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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/4/2017

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 4, 2017 Guest:

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Wes Lowery has an amazing book called "They Can`t Kill Us All", which I would recommend to anyone that`s interested in those topics. That`s, of course, on Saturday.

As always, check out all of our tour dates at our Facebook page. That`s Facebook.com/allinwithchris.

The book continues to be sold wherever books are sold. IndieBound is a great place to look it up because that`s independent book sellers who you can support. And I have to say, I`ve been around the country for the last two weeks meeting a lot of independent book sellers who are fascinating and incredible people who do amazing work and have this incredible sense of who their customers are. They`re all over the country and have been amazing to meet. So, thank you very much.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris Hayes, my hero, thank you, friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Thanks for being with us.

We`ve had some just brutal and terrible news out of Syria today, as dozens of civilians, dozens of children appear to have been killed and what looks like a chemical attack of some kind on a Syrian rebel-held area in the northwest part of that country. Our own Richard Engel filed a harrowing, harrowing report on this attack tonight for "NBC Nightly News."

Here`s part of what Richard filed. I will tell you, it is a bit intense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: These disturbing images taken just after the explosion. Witnesses say it was a chemical weapons attack, and in the video, it appears to bear all the hallmarks.

This boy using all his strength just to breathe. First responders doused the victims with water, stripped off their clothes to wash off what they said was a chemical weapon. Medics and volunteers in this rebel-controlled part of Syria rushed the injured to local clinics. They claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s regime fired a banned chemical nerve agent sarin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gas attacks are continuing every day and no one is doing anything to stop this gas attack.

ENGEL: Other victims were taken to a makeshift clinic built in a cave to protect it. There, a father kissed his daughter goodbye. Nearby, this activist was recording what he was seeing, saying warplanes were still overhead.

Then -- hospitals are often targeted in this war that respects no conventions. Amazingly, the activists survived.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That is Richard Engel`s reporting from "NBC Nightly News" tonight, on just this incredible attack, what appears to be a chemical attack of some kind that killed dozens of civilians, including many kids in Syria today.

Now, one of the underreported, under-debated decisions of this new administration is that very quietly, they have been moving tons more American troops into Syria, into the Syrian civil war. Now, we`re used to receiving blunt terse little notifications from the Pentagon or sometimes from the White House directly whenever any significant number of U.S. troops are moved into war zones. That`s the way they`ve always done it.

In this new administration, though, they are not doing it that way. They are moving U.S. troops in considerable numbers but they`re not announcing it.

Last week, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is on the Foreign Relations Committee, he literally posted a blog entry on "The Huffington Post" as his way of getting word out that these big troop deployments to Syria were happening. He said, quote, "Quietly, without any official notification, President Trump sent 500 new American troops into Syria. News reports suggest this deployment may just be the tip of the iceberg with some saying that the plan is for hundreds more American troops to be added to the fight in coming weeks."

Quote, "Nobody actually knows how many U.S. troops are inside Syria now because the administration has largely tried to keep the build-up a secret."

So, there are lots more American troops heading into the war in Syria, but the administration does not want to say so and they have not been talking about these additional deployments. This is -- whatever you think about the war in Syria, this is a fundamentally awkward thing for the basic structure of how our democracy works, right?

This is an awkward thing for civilian control of the military, for Congress supposedly having the ultimate say-so over matters of war in peace. For the American people knowing about what U.S. troops are doing in our name, on our behalf, and our ability to be good citizens about that, to debate and ultimately decide through our democratic processes whether or not those fights are worth it, whether we want American troops engaged in these particular wars.

And when it comes to Syria, that is going to be a particularly hard debate to have if we ever really have one. I mean, when it comes to whether or not U.S. troops should be fighting inside Syria in significant numbers, Americans have found that to be a very difficult question to ask. The last time the U.S. government confronted the issue of chemical weapons being used by the Syrian military against their own civilian population, last time this issue arose was in 2013.

David Corn today did a really good roundup of how the man who`s now our president reacted at the time to that crisis, the last chemical weapons in Syria crisis, that really became a major issue in this country, rounded up what his public statements were about how the U.S. should deal with that at the time.

I mean, Syria, obviously, is a catastrophe, right? It is a moral and human and geostrategic catastrophe. It is a hard strategic question for the United States as to how to make that situation better.

President Obama takes tons of heat to this day for not having sent U.S. troops into the war in Syria, but what he actually did if you remember is he asked Congress to authorize that. He asked Congress to authorize a war in Syria if that is what they really wanted and the way Congress responded was by doing nothing. President Obama asked Congress to authorize that and they went -- us, huh?

They would much prefer to criticize the White House, criticize anybody for what a disaster that war became rather than get on the record themselves with an overt decision as to what should be done about it. I mean, most people with political aspirations would like to avoid making any overt declaration about what is the right move in Syria, what would improve things in Syria, what exactly should American troops do in Syria.

Most ambitious politicos stay out of that one and they`ve proven that by the fact that they did stay out of it when they were overtly asked to make that call.

But you know what? Donald Trump was not shy about it. As a real estate developer and a reality TV show star at the time, in May 2013, he was quite clear about what should be done. Congress didn`t want to weigh on it but he was very clear about what needed to happen, specifically about what should not happen.

Here he was, May 2013, quote, "Syria is not our problem." Donald Trump, May 2013.

By the following month, by June, quote, "We should stay the hell out of Syria. What will we get for our lives and billions? Zero." That was June.

By August, quote, "Stay out of Syria."

By September, he was having back and forth with people on Twitter about it. He was -- here, he was posting a public reply to @BigSexyBDavis. "Mr. Trump would attack Syria or no?" asked BigSexyBDavis. Mr. Trump responds, "No."

In case that colloquy with BigSexyBDavis was not clear enough fifteen minutes later, Trump posts again, quote, "What I am saying is stay out of Syria." OK, got it.

Then two days later, "Do not attack Syria." Then two hours later, this time in all caps, "DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA."

September 7th, "President Obama, do not attack Syria." September 9th, "Don`t attack Syria." September 11th, "Forget Syria." September 13th, "Stay out of Syria."

You know, a lot of people in public life Congress itself in 2013 did not want to go on the record about what the United States should or should not do in Syria.

President Obama went to Congress in August and explicitly asked them for authorization. Oh, you are so mad at me about not having a war in Syria, you want a war in Syria, authorize it and we will go. Congress`s response to that was no comment. They decided they didn`t want to vote on that. They did really did not want to be on the record saying what ought to happen in Syria.

But Donald Trump not afraid, very clear about it, with BigSexyBDavis and everybody else within sight and sound of his Twitter account. Totally clear, "Stay out of Syria."

Well, now, after today`s horrific attack in Syria, the White House has issued a response in President Trump`s name. His response to the Syrian attack today is to blame President Obama for not attacking Syria back in the day. Quoting from today`s presidential statement, quote, "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration`s weakness and irresolution."

That White House response to this new attack in Syria is to attribute it to President Obama because President Obama, quote, "did nothing in Syria."

President Obama in fact did not invade Syria, maybe because he was persuaded by Donald Trump`s arguments against it at the time when he was, you know, talking about it on twitter with BigSexyBDavis and everybody else, saying that Syria is, quote, "not our problem", that Syria is, quote, "their war". Now we saying everything that`s happening now is because Obama didn`t go in.

You know what? Hypocrisy is cheap, saying one thing and doing another, condemning other people for things that you yourself are guilty of, we wouldn`t have half the parables in the Bible if human beings had come up with a cure for that particular human affliction any time in history.

But the thing that is in fact new under the sun a thing that is new about this new administration that we`re just figuring out now is their unusual decision making process about when they choose to operate behind closed doors and when they choose to act out in the open. I mean, every administration likes to play up its strengths and downplays its weaknesses, but their behavior is weirder than that. I mean, senators on the Foreign Relations Committee are now writing their own essays making their own blog post public disclosures about U.S. troops being moved by the hundreds into war zones and they`re having to do that because the White House is not telling us that information on its own anymore. That`s a strange decision on their part.

I mean, eventually, we`re going to find out these are not covert actions that these U.S. troops are taking. These deployments are not classified. So, by just not announcing when troops are going and what troops are going, they`re not keeping the information actually secret. We`re going to find out.

They just obscured a little. They don`t draw attention to it. They buy themselves a little time in which they don`t have to answer any questions about what they`re doing.

By not announcing these troop deployments, the White House avoids or at least delays there being any political fight in Washington over whether or not there`s a good strategic reason to send more American troops into the middle of that Syrian war, and why the president has changed his mind about that. I mean, it is presumably easier to blame the previous administration for bad things that happen somewhere than it is to argue for what you want to do differently about it.

So, they have come up with this closed-door strategy on Syria at least where they are not arguing for what they`re doing they`re not announcing it or explaining it they`re not making a case for themselves they`re just doing stuff without saying that that`s what they`re doing. And that`s not the way it is supposed to work when it comes to Americans putting their lives in danger in war. And so, that is where it stands out the most.

But that is not just their M.O. on national security matters. The new administration does this on other stuff. For example, the president has also just signed some of the furthest reaching legislation of his young presidency. He just signed a bill that lets your Internet provider sell all of your personal data your online usage data, all your financial data, everything they`ve gone on you, they can sell it without your permission, they can sell it even without your knowledge.

And this is this is a big deal. This is going to be a big deal for all of us that your Internet service provider can do this. I mean, this is a material change from the way your data is handled now.

I mean, it`s one thing if there are specific websites or specific apps that collect data about you and what you do online, right? You -- whether or not you care about that, if you do care about it you have options. You have options as a consumer to choose to not use those websites or not use those apps, if you -- if you don`t like their privacy policies, if you don`t like how they deal with your information.

But your Internet provider? It`s not like most of us have a lot of choice when it comes to who you get your Internet service from. My house in western Massachusetts, there`s precisely one way that Internet can come into my house. It`s through DSL and there`s one company from which I can purchase that DSL service. That`s it.

But now, thanks to this bill that President Trump just signed, my Internet provider and yours can take your browsing history can take their record of everything you have ever downloaded, can take their data about everything you have ever done online, all of your financial information, everything they have got on you, and they can sell it to anyone without even giving you notice that they`re doing so, let alone allowing you the opportunity to object.

And if you don`t have a lot of choice of Internet providers, which a lot of people don`t your only option for opting out of this system, for protecting yourself at all, is to not use the Internet? I mean, really?

But that change is no official and it is thanks to President Trump and Republicans in Congress. Basically a party line vote but Republicans in the House and Senate to pass this thing and President Trump just signed it. And as you might imagine, this thing is radically unpopular. Even the -- even the radically pro-Donald Trump corners of the Internet.

At the "The Donald" sub reddit, which is the famously pro-Trump community online. Even there, Trump supporters are freaking out that he just signed this thing.

YouGov just did a national poll on this thing. They described what the bill does, then asked people nationwide, should Donald Trump sign this bill or should he veto it?

Eleven percent of people said Donald Trump should sign this bill. The proportion of people who said that Donald Trump should veto it, oh, 74 percent. Seventy-four percent say do not sign the bill. He signed the bill. And courage, he did it behind closed doors -- no photo-op, no stand- alone press release, no awkward ceremony where he gets up and starts to walk away because he actually forgot to sign the bill and he has to come back afterwards and make sure he really signs. This one, they did it behind closed doors, no press, no tweets, no cameras, because they do not want to talk about it. They did not want to defend it. No human wants this and so they signed it in secret.

I mean, we`re still new here, right? We`re still figuring them out, but we`re start to think you`re starting to figure out a little bit about how they do things. Remember this big photo op de you see these images, right? Get the women in here.

This was -- this was the signing of the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act. That same day, they also signed to the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers Act, awesome. Very well-staged, photo-ops, those were executive orders that did absolutely nothing substantive whatsoever to promote women entrepreneurship or to promote women pioneers in space. Literally, not a single dollar or sent moved left right up or down because of either of those all for show executive orders. But they did put on a show, they got their big photo ops.

And then that same day they cleared all the extras out of the room, pushed out all the cameras, close the doors and very quietly, that same day, the president also signed a very consequential bill which makes it easier for seriously mentally ill people to buy firearms, because you remember how everybody campaigned in November on the more guns for the seriously mentally ill platform, right?

Now, that one -- that one they did not want to talk about. That one, they wanted to do it for some reason but they knew they couldn`t defend it. So, that one, they did in secret. They still did it, but they did it in secret.

We are starting to learn the ropes with these guys. They will make a show out of anything they want to.

But we are also learning that they are unusually afraid. They are deathly afraid to talk about their own actions that they can`t defend, where they`re acting not because a single identifiable human being wants them, wants them back that way, but for some other reason, they still feel compelled, whether it`s guns or the Internet or the secret escalation in Syria that they cannot defend, and that before he was president, he was so opposed to.

Whether it`s any of those issues, we now are starting to figure out what they`re doing and why they are doing it when they retreat behind closed doors to do so much of what they do, and we`ve got a scoop on that tonight. We`ve got some leaked documents out of the EPA that have never been seen public eye before but we`ve got them tonight. That`s coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I want to update you want something unexpected that is happening tonight, right now. It`s about the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination. I think we`ve got a live picture -- yes, we do. This is a live picture of the Senate floor right now.

The gentleman in the tie speaking of the podium, that is Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley and the reason this is news today is because Jeff Merkley has been standing there doing this for a very, very long time tonight, and we have just learned that apparently, he`s just getting started. Senator Merkley, we are now told, is planning on holding the floor overnight tonight, talking all through the night, to oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Senator Merkley started speaking around 6:45 Eastern Time tonight. As you can see, he is still going. We just got in contact with his office they tell us he intends to continue speaking quote as long as he is physically able.

So far, Senator Merkley has spent his time on the floor talking about judge Gorsuch`s record, why he`s opposed to Judge Gorsuch. Also, he`s been talking about what he says is the only relevant context in which this nomination is playing out, what he calls the theft of a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by President Obama`s nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: The majority team in this chamber decided to steal a Supreme Court seat. Again, such a theft never ever has happened in the history of our nation. The majority said, we intend to pack the court of the United States of America. There was no principle to the position. It was a warfare tactic of partisanship to pack the court. It was a "end justifies the means" even if the means violates the core premise of the Constitution and does deep damage to the Senate and does deep damage to the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon speaking earlier this evening. But he is still there. These -- again, this is a live picture. Senator Merkley is in hour three right now.

In terms of the context here, Democrats will have, of course, announced that they`re going to filibuster Neil Gorsuch`s nomination. They do have the votes to do that. That drama is getting underway in Washington now. It will play out over the next couple of days.

Earlier today, Maine Senator Angus King became the final senator to announce how he plans to vote he said he will oppose Gorsuch nomination, and he will support the filibuster. With Angus King weighing in and saying what he`s going to do, that means all senators have now declared their intentions. We believe based on what they`ve all said that Neil Gorsuch will likely have 56 votes, which means he will be four votes shy of the votes he will need to overcome a Democratic filibuster. That means the only way the Republicans are going to be able to get him through, get him onto the court, is if they kill the filibuster.

Well, today, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, set up the next key votes on Judge Gorsuch. He set those next key votes ups for starting Thursday morning. If they do decide they`re going to go through with this all the way, if they do decide to kill the filibuster and change the United States Senate forever, just so they can get him through, that vote -- that key vote will be expected on Friday.

But meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley apparently intends to hold the Senate floor all night long tonight to try to stop Gorsuch from going through. As I said, he`s at about two and a half hours so far and counting. We don`t know how late he is going to go. But watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: All right. Here`s an exclusive story. You will not see this anywhere else. The man standing just left of the president in this picture, his name is Andrew Liveris. He`s the CEO of Dow Chemical, which is very nearly the biggest chemical maker in the world. He serves on the president`s manufacturing council. He served on the previous presidents export council.

Between the two presidents, he seems to like the new one more. He says, quote, "Rather than entering a vacuum, I`m getting emails from the president`s team, if not every day, then every other day -- here`s what we`re working on. We need another meeting. Can you get us more input on this?"

That`s the CEO of Dow Chemical enthusing to "The Washington Post" recently about how good Dow Chemical has got it right now with this new White House. Then three days after giving that quote, the Trump administration gave Dow Chemical a present.

The new EPA administrator announced that he was overruling the scientific findings of his own agency and he was deciding personally that he would OK the use of one of Dow Chemicals pesticides. Despite his own agency finding that it was too dangerous, too toxic for use in the United States, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said it would be green lit.

Now, under the previous president, Dow Chemical had been losing the fight over that pesticide. With the new president and the daily phone calls and then here`s what we`re working on and we need another meeting and can you get us more input on this -- now, now Dow Chemical finds that it is winning.

And there`s nothing illegal, there`s nothing inherently wrong about the CEO of Dow Chemical relishing his new access to the White House and then benefiting from the administration`s new policies. But it is -- it`s a nice sort of tidy demonstration of how things are getting done now. They`re not shy about it.

So, here again is the -- let`s look at that photo op one more time -- this is the CEO of Dow Chemical is on the left side there. What the president is doing in this photo-op is signing an order to broadly append the way public health and safety get protected by the government. The president was signing the executive order for agencies to start wholesale deleting health and safety regulations.

And watch what the president does when he finishes signing the thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Should I give this pen to Andrew, Dow Chemical? I think maybe, right?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Give the pen to Andrew, Dow Chemical. Pleasure working with you.

That was the president rolling out Executive Order 13777, enforcing the regulatory reform agenda and thanking by name Andrew, CEO of Dow Chemical, for all the help.

Well, tonight, we can report exclusively on how one part of the government is responding to that executive order, how it`s going to work in real life. We got this exclusively in the sense that we have obtained new internal administration documents that have not been publicly released. We believe them to be genuine but the EPA is not answering our questions about them.

What these documents appear to show is a fairly sweeping change and how the government deals with questions like, whether to ban a pesticide from Dow Chemical when the government`s own scientific studies have determined that that testified pesticide is unsafe. And it isn`t just about pesticides. It`s broadly about clean air and clean water and things like keeping the public safe from radiation.

Again, the EPA did not answer any of the questions that we asked them over the last two days about these documents. But what we believe these are our internal memos from inside the EPA and they show the first steps and how that part of the government is going to carry out that "here`s your pen, Andrew" executive order, the one about health and safety regulations.

The memos appeared to be from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. They`re dated March 24th. You can see there. it says, we got to close up. You see the from line, it is from a Scott Pruitt and then it looks to be his signature off to the side on the right.

This first memo that we obtained calls for EPA regulators to start reporting any action they take, any regulatory action anywhere in the country needs to now be reported in a central database, quote, "effective immediately, EPA program and regional offices shall report all regulatory - - excuse me, all regulatory actions in the agency`s regulatory management system. Regulatory actions to be reported include but are not limited to those related to any statutory or judicial deadlines, petitions, pesticide tolerances, significant new use rules national priority listings or delistings, permits federal implementation plans, state implementation plans. As a general matter, offices should err on the side of including actions in the system."

It`s basically -- basically, what that means that is that if any action is taken anywhere by any EPA office, any EPA personnel anywhere in the country, you know, a statement on how much pesticide it`s safe to leave on a crop, or a response to a petitioner response to a court, anything has to be reported to headquarters in D.C. Everything everywhere in the country goes through D.C. now, everything. So, that`s memo one, that`s the first thing that we obtained. That`s new.

Then there`s the second memo we obtained. It specifically cites that "here`s your pen, Andrew" executive order, and then it says this, quote, "By May 15th, the Offices of Air and Radiation, Land and Emergency Management, Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Water, Environmental Information. Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations, and Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization should provide the task force with recommendations regarding specific rules that should be considered for repeal, replacement or modification. While we intend to do some outreach regarding this effort, I would like the recommendations from those offices to be informed by consultation with their particular stakeholders."

And that is all supposed to be done by May 15th, which is six weeks from now. And that`s the first step in the process.

Obviously, it makes a huge difference who the EPA considers to be a stakeholder affected by their regulations, right? If it`s the Dow Chemicals of the world who are getting daily calls and ceremonial pins from the White House, we can imagine some of what you know Dow Chemical would like to have happen. Having it all done by May 15th should be no problem for them since they`re there talking every single day anyway.

But if it isn`t just out chemical, if it`s also like our lungs and skin and vital organs have a stake in these regulations, are those interests getting consulted to as we wholesale plan to get rid of health and safety regulations? I mean, that we don`t know we talked to two leading environmental groups today who have been a EPA stakeholders in the past, each of them said they have heard beans from the EPA about these new prophecies that we have documented in these two memos that we have obtained.

One of them told us they used to talk to EPA all the time under the old administration. But under the new one, their official communication with the EPA is down to zero. Maybe that will change, they`ve got a whole six weeks.

Something else interesting to watch here -- we spoke with one lawyer who represents companies that have to submit to EPA regulations. Those companies are actually worried about the huge budget cuts that have been revealed in other EPA documents that have been leaked to the press, even from the corporate side. They`re worried about the EPA no longer having enough staffers even just to do the permitting work that industry needs to move ahead, as long as we`re going to have any regulations left.

That lawyer says the industry has not heard anything from EPA about this broad national review of every last single health and safety regulation, including anything about any regulations that the industry might actually like to keep. So, that`s curious. There`s definitely a mismatch between what EPA is doing internally and what everybody who deals with them, EPA has heard from them and thinks is going on now.

Now, that said, what is Dow Chemical think about this? We asked. We asked Dow Chemical. They did not answer our question about whether EPA has reached out to them about these new processes. The company spokespeople did tell us that, quote, "Dow works closely with EPA every day on matters that affect Dow." Yes, we know now.

Dow also told us that as a company, they support the EPA decision not to ban their pesticide. Oh, well, blow me down.

If we hear more from the EPA about these memos, about this radical new process they apparently are putting in motion very fast without telling very many people about it, we will let you know. In the meantime though, we are going to make these memos public now. We are going to post them at MaddowBlog.com. So, everybody can see them for themselves.

And anybody else who has seen something that you think ought to be news, if you would like to get something into my hands, whether or not the EPA will ever answer my questions about it, please send us what you`ve got. You can do so through a website we`ve set up, www.sendittorachel.com. What do you got? Thank you in advance for whatever it is you sent.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: About 20 years ago, you could hardly turn on your TV without seeing this nice man. It was unavoidable for comment. His name is Joe DiGenova. He`d been a federal prosecutor in the Reagan administration. And what he was talking about all the time on every TV station in early 1998 was the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

He and his wife are both lawyers. They had kind of a cottage industry going, where they would offer their expertise on just how much trouble President Clinton was in and how many crimes he had committed. At one point, Joe DiGenova gave a newspaper a scoop about a Secret Service agent having caught President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in a compromising position, ooh, ooh. Yes, that didn`t happen.

He said it was true, but it was not true, and the paper had to retract the story.

In the first month after the Lewinsky scandal broke, Joe DiGenova and his wife were quoted or appeared on television over three hundred times. It was one of the unavoidable and now legendary things about that scandal.

But by the spring of that year, some folks were sort of starting to sour on the Lewinsky investigation a little bit. The head of the American Bar Association was publicly questioning the tactics of the special prosecutor Ken Starr, even some Republicans in Congress were saying the special prosecutor should maybe step down. "A.P." headline from the time said, quote, "Starr takes flak from several sides."

So, on a Sunday morning, the things sort of not going his way, Joe DiGenova went on "Meet the Press", and he did a little something that we call "changing the narrative". He brought notes to help him remember what he was changing the narrative to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Tim, let me just say something I think this is really fascinating, because I think if -- while people are concerned about Ken Starr`s tactics, I think they ought to be concerned about the White House tactics and I`ll tell you why. Last week, I got a telephone call from a correspondent for a national weekly telling me that word had gotten around town that I and my wife Victoria Toensing were being investigated by a private investigator with links to the White House and the attorneys representing the president.

TIM RUSSERT, MEET THE PRESS: You know for certain you`re being investigated by private eyes?

DIGENOVA: We have been told by correspondence for one national magazine, the chairman of the committee that we are serving has been informed by another national daily that he is being investigated by private investigators, and we have been told by numerous other correspondents in this city that that is what is being done. I hope it isn`t true. I would like -- I would hope that a firm denial would come from people, because if the White House is condoning the investigation of private citizens looking into their lives, if they`re trying to intimidate people from exercising their First Amendment freedom to speak out on issues involving the law of this land and the president of the United States, that is truly a frightening, frightening development.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Frightening development. President in the United States sending private eyes after his political enemies, wow. And, you know, Joe DiGenova got a call from a guy who says it`s true, and maybe somebody told a congressman about it or maybe it was actually numerous people who have told -- in any case, that is definitely the real scandal here, that is definitely the real story.

And if Joe DiGenova was looking to change the narrative, it worked. Headlines the following week were all about the White House denying that it had set private investigators on Joe DiGenova and his wife and then, Ken Starr started calling in White House officials to testify about what they were trying to intimidate people and the narrative became war between Ken Starr and the White House, and everybody`s using dirty tactics.

My favorite pox on both their houses headlines was from "USA Today" at the time, quote, "Clinton versus Starr turning nasty. Who can claim truth or objectivity anymore?" Who indeed?

There are specific people who are called upon to play this particular role in the D.C. business of partisan scandal making and scandal distracting. People who are called upon to muddy the waters, shift the focus, confuse the narrative a little bit.

During the Benghazi investigation, Joe DiGenova was back, peddling claims that the Obama administration was intimidating witnesses. During the presidential campaign last year, Joe DiGenova was back, regularly citing supposed inside sources who were telling him that Hillary Clinton was definitely about to be indicted over her emails. She was guilty of several felonies, she couldn`t be elected because she was definitely going to jail.

And now, Act 17 in this lifelong play. Late last night, a conservative website called "The Daily Caller" posted a story claiming that Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice ordered intelligence agencies to compile spreadsheets of intercepted communications between Donald Trump and his staffers for purely political purposes. Their source for that info was show Joe DiGenova. He said Susan Rice engaged in quote illegal activity you just have to take his word for it.

And that was the latest evolution today of this alternate storyline to the Trump Russia investigation this parallel Republican-friendly universe in which the real scandal is not Russia attacking our election, is not what anyone in the Trump campaign might have done to potentially coordinate with Russia to undermine our elections. No, no, the real scandal is something the Obama White House did.

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ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: The allegation is that in one case they are alleging in "The Daily Caller" that there was a spreadsheet that you put out of all of these names.

SUSAN RICE, OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Absolutely false.

MITCHELL: And circulated.

RICE: No spreadsheet, nothing of the sort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Now we`re under the part where Susan Rice has to give her denial of what Joe diGenova said to her right wing blog.

War between Trump and Obama White House`s everybody is using dirty tactics.

The exclusive sit-down today between Susan Rice and Andrea Mitchell was a sort of epic moment in the clearing up of this particularly muddy moment in this scandal. It was epic and Andrea Mitchell joins us next. Stay with us.

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RICE: The allegation that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes, that`s absolutely false.

MITCHELL: You seek the names of people involved in -- to unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people surrounding the president-elect --

RICE: Let me be clear --

MITCHELL: -- in order to spy on them, in order to expose them.

RICE: Absolutely -- absolutely not for any political purposes to spy, expose, anything. But let me --

MITCHELL: But you leak the name of Mike Flynn.

RICE: I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice this afternoon in an epic interview with Andrea Mitchell, denying these reports from conservative websites that she was the one who sought to unmask the names of Trump campaign personnel specifically for political purposes. She has been unmasking it improperly and circulating it beyond any intelligence or foreign or any intelligence or other improper or any proper -- other proper purpose. Peter Piper sets.

Joining us is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", Andrea Mitchell.

Andrea, thank you for being here.

MITCHELL: You bet.

MADDOW: So, let me ask you, your sort of -- your big picture take on what you made of what Susan Rice told you today, whether anything she said today surprised you and how it made you feel about this overall allegation that there is an Obama administration scandal here?

MITCHELL: Well, I got to tell you I was surprised by one big thing and a couple of little things. But one big thing when she said that she was unaware that Mike Flynn had been a registered agent for the Turkish government during the transition, and that she`s read it in the newspaper or the press when she learned about it as we did very recently, belatedly. That surprised me because if she were tracking these transition officials so closely and tracking Mr. Flynn in particular who had risen to a high profile of inquiry because of his contacts with Kislyak and then the surprise that everyone in the national security field had that Vladimir Putin did not respond to retaliate to the Obama sanctions on December 26th, that, that was surprising.

But she wasn`t tracking him that closely and now, we learn according to "The Wall Street Journal", what they`re correct tonight in a posting late tonight, our colleagues they are reporting from Republican sources from they cite that there were only two officials unmasked, if you will, from the Trump transition, one, did not relate to Russia, one was Mike Flynn regarding the Ambassador Kislyak conversations, and that it was not Susan Rice who unmasked them, or requested rather, from the NSA or the CIA, that they be unmasked. It was some other official in the White House.

MADDOW: In terms of Susan Rice has a point of focus for conservative media, obviously, they zeroed in on her in the Benghazi controversy with incredible ferocity, and I know that the Obama administration always felt like her being targeted in the Benghazi controversy was more convenient than that was warranted. I think there was a lot of resentment in the Obama administration for the role that she was chosen for in that political scandal.

Is there any sense that this is carryover from that, especially if there`s now contrary reporting that it may not have been her at all, the sourcing in terms of where this allegation against Susan Rice comes from to me isn`t just thin, it`s laughable?

MITCHELL: Yes, it was very clear from a couple of the things that were said on Capitol Hill, Tom Cotton and several the others, that they were putting her in this framework of Benghazi and blaming her for everything. Tom -- Senator Cotton called her the Typhoid Mary that she pops up in all of these scandals. And it just seems as though she was a convenient foil and the fact is that for 24 hours, people have been talking about Susan Rice and not talking about Erik Prince, not talking as much about Carter Page.

So, if the distraction is the guilt -- as a goal, it`s working and what John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA and an academic and absolute intelligence pro, said to me today was that this is all going down blind alleys and taking people`s attention away from the main act, which is, did Trump officials collude with Russia when Russia attacked our election?

And the fact is the more we talk about this other stuff, which will be picked up and will be investigated in the house Republicans are signaling that they want to call her as someone on the witness list said it not so much yet, but all these different diversions or other issues if you will, mean that the less attention -- at least from the committee`s is being paid -- if not by the FBI to the main act, which is Russia.

MADDOW: And, Andrea, we`ve got about a minute left and I don`t want to dwell on this at length. I know it`s not your favorite topic.

But I do have to ask you about the White House really attacking you today. You did this interview with Susan Rice. They responded -- the White House responded by accusing you of being a Democratic PR person which, of course, just gets my backup because I don`t like people attacking you.

But I just want to know how if you had any response to that or if that`s a strike to a sort of par for the course at this point?

MITCHELL: Oh, I`ve always prided myself on not being a PR person for anyone.

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

MITCHELL: And so, you know, that`s the lane I have chosen is to be a journalist and being a partisan -- it`s not what I am, it`s that who I am, so people judge me by my work. I`ve been as resented by the Clinton and Obama White Houses as I have been the Reagan and Bush White Houses, and now, I guess the Trump White House. So, maybe it`s a badge of honor.

MADDOW: I was just going to say, that`s badge of honor officially, bestowed by me if no one else.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC news chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", congratulations on this interview today. Thanks for being with us.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. We`ll be right back.

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MADDOW: Just moments ago, you heard Andrea Mitchell say that the former the director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, is now willing to weigh in to the extent that he can on the investigations into the Russian attack on our election last year and the investigations into the possibility that the Trump campaign may have cooperated in that attack somehow.

Now, obviously, this is a big deal because John McLaughlin is the former acting director of the CIA. But it is also a big deal because John McLaughlin in the intelligence world was a Russia specialist. So, he knows of which he speaks on these matters and you were about to hear from him right now on this subject, he is joining Lawrence O`Donnell on "THE LAST WORD" right here on MSNBC which starts right now.

Lawrence, good evening.

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