that operation over dinner at a dinner meeting in the White House residence that involved, among other people, Steve Bannon and the president`s son-in-law Jared.
The White House since admitted that when the raid happened, the president decided that he apparently didn`t need to observe any of it, he did not bother going the Situation Room while the raid was under way. At "Huffington Post" today, they have reverse-engineered the timeline of that raid and found that not only was the president admittedly not in the Situation Room observing anything about his first military operation while the raid was under way but during the time of the firefight that killed the Navy SEAL and all those other people and sent all those other Navy SEALs home wounded, what the president it was doing during that time was apparently tweeting. Quote, "I will be interviewed by the Brody File on the Christian Broadcasting Network tonight at 11:00 p.m. enjoy." That was about a half hour into the raid.
Later on, apparently still during the raid, he actually deleted that tweet because the first time he tweeted it, it was wrong, that interview wasn`t going to air that night, it wasn`t going to air until the following night. So, he had to make sure he cleaned that up. Attention to detail there on the tweet about his TV interview.
This kind of indifference to the life and death responsibilities of the presidency, where do you sort of put that on the number line in terms of your concerns about this administration? Like is that nefarious? Is this death of the republic stuff? Is it just wild reckless incompetence? Is there a difference in terms of what you`re most concerned about on matters of national security like this? On life-and-death matters like this?
I`m starting to feel on matters like this that maybe there isn`t a difference between how nefarious it is and how stupid it is.
Joining us now is that national security adviser who was in that January 6 meeting about the Yemen raid, his name is Colin Kahl. He`s former deputy assistant to President Obama and national security adviser to Vice President Biden. He`s now a professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.
Professor Kahl, I should tell you, recently wrote an article in "Foreign Policy" magazine entitled "President Trump`s Terrible One Month Report Card."
Professor Kahl, thanks very much for joining us tonight. I appreciate you being here.
COLIN KAHL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO VP BIDEN: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: So, the last time you were here, you talked about what the White House was explaining about this Yemen raid that went so wrong. What they explained about the deliberative process or the lack thereof in the White House, what they tried to attribute to you, to the National Security Council at the White House under President Obama, what we`ve learned since then makes me feel worse about the process, makes me feel worse about the loss of life and what went wrong in that raid. But I wanted to get your take on it as somebody who has been so up close to these decisions.
KAHL: Yes, I think what that raid demonstrates is that bad process can cost lives and I know it sounds banal and bureaucratic to talk about meetings, but you really do need to do your home work. President Obama used to say you have to measure twice before you cut once, and there`s not a lot of examples of the Trump administration doing that so far. They`re not running a good process.
Now, we`ll see whether the new national security adviser starts to change that. I have heard good things about things he`s doing but I`m not convinced he`ll be able to corral the process yet.
MADDOW: One of the things that was reported today about the new national security adviser, General McMaster, and the sort of the task ahead of him also made he feel worse about where we are now, because there was a reorganization at the National Security Council that sidelined people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence, it brought on board the president`s controversial and fairly radical chief counselor, Steve Bannon, gave him a seat on that Principals Committee.
The reporting now seems to indicate that when those changes were made, including an order signed by the president, they may have not have fully understood the implication of those changes, it may have been by accident. Peter Baker at the "New York Times" reports today that they didn`t know they were sidelining the military and the intelligence community by making these changes.
Is -- is that conceivable to you? I suppose ignorance is no defense, but ignorance in this case is their defense.
KAHL: Yes. I mean, Rachel, I think the opening of the show where you kind of put forward these two hypotheses, it incompetence or is it malice? I think the answer is yes. It`s both incompetence and malice.
I think -- and there`s a lot of instances in which you have people at the very top of the White House who don`t know what they`re doing. They didn`t think they were going to win. They haven`t been in government before, they weren`t prepared to govern. And they`re not doing it very well.
And then you also have some people who the things they are getting done are very bad and they`re meant to be that way, the executive order, the ban, some of the other issues. You heard Steve Bannon`s comments today about -- complaining about corporatist globalist media and everything else. They want to tear everything down.
So, I think the problem is you have an administration that combines the worst of kind of incompetence with some nefarious intentions. I hope that they can get some of the process corralled.
I`ll give you one example. You know, H.R. McMaster, who is a highly regarding military officer, he`s a normal human being. He`s smart, he`s strategic, he`s pragmatic. You know, he had all hands with the National Security Council staff today and said a lot of the right things. You know, including saying he doesn`t believe that they should be using the term "radical Islamic terrorist" because he believes folks they`re fighting are un-Islamic.
He said a lot of things about respecting the professional NSC staff. These are good things.
The problem is, that`s not what Steve Bannon believes. It`s not what people like Steven Miller or Seth Gorka believe. And these guys are in and out of the Oval Office with the president all the time.
So, are you going to run a normal process with normal respected thoughtful people or are you going to continue to kind of have the clown posse at the top of the White House?
MADDOW: Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant to President Obama, National Security Council veteran, national security advisor to Vice President Biden, thanks for helping us understand this. Appreciate you being here tonight.
MADDOW: Professor Kahl may have made news talking about H.R. McMaster. We heard he was going to do this all hands meeting with the National Security Council staff today. We just heard he told the staff today he does not think they should be using the term radical Islamic terrorism. That, of course, was a campaign touchstone for this president and has been since he`s been in office. We`ll see if that conflict emerges in public.
Stay with us.
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MADDOW: Today, I learned where Issaquah, Washington, is, because today, hundreds of local residents from that part of Washington state showed up in Issaquah, outside the district office of their Republican Congressman Dave Reichert. Where is Dave? Where is Dave?
They were demanding that their congressman speak with them. Their signs say, you know, "What are you afraid of?" Also, lots of signage, lots of demands to save the Affordable Care Act. Don`t repeal it.
But whether or not David Reichert was in that office, and we`re not sure, he didn`t come out, "Seattle Times" says today, quote, "Neither Reichert nor his staff emerged from the suburban office which was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape and guarded by police officers."
Congressman Dave Reichert of Washington had so far refused to hold face to face meetings with his constituent this is year. He recently called town hall events, quote, "shouting matches with no productive results." Instead, he fielded constituent questions without any of his constituents actually present today in a one-on-one chat with a local journalist on Facebook live. That`s what he`s doing to make himself available.
While some members of Congress are doing all they can to dodge the crowds of the people they work for, others are taking the risk that democracy can get a little messy. It`s very, very messy day for that today in some unexpected states. We`ve got more ahead on that. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This was line around noon today in Urbandale, Iowa, for a town hall meeting with Republican Congressman David Young. Once people finally got inside, Congressman Young stood and took questions for his constituents for about an hour and a quarter of a range of subjects. It was pointed. At one point, he was offered a glass of dirty water by one of his constituents who expressed her concerns about the Dakota Access Pipeline. The congressman politely refused it.
Meanwhile, in Fargo, North Dakota, today, 150 people packed into a coffee shop, another 50 people were stuck outside trying to get in with a town hall with Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer. A lot of people in that crowd had strong feelings about health care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN CRAMER (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Round table yesterday with health care stakeholders to talk about the repeal and replacement of Obamacare --
CRAMER: -- all the Obamacare lovers in North Dakota are in one room at one time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Fargo, North Dakota, today.
This was a packed district courtroom in Charles City, Iowa today. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley got hit with questions for over an hour from a big overflow crowd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was going ask about gun control and what you`re going to do about that but I think more important the first gentleman that talked, he talked about Trump`s lies and about the attack on the press so I would like you to respond to how you`re dealing with his lies and the attack on the press.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you vow that you will protect Dodd/Frank, all parts of it, especially the Consumer Protection Agency?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please explain to us your Iowa constituents, your hypocrisy and willingness to ignore the Constitution.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Oh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
To his credit, Senator Grassley has not shied away from public meetings with his unhappy constituents this week.
The same could be said of Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy who held another town hall today which was a little bit of a surprise given the disastrous event he had yesterday where "shame on you, shame on you" is what it looked like in that room at the start of that town hall right out of the gate.
Joining us now is Tim Morris. He`s a columnist for the "Times-Picayune" in New Orleans.
Mr. Morris, thanks very much for being here. I appreciate it.
TIM MORRIS, TIMES PICAYUNE: Glad to be here.
MADDOW: How is Senator Cassidy doing dealing with unhappy crowds of his constituents?
MORRIS: You know, he really seemed to not be all that rattled and to just charge ahead. And so, he had another one today and he has one more schedule. So, you know, you`ve got to give him props, he`s hanging in there.
MADDOW: In terms of Louisiana politics and how these things work, these angry town halls, people really shouting at him, really giving him a piece of their mind yesterday, does this -- is this like something new in Louisiana politics or is this something where this sort of thing comes around and it just happens to be the Republicans` turn for this abuse now?
MORRIS: Maybe a little bit of that. You know, it`s surprising. So, you know, Cassidy beat a three-term incumbent Democrat with 56 percent of the vote and Donald Trump won Louisiana with 58 percent of the vote, a landslide. And so -- and Senator Cassidy was in Metairie yesterday, which is just in the outskirts of New Orleans, which is a very conservative area. So, it was surprising he got that reception. I know it would be tough, but it was tougher than I thought it was going to be in.
MADDOW: In terms of the way you`ve seen Louisiana politics work over the years, for the people in that state who were outvoted in the last election. But for people who don`t like Donald Trump, for people who want their Republican members of Congress and senators to stand up to him, what do you make of this as strategy, this town hall strategy, this meet with us strategy, going to their congressional offices, really pushing people, what do you make of this as a strategy to move their representatives into being more skeptical of this president and maybe even saying no to him on some issues?
MORRIS: You know, some people are talking about they came to the meeting and it was hard to get answers and questions because it just dissolved into chaos. But a lot of people thought that was the point. To make the point saying we`re not happy with our leadership, we want to make sure, there are people who chanted "stand up to him, stand up to him, don`t be a rubber stamp." So, they were trying to get that message across and the anger and passion behind it was very clear.
MADDOW: Tim Morris, columnist for the "Times-Picayune," I really appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.
MORRIS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got more to come tonight. Do stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we`ve been following a story on this show in the last couple of days and weeks, I guess, that`s basically the definition of haste makes waste. It involves a member of the new president`s cabinet, a confirmed cabinet secretary, who right now is perched uncomfortably between having this big high-profile new job as the head of a big high-profile new agency, and he`s also facing the mounting detritus of mounting questions and possible scandal from the job he had before.
It`s not the kind of predicament you want to have in your first week in a big high-profile new federal job. But they rushed this job into place and now they are paying for it. And we`ve got some exclusive news next on what might be about to hit the guy. That`s next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. This is interesting. Scott Pruitt has officially been in charge at the EPA for less than a week. Senate Republicans went through with his confirmation on Friday, last week, despite a court ruling, less than 24 hours before the vote, that ordered Pruitt to turn over thousands of e-mails documenting his relationship with oil and gas companies when he was the attorney general in Oklahoma.
Senate Republicans could have postponed the vote when they heard about that court order. They could have decided to wait and see what was in those e- mails. They`d only have to wait a couple of days, but didn`t want to wait even a couple of days. They forced a vote.
And now, Senate Republicans are starting to reap the downside of not just waiting a couple of days for this stuff to come out first before they took the plunge. Now this is no longer like, you know, additional information about an already controversial nominee, which they might have been able to weather or at worst, maybe they`d have to withdraw him and replace him. No, now it is newly scandalous information about a cabinet secretary, about somebody who is in place, running a high-profile agency, in the federal government.
In 2014, "New York Times" investigative reporter Eric Lipton won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting that included a very juicy detail about Scott Pruitt in Oklahoma. Turned up the fact that Scott Pruitt took a document from an oil company that was a donor of his, and Pruitt copied and pasted that document basically in its entirety on to his own letterhead as attorney general of the state of Oklahoma and he sent that as a complaint to the federal government, as if it was the view of the state of Oklahoma, even though it was just copied and pasted directly from this oil company that had given him money.
Well, now, thanks to this court order, we`ve just gotten this big document dump of additional material from Pruitt`s time as attorney general in Oklahoma, a court ordered the release of thousands of documents from his time in Oklahoma, because he illegally withheld them from public records requests. And since the court issued these documents, we`ve been going through them, a lot of news organizations have.
But what seems clear, though, just from the initial scan of these thousands of pages, is that that scandal that Eric Lipton won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing in 2014, that may not have been a one-off lark by Scott Pruitt. It`s starting to look like that may have been the way he regularly did business. In that 2014 award-winning piece, Eric Lipton reports on Pruitt cutting and pasting language from an oil company called Devon Energy.
In these new documents we just got, Devon Energy turns up again. They`re not just feeding language to Scott Pruitt`s office on air pollution, they`re also offering to ghost-write his letters to the Bureau of Land Management. In another instance, here`s a lobbyist for major utility companies offering language that Scott Pruitt should, quote, "cut and paste," literally, the lobbyist says cut and paste, to complain about an EPA rule.
And this is a nice one. This one shows the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturer`s Association, writing to Scott Pruitt, sending him language on a rule about ozone limits and mileage standards. And in this lobbying group, they spell out exactly what he should say, they write it for him, and they basically tell him they want him to pretend that those are his words, not theirs, because they say, quote, "This argument is more credible coming from a state."
Yes, that would sound more credible if it were coming from a state. But in this case, it was not coming from a state, it was coming from Scott Pruitt which meant it was coming from oil companies and lobbyist who is gave him money to say that. At least that`s what it looks like.
Now, the next step of this reporting is not only to get through these documents that the court has ordered released about Scott Pruitt`s time as attorney general. It`s also to figure out how much of what these oil companies wrote for him he actually passed off as if these were his own words, his own arguments, the arguments on behalf of the state. And that`s going to mean digging up all of his filings and correspondents and lawsuits with t federal government to see if those oil companies were successful in their attempts to ghost-write all of his stuff for him. If they were successful more than that one time that he got nailed for in "the New York Times" in 2014.
And this dump of e-mails and correspondence from Pruitt`s office, this could just be the start. The group that sued for those documents, this was the first of nine requests that they made. We can further report tonight, though, that in addition to all of this stuff that could keep coming out in the next few days, the next few weeks, over Scott Pruitt and specifically, his ties to oil and gas companies, we have something to add to those expectations. Because we can report tonight that we are also expecting, within the next two to three weeks, we are expecting a court-ordered release of information that is not about oil and gas companies. It`s information that could shed some light on Scott Pruitt and another scandal that he`s dragging behind him like a can on a bumper, as he moves up from Oklahoma A.G. to cabinet official in the Trump administration.
We`re expecting in the next two to three weeks, documentation that could shed some light on Scott Pruitt and his ties to a super-sketchy, botched execution that happened in 2014 in Oklahoma, an execution in which his office was apparently directly and possibly illegally involved in deciding the details of how that execution was carried out. And that was an execution that was carried out very, very badly.
Reporting from the state of Oklahoma thus far, court documents from the state of Oklahoma thus far, indicate that Scott Pruitt`s office may have been directly involved in choosing the drugs that were used in an execution, with no basis in law or state protocol for doing that. The choices that they made ended up bringing about one of the most botched executions in Oklahoma history. Scott Pruitt, on the record, denied that his office ever had any role in picking those drugs. They never had anything to do with it.
Corrections officials in Oklahoma, on the record, in court documents, have said, actually, Scott Pruitt is lying about that. He was involved in it. It was his office. He has been lying publicly about his role in this botched thing.
And we are about to get documentation from Oklahoma about that execution that may shed light on Scott Pruitt`s real role in that and whether he`s been lying about it all this time, too. That`s on top of all of the oil and gas stuff. And that`s coming out in the next two to three weeks.
So, congratulations, Republicans. Good thing you rushed the vote on Scott Pruitt. If Scott Pruitt does end up taking fall because of this growing scandal around him, he will be falling for a much greater height because of the way Republicans rushed him into the cabinet. Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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