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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/24/17

Guests: Jim Himes

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 24, 2017 Guest: Jim Himes   CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That`s "ALL IN" for this evening. 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Have a great weekend. 

HAYES:  You bet.  You, too. 

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

You know how news keeps happening on Fridays in recent weeks?  We`re having another one of those.  Two big stories have landed late in the day today and into tonight that are kind of a one-two punch for this White House and its ongoing scandal and its ongoing mishandling of national security issues. 

One of these stories is really brand new.  I think at least it will be brand new to you tonight when I tell you about it.  The other one is a rather devastating follow-up to something that broke last night that we covered quite a bit on last night`s show. 

We`ve got one of the top Democrats from the Intelligence Committee here tonight to talk with us about both of these things, but they are both developing and/or breaking tonight.  Let`s just get right to it. 

OK.  First one.  Less than a week and a half after the election, the White House announced that retired General Michael Flynn would be named national security advisor to the president.  It wasn`t a total surprise, right?  Flynn had been around during the campaign, he was clearly a big wheel in Trumpland. 

But even still, even though the announcement he`d be national security adviser, it couldn`t be construed as a surprise.  It was still nevertheless kind of a shock.  Particularly to experienced national security folks who had followed Michael Flynn`s career for a while. 

Him being named national security adviser for a lot of people was a real holy smokes moment because even though General Michael Flynn had many years of difficult service everybody respects, by the time he came home at the end of his military career and started working in the Pentagon, Michael Flynn had earned a new kind of reputation.  He very quickly became known as -- forgive me -- kind of a nut. 

Let me explain part of why.  Here`s an example, quote, "Days after Islamist militants stormed the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, General Michael Flynn reached a conclusion that stunned some of his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency.  He told them Iran had a role in the attack.  Now he added it was their job to prove it.  Flynn soon took to pushing analysts to find Iran`s hidden hand in the Benghazi disaster, according to current and former officials familiar with the episode."

Quote, "But those investigations found no evidence of any links between Benghazi and Iran.  And the general`s suborn insistence there was a link reminded some officials at the agency of how the Bush administration had once relentlessly sought to connect Saddam Hussein in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks."

I remember when the "New York Times" put that lead on the front page of the Sunday paper about Mike Flynn.  I remember the feeling of dread that washed over me reading that about him. 

There`s been an attack, prove it`s Iran.  Hey, intelligence agency, prove this for me.  I`ve decided in advance.  Now, find me the proof. 

Michael Flynn was not just your average retired general when they picked him to be national security adviser.  I mean, before the new administration, before the new president hired him to be national security adviser, the previous president had fired him, had fired Michael Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency for being kind of a kook.  For being viewed by his colleagues and subordinates as kind of a nut ball.

And that particular kind of nutballery is something we have experience with as a country.  Recent, bad experience.  I mean, having fixed ideas about some boogieman in the world and telling intelligence agencies to produce intel that proves what you already believe about that boogieman, that`s bad old days stuff, right?  I mean, that`s bad old days stuff from 9/11 and the Iraq war.  That`s the Bush White House in the first hours after 9/11 deciding they wanted to use that attack to go after Saddam.  And then they spent months getting intelligence agencies to produce evidence that maybe bolstered that conclusion. 

I mean, there`s going to be a lot of competition for what will be the first line in Dick Cheney`s obituary, but one of the top contenders is going to be his role in trying to train the intelligence agencies after 9/11 that when they were asked about Iraq and 9/11, about Iraq and al Qaeda, about Iraq and WMDs, the correct answer to any of those questions was always "sir, yes, sir."

I mean, we supposedly learned this lesson, right?  You don`t tell the nation`s intelligence agency what to conclude and then ask them for a report that proves that.  We`ve been down that road.  It cost thousands of American lives.  You just don`t do that.  You don`t do that anymore. 

Not anymore, asterisk, because maybe we are doing that again and this is the first punch in that one-two punch tonight. 

As of last night, what we had from CNN reporting was this.  It was a senior White House official telling CNN this, quote, "The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat from these seven countries is substantial." 

Notice that phrasing there?  What is that report going to -- put that devote back up there.  Can you put that back up on the screen?  Put it back up. 

Yes, OK.  "The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice are working on intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial."  Oh, really, are you sure that`s what it`s going to say.  This intelligence report is not done yet, but you know what it will say already?  That`s not the way it works. 

CNN`s reporting last night was this declaration from the White House.  This order from the White House was going over very poorly with actual intelligence folks.  Quote, "This is an assignment that caused concern among some administration intelligence officials who see this White House charge as the politicization of intelligence." 

Quote, "A conclusion in search of evidence."  This is, quote, "the Trump White House seeking an intelligence report to fit the policy instead of the other way around."  I mean, this is basic stuff.  Maybe we didn`t have a sharp feeling about this as a country before the Iraq war disaster but we do now.  It`s very simple. 

On any circumstance, on any topic, telling an intelligence agency to come up with a report that concludes X when you`re given the answer when you give them the assignment, I mean, that`s fleshing red lights bells and whistles, danger, Will Robinson, right?  I mean, this is resign in protest stuff. 

This is something we have gone through before as a country.  It went very badly.  We are never supposed to go there again, no matter what the topic is. 

In this case, what the topic is is the Muslim ban.  The federal courts as you know, they`ve blocked the refugee ban and Muslim ban.  At the appeals court level, the court said they were blocking it in part because the government hadn`t shown any evidence that the ban was rational.  That it was strategically rational on national security grounds, and so, right, that makes sense procedurally. 

You know, if the government wants to defend, if the administration wants to defend its Muslim ban or some version of its Muslim ban in court they have to prove that the Muslim ban makes sense.  I mean, we knew at some point the court wrangling over that policy would get to the point where they had to prove that it was for a reasonable reason. 

But it`s one thing for the White House, for the administration, right, the government to make up their argument for why banning people from those seven countries is a rational thing.  It`s one thing to state that case and cite their evidence and persuade the court that those people from those seven countries have to be banned from coming to our country.  It`s one thing for them to make that argument. 

It`s another for them to go to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security and say, "Hey, give us an intelligence report that prove we need the Muslim ban."

That you cannot do.  And that was the status of this story late last night.  And now, tonight, oh, boy, did this thing blow up.  You knew it would blow up, right?  This kind of thing has to blow up when you push it to that kind of a breaking point. 

Now, it has blown up, because now, people at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Homeland Security Department, the intelligence agency at DHS, turns out they did do a report on the Muslim ban.  They did do a report on whether the Muslim ban makes sense, on whether banning travel to the United States by people who hold passports from those seven Muslim countries, whether that makes sense. 

They did it.  They did look into it.  They got that assignment from the White House.  They should look into whether or not that policy makes sense on national security grounds and they produced the report on the subject. 

It is three pages long and it finds that no, the travel ban does not make sense on national security grounds.  And I will -- we`ll put the document on screen in just a second. 

But here`s the thing to know about the scandal nature of this right now, about the politics of this right now, the churn and the political fistfight and scandal in this right now.  And the trouble that the new administration has that is coming from inside the house, right?  And it`s this -- the Department of Homeland Security has just been taken over by the Trump folks, right?  There`s a Trump homeland security secretary, they`ve brought in Trump undersecretaries at various levels. 

The new people who just arrived, the Trump folks, apparently tried to spike this intelligence report.  They axed it.  They said we`re not putting that out.

But this is the report that the intelligence agency inside Homeland Security created.  This is real.  This is actually what they concluded.  And we do still have a real free press and so now, inevitably, that spiked report which they wouldn`t release -- Homeland Security says, assures us that it is real, but they spiked it. 

The spiked report which they wouldn`t release and didn`t want to put out because of what it says presumably, that report has now been leaked to, I mean, obtained by "The Associated Press". 

We know the White House demanded an intelligence report that -- what was the quote?  "That will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial."  But what they actually got was this, "Citizenship likely an unreliable indicator of terrorist threat to the United States."  That`s the title of it. 

First line of the key findings there?  "The Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis assess that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of terrorist activity."  Oh. 

Intelligence agencies are not perfect.  They are not always apolitical, even though they`re supposed to be.  But intelligence agencies will stand up for themselves and their work.  Sometimes when they need to and this is one of those moments.  I mean, this is simultaneously a signal, right, direct evidence that the Trump Muslim ban is believed by the intelligence community to be hokum in terms of it having any national security rationale, right?

So, this is simultaneously good detail on that.  It is also a flashing red light siren that the Trump folks are directing intelligence agencies to produce material that fits the need of the White House.  So, that`s one. 

If you haven`t seen this, we will post this three-page document online at so you can read this assessment by the intelligence agency within Homeland Security about why Trump`s Muslim ban isn`t justified on national security grounds. 

  Again, this report was spiked by senior administration officials after the White House told Homeland Security they wanted a different conclusion from a report like this.  But the real thing has seen the light of day, thanks to "The Associated Press".  And thanks to whoever inside Homeland Security made sure that saw the light of day by giving it to "The Associated Press".

Now, I said there was a one-two punch today in these national security stories.  That`s one. 

Two, second big story tonight is increasingly starting to feel like the open question of whether or not the White House chief of staff gets to keep his job.  When last we left White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, when we last left him in the news, he was being named as the White House official who contacted the FBI about the FBI`s reported investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, while the Russian government was attacking our election last year. 

Well, today, the White House got excited to push back on that reporting.  We don`t exactly know what they thought was the damaging thing about that reporting that they were pushing back on, but in their big excited hours- long pushback today, they also actually confirmed repeatedly and emphatically the worst part of it.  They confirmed today in no uncertain terms that, yes, Reince Priebus, yes, the White House chief of staff, they now confirm he did discuss with the deputy director of the FBI and the director of the FBI what the FBI knows about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

The White House is confirming that the White House chief of staff contacted and pressured the FBI about that ongoing investigation.  At least we believe it`s an ongoing investigation.  It`s been reported and confirmed by multiple sources that the FBI is investigating contacts between the Trump folks and Russia while Russia was messing with our election.  The FBI is not confirming that on the record. 

The other investigations that we know for sure are ongoing into the Trump folks and their contacts with Russia while Russia was messing with our election, the other investigations we know for sure for are happening are being led by the intelligence committees in the House and Senate and Democrats have been concerned that the Republican chairman of those committees, one of whom was a member of the Trump transition team, Democrats have been concerned that the chairman of those intelligence committees are not intelligent -- sorry, that`s not what I meant to say, are not independent enough, they cannot approach this without partisanship and that they`re already too much on the White House`s side on this issue. 

That`s why Democrats have been saying no, let`s have a select committee, let`s do it outside the normal committee system.  You can`t have these two intelligence chairmen leading these committees.  They are not independent enough.  Those have been Democrats` worries, Democrats` suspicions. 

Those suspicions were driven home with a pile driver tonight when just before airtime the "Washington Post" broke this news, that in addition to lobbying the FBI directly about the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia, the White House also successfully enlisted the Republican chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.  These guys were supposed to be leading impartial hard-nosed investigations into this matter. 

The White House successfully enlisted Congressman Devin Nunes and Senator Richard Burr, the heads of the intelligence committees, the White House got them to call reporters and tell reporters that there`s really nothing to see here in the scandal, that the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, there`s nothing there. 

The White House apparently asked these committee chairmen to call reporters and say that and these committee chairmen did it.  What? 

Quote, "The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates` ties to Russia.  Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week.  The calls were orchestrated by the White House.  The effort involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees."

Devin Nunes confirmed tonight he had spoken to at least one reporter on this matter, quote, "at the request of the White House communications aide."  Senator Burr also acknowledged that he had conversations about Russia-related news reports with the White House and then engaged with news organizations. 

This is incredible.  I mean, it`s one thing to have the White House chief of staff leaning on the FBI about this investigation.  The other investigations are supposed to be run by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.  The chairmen of those two committees have been enlisted by the White House to call reporters off the record and tell them, hey, there`s nothing to this, Russia and the Trump folks?  Don`t report on that, there`s nothing there.  Trust me.  I`ve got access to this intelligence. 

  These are the guys who are supposed to be leading the investigation in Congress. 

Greg Miller and Adam Entous have this story tonight in the "Washington Post" and they note with admirable restraint.  Quote, "The decision to involve these officials could be perceived as undercutting the credibility of the ongoing congressional probes."  Yes, you think?  You think?

More ahead.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  So, we`re continuing to follow this breaking news tonight.  The "Washington Post" breaking news just this evening that will, frankly, tie your socks in a knot if you were thinking that maybe the whole Trump/Russia thing was going to be investigated impartially and aggressively by Congress where the intelligence committees are running those congressional investigations. 

The two Republican chairmen of the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate, they have both tonight admitted to the "Washington Post", that they have been calling reporters off the report at the request of the White House, to tell reporters that there`s nothing to these stories, there`s nothing to worry about when it comes to the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia, which is a thing they are supposedly leading independent investigations about. 

More that that, the "Washington Post" also reports tonight that senior officials at U.S. intelligence agencies were also roped into making these press calls, making calls at the request of the White House to reporters, to tell reporters that they should basically stand down on this Russia/Trump connection stuff.  Intelligence agencies and the investigatory committees in Congress are both supposed to be completely independent of the White House on a matter like this and investigating the White House on a matter like this.

But apparently, they`re all working for the White House and trying to make the bad press on this go away.  Stunning, stunning reporting. 

Joining us now is one of the senior Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. 

Congressman Himes, thank you very much for being here.  This is turning out to be a weird night. 

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT:  It sure is.  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  What is your overall reaction?  I want to ask you about the Homeland Security report about this -- the Muslim ban where the White House was apparently giving them a direction as to what they wanted that intelligence report to say.  I want to ask you about that. 

But, first, I want to get your reaction to this "Washington Post" reporting tonight about the Trump/Russia connection? 

HIMES:  Yes, well, you know, you said it right.  We`ve seen this movie before, right?  Those of us who remember the lead-up to the Iraq war watched as the -- I think the intelligence community and all of the analysts, there was no doubt where the White House wanted to be.  And it damaged an awful lot of reputations, including of the CIA, including of Colin Powell.  And, of course, we went to war and thousands of Americans died. 

And now, we see that instinct again where the White House is making it very clear the conclusion they`re looking for. 

Now, on this travel ban thing, you don`t need to be on the intelligence committee to know the vast bulk of the terrorists that hit us on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, a country not on the list.  You can look at the terrorist attacks in Europe and know those terrorist attacks were undertaken by European citizens. 

If you study the region, you`ll know one of the biggest sources of ISIS fighters in Syria is Tunisia, all countries which are not on this seven- nation list.  And so, it shouldn`t surprise anybody that when the intelligence community does do their work, they will conclude that the president`s idea is just a foolish one. 

MADDOW:  And on that particular story, on that DHS story, what we have is the intelligence agency within DHS apparently being told by the White House what their intelligence report should conclude, that it should conclude those seven -- banning travelers from those seven countries makes sense. 

Apparently, analysts within the intelligence agency and DHS didn`t follow instructions.  They produced an independent report that said quite the opposite of that.  It appears as we piece together this reporting from A.P. and "Washington Post" that the Trump officials inside DHS spiked that report, wanted not to release it and now these intelligence analysts or somebody who had access to their work released it to the press instead in order to get around administration officials trying to disappear that report. 

Does that make you feel worried about that kind of a leak?  Do you feel that sort of a leak is heroic?  Is it somewhere in between? 

HIMES:  Well, I`m ambivalent about it, of course, because leaks -- you know, government by leak is no way to run a government.  But you`ve gotten awful lot of very patriotic people in places like DHS and CIA and NSA and FBI who have been vilified by this president.  Before he got sworn in, he was drawing comparisons to the intelligence community and Nazi Germany. 

This morning on Twitter, he attacked the FBI brutally.  You know, these are people working for these agencies.  They take their jobs seriously.  They are all about floating up the truth in the most objective fashion they can and now, you`ve got these people trying to convince America that building a really big wall will solve our undocumented immigration problem.  They`re trying to convince people that if we just cut off the flow of folks from seven countries, that that`s going to keep us safe. 

They know better.  And so, they here in a terrible position because I don`t think these people want to leak.  But when they see their government spiraling off in such a dangerous direction, I think they feel torn and they say, boy, the truth must out and therefore, I`m going to release a report like the DHS report. 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve said you want to expand the House Intelligence Committee`s investigation into looking at the this issue of the White House trying to shape intelligence conclusions.  But let me also ask you, chairman of your committee, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, he admits to the "Washington Post" tonight that at the request of the White House, he`s been making calls to reporters trying to shape coverage, to tamp down coverage about the connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. 

He supposedly is leading your committee`s investigation into those connections.  How big a problem is this? 

HIMES:  Well, it`s a problem on two fronts.  Number one, I`m involved in this investigation, you know, and I know for a fact we are not at a point in the investigation where anybody -- not the chairman, not me or anybody else -- can draw any firm conclusions about what the communications were between the Trump people and the Russians.

So, we`re not at a point where any conclusion can be drawn.  So, anybody, whether it`s the chairman or anybody else who says here are the facts, they I don`t -- they are not speaking from good information, they`re not telling the truth.  That`s point number one. 

Point number two, of course, is -- and you made this point earlier -- and this illustrates why we need an outside 9/11-type commission.  I mean, these chairmen, before the committee`s investigations were done, have come out with what they I guess hope or believe will be the conclusion, certainly what Donald Trump would hope the conclusion would be. 

But this is exactly why, look, we`re in the political fray, this is why we need an outside commission of elder statesmen and elder states women who aren`t tarred in the way we are by partisan questions.  Look, when I say something about this, the president`s supporters are going to say, "Well, that Himes guy, he`s a Democrat."  And that`s why this needs to be done by an outside commission. 

MADDOW:  Yes, particularly, if the chairmen of these two committees are admitting they`re already working with the White House on spinning this particular issue. 

HIMES:  Yes, that should -- it indicates a sort of compromise of objectivity, right?

MADDOW:  Representative Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- really appreciate your time tonight.  Sir, thanks for being here. 

HIMES:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  To that point.  There has been -- there was this initial sort of thrust in Congress when the details started coming out about Trump campaign and Russia while Russia was influencing our election.  There was initial thrust that maybe we did need a 9/11-style commission, maybe we do need something independent.  We need to something outside the partisan system.

That died, right?  That was going to be Lindsey Graham and John McCain pushing for that.  Remember when they were getting all that good press because they were being so independent and pushing so hard on the Russia issue.  They gave that up.  They said, no, let`s let the intelligence community do it.  I mean, sorry, let`s let the intelligence committees do it.

Now that the intelligence committees are working with the White House on spinning this story, that question has to come back up.  Lindsey Graham, John McCain, you guys want to be here on Monday?  I wouldn`t interrupt, we`d talk for a long time.  It would be awesome. 

We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Last night on this show, one of our guests broke important news about the new national security adviser. 


COLIN KAHL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO VP BIDEN:  H.R. McMaster, who is highly regarded military officer, he`s a normal human being, he`s smart, he`s strategic, he`s pragmatic.  You know, he had an all-hands with the National Security Council staff today and he said a lot of the right things including saying he doesn`t believe they should be using the term "radical Islamic terrorist" because he believes that folks they`re fighting are un-Islamic. 


MADDOW:  That was on this show last night.  Colin Kahl, he served as national security advisor to Vice President Biden, he was on the National Security Council.  He reported first here on our show that according to multiple sources the new National Security Adviser, General McMaster, he`s telling the National Security Council that he doesn`t believe they should use the term "radical Islamic terrorist."

And that makes sense in the real world, right?  It calls terrorists Islamic when ideally you`d be promoting and recognizing a vision of Islam in which terrorists are seen as sacrilegious, heretical murdering monsters, right? 

So, it makes sense that an experienced strategic thinker in national security would not want to use a phrase like "radical Islamic terrorism".  Make sense in the real world. 

Does not make sense in this White House, though.  After the new president spent the whole campaign talking about how Democrats were afraid to say "radical Islamic terrorist" and how he would insist on saying it, even if the Democrats would not. 

He used the phrase again at CPAC this morning.  He said, "We`re going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country."

But apparently his new national security adviser says, no, we shouldn`t be saying that, it`s counterproductive, it`s non-strategic.  And that`s a newsworthy departure between the president and his national security adviser.  It`s also a frequent kind of occurrence in this administration. 

Here`s another example.  Yesterday, the president told visiting business leaders at the White House that his crackdown on immigrants, detaining and deporting people all over the country, yesterday, he called that a, quote, "military operation."  Just a couple of hours later in Mexico City, this was his secretary of homeland security. 


JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Listen to this: no, repeat no use of military force in immigrant operations.  None. 


MADDOW:  Don`t pay attention to what -- I mean it, listen to this.  None. 

At a sweaty stream of consciousness rally in Florida last weekend, the president bragged about how he had personally intervened to cut the cost of Air Force One by a billion dollars, which is great.  President says he saved us a billion dollars on the cost of the new Air Force One. 

The president did not actually save us a billion dollars on the cost of the new Air Force One.  The Air Force had to come in and clean up after him on this one.  Quote, look, look at the headline, "Air Force stumped by Trump`s claim of billion dollar savings on jet."  An Air Force spokesman telling reporters, quote, "To my knowledge, I have not been told that we have that information."  He then referred reporters back to the White House for news on whatever magic billion dollar coupon the president found. 

The president also has insisted that it wasn`t just a campaign thing, wasn`t just shooting off his mouth, we really should have stolen Iraq`s oil and we might yet have another chance to steal Iraq`s oil.  He has repeated that as president, repeated that even while standing in front of the CIA memorial wall. 

After that, the defense secretary had to go to Baghdad to say, no, no, don`t listen to that man, we`re not taking anybody`s oil. 


REPORTER:  The question is about seizing Iraqi oil.  Is that a position you think --

JIM MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I`m sure that we will continue to do so in the future.  We`re not in Iraq to seize anybody`s oil. 


MADDOW:  This keeps happening.  I mean, other countries -- I mean, even just us American citizens, if you are told something by this government, it is important to now ask "with whom am I speaking?  Can I have your name?  Can I have your supervisor`s name?" 

And that was before the "Washington Post" broke this news tonight that the White House secretly enlisted senior people at the intelligence agencies and the chairmen of the two committees investigating the president`s Russia ties, enlisted those folks to speak to reporters about dropping the Russia story.  Do we have any kind of precedent for an administration conducting not just the regular business of government but even security and intelligence in this way?

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. 

Michael, it`s really nice to see you.  Thank you for being here.


MADDOW:  So, we are getting the sort of one-two punches. 

BESCHLOSS:  We are. 

MADDOW:  It`s -- yes.  It`s -- and on the one hand it feels like maybe it`s too much, maybe it`s hard to keep up with.  On the other hand, I feel like these stories are proceeding linearly.  That we keep getting new information about troubling ties between the president and his associates in his campaign and Russia and increasingly with each new day, we keep getting news about the administration trying to stop investigations of those ties and to influence people who might be in charge of leading those kinds of investigations, is -- is it -- do you see it that way?  Is it that linear?  And do we have examples from history that compare to this? 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, the obvious example and I hope this does not turn out to be this, but Richard Nixon was driven out of office because he tried to stop the investigation of the Watergate. 

You know, the smoking gun tape of June 23rd, 1972.  He talked to his chief of staff Bob Haldeman and said, "Get the CIA to tell the FBI to stay the hell out of this investigation."  He was trying to shut that down.

So, what "The Post" story is suggesting tonight is that there was an effort to enlist big members of Congress and also big members of the intelligence community to call reporters and say essentially stay the hell out of this investigation of -- there`s not much to the story of Russia ties between the Trump campaign -- members of the Trump campaign and officials in Russia. 

The next step that I hope this does not go to is that next is found evidence of efforts by the White House to, you know, trim in investigation in Congress or shut down the FBI.

You know, when you were talking, Rachel, I was thinking of we all saw "Meet the Press" last weekend and Chuck Todd was asking John McCain, do you think the Republicans in Congress can impartially investigate this Russia story?  And he said, "I hope and belief they can."  And then he chuckled and said, "Well, I guess I have more hope than belief."

MADDOW:  Wow.  I mean, I guess -- you know, the idea that the White House would call on important legislators to help sell their agenda, to help move something in the press, that`s not unusual.  It seems to me that what is unusual, what perks up my ears and makes me think about the timeline of presidential history is the fact that these are the two intelligence chairman who are leading the only investigations that exist in Congress. 

BESCHLOSS:  These are the judges -- these are the judges in whatever hearing is going to go on, at least the one that we`re talking about and also, you know, above and beyond the morality of it and above and beyond the fact that this is not the way the government is supposed to be run, it`s not too bright for reporters to get calls from intelligence officials and high officials in Congress who are supposed to be investigating this, the natural question they would ask and they obviously did was, who got you to do this, was it the White House? 

MADDOW:  And how on earth can you go lead an investigation while you`re making these calls lobbying me on my coverage? 

BESCHLOSS:  It`s like if they didn`t want a 9/11 Commission, they are going to be perhaps compelled to do it by essentially their own actions. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Yes.  Exactly.  Exactly.  Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, Michael, thank you.  I really appreciate your time tonight. 

BESCHLOSS:  Amazing to watch.  What a story. 

MADDOW:  Yes, I feel like that whole one-two punch thing, I feel it right here. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right, right, right. Be well, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Michael.

All right.  Up next, we have a surprising update, kind of a silver lining for a dark cloud update on a story that we told you about earlier this week, we got a really big viewer reaction to.  You can take a quick break but come back because you will be surprised by this next news. 

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  I do not expect this, but check this out.  This is something we covered a couple nights ago on the show.  We got a huge reaction from you guys about it.  Lots of people who saw it contacted us about this segment.

But here it is.  Montana is a big state but it`s only got about a million people and because of that, Montana only has one member of congress, two senators, one member of the House.  Their member of the House is Ryan Zinke and Ryan Zinke is expected to leave Congress soon so he can join Donald Trump`s cabinet as secretary of the interior. 

When that happens, Montana is going to have to hold a special election to replace Ryan Zinke and the plan for that until this week seemed like kind of a no-brainer.  They were going to do that election as cost effectively as possible for the taxpayers of Montana, particularly because they had an expensive election in November. 

They`re going to try to do it very cost effectively when it comes up for the Ryan Zinke seat, they were going to run that election by mail.  Very simple.  Every registered voter gets a ballot mailed to you at the address at which you are registered to vote.  You fill out that ballot, you mail it back.  That`s it.

They do a lot of elections in Montana that way.  It`s cheap.  It`s easy for people to vote that way.  They`ve got experience doing that.

That plan to do it by mail, that took the form of a bill that was sponsored by Republicans in both the House and the Senate in the Montana legislature.  Until, suddenly, two days ago, the chair of the state Republican Party came out with this emergency report telling Republicans they had to withdraw that bill, they couldn`t support that bill because if Montana votes by mail, too many people might vote and that a Democrat could win the election.

That happened earlier this week.  We covered it.  This gonzo weird state politics story. 

But now, today, despite that hyperbolic, partisan, hyperventilating from their state chairman, the Republican-controlled Montana Senate passed the bill to do the election by mail and not by a slim margin, either, they passed it 37-13.  Almost two-thirds of the Republicans gave their party chairman the one finger salute and voted for their bill their party chair was telling them holding the vote for the house seat would make it too easy to vote and it might mean that a Democrat would win. 

But the Republicans in the Senate decided they are OK with that.  They want more people to vote.  That`s just the Senate.  The bill now goes to the statehouse which is also Republican controlled.  That`s going to be fun to watch.  Your move, Montana Republicans.


MADDOW:  There`s been so much going on this week with members of the House and Senate returning to their home districts and facing their constituents or in some cases going to great lengths not the face their constituents.  But this week, we end up with reporting, one specific story of a congressman taking a different approach. 

His name is Rodney Frelinghuysen.  He`s a Republican congressman in New Jersey.  He held his town hall this week by telephone instead of in-person. 

Members of Congress sometimes do that when they don`t like to be in person around their constituents.  In Congressman Frelinghuysen`s case it was a little unusual because he called this town hall with no notice, with no public announcement.  And it was by invitation-only. 

Because of that it was covered by only one reporter who found out about this telephone town hall live as it was happening because she knew someone who happened to be invited to it.  She got a tip.  Hey, I got a robocall. 

Now, that tip turned out to be lucky. 


NANCY SOLOMON, MANAGING EDITOR, NEW JERSEY PUBLIC RADIO:  I think actually the congressman might have made some news with some of the things he said in his response to constituents. 

BRIAN LEHRER, WNYC:  Like what? 

SOLOMON:  Like that he -- that any funding for a wall on the Mexican border would be stopped by his committee.  He has no intention of funding that.


MADDOW:  No intention of funding that.  Really? 

Reportedly in this phone call town hall that nobody knew about, Congressman Frelinghuysen announced that his committee had no intention of funding the president`s southern border wall.  That`s a big deal because Rodney Frelinghuysen`s in charge of that.  He`s the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. 

Now, I should tell you right here that Congressman Frelinghuysen`s office denies that reporting.  According to them, what he said is just that his committee would be happy to consider any request from the president for funding the wall or funding anything else.  But is that true?  I mean, did he say something else to his constituents other than what he was to be held to in public?

We kept asking for a tape of the call or a transcript.  We couldn`t get anything from the congressman`s office on that.  No response, not even a no from them on that. 

But then we got the most amazing thing in the mail.  On the show earlier this week, we put out a call for anybody who might have tape of that telephone town hall.  Hey, were you invited to be on this thing?  Did you join?  By any chance, did you tape it?  If so, please send us the tape? 

Tonight, I can report with great joy and secret internalized back flips that somebody did send us the tape. 


REP. RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN (R), NEW JERSEY:  Gerald in Wanaque, it`s Congressman Rodney.  You`ve joined my telephone town hall meeting.

CALLER:  I`m disappointed that you`re not doing face-to-face.  I think that would have been appropriate. 


MADDOW:  So, the good news is we got the tape of that town hall that might have that really news worthy discussion about the appropriations committee chairman saying he`s not going to fund the border wall.  The bad news is we only got the little squib of it and not the portion that included the discussion of the border wall. 

But honestly, come on, love me.  Who else besides THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is going to show you cell phone video of a cordless phone in speaker mode on its cradle for a telephone town hall?  They tell me this is a visual medium. 

For the record, we heard from several constituents of Congressman Frelinghuysen that a staffer told them there`s no official recording of this town hall.  His office finally told us that tonight as well. 

But somewhere out there, I am ready to believe that someone recorded more of that call, perhaps even the part about the border wall. 

So I appeal again for your help.  If you heard something interesting or even something boring from Congressman Frelinghuysen, I would love to have it.  And I would especially love the tape.  It might be national news.

You can get it to us by  And honestly, you know what?  In fact, if you have any footage from any town hall that you think news was made, I would love to have my hands on that footage.  Sometimes members of Congress make news in front of their constituents.  These town halls are not just about seeing senators and members of Congress look like they want to crawl out of their skins in front of people they represent. 

One Florida congressman last night decided in front of his constituents that by golly, he does want to see Donald Trump`s tax returns.  OK.

When they`re forced to stand and account, when they`re forced to give answers for their stance, sometimes they change their stance, sometimes they make news.  And that news should be known, even if it comes in the form of home video of a cordless phone sitting motionless on that nice desk. 

Rodney Frelinghuysen constituents, any of you guys got more tape?  Please?


MADDOW:  So, tomorrow, tomorrow is election day.  There are two elections tomorrow that in normal years nobody would care about, but this is not a normal year.  So, right now, they`re both kind of a big deal. 

First one is in the great and mighty state of Delaware.  Tomorrow, they`re going to be deciding who controls the state Senate.  There`s a special election to fill an empty seat that was vacated by somebody who went on to be lieutenant governor.  It`s a Senate seat to decide on.

If a Republican wins the Senate seat, that gives Republicans control of the Senate there for the first time in 40 years.  So, Democrats trying to hang on to their majority.  It all depends on this race tomorrow.  They`ve called in the big dog on behalf of their candidate, former vice president, Delaware favorite son Joe Biden has been knocking on doors and taking selfies with voters in this state Senate race.  Polls open at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow in and around Newark, Delaware, for that Senate race.  So, that`s one to watch. 

Other race to watch tomorrow is for the top job in the Democratic Party.  The two front-runners are Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.  If last year`s Democratic Party schisms still apply and mean anything anymore, which I`m not sure they do, then you might find it helpful to know that Keith Ellison is backed by Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez is backed by the Obama administration. 

That said, the only people allowed to cast votes in that election tomorrow for Democratic chair are the members of the Democratic National Committee, 477 people who are members of the DNC.  Right now, nobody really seems to know who`s going to win.  The Hill did a whip count which says that Ellison is leading with 105 votes and the "A.P." says Democratic strategists have Tom Perez ahead with 205 votes. 

But either way, that means that neither of them have the 224 votes you need to win this thing.  So, we`ll see.  Election Day tomorrow in a small but serious way. 

That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow -- no, see you again Monday. 


Good evening, Ari.