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The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 3/7/2017

Guests: Neal Katyal, Adam Schiff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 7, 2017 Guest: Neal Katyal, Adam Schiff RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thank you, my friend. 


MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well.  Happy Tuesday. 

Big, big, big busy news day today, one of those days when it pays to not zone out.  Sort of pays to pay attention.  Well, one of the things we`ll talk about in tonight`s show is, of course, the rollout today of the Republican plan to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. 

Fairly disastrous rollout, I would say today.  We knew Democrats would hate it but who knew Republicans could craft a plan that would give so many different kinds of Republicans so many different reasons to hate it. 

You know, if you are worried about losing your health insurance, if you are worried about 20 million of your fellow Americans losing their health insurance, today was very scary in terms of what Republicans said they want to do.  But today is heartening in terms of how it looks that they`ll be able to pull off what they have stated to be their intention.  So, big bad rollout for the Republicans today in terms of their getting rid of Obamacare plans.  We will get to that tonight.

We`ve also got some absolutely flabbergasting news that makes no sense whatsoever in terms of what this administration is doing about immigrants.  This appears to be just a giant screw-up on the administration`s part that nobody can explain.  We`ve got that story ahead tonight.

Plus, we`ve some good news tonight about the news itself.  Journalist doing their jobs and that magic working the ways it is supposed to in spite all of challenges to the free press right now.

So, like I said, busy, busy news night.  There is a lot to get to tonight.  I`m super glad that you are here.

But we are going to start at this embassy.  The embassy, this is a big one.  It is fully staffed.  It has a lot of different directorates.  There is, for example, a whole division of cultural affairs.  They`ve got multiple military attaches.  They`ve got a navy attache, an air force attache, they`ve got a drug enforcement attache, they`ve got a law enforcement attache.  They`ve got the people who run consular affairs which is like, you know, folks getting visas and stuff.

There`s even, in this embassy, there`s even an attache specifically for fish.  The fisheries attache is named Mr. Oleg Vladimirovich Rykov.  So, if you are a Russian fish with a problem that needs fixing by your government, Oleg is your man in D.C., the fish minister.

But if your issue is economic in nature, you should know that this embassy, which is the Russian embassy in D.C., the economic section of the Russian embassy recently got a new guy put in charge of the economic section and the new guy at the economic section was brought in under some clouds of suspicion concerning the old guy. 

The old guy who got shipped out last summer, his name is Mikhail Kalugin.  Kalugin?  Forgive me.  My Russian pronunciation is as good as my fashion sense.  I`m sure I`m butchering it, but it looks like Kalugin. 

Now, it`s important to -- the reason I`m stressing that, it`s important to know how his name is spelled, because if you don`t spell his name right, that creates a little bit of a Google problem around this story.  Because when this guy, when this guy, the head of the economic section at the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., when he turned up in that sketchy, uncorroborated dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump, his name was misspelled in the dossier.  They flopped a couple of the vowels around, so he was spelled Kulagin instead of Kalugin. 

And so, if like me, you set Google news alerts on names that popped up in that dossier, that created a problem for following the story, because the name was misspelled in the dossier.  Other than that misspelling, though, which screwed up my research for days, other than the misspelling, the reference in the dossier actually made sense.  He was described in the dossier as a high-ranking Russian diplomat in Washington.  And the reference to him was a really important one.

So, this is from page 22 of the sketchy dossier.  It says this, quote, "Senior Russian diplomat withdrawn from Russian embassy on account of potential exposure in U.S. presidential election operations."  And then on the following page it elaborates, quote, "As a prophylactic measure, a leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail Kulagin," he mean Kalugin, Mikhail, the head of the economic section of the embassy, quote, "was withdrawn from Washington on short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the U.S. election operation, including the so-called veterans pensions ruse reported previously.  His heavy involvement in the U.S. election operation would be exposed in the media."

So, this senior Russian diplomat working at the Russian embassy, he gets taken out of the embassy.  He gets withdrawn from the embassy in Washington.  He gets recalled to Moscow, allegedly on account of him being exposable, him being exposed for his role in the Russian operation against our presidential election. 

OK.  Now, that reference to the pension ruse reported previously, that`s the reference memes by which the Russian government paid for this operation, right?  They did actually have to pay for it, right?  It`s about the way they got cash to pay hackers and other operatives to do the grunt labor of this Russian election attack.  I mean, what we know about Russian attack on our election, Russian efforts to try to elect Donald Trump president, it did not seem to be a super labor intensive process.  It wasn`t like an industrial process but you do need people to do the work.  You need, for example, people building and running the online bots and repeaters, right, that were giving ginned up fake viral status to negative news about Hillary Clinton and positive news about Donald Trump, right? 

So, I mean, you do actually have to involve some people and you probably do have to pay some folks.  So, the allegation here from the dossier was that this guy working in a senior position at the Russian embassy, he was basically the pay master for this operation, and the allegation from the dossier is that he was withdrawn from the embassy, withdrawn from the Russian embassy in Washington, sent back to Moscow on short notice because the Russians were worried that he was going to be exposed, right, that he was arrested. 

It seems like their idea if this proves out was that if there was ever going to be a real investigation into what Russia did here, this guy and this high-ranking position at the embassy with this important role, sort of a centralized role in the scheme, he was just kind of too big a breadcrumb, right, to leave out for investigators.  So, they had to get him to Washington, get them out of Washington.

So, that part of the dossier was dated September 14th last year.  You have heard me say it, you have heard everybody say it.  This is an uncorroborated dossier.  It is a sheaf of unproven allegations and some of those allegations are too lurid to make even veiled jokes about them on basic cable.

But you know what?  Not all of it is just lurid stuff of a personal nature.  This guy from the embassy, Mikhail Kalugin, he really did get called home from the Russian embassy in D.C. in August.  And now, he really is back in Moscow.

McClatchy had good reporters on this beat in recent weeks.  They found this embassy guy in Moscow.  They got him to do an angry short e-mail interview with them.  He denied everything.  He called it all fake news. 

But, look, two people with knowledge of a multi-agency U.S. investigation into the Kremlin`s meddling in the presidential election have told us that indeed Mikhail Kalugin was under scrutiny when he departed. 

So, you know, honestly, none of us really know sort of holistically what to think about this dossier.  But here`s one concrete checkable part of it.  This guy really did work as a senior diplomat in the Russian embassy in D.C. and he did get summoned back to Moscow while nobody expected him to, reportedly while investigators were examining this potential role in this scheme by the Russian government to mess up our election.  That`s in the dossier.  That seems to have happened in real life, at least the checkable ports of it have. 

He had served in the embassy apparently for six years but then, yank.  Of course, he denies having any role in this scheme, the Russians deny there was such a (AUDIO GAP) and it`s possible he was yanked this past summer just as a part of a normal rotation, it was time for him to go.  It`s also possible the Russians felt like they needed to get him out. 

And think about their reasoning behind that, right, because he was a senior diplomat at their embassy.  They didn`t have to worry about criminal liability for him, right?  He would have diplomatic immunity, a senior diplomat serving in the embassy.  No matter what the U.S. might have ever wanted to charge him with, he`d have immunity. 

I mean, if he was theoretically the paymaster for foreign agents hacking into the Democratic Party and otherwise undermining America`s presidential election and that was found to be a crime in this country, he couldn`t be convicted of that because of his diplomatic immunity.  They wouldn`t have to worry about him being liable if he was involved in this. 

Now that he`s back in Moscow, well, there`s two implications of that, right?  Two consequences of that.  Now that he`s back in Moscow and he`s no longer in D.C., if there were criminal charges brought against him, conveniently, Russia does not have an extradition treaty, right?  So they`ve got immunity for him as a diplomatic official in the United States.  Back home in Russia, they don`t have to extradite anybody to the United States. 

So, in terms of his personal liability, protecting him in no sense is he in any sort of danger, right?  In no sense is he looking at any sort of person liability in this matter, even if he did what he is alleged to have done.  But there`s another implication to bringing him back to Moscow, right?  There`s one clear advantage for the Russians and bringing him back to Moscow.

If this guy had a key role in running this operation against our presidential election -- well, as long as he`s in Moscow, he`s outside the grasp of U.S. investigators, right?  It`s not just that you can`t extradite him, you can`t, you know, subpoena him.  You can`t ask him to come to Congress.  He`s out of the way.  He`s in Moscow.  He`s out of reach. 

And that may be the most important thing for us as U.S. citizens here, right?  We`re all trying to figure out what just happened to our country.  You know, what`s going on with this incredible national security scandal that looms over our new presidency.  How are we going to get to the bottom of this thing, right? 

What`s most important to all of us is that if this guy did have a key role in that scheme, while he is in Moscow, he is out of reach of U.S. investigators.  And who are the U.S. investigators, right? 

In terms of the investigation and what happened here, something really important happened today that is not heartening at all. 

We all know the basic history of this dossier, right?  Reportedly, it had circulated around Washington.  It had circulated among some journalists late last year.  I never saw it before it was published.  I had heard rumors about some of the things in it, but I`m not one of the people who saw it and I don`t know many people who say they did before BuzzFeed published it.

But it was apparently out there.  In early January, it was reported by CNN that the FBI briefed Donald Trump and briefed President Obama on a list of allegations against Donald Trump and his campaign concerning Russia.  That initially report from CNN didn`t exactly say what these allegations were, but within 24 hours, BuzzFeed News published the dossier.  There was a huge uproar at the time.  Everybody including BuzzFeed admitted the dossier was all uncorroborated information.

But you know what?  It didn`t end there.  And that ends up being important for what happened today, because quietly over the next few weeks after this thing was published by BuzzFeed, to such an uproar, there have been multiple reports that some of the information in this dossier is bearing out under further investigation.  This thing didn`t get just published and go away.  U.S. investigators have been looking into this, and bits and pieces of what`s reported in this dossier are turning out to be true and reported and checkable. 

I mean, there is this mysterious recall to Moscow of the economic section chief for the Russian embassy in D.C. and McClatchy reporting when he left, yes, he was under investigation for his potential role in this Russian operation against our election.  OK.

There was also a report from CNN recently and from the "New Yorker" last week that we highlighted just the other night on the show.  Look, headline, "U.S. investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier."  Quote, "Intercepts do confirm that some conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier."  Quote, "Corroboration based on intercepted communications has given U.S. intelligence and law enforcement greater confidence in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier."

And here`s intelligence official speaking to "The New Yorker."  Quote, "They are continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier and at its core a lot of it is bearing out."  OK.  Well, if parts of this dossier are bearing out, if investigators are finding that specific allegations, specific conversations describe specific anecdotes, at least some of them check out when they double check this work. 

Well, it`s maybe worth focusing again on what the point of this is, on what the bottom line is of this dossier particularly given what happened today in London, because forget all of the salacious personal stuff.  Forget all the stuff that made the White House so mad when it was published, right?  The bottom line of this dossier, the bottom allegation, the point of it is that the Trump campaign didn`t just benefit from Russia interfering, the point of this is they colluded, they helped, they were in on it, right?

The money quote from this dossier is, "The operation had been conducted with the full knowledge of Trump and senior members of his campaign team."  That`s basically what this whole dossier alleges, that the Trump folks were in on it.  There were multiple people close to Trump, involved in the Trump campaign, who were in contact with the Russian government about the Russian government`s attacks on Hillary Clinton while those attacks were happening, while Russia was waging these attacks. 

And overall, yes, we still have to describe this as a sheaf of uncorroborated allegations, but little pieces supporting that bottom line thesis really do keep falling in line, right?  I mean, think about what we`ve learned in the last few weeks.  Michael Flynn resigning, right? 

Buried in the revelations about National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigning, right, him having contact with the Russian government that he didn`t own up to and lying about what the content was of his communications, buried in those revelations was not just that he talked to the Russian government during the transition but he also had multiple contacts with the Russian government during the campaign. 

What was he talking about during the campaign when the Russians were hacking our election? 

Explicitly referenced in the dossier is a meeting by Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.  A meeting between him and a very senior Russian official in July 2016.  Not only has the Trump campaign admitted that meeting happened, today, a Trump campaign official confirmed to that not only did that meeting happen in Moscow, but the Trump campaign explicitly authorized Carter Page to go to Moscow and take the meeting at the time.  That`s just confirmed by the Trump campaign today.

Wednesday night last week, the "New York Times" reported that the British and the Dutch, American allies, including the British and Dutch, have given information to the U.S. investigators about not just intercepted communications but in-person meetings during the presidential campaign between people close to Vladimir Putin, including Russian government officials and people close to Trump.  They were holding in-person meetings in European cities and European intelligence agencies reported on those meetings to the U.S.  They reported on the meetings between Trump folks and Putin folks during the campaign. 

And that news, fairly explosive news, from the "New York Times," that was last Wednesday night.  It was overshadowed in the news cycle because a couple hours after the "New York Times" posted the article, "The Washington Post" broke the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself had taken at least two meetings with Russian government officials that he had not disclosed even though he was asked about it under oath during his confirmation hearings.

And so, yes, it`s understandable the earlier allegations got overshadowed but, you know, the Sessions thing?  How`s that resolving?  That led to, you know, a whole big drama that continues today about Sessions recusing himself as attorney general, recusing himself from overseeing any of the investigations into the Trump campaign and its contacts with Russia. 

But once again, we`re sort of in this situation with this story in particular and the Trump administration in general, where it`s sort of best to treat it like a silent movie a little bit.  Ignore the personal stuff.  Ignore all the kinetic fighting about this stuff in Washington, right?  Get back to the main point here.  Get back to the big point here.  Get back to the, like, challenging the fate of the republic stuff here, right?

The main allegation, the thing everybody is most worried about, which is the bottom allegation of this unproven dossier is that Russia didn`t just attack our election, they did so with the knowledge of and support of the Trump campaign, that the Trump folks were in on it.  That they knew what Russia was doing while they were doing it and they continued meeting with Russians in knowledge of that activity during the time of the attack. 

So, yes, the Jeff Sessions drama and the recusal questions are interesting and will continue to be newsworthy, but look at the meeting that gave rise to the recusal, right?  That meeting with Jeff Sessions and the Russian guy happened September 8th.  What did they talk about?  I mean, these were the headlines that week, right?  This was the "Washington Post" the start of that week "U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections." 

This was the biggest story in the country that week and that`s when Jeff Sessions took his meeting with a Russian government official.  Hmm, did they talk about the biggest story in the country that week which was about the Russian government and the Trump campaign as they took that meeting as a representative of the Russian government and the Trump campaign? 

Remember the bottom line here.  The allegation here, the bottom line allegation here, the worst-case scenario is collusion that the Trump folks were in on it, that they were in communication with the Russians about this while the Russians were doing it.  And, yes, Sessions is recused.  You`ve still gotten a open question as to whether there will be an independent investigation. 

Today was the confirmation hearing of the man nominated to be deputy attorney general.  Sessions has recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigations.  It will be the deputy attorney general if he`s confirmed, who will be overseeing what we`re told are several ongoing Justice Department investigations into links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. 

The nominee, Rod Rosenstein, would not commit to handing those duties off to an independent special prosecutor, even though if he decides to do this himself, that puts him in a weird position, right?  I mean, if he decides he`s going to personally oversee these investigations, it won`t just be him investigating the Trump campaign that just appointed him to this high position, it will be him overseeing an investigation into his own boss, Jeff Sessions, since Sessions personally is implicated.  Sessions himself is implicated in this story and the time line of his Russian contacts need explaining as part of any looking into this, right?

So the independence of the FBI investigations, the Justice Department investigations, right, if you`re worried about FBI investigations and the other DOJ investigations here, if you`re worried that those may not cut the mustard in terms of aggression and independence, what are the other investigations?  There`s intelligence committees in Congress, right, that are also leading investigations.  One of them in the House headed by a Trump campaign transition official who just announced that they will hold their first public hearing on this issue on March 20th. 

The other investigation in the Senate is headed by a member of the National Security Advisory Committee to the Trump campaign. 

But that brings us to the shooting star that went off in this story today.  NBC News reported last week on the day Sessions recused himself on Thursday, NBC reported on the basis of two sources that that Senate Intelligence Committee headed by Richard Burr, who was part of the Trump campaign, NBC reported that that committee was talking to the author of the dossier.  The author of the dossier, the former MI6 officer, who prepared the sheaf of information first for private clients and then reportedly brought it to him himself in the summer of last year when he was so disturbed by what he found, what he concluded about collusion between the Trump folks and the Russians. 

Again, what he found was evidence, what he says he found was evidence not just of Russia attacking the U.S. presidential election, but one party in that election, the Trump campaign helping, going along with it, colluding, being part of it.  And that is way worse allegations than just the Russians attacking our election, right?  Or the Trump campaign having inexplicable contacts with Russians they keep forgetting. 

The allegation of collusion is very, very, very serious, right?  I mean, it`s sort of as serious as it gets.  It`s a whole different ball game than there`s something mysterious here, follow the money, right? 

And again, the allegations in this dossier, we have to continue to describe them as uncorroborated, but towards the basic thesis of this dossier that the Trump campaign was in on it, little pieces of that, little checkable pieces of that have been falling into place everyday now, and clearly, the author of this dossier thought that he was on to something, thought that he had seen in action, and he was proving that that collusion was under way and he was so disturbed by it that he took it to the FBI. 

And NBC reported on Thursday that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to call him personally to testify about this, until today that was all academic -- interesting but academic -- because, of course, the author of this dossier famously went into hiding as soon as BuzzFeed published this document in January.

But you know what happened today in London?  He`s alive.  Look.  There he is.  He`s back.  He`s no longer in hiding. 

Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, made himself nobody publicly today.  He says he`s going back to work at his intelligence firm and he doesn`t want to answer any questions.  OK, well, number one, it answers some questions.  Number one, this means he`s alive.  Number two, he`s well and capable of speaking.  Number three, he made sure to appear by video, so presumably people who recognize him can recognize him and back up the fact that really is him, he has surfaced. 

Does this mean we`ll finally get to access to what he knows, that we`re finally going to get to hear what backs this up?  Is the Senate Intelligence Committee going to call him and have him testify like NBC News reported late last week? 

Well, we called the Senate intelligence committee tonight and they told us no, probably not.  Press secretary to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee tonight told us, quote, "It is not at all likely, at least not at this moment."

Christopher Steele is back.  He`s alive.  He`s out there.  You guys investigating this want to talk to him? 

So far, it is us as American citizens, it is us in the press who are connecting the dots on this story, who are figuring this out.  Do we have any reason to believe that any government official investigation into this scandal is doing the same?  Honestly, it`s a DOJ controlled by a Trump campaign official, or its two intelligence committees each controlled by a Trump campaign official. 

Support your free press.  It`s really starting to feel like we are going to have to do this ourselves. 


MADDOW:  Hey, we`ve got some breaking news regarding the new version of the Muslim ban.  As you know, the ban was initially announced a week into the new administration, then almost immediately, it was torn apart in court.  It was ultimately rescinded by the administration.  But they issued a new Muslim ban yesterday that`s due to go into affect next week. 

Well, now, tonight, as I say breaking news, we are learning that the state of Hawaii will be the first to sue the federal government to block the updated ban.  We`ve just got in this court documents that say the state of Hawaii will file a motion tomorrow, asking a federal judge to block the implementation of a new ban, at least until a court can rule on this challenge from Hawaii. 

I should tell you, a little peek behind the curtain here on the way we got a heads up about this, is that within the last hour, the lead attorney for this legal challenge, the lead attorney for Hawaii`s challenge tweeted this, quote, "Here we go.  Proud to stand with the state of Hawaii challenging President Trump`s new executive order.  The Trump administration and the state of Hawaii have jointly asked the court for oral argument on March 15."  March 15 would be a week from tomorrow next Wednesday.

That lawyer who gave us that heads up by Twitter is Neal Katyal.  He joins us now by phone.  I should also mentioned, he was formerly acting solicitor general under President Obama. 

Mr. Katyal, thank you very much for joining us.  Really appreciate you joining us by phone tonight. 

NEAL KATYAL, ATTORNEY FOR THE STATE OF HAWAII (via telephone):  Sure.  Thanks, Rachel.  Glad to be here. 

MADDOW:  One of the things we have been wondering having seen the vociferous legal challenges to the initial version of the ban was whether we were going to have to wait for this new ban to go into effect next week before we saw those new round of challenges to it or whether you can challenge it in advance.  You essentially feel like that`s a settled matter and you can challenge it before it even goes into effect? 

KATYAL:  Well, I think the challenge will be, you know, when it does go into effect, I do think that`s an important point, Rachel, because last time around when the president issued his first executive order, he used that same mechanism, Twitter, and he said, quote, "If the ban were announced with one-week notice the bad would rush into our country during that week.  A lot of bad dudes out there."  That`s a quote from the president of the United States, and, of course, this time not only did he take a week but he took 10 days.

So, I really think it just underscores the lack of a national security justification here.  This isn`t about protecting us from bad guys rushing into the country.  This is about politics. 

MADDOW:  Neal, one of the things we have seen since the initial introduction of the ban is that there have been two really interesting leaked documents from the Department of Homeland Security and in both cases, the Department of Homeland Security officially did not intend for them to be -- to see the light of day, but the department confirmed their authenticity in both times.  One of them was leaked to "The Associated Press".  It was essentially a Department of Homeland Security report saying you can`t predict terrorism based on somebody`s nation of origin, based on the country somebody was born in. 

The other was leaked to us.  And it was an argument that essentially the extreme vetting idea that the Trump administration has used for the basis of this ban doesn`t make sense in terms of trying to stop terrorism in this country because the types of increased vetting that they`re talking about statistically wouldn`t be seen as stopping any of the radicalized people who have turned to terrorism once they`re already in our country. 

KATYAL:  Exactly.  And, you know, it`s not just those documents which are so devastating to any security rationale that the administration has put forth, it`s even the president`s executive order itself.  I mean, what`s the evidence he needs it?  He cites evidence starting in 1979 and 1984.  You know, Congress has had 40 years to deal with this problem and they`ve never seen fit to do something like this like enact a Muslim ban or anything like that.  And so, you know, what the president has done here is really dramatically out of step with the traditions and laws of this country. 

MADDOW:  One last question for you, Neal.  In terms of the jurisdiction here, obviously, you are bringing this case on behalf of the state of Hawaii.  If this goes from the district court up through the circuit court, ultimately heading toward the Supreme Court, if that ends up being the path, would it be going through that same Ninth Circuit Court that issued that devastating pushback against the first iteration of this ban? 

KATYAL:  It will.  And one of the most frustrating things about this is every time the president loses one of these cases, he and his administration lambaste them as being, you know, so-called judges or liberal or activist judges.  It`s important to remember that that Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, one of the three judges of that unanimous decision was Richard Clifton who is a George W. Bush appointee. 

And I do think, you know, what the state of Hawaii is doing here is standing up for bedrock American values.  This isn`t about politics.  This is an effort from the state`s perspective.  This really is just about what the laws fundamentally require. 

MADDOW:  Neal Katyal, the lead attorney for the state of Hawaii, that is the first state out of the gate now challenging the new iteration of the president`s Muslim ban.  Mr. Katyal, thank you very much for your time tonight.  Keep us apprised. 

Again, this breaking news, this lawsuit just filed.  We will post what we`ve got in terms of the court documents on this at tonight. 

We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Over the last few days, there has been a full scale Washington freak-out over the president making an allegation on Twitter that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of the Trump campaign. 

Whether or not you have been following every exclamation point in that story, what we`ve got again in this story is a weird new thing in our politics, like a weird story, it`s outrageous, it`s very over-the-top, based on claims from the new president, and you can make of those claims what you will, but once again, what ends up being important here is not the wild claims of the president, right?  Not this distracting story that the White House has injected into the national bloodstream.  It`s not these wild tweets by the president. 

What instead ends up being really newsworthy and really interesting is what that wild story has shaken loose in terms of factual claims, confirmations, and otherwise from this administration.  Don`t pay attention to what they`re saying -- especially if you don`t believe them -- pay attention to what they`re doing.  Pay attention to what this White House has done in the immediate aftermath and there is something really important that the White House has apparently done in the immediate aftermath of this ridiculous story. 

Do you know who this guy is on the left there?  Obviously, the guy on the right, Samuel Alito, guy in the left, Don McGahn.  Don McGahn is the White House counsel.  His job is to advise the president in all legal matters relating for the presidency and the administration. 

In the hours after the president sent that Saturday morning tweet that got everybody so upset, Don McGahn was, according to the White House, already on the case.  A senior White House official telling the "New York Times" that day that Don McGahn was, quote, "working to secure access to what Mr. McGahn believed to be an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing some form of surveillance related to Mr. Trump and his associates."

OK, stop right there.  Regardless of what anybody is claiming, you can`t do that.  Warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, FISA warrants, those are some of the most sensitive top-secret business that we`ve got as a country.  Whether such a warrant exists or not, a White House official can`t ask the Department of Justice, can`t ask the court to hand over that administration.  You`ve got something there about the president, I want to see it. 

That`s not the way that works, that is not done.  Not under any circumstances, and especially when the information being sought involves the president and his key advisers.  That should not happen. 

And that explains why after some, quote, "heavy criticism", a different administration official was sent out there to walk it back.  Quote, "The official said the counsel`s office was actually looking at whether there was any legal possibility of gleaning information without impeding or interfering with an investigation."  Oh, no, we wouldn`t want to do that.  We weren`t trying to get them to hand over that information even though we already admitted to that on the record, we were just seeing if it was at all legally possible to potentially glean information about it. 

You know, can`t do that, either.  And the reason this is particularly troubling the not about the initial iteration of this story, right?  The initial claims that gave rise to this tizzy in Washington over what the current president is saying about the last president and how ridiculous it is.  What`s important here is that the White House admitted they`ve got their White House counsel trying to chase down this warrant.  And this comes on the heels of the White House admitting something very similar with the White House chief of staff. 

Last month, we got reports that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had violated longstanding, very important norms by asking FBI officials to make public statements about their investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and their intelligence.  The White House chief of staff leaning on the FBI about their investigation into the Trump campaign in Russia.

Now, the FBI refused those entreaties from the White House because that is not how those are supposed to work, but now, they`re doing it again, with FISA warrants? 

The protocols designed to keep the Justice Department independent from the White House political pressure the Justice Department can do its work, those protocols exist for a reason, and whatever other nonsense noise is going around this story, what the White House is telling us is that they are through multiple people in the top levels of the White House, the White House chief of staff, the White House chief counsel, they are trying to undo those norms and reconnect law enforcement and investigations in this country to White House partisan political pressure. 

Those norms have never been more important than they are now and they have never been more threatened.  More on that ahead.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The House Intelligence Committee today announced their first public hearing into the Russian attack on our presidential election.  Those receiving invitations to testify include the FBI Director James Comey, the NSA Director Mike Rogers, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.  So far, not the author of the dossier of alleged Russian dirt against Donald Trump, although that guy did pop back into view today in London after spending weeks in hiding after his dossier was first published.  I wonder if ultimately we`ll be talking to him, too. 

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. 

Congressman Schiff, thank you very much for being here.  Appreciate your time. 


MADDOW:  So, we`ve got this first announcement about a first hearing.  Is there bipartisan cooperation in terms of the witness list, in terms of the initial scope and direction of your information or is this all Chairman Nunes at this point? 

SCHIFF:  No, there`s bipartisan agreement on the scope of the investigation and we hammered out a very lengthy and detailed plan that we both signed off on.  That part is very bipartisan.  I fully support the open hearing and, frankly, I hope we have as many open hearings as possible and we can bring the public in this process.  Obviously, much of this will have to be done in closed session.

But I fully support the witness list for this full hearing, first hearing.  And what`s more, we ought to be able to get to the bottom of this charge made by President Trump in the course of a single hearing, that would probably the easiest issue to resolve.  Is this a scandal, as he has said, of mammoth proportion where the former president illegally wiretapped him or is this a scandal of a different kind where our current president has made a reckless and baseless allegation of criminality against his predecessor?  We should get that answer on March 20th and I intend to ask Director Comey very clearly and if the public reports are accurate that he wanted the Department of Justice to speak out, the director will have his own opportunity on March 20th to tell us whether there`s any merit or this is a complete fabrication by the president of the United States. 

MADDOW:  On that point about the wiretapping allegation, what I found most shocking about those allegations from the president about President Obama was not that the current president made a wild allegation that may have not been based in fact or may have been based on something he saw on a conspiratorial media site or something.  That didn`t surprise me as much as the word from the White House that after President Trump made these allegations, the White House counsel Don McGahn sought information about any FISA warrant that might have authorized wiretapping of Trump associates or Trump staffers during the campaign. 

It would seem to me, just my layman`s reading of this, that that`s not the sort of thing the White House counsel`s office should be able to obtain or even get information about.  Is that a separate independent national security process? 

SCHIFF:  It is and you`re exactly right.  There`s may be circumstances where it`s appropriate for White House counsel to seek information about a counterterrorism or counterintelligence investigation that has led to a FISA wiretap, but not in the circumstances where he`s asking if there`s a wiretap of his boss or associates of his boss.  That could be completely inappropriate. 

And if he did that, he`s not a particularly good White House counsel and this president probably needs the best White House counsel and probably a whole team of good lawyers.  But I can`t see any circumstance where it would be appropriate for the president`s lawyer effectively to go to the Justice Department and say what have you got on my boss? 

MADDOW:  Congressman, one last quick question for you.  One of the things we`ve been talking about this evening is the interesting reappearance in London of the former MI6 officer who wrote that uncorroborated, very salacious dossier of alleged Russian dirt on President Trump that made a big splash right before the inauguration in January.  He had gone into hiding after that dossier was initially published.  He`s now back in person.

  There`s been mixed reporting on whether U.S. investigations in the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians would like to speak to him. 

Do you know if the House Intelligence Committee, of which you`re the ranking Democrat, will seek testimony from him, whether we should expect to hear from him at all as American citizens in terms of what he found and what he published? 

SCHIFF:  Well, I`ll certainly be requesting his testimony and if there`s an issue about whether he is willing to come before the committee, I can say I am more than willing to go to him and I know there are other members of the committee would join me in that.  So, if it`s an issue of his not wanting to appear or to come here and face questions from the whole committee, we more than welcome his cooperation in any manner that he is comfortable. 

We certainly want to get to the bottom of the details of that dossier and report what has been substantiated, what hasn`t, and find out just how he based those conclusions and to whatever degree he is willing to share with us any sources of his information. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee making some news here on that subject with us tonight  -- thank you for your time tonight, sir.  It`s good to have you here.

SCHIFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

All right.  More to come tonight.  Stay with us.  


MADDOW:  Clemson, South Carolina, now, don`t be shy now.  Don`t be shy. 


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  Here`s what I`m going to try to do -- I`m going to try to help our president, Donald Trump, be as successful as possible because, number one, I agree with him mostly, and I would like to get this country moving again, so -- 


For those -- so I want to repeal or replace Obamacare. 



MADDOW:  Rowdy town hall hosted by Senator Lindsey Graham this weekend at home. 

Senator Graham has been on the side of killing the Affordable Care Act, but his constituents yelled their hearts out to him about that, he added a few asterisks to his statement. 


GRAHAM:  Let me tell my Republican leaders who may be listen, don`t give Lindsey Graham take it or leave it options because I`ll leave it.  I want to be part of this.  I want you to know what we`re doing.  I don`t want to replace Obamacare with a process that`s just exactly like we pass at the beginning with. 


MADDOW:  Senator Graham telling his angry constituents that he will stand up to his fellow Republicans on health care a little bit.  They better not, for example, try to pass it by rushing it through fast, take it or leave it.  That`s what he told his constituents this weekend.  Senate Republicans are preparing to jam through repealing Obamacare right away before the Easter recess next month.

But Lindsey Graham came out and said no to that, publicly urging his Republican colleagues to slow down.  Quote, "I`m not worried about the recess.  I`m worried about doing it right.  I don`t feel a need for speed."

Pressuring your local lawmaker never feels like it works at the moment, but there`s a reason people do it.  There`s a reason people work hard to try to get at it.  In blue state Colorado, for example, voters have been pressuring Republican Senator Cory Gardner to meet with them.  Missing Senator Gardner.  They have been pressuring him as hard as they can to save the Affordable Care Act.

They have kept steady pressure on him in Colorado for weeks.  We`ve been watching it on Twitter and Facebook, watching local news coverage of the pressure on Gory Gardner at home.  We`ve been watching it ever since the election.

Well, yesterday, Senator Cory Gardner came out with three other Republican senators and said he was against the newly rolled out plan to scrap Obamacare.  It`s not like he`s a champion of the Affordable Care Act or something, but he is now publicly against the plan his own party rolled out for scrapping it.

And if they really are going to kill Obamacare, Republicans can only afford to lose two senators from their plan to do that.  If all Democrats stay solid on this, Republicans can only lose two.  Well, on that letter alone, that`s Cory Gardner and three others, plus Lindsey Graham saying, whoa, whoa, whoa.  If those Republican senators` objections hold, then the Republican plan to kill Obamacare is dead already. 

And the beltway story is that the Republicans can`t repeal Obamacare because it`s not conservative enough, and so, conservative members of Congress are rising up against it.  And yes, that is happening. 

But you know what?  They can afford to shed some right-wing House Republican votes.  What they haven`t shed in large numbers are senators, particularly Democrat senators are pretty unified on this front and Republicans appear to be splitting. 

And you know what?  The pressure back home on them to hold the line on health reform, the pressure back home on them is sustained and loud and unyielding and it is not mostly from the right.  Pressure works.  And so far, that pressure is why 20 million Americans still have health insurance tonight -- Americans who might otherwise have lost it by now already. 


MADDOW:  I`m going hand-off here to Lawrence O`Donnell.  I want to mention one thing as we go, something that happened on this show tonight that we made some news. 

Congressman Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  I don`t want to leave without noting here, that he just told us that he`s determined that the House Intelligence Committee that`s investigating the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia, he`s determined that they should talk to the British former MI6 officer who compiled that dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump. 

The author of that dossier has been in hiding since January.  Today, he surfaced in London.  And apparently, at least the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading that investigation into Trump and Russia, he says he will go to London.  He will do whatever it takes to make sure they get his testimony.  Oh, really? 

That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow. 


Good evening, Lawrence. 

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