Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 10, 2017 Guest: Charlie Savage
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour. Happy Friday.
So the wheels are coming off a little bit. If the wheels are not yet off you are starting to hear the start of lug nuts stripping their threads and pinging across lanes of traffic while the wheels start to wobble.
There`s a little bit of a freak-out going on right now in Washington and we`re seeing it on two big stories that are developing tonight. Why is it always Friday night?
All right. One of these two stories tonight, developing tonight that shows this freak-out, one of them is about the administration itself. The other one breaking tonight appears to be about the prospect of investigation into the administration.
But we`re going to start at the beginning. We`re going to start with the first one tonight that concerns Michael Flynn. Never before in the history of our country has a national security adviser been fired after only 24 days in office. But Mike Flynn made that history, he didn`t make it to the end of his fourth week in office, but he made it to the history books.
When Mike Flynn was fired, though, there were things about it that didn`t make sense at the time that still don`t make sense, that still haven`t been explained and are starting to become untenable.
Mike Flynn was fired ostensibly because he had contacts with the Russian government during the transition. The transition between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, Mike Flynn was talking to the Russian government and he lied about the content of his communications with the Russian government.
And there are a couple of mysteries that remain about the Russian government contact. One is, why do we know about it? Why do we the people, we the press, we the citizens of the United States, why do we know about the content of his communications with the Russian government?
Michael Flynn reportedly was exposed as having lied about the content of his calls to the Russian government because U.S. law enforcement or U.S. intelligence agencies were listening in on at least one call that was recorded and then transcribed. We have seen quotes and various newspapers from multiple officials who say they have seen the transcripts, the transcripts from Mike Flynn talking to a Russian government official.
Even though the transcripts have never been leaked or published, we have been told what was in them. We have been told, it`s been reported, that the transcripts show that Mike Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian government, even though he lied and said he didn`t. Now, we still don`t know -- and this is going to end up being important -- we still don`t know why Michael Flynn`s calls with a Russian official were recorded and transcribed by U.S. officials, right?
If it was, you know, routine surveillance of foreign government officials in the United States, they always listen in on the Russians. Well, OK, that makes sense why a Russian government official would have been recorded and had his communication transcribed, but that kind of routine surveillance should not have included anything involving an American person.
Right, if it was an official under routine surveillance, any American getting on the line, that should not be included in that surveillance because Americans cannot be surveilled just because they happen to speak with foreign officials. If that listening, that surveillance, was done under a national security warrant, under a FISA warrant, again, we would expect any person captured in the communication would be what they call minimized, would be excised out of the communication, wouldn`t be recorded, wouldn`t be transcribed, we would haven`t access to what that U.S. person said.
A communication involving a U.S. person is a different thing legally speaking than a communication involving just foreigners. Why do we have access to what Flynn and a Russian official were talking about? If there was a warrant out on Michael Flynn himself and that`s why the call was being recorded -- well, that would explain why we`ve got a recording and a transcript of what Mike Flynn said when he was talking to a Russian official.
But there`s been nothing to indicate that Mike Flynn was the subject of a criminal warrant or the subject of a national security warrant, you know, a FISA warrant which in that case you`d only be able to get because you suspected him of something very serious like espionage. We haven`t seen anything that would indicate that there were warrants taken out to surveil Mike Flynn specifically.
So, that`s one of the big things that`s still to be determined here. One of the things we still need to understand if we are going to know what has happened to our government and what`s going on with this new presidency and particularly the Russian connection. We still do not know the circumstances of how U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies came to be monitoring and recording and transcribing calls between Russian officials and Mike Flynn during the transition.
If you are waiting for shoes to drop in this particular news environment, that one`s like a big freaking logging boot that`s going to fall off a ten- story window sill at some point, right? Wear a hard hat. We are still waiting for an explanation of that and we still don`t have one.
The other part of Mike Flynn`s firing that never made sense, though was its timing. Now, Mike Flynn reportedly had multiple conversations with Russian government officials during the presidential campaign which, of course, is when Russia was interfering in our presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, his multiple communications with Russian officials. Incidentally, those also remain unexplained. What was he talking to the Russian government about while the Russian government was attacking our election? I would love to know.
That said, further non-explained data here, Michael Flynn apparently continued his communications with Russian officials beyond the campaign past Election Day and into the transition. His conversations with the Russian ambassador that led to his firing, those happened during the transition. They happened in late December around Christmas and New Year`s.
Well, two weeks after that on January 15th, the vice president, Mike Pence went on TV and assured the American public that Michael Flynn definitely didn`t talk to the Russians about sanctions during the transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you about it. It was reported by David Ignatius that the incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in touch with the Russian ambassador on the day the United States government announced sanctions for Russian interference with the election. Did that contact help with that Russian -- kind of moderate response to it -- that there was no counter reaction from Russia? Did the Flynn conversation help pave the way for that sort of more temperate Russian response?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States` decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.
What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.
INTERVIEWER: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.
PENCE: I don`t believe there were more conversations --
INTERVIEWER: OK, let`s move on.
PENCE: -- but I can confirm that those elements were not part of that discussion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What Mike Pence said there was not true. We now know that Michael Flynn did discuss sanctions with the Russian government even though Mike Pence said he didn`t.
So, there are two possible ways to explain that. One is that, you know, Vice President Mike Pence was knowingly lying. He was straight up lying. He knew what Flynn had actually done but he lied about it on TV. That`s one possibility. That`s a very dark possibility.
The other possibility is that Mike Pence thought he was telling the truth. He thought he was telling the truth but because Michael Flynn fed him a B.S. story, Mike Pence innocently relayed that B.S. story to the American people as if it was true even though he wasn`t in on the real facts of the matter.
That latter story is what the White House decided to go with, right? Vice President Mike Pence would never knowingly lie to the American people, he passed on what Mike Flynn told him. That`s the story from the White House.
Mike Pence made those comments on TV January 15. Eleven days later, January 26th, the then acting attorney general of the United States, Sally Yates, we now know, she went to the White House with apparently the information gleaned from those transcripts, those recordings of Mike Flynn`s calls talking to the Russians. She brought that information to the White House and said basically, "Hey, what you`ve been saying about how Mike Flynn was communicating with the Russians and what he was and wasn`t talking to the Russians about, what you`ve been saying is not true. Mike Flynn absolutely did talk to the Russian government about the sanctions. And we know because we heard it and then we wrote it down."
I mean, what does not make sense here, what has never made sense here is what happened after that visit from the Department of Justice, after that visit from the acting attorney general, because what happened next after she told them Mike Flynn was, in fact, talking about sanctions when he talked to the Russians, what happened next after she told him that was nothing. From January 26, all the way through the end of January, all the way through the end of the first week through February, all the way to February 13th, the White House did nothing in response. Their line for why they had to fire Mike Flynn on February 13th is that they were so outraged that Mike Flynn had lied to good old Mike Pence.
Look at Mike Pence. How dare you lie to him? How could you lie to somebody like that? They were so outraged they had to fire Michael Flynn.
But you know what? They found out about Michael Flynn supposedly lying to Mike Pence, they found about that almost three weeks before. And it apparently took three weeks to start bothering them so much. What? It didn`t bother them until it hit the news, until the news or the content of those communications between Mike Flynn and the Russians until that hit the news, and everybody found out that Mike Pence had talked about sanctions with the Russian ambassador and had been lying about it, that`s when they finally fired Mike Flynn.
It`s never made sense in the White House account of what happened to Mike Flynn and how he was fired and why he was fired. It has never made sense that the reason he had to go was that he lied to Mike Pence and nobody lies to Mike Pence and gets away with it.
The White House sat on the news of that lie for three weeks, did nothing about it before they finally got dragged into firing him because of public exposure. The only thing that explains the time line of why they got rid of him when they did is that his lies around his contacts with Russia finally got publicly exposed.
So why did it happen that way? We know that what they are explaining about how it happened makes no sense. What did it happen that way for real? Why did they stick with Mike Flynn for all of that time, even though the Department of Justice came to them and told them, you know what, he`s lying publicly and unless Mike Pence is in on the lie, too, he`s apparently lying to Mike Pence, he`s lying to the vice president. And in terms of what he`s lying about, remember, the Department of Justice told the White House they thought Michael Flynn as national security adviser might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, while he was serving as national security adviser.
But, still, they held on to him, they held on to him for another three weeks. They held on through a lot of embarrassing stuff. I mean, there was a profoundly negative bipartisan reaction to him being appointed a top national security adviser to the campaign and them even more so to him being appointed actual national security adviser to the president. I mean, for somebody with such a distinguished military career, everything else about what Mike Flynn -- honestly, I don`t mean in the a mean way -- it was embarrassing.
His online statements, the tweets he deleted, the ones he didn`t, his son who he employed at his consulting business who was embarrassing enough and extreme enough that he has the rare distinction of being one of the only people ever fired from the Trump apparatus for being too embarrassing even for these folks.
Mike Flynn never had an explanation for why he took tens of thousands of dollars from the Russian government through Russian state-owned television. He never had an explanation for what he was doing not only taking their money but sitting next to Vladimir Putin at that gala dinner for Russia Today and standing up and applauding Putin at the end of Putin`s speech, giving him a standing ovation, leading the standing ovation for Putin.
And then there was Michael Flynn being on the payroll for a foreign government while he was advising Trump on the campaign and during the transition. And that point, him being on another government`s payroll, lobbying for another government while he was in the White House, right? While he was just transition official, while he was running -- that point is what has really sent the lug nuts skittering off the wheels in Washington tonight.
On Election Day, while Michael Flynn was serving as the top national security advisor to the Republican candidate for president, Mike Flynn also published this over-the-top op-ed in "The Hill" newspaper. The op-ed praised the authoritarian leader of Turkey. It also called for the heads of his dissidents and opponents. It was weird at the time. The timing itself was weird because it was on Election Day but the content was weird.
And within days, first, `The Daily Caller" and then, "Politico", they confirmed this weird op-ed makes sense, he wasn`t just writing that out of the goodness of his heart, actually Mike Flynn`s consulting group is being paid to represent the interest of the government of Turkey. Quote, "Retired General Michael Flynn, vice chair of the Trump transition, in the running for a top national security post in the new administration, runs a consulting firm that is lobbying for Turkish interests."
This wasn`t like a rumor or like a secret. "The Daily Caller" reported it, "Politico" reported it, CNN reported it, the "A.P." reported it, "Bloomberg" recorded it. On the 11th of November, some dumb cable show did a big long story at the top of the hour at 9:00 eastern on MSNBC.
It was widely publicly known and discussed that Michael Flynn and his consulting company were taking money to represent the Turkish government. They were lobbying for the Turkish government`s interests while he was the top of the national security apparatus in the Trump transition, while he was advising Trump on national security matters, he was taking that money, he`d been on the Turkish payroll during the presidential campaign.
Well, now this week, finally, Mike Flynn has finally retroactively registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. He has admitted that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for the government of Turkey last year between August and November.
But again, this filing is retroactive. It`s like he`s filing now to say he`s about to start taking money to lobby for the Turkish government. He`s filing now to report that he was lobbying for the Turkish government last year while he was also working for Trump.
Now, the White House said today that President Trump had no idea, no idea that Michael Flynn was an agent of a foreign government while he was advising the Trump campaign and leading the national security part of the Trump transition. And honestly, while he was sitting in on the presidential daily brief and all of the other things he did as part of the Trump effort. And maybe, amazingly, that`s true that President Trump had no idea Michael Flynn was a foreign agent while he was doing that because maybe the president consumes no news and information that is publicly available to the rest of us, maybe he didn`t notice anything on cable news, maybe he didn`t notice anything on "The Daily Caller" or "Politico" or "The A.P." or CNN or Bloomberg or any of it, just didn`t notice.
But you know, just a week after we did that big segment that we did on Michael Flynn working for a foreign government, just one week after that, Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote to the Trump transition team to formally alert them to these credible news reports that the top national security adviser to the transition and to the new president was lobbying for Turkish interests, notification from Congress. And now, today, "The Associated Press" has confirmed that the transition team beyond the letter from Elijah Cummings, beyond the news coverage and public discussion, the transition team was formally notified by Mike Flynn`s lawyers during the transition that he was on the payroll of a foreign government.
Quote, "Lawyers for Flynn told Trump`s transition team that Flynn might need to register as an agent of a foreign power."
So, even if you believe this from Trump, even if you believe that President Trump had no idea, never heard any of this, how did you guys find out about this crazy story? Oh, it was in the "A.P."?
Even if the president had no access to that publicly available information, we know for certain the White House is actually tonight confirming that even if they`re still saying the president didn`t know, they`re confirming that the transition knew. The transition team was informed at the highest levels that Michael Flynn may be needed to register as a foreign agent. Even if you don`t -- even if the president somehow was completely immune to this information, the White House confirms the transition knew, that the head of the transition was informed.
Who is the head of the transition? An incredibly honest looking gentleman named Mike Pence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Michael Flynn has filed with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent for making more than $500,000 as a lobbyist essentially for Turkey. Your reaction to that considering that doesn`t that mean, Mr. Vice President, that even if he didn`t lie to you about what the Russian ambassador said or didn`t say, that you would have had to fire him anyway?
PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of it and I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn`s resignation.
BAIER: You`re disappointed by the story?
PENCE: The first I heard of it and I think it`s an affirmation of the president`s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: First of all, Bret Baier at FOX asks the question perfectly, right? He lays it out, lays it out accurately, let me get your reaction. You know, basically saying is this not a significant scandal involving General Flynn? How does Mike Pence respond to that? Just play that bit again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was not actually the question you were asked. But -- nobody asked when you heard of it but twice Mike Pence volunteers that this is all news to him. Never heard this before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: You`re disappointed by the story?
PENCE: The first I heard of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is impossible that this is the first time Mike Pence has heard of it. It`s impossible. Mike Pence was the head of the transition. While all of those stories about Michael Flynn being on the Turkish government`s payroll were breaking, he was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn was being vetted for the national security adviser job, he was the head of the transition when Congress formally notified the head of the head of the transition that Mike Flynn appears to be on a foreign government`s payroll. He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn`s personal lawyers came and told the head of the transition that Michael Flynn maybe needed to register as a foreign agent and now, Mike Pence`s explanation to this whole story inexplicably is he`s never heard any of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That cannot be true.
There is something wrong in this story. There`s something wrong here. I mean, it is -- it`s one thing to pick somebody manifestly unfit for the job of national security adviser to be national security adviser, that`s one thing. It is another thing if you bring somebody on board to a top national security position while they`re also on the payroll of a foreign government, and you either don`t notice or you don`t care and you have them sit in on the president`s daily brief and you have them receive and deliver intelligence briefings while another government is paying them to represent that foreign government.
I mean, that`s a second-level scandal here. But you know what? It`s a third level of scandal when you start making utterly implausible denials that you had any knowledge of this thing that not only happened in plain view but you very clearly did know about it at the time that it was happening and you were notified of it directly.
What`s going on with the Michael Flynn story and his links to foreign governments? Honestly, it didn`t make sense why they hired him in the first place. Their explanation for why he was fired makes no sense whatsoever, especially if you believe that Mike Pence was the innocent wronged party in that drama, then it really doesn`t make sense.
And now that we`ve got Mike Flynn apparently lawyering up or at least starting to cover his legal tracks and retroactively filing as a foreign agent from the time he was managing intelligence briefings for the new president, now their explanation for that part of the story also makes absolutely no sense and does not comport with the facts. Why can`t they simply explain what happened here?
Mike Flynn`s gone, you can blame the whole thing on him, but you have to make sense if it happened the way you said it did. Why are the denials and explanations around him and his contacts with foreign governments, why are the denials and the explanations around him and his contacts with foreign governments, why are they getting more arcane, more incoherent and more elaborate?
Nobody asked Mike Pence when he first found out Mike Flynn was a foreign agent. Why is he repeatedly volunteering an implausible answer to that unasked question?
On this one, the White House makes no sense. They appear to be trying to protect themselves or position themselves, maybe in the event of further questions here, further revelations here, maybe an investigation here? I mean, we can see the freak-out happening. We do not yet know why they are freaking out like this about this. But if they`re freaking out about the prospect of a real investigation into this kind of stuff, then that explains what else happened tonight. And that`s next.
MADDOW: Preet Bharara is a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, which means he runs a big office, with hundreds of attorneys. He`s got jurisdiction over what amounts to, among other things, an enormous portion of the American economy headquartered in New York. Also, he`s got jurisdiction over a lot of the most important terrorism and national security cases in the country.
The southern district of New York is the highest profile U.S. attorney job in the country. Preet Bharara also has the reputation as a hellion when it comes to public corruption prosecution. One example, on the day Donald Trump asked Preet Bharara to stay on from the Obama administration to continue his work as a U.S. attorney in into new administration, that exact day, Preet Bharara was on Twitter crowing about the fact that it was the one year anniversary of him locking up the speaker of the assembly in New York state.
He has bicameral interests, though. He also incidentally nailed the leader of the New York state Senate as well. He also nailed two of Governor Andrew Cuomo`s top advisors recently.
Preet Bharara was appointed by Barack Obama there 2009 and it is not unheard of for a prosecutor to stay on beyond their four year-term even into a new presidency if the next president wants to keep them on. In this case, when Donald Trump became the new president, he decided he want Preet Bharara to say on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, U.S. ATTORNEY: The president-elect asked presumably because he`s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked me to discuss whether or not I`d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney, to do the work as we have done it, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven years. We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on.
I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to Senator Sessions who is, as you know, the nominee to be the attorney general. He also asked that I stay on. And so, I expect I`ll be continuing to work at the southern district of New York. That`s all I have but thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was right around the end of November. So, after the election, the early days of the transition "I agreed to stay on. That`s all I have but thank you."
I agreed to stay on, I was asked to stay on by Donald Trump, by Jeff Sessions personally, I have agreed to stay on.
And now, something has happened and apparently, he`s out. Maybe he`s not out, it looks like he`s out. Today in one fell swoop, the Trump administration asked for the resignation of 46 Obama administration federal prosecutors, U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department and I should tell you, it`s not unheard of for a new president to clean house of all the U.S. attorneys from the previous administration. It doesn`t always happen but it`s not unprecedented. In 1993, President Bill Clinton`s new Attorney General Janet Reno replaced all the U.S. attorneys across the country as well.
But, honestly, nobody had any idea this was coming today. They had not given any sort of signal that was going to happen. They just made this unannounced decision to drop the hammer on all the remaining U.S. attorneys all at once. They reportedly started calling people late today to tell them to submit their resignations effective immediately and now, these U.S. attorneys are gone tonight. Boom, boom, done.
The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the top Democrat in the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, released this statement tonight.
She writes, quote, "In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once. Mr. McGahn told me the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly, this is not the case. I`m very concerned about this unexpected decision on federal law enforcement."
They had previously said they wouldn`t do this, but then tonight, they decided to.
Part of what remains here as a question is whether this applies to Preet Bharara, too. Because he kind of had a special deal, right? He was asked to stay on by the president, by the attorney general. He accepted.
Tonight, NBC News asked the Justice Department if this new order firing all the U.S. attorneys applies to Preet Bharara, if they want him to stay on or leave, and the Justice Department told NBC, "Ask the White House." And NBC called the White House to ask about Preet Bharara`s situation and the White House said "ask the Justice Department."
So, somewhere between the White House and the Justice Department maybe somebody knows but we don`t know for sure either way.
I mean, the president has the power to fire Preet Bharara if he wants to. He`s allowed to do that. But it would be a strange and dramatic decision if he did it because there was an overt personally worked out deal admitted publicly to keep him on.
What happened since then? Why have they decided Preet Bharara has to go? Is there something to be afraid of?
In addition to Preet Bharara`s reputation for aggression in prosecuting public corruption, it may be that his jurisdiction here matters. Being the U.S. attorney for Manhattan doesn`t just mean that you cover, for example, all of Wall Street. It also means in his case his jurisdiction includes the headquarters of Trump Tower where you see him there the day he made his deal to stay on.
I should tell you, two days ago, a letter was sent to Preet Bharara from a few different ethics watchdog groups asking him based on his jurisdiction in Manhattan to investigate whether the Trump Organization is receiving illegal financial benefits from foreign governments that are redounding to the president himself.
Quote, "We call on you as the United States attorney for the jurisdiction where the Trump Organization is located to exercise your responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action to ensure that the Trump Organization and related Trump business enterprises do not receive payments and financial benefits from foreign governments that benefit President Trump."
So, that letter was sent from ethics watchdog groups to Preet Bharara two days ago. You`ve got jurisdiction here. If the president is getting payments from foreign governments through his businesses because he`s not divested, you have jurisdiction to investigate that. That letter went to Preet Bharara two days ago.
Now, apparently, Preet Bharara has been fired two days later. What are you so afraid of?
We`ve got a good guest on this subject coming up who may be able to shed some light on what`s going on here, why this has happened. But I should tell you that there is one previous example just in case this becomes relevant, there is one previous example of a federal prosecutor in New York resisting and saying no when a president tried to remove him.
His name was Robert Morgenthau. In 1969, he had the same gig Preet Bharara has now. President Nixon called for Robert Morgenthau`s head and Robert Morgenthau dug in his heels and said he would not leave. He would resist being fired.
And it was very dramatic but the way it ended is he had to leave, too, because the president can decide who`s in these jobs. The president has this power.
Why a president chooses to use to exercise it at a time like this, making an absolute U-turn from his previous decision without any advanced notice and without any explanation, well, that`s a really interesting question regardless of whether or not he`s got the power to do it. That`s next.
MADDOW: Top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, is setting off a flare about the Trump administration firing more than 40 U.S. attorneys and one fell surprise swoop. He`s raising alarm particularly about the federal prosecutor in New York, whose jurisdiction includes Trump Tower and the Trump Organization.
This is from Schumer tonight. Quote, "I`m troubled to learn of reports of request for resignations from the remaining U.S. attorneys, particularly that of Preet Bharara after the president initiated a call to me in November and assured me he wanted Preet Bharara to continue to serve as U.S. attorney for the southern district. By asking for the immediate resignation of every remaining U.S. attorney before their replacements have been confirmed or even nominated, the president is interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice."
The president, any president, can clean house like this, right? A president can switch the U.S. attorneys out. But why tonight? Why so abruptly? And why ask Preet Bharara to stay and then change your mind?
Joining us now is Charlie Savage. He`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington correspondent for "The New York Times". He`s been reporting on this latest move by the Trump administration. He`s also the author of "Power Wars: Inside Obama`s Post-9/11 Presidency".
Mr. Savage, thank you very much for being here tonight. It`s nice to see you.
CHARLIE SAVAGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oh, good to be back. Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: Hi. So, it is obviously within the president`s power to appoint new U.S. attorneys as many as he likes. Is this a sort of standard operating procedure for a new administration? Is there anything unusual about the timing, the fact that there was no announcement or the fact that nobody has been nominated to replace these U.S. attorneys?
SAVAGE: So, the first point is absolutely a president can remove U.S. attorneys at will. They serve at the pleasure of the president and it is not unusual for a new president, especially when there`s been a change of party, to replace the 93 top federal prosecutors in federal districts around the country. Typically, it happens on a more rolling basis with transition time and we`ll replace this guy and then we`ll replace that guy and we`ll replace this woman.
Or as you mentioned earlier there was one precedent for a mass firing which came from President Bill Clinton in March of -- 1993. Even that was a little different than this then however because the people weren`t all sort of told to pack up their offices and get out by the close of business that day.
I talked to one of President George H.W. Bush`s U.S. attorneys who was there in January of 1993 when President Bill Clinton took over in McKay in Seattle and -- Michael McKay -- and he told me well I was going to leave but when this thing came down, they let me stay three weeks beyond that, there was another guy he remembered who had had a big investigation open, they let him stay.
So, this very abrupt get out is part of what`s unusual about this unexpected mass firing which we did not expect to happen in one big gulp. But we did expect to happen in slow motion over quite a lot of time.
MADDOW: And, Charlie, in terms of your reporting and your understanding of the dynamics at work here, was there a beef? Was there a political analysis that made this seem like an imperative? Was there a grudge against the U.S. attorneys as a group?
SAVAGE: I don`t know about the U.S. attorneys, but for the last few weeks as these various leaks have been coming out about Trump campaign officials and Michael Flynn and contacts with Russia and chaos inside the Trump administration, there`s been a sort of growing counter-narrative in conservative circle which is that all these leaks are sabotage by leftover Obama era officials who are sort of embedded in the government and are -- need to be purged.
We`ve had sort of a growing clamor of sort of conservative talk radio people and some members of Congress and so forth, escalating last night with Sean Hannity on FOX News saying it`s time for Trump to purge -- his word -- all of these saboteurs, his word, which means every holdover Obama- era official, he`s got to get them out. And Hannity in particular talked about how Clinton had gotten rid of all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his administration and it was no big deal, and Trump really needed to do the same now.
MADDOW: Charlie, one quick last question for you, on the issue of Preet Bharara specifically, obviously, there`s two things at work here. One, he`s got jurisdiction geographically over what would include the Trump Organization. Two, there was a public announcement he would stay on. Can you shed any light for us on a particular dynamic at work there? That is I think a particular point of concern for a lot of people looking at this story tonight.
SAVAGE: Yes. Well, you know, we don`t know. Stuff may come out but in from this vantage point at this moment in time, I think the most likely explanation is that at the time that Trump made that deal with Preet Bharara in November of last year, he was in a sort of moment of bromance with Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic minority leader, he was like we can work with this guy, we can find common ground when somebody people on the left were saying scorched earth, Schumer was saying no, let`s find things we can do together.
And this was a gesture towards Senator Schumer because Preet Bharara is a long time. -- prior to being U.S. attorney was counsel to Chuck Schumer, Chuck Schumer was his patron, Chuck Schumer got him the position of being U.S. attorney by telling Barack Obama he should nominate him. And so, that was a gesture.
Since then, relations between President Trump and Chuck Schumer have become increasingly toxic, Trump has insulted Schumer and Schumer in turn called for an independent investigation into the Russia thing, he said that Jeff Sessions should resign. They are not friends anymore and that may be why this deal that sort of was thrown together capriciously in November when things looked very different no longer was that attractive to Trump or to Sessions.
MADDOW: If we ever find outs about the presence or absence of any Trump- related investigations out of the U.S. attorney`s office, you`ll probably be the guy who writes the amazing book about it. We look forward to hearing it then.
SAVAGE: We`ll find out.
MADDOW: Charlie Savage, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington correspondent for "The New York Times" -- Charlie, appreciate it tonight. Thanks.
SAVAGE: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. You know I love Friday nights, buckets of news every Friday night, right? We`re just getting started.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, Donald Trump`s Colorado campaign chairman, Senator Gardner, take it away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: We`re one week into President Trump`s administration. Is it what you expected?
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: You know, I think it`s just -- it`s just been a fire hose. It just seems the second you turn your head one way to see what`s coming down that road, you have to turn your head this way to see what`s coming down that road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: On point, Senator, on point. So what is your advice to your constituents? Folks who experience this administration as an unmanned fire hose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: There are people who are afraid right now about the environment, about health care, ant immigration, education.
GARDNER: People shouldn`t be afraid, I don`t think, in this country. We should be proud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Don`t be afraid. Be -- it appears a lot of Senator Gardner`s constituents are deciding to be proud, in part on his office doorstep. They have mounted a long-standing and forceful effort to push Senator Cory Gardner to say no to Trump plans and Republican plans on everything from repealing the Affordable Care Act to the Muslim ban to the wall on the Mexican border, Coloradans have been demanding time with their senator, they have been pressuring him to hold town halls, they have been be doing whatever they can to reach him. They have tried to get his attention through prank missing poster signs. Try to initiate contact.
You see the small print there? If you have seen or heard from this man, please inform his constituents.
They`ve tried flattery. Senator Gardner, will you make a date with Colorado?
They have tried getting his attention by holding town halls without him where they pose questions to a cardboard version of Cory Gardner.
They have made art installations of his face. That pressure has been constant on Cory Gardner back home in Colorado and little by little, that pressure is may be starting to move things. After the president`s first Muslim ban took effect, Senator Gardner called on the president to change it, says it goes too far. "I urge the administration to take the appropriate steps to fix this overly broad executive order."
On the subject of health reform, this week, he joined three other Republican senators in saying he wouldn`t support the House Republican bill to kill Obamacare if it didn`t help people who are covered under Medicaid.
And now, we have a bit of news to report on another thing that Senator Gardner seems to be moving on, something his constituents have really been pressuring him on back home, and he did it under cover of one of these telephone town halls, one of these things that members of Congress set up to save their constituency without having to be anywhere near them.
Luckily, somebody in the call had the foresight to record this teletownhall. They posted the audio online, and it turns out, Senator Gardner made some real news when he was talking to his constituents, made on the subject of the border wall, something that the senator has been very shy about commenting on for a while. It turns out, once he is confronted by his constituents directly, he`s less shy when he talks to them about it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GARDNER: As far as the wall goes, I believe we have to have border security. But I do think billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed. I don`t support a tariff to pay for any kind of a wall. If we need security on the border, whether that`s personnel, or whether that`s something -- we need security on the border, but that may mean personnel, it may mean a fence, may mean an electronic fence. But we shouldn`t just build a wall at billions of dollars because that`s what somebody said should be done.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: We shouldn`t just build a wall just because somebody says it should be done.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner coming out against spending billions on the border wall and his constituents got him to do a town hall to say that and when they got him to say it, they got him to say it on tape. The pressure is working and so are the tape recorders.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GARDNER: We shouldn`t just build a wall at billions of dollars because that`s what somebody said should be done.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: You may have heard the news this week that more U.S. troops are going into Syria. So far, most U.S. troops in the region have been special operations forces on the ground. And we`re now getting the first U.S. conventional troops on the ground in Syria. The new deployment includes teams of not just Army Rangers but also a marine artillery unit. They`ve already arrived in country. That brings the total number of U.S. troops who are in Syria to around a thousand.
In terms of the fight against ISIS, this week, we also got some devastating images out of Mosul. This is the Mosul Antiquities Museum in Iraq. The ankle-deep ash in this room is thousand-year-old rare books and manuscripts that have all been burnt to ash. This was the museum that ISIS captured in 2014 and they showed the video of ISIS taking sledge hammers to priceless ancient statutes and icons and frescos.
Well, after three years under ISIS control, that museum and everything in it is now completely destroyed. Iraqi forces just recaptured the museum. As they reentered it, all they were able to find were piecemeal remains of, you know, Mesopotamian tablets and Assyrian statues, pieces of the super rare ancient culture just destroyed.
In terms of what`s going to happen next, there`s one thing we`re told to anticipate next in terms of the fight against ISIS to take back the rest of Mosul. One other building besides that museum in Mosul made major international news in recent years since ISIS has held it and it`s from the one time that the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has ever been seen in public since he declared himself the caliph of ISIS. The place where he declared himself the caliph of Muslims around the world is in Mosul. It`s the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. This is him giving that sermon, the last he`s ever been seen.
Well, we are now told to expect that Iraqi troops are closing in on that mosque now, that they are about to take it back from ISIS after all these years.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: One thing to keep an eye on this weekend, we`ve been trying to watch town halls and constituents getting in touch with their members of Congress and their senators, in part because that sometimes is leading to obvious change in the views and behavior of those members of Congress.
Darrell Issa, controversial and interesting Republican member of Congress from California, had a town hall in his district during the congressional recess that a lot of his constituents went to but he didn`t. He is apparently going to be doing two town halls tomorrow. They are both totally full up, oversubscribed. His office tells us they are looking for larger venues.
But if you`re going to keep an eye on people pressuring their members of Congress this weekend, watch those Darrell Issa town halls. They should be hot. Is that the right word?
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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