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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/21/17

Guests: Steve Reilly, Philip Crowther

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 21, 2017 Guest: Steve Reilly, Philip Crowther CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  That`s "ALL IN" for this evening and for the week. 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Have an excellent weekend, my friend.  Thank you very much. 

HAYES:  You, too.  Big week next week.

MADDOW:  Indeed.

And thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour.

So, this was supposed to be the week when Arkansas held two back-to-back double header executions.  Arkansas has not killed any of its prisoners in more than years but they decided that that they would try to kill eight of them in a row all in a rush, eight men, eight prisoners, that we`re going to kill eight of them, two per night, in four different doubleheader executions spread across a week and a half.

And the urgency for that was because one of the drugs they wanted to use for these executions is getting close to its sell-by date.  It will -- it will not be legal to use that drug to kill people after the drug expires at the end of this month.  And you know, from a bureaucratic perspective on the part of the state that must make some sort of sense on paper, right?  You know, oh, hey, got to hurry, we can`t use this stuff to kill anyone after April, so let`s kill everyone in April then.  Let`s kill them all now.

From the perspective of one of the people who`s going to be killed though, you could see how that might seem like a fairly random factor deciding whether you are going to live or die right if the state didn`t have this expiration date saying going on in that one drug that they didn`t notice before, there`d be no chance that all of these guys would be on deck to be killed all at once.  But that`s the reason they`re trying to kill them all right now.

Stephen Breyer is a moderate liberal justice on the Supreme Court but he has decided to make a real hollering legacy out of his time on the court by dissenting and dissenting and dissenting again when it comes to the vagaries and the strangeness and the bias in our nation system of killing men and women who are prisoners.  So, that`s where we were as of last night. 

Arkansas wanted to kill eight men over the course of ten days.  They wanted to have already killed four of them by this time tonight.  But over the course of this week, three of their four planned killings got blocked by the courts.

And then, last night, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the fate of the fourth man at the very last minute last night, a few landmarks were reached.  Number one, the new justice Neil Gorsuch voted to kill his first man.  He voted to kill and it was a deciding vote and that was his first significant vote on the United States Supreme Court. 

Number two, Justice Stephen Breyer dissented again, short, sharp and to the point.  It was less than two pages.  It`s pretty remarkable stuff, very straightforward, not particularly legalistic argument.  He just puts it out there.

Justice Breyer dissenting from denial of application for stay of execution, quote, "Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days.  Why these eight?  Why now? 

The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence or absence of mitigating behavior.  It has nothing to do with their mental state.  It has nothing to do with the need for speedy punishment.  Four of the men have been on death row for over 20 years, all have been housed in solitary confinement for at least 10 years. 

Apparently, the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the use by date on the state`s execution drug is about to expire."

The justice continues, quote, "In my view, that factor when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, that factor is close to random.  He says, "I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country.  The arbitrary nature of the death penalty system as presently administered runs contrary to the very purpose of a rule of law."

So, Stephen Breyer dissents, basically saying it`s one thing to have a fight about whether or not killing prisoners is something as they should do.  But the way, we`re doing it, the actual decisions about whether these guys are going to live and die tonight, it`s basically random now.  It`s arbitrary and under the Constitution, that is illegal. 

But Justice Breyer`s opinion was a dissent.  His side lost.  The Neil Gorsuch side won, and Arkansas went ahead with one of the four killings they wanted to accomplish this week.  The death warrants to kill Ledell Lee expired at midnight Central Time.  Less than an hour before that warrant expired, the United States Supreme Court voted five to four to let him kill him. 

By 11:26 Central Time, the Supreme Court decision had been conveyed to Arkansas and announced to the people who are at the prison.  Eighteen minutes later, they started injecting Ledell Lee at 11:44.  And then by 11:56, they said he was dead. 

So, that`s important, that timing there, just made it.  The warrant that made it legal to kill him expired four minutes after they said he died. 

Now, Arkansas still wants to kill all the other prisoners that it can next week, before the expiration date on one of their drugs makes the rest of those executions illegal too.  So, they`re hurrying.

And one of one of the things we`ll be watching in the news this weekend is the continuing legal wrangling to see how many more of these guys are going to be able to kill.

The pace of executions, the speediness of that process of killing people, how much time people get to try to fight off the state to try to save their lives, how many times they can go back to court and bring in new evidence or make new arguments or show new angles on what happened to them.  The time that a person gets to try to stay alive, the pace of that stuff, it`s one of the things that gets thought about all the time in death penalty stakes.

In September, this past September, we reported on one of those fights that had taken an unexpected turn into presidential politics and ultimately into scandal.  It started in 2013, in Republican politics in Florida.  Republican politicians, including the governor and the state attorney general, they were trying at the time to hurry up the pace of executions in that state.  Florida already kills a ton of their prisoners.

But the state`s governor, Rick Scott, the state`s attorney general, Pam Bondi, both of them Republicans, they were really crusading in 2013 on wanting to start killing more of that state`s prisoners faster.  Rick Scott had, in fact, signed a bill to make executions go faster in that state. 

Pam Bondi, its attorney general, was busy in court defending that new law, kill Florida prisoners faster.  We need to speed this up.  We need to speed them through the system.  We need the pace of execution to be faster.  That`s what was going on in Florida politics around the death penalty in 2013.

And that`s why it was weird in September of 2013 when Pam Bondi suddenly reversed course.  There was a man who was scheduled to be killed on September 10th, 2013, his name was Marshall Gore.  His execution was on the calendar basically thought they were good to go with this one.

But in that case, that`s September 10th execution, Attorney General Pam Bondi actually intervened with the state to slow it down.  She asked the state to please delay that execution, push it back, slow this thing down.  She had her reasons.


REPORTER:  Marshall Lee Gore was convicted for the murders of two Florida women in 1988.  He was scheduled to be executed tonight, in about half an hour.  But Bondi`s campaign fundraiser took priority.  Marshall Lee Gore was supposed to be executed at 6:00 p.m. tonight after being convicted of killing two women in 1988, but Attorney General Pam Bondi asked Governor Rick Scott to delay the execution for three weeks because she had a conflicting event on her schedule.  It turns out that event is a political fundraiser.


MADDOW:  And again, maybe, you know, from the perspective of the attorney general, from the politicians perspective, maybe that makes perfect sense.  You know, you really don`t want to move your fundraiser.  So, move the execution instead, right?  Maybe that makes total sense to you as the politician. 

But Justice Stephen Breyer might point out that from the perspective of the guy who will either be alive tomorrow or dead tomorrow, based on the actions of the state, to that guy, the date of Pam Bondi`s fundraiser is a fairly arbitrary factor in deciding whether he`s going to live or die.

But fundraising was very, very important to Attorney General Pam Bondi.  She was very good at it.  She paid it a lot of attention, maybe too much attention?  Don`t know, hard to say.

But here`s where it veered into presidential politics, it`s because of what happened over the course of the following week after all that happened.  That execution that was delayed so Pam Bondi could hold her fundraiser in peace, that happened on September 10.  There`s lots of attention in the Florida press.  There was even national attention about what lengths Pam Bondi would go to, to fundraise.  How important fundraising was to her.

I mean, at the time, I got to tell you, she was running unopposed, but still fundraising was that important to her.  Coverage of that was around that execution date, September 10th.  Then three days later, an item that was considerably lower profile except to the people who really cared about this subject ran in the "Orlando Sentinel".  This was September 13.

"Orlando Sentinel", "New York`s Trump University suit draws attention from Florida officials." 

Quoting from the article, quote, "Complaints filed in Florida were among those cited by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last month when he sued Trump and Trump University and the Trump entrepreneurship initiative alleging civil fraud.  The New York suit accuses Trump and his seminar companies of making false and exaggerated claims to lure people into spending thousands of dollars on questionable courses and mentoring services. 

Trump has denied the allegations and described the suit as frivolous.  But now -- but now, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi`s office is reviewing the New York lawsuits allegations to determine whether Florida should join the multi-state case."

So, this is the Trump University fraud case.  This is the one that Trumps settled a couple of months ago by paying out $25 million to people who said he defrauded them in that scheme, right?  This did not end well for him.

But in 2013, that lawsuit against them was just getting started.  Those cases were just being filed in New York, maybe in Florida too?  A lot of the complaints from that case were out of Florida and Pam Bondi was reported to be weighing whether or not Florida as a state should join that lawsuit against Trump over Trump University.

Pam Bondi was also reported that same week to be so inhumanly devoted to raising campaign funds that she rescheduled a man`s death to accommodate her fundraising.  Before days after that article about the Trump University lawsuit and Pam Bondi considering whether or not Florida should join it, four days after that article ran in the "Orlando Sentinel", this check was sent to Pam Bondi`s God blessed reelection campaign.  And it was sent, as you can see, from the Donald J. Trump Foundation. 

They didn`t exactly spell this out on the memo line, but an invisible ink, it basically says, oh, you`re considering bringing the considerable heft of the state of the Florida into a lawsuit against Trump University, that I will eventually have to settle for more than $20 million, you`re considering that right now, would you also like to consider this, $25,000 check to your reelection campaign from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, signed personally by Donald J. Trump.

This is one of the single biggest donations Pam Bondi got in that whole campaign cycle.  And then sure enough, few weeks later, voila, Pam Bondi`s office announced that they would not be having Florida join that fraud suit against Trump University.  It`s very tidy, right?  It`s a very tidy little timeline.

And compared to a lot of other important things that get decided by politicians, even life-or-death things, this seems very tidy, right?  It seems not at all random.  This seems not at all arbitrary.  This seems direct.

But wait, it keeps going, because first, that story made news, right, because they were delaying an execution which didn`t make sense on the surface for Republican politicians who were crusading to kill more prisoners faster, faster, faster that they would want to flow one down.  So, that was the first way that story made news. 

Then, that story made news because it turned out the reason for the delay is that Pam Bondi had a fundraiser.  Then that story made news after that because Pam Bondi took in one of the biggest donations to her campaign that year from someone who her office later made a decision not to sue.  Then that story made news again because that person who she decided not to sue after taking his check, he went on to run for president.

Then that story made news during the presidential campaign because it turns out that that check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, yes, turns out -- thank you, David Fahrenthold, now the winner of the Pulitzer Prize -- turns out it`s illegal for Trump`s Foundation to cut a check like that to a political campaign and the IRS caught for it and he had to pay it back and pay a fine.

So, this story has made news a million different times for a million different reasons, but it keeps giving because now, three and a half years after Pam Bondi took that donation from Trump and then announced that she would not sue Donald Trump, now, Donald Trump just hired her chief of staff from that time who was involved in that whole scandal who is included in all those discussions and decisions around the Trump University case. 

Trump as president just hired him, just hired that guy, to be the top lawyer in the United States Department of Education, because -- I don`t know, maybe he remembers him from the Trump University thing.  That was a school, right?

Here`s the announcement from the White House about him.  Here`s the slack jawed "A.P." lead in their story about it.  Quote, "As a top aide to Florida`s attorney general, Carlos Muniz helped to defend the offices decision to sit out legal action against Trump University.  Now, the president is naming him to be the top lawyer in the U.S. Education Department."

"A.P." reported last year that Pam Bondi personally solicited a twenty- five-thousand-dollar political contribution from Trump as her office was weighing how to respond to questions from the "Orlando Sentinel" about whether she would join New York`s attorney general in suing Trump. 

Emails from 2013 obtained under Florida`s public records law show that Carlos Muniz did help direct Bondi`s public defense on this issue, including an October 2013 fact sheet distributed to reporters.

So, just to tidy this up, just to nest all the dolls properly here, politician publicly reported to be considering suing over the Trump University scam, Trump sends fat check illegally but what ever, since that check.  Politician then says, through the review, I think I`m not suing over the Trump University scam.  Politician defends that stunning decision -- stunning even at the time that stunning decision with a PR offer, PR efforts run out of her office, including talking points for reporters prepared by her chief of staff.

And chief of staff gets awesome new job from Trump.  As the top lawyer in the Department of Education, because I don`t -- I don`t really I, honestly, keyword university, is that where they filed him?  Also, maybe some payback?

So, that`s a Senate confirmable decision, by the way.  We`ll see if that becomes an issue in the Senate when they try to confirm him.

But, you know, there`s a lot going on right now, in national politics and in politics around the nation.  You know, Arkansas is still trying to race through killing as many of those prisoners as it can.  By the time we`re back on the air doing our Monday night show here, Arkansas wants to have killed two more of them by then.  Legal fights over those killings continue right now as we speak.  They will likely continue through the weekend if you watch that story.

We`re also still waiting for any sort of plausible explanation about this new incredible reporting from the "Miami Herald", whose reporters discovered the fact that the president apparently took a secret meeting at Mar-a-Lago with two former presidents of the nation of Colombia.  Two former presidents of the nation of Colombia who are lobbying against the peace deal that`s pending in that country to try to end the world`s longest war.

This is obviously a super sensitive and complicated subject, the United States of America taking a position on that will be super important to how that works out.  If our president is taking meetings with former presidents of Colombia who are trying to undermine the current government in that country in order to scrap that peace deal, that`s a really big deal in diplomacy, that`s a really big deal for foreign policy.

And therefore, it`s unusual that meetings like that would be happening totally outside the purview of the U.S. State Department, which is supposed to handle these things and be strategic about these things and be careful about these things on behalf of the people of the United States.  It`s weird that it would be happening totally outside the purview of the State Department, let alone effect that it`s happening at a golf club.

The White House explanation for this meeting is that it -- yes, it happen but it was really nothing.  The White House statement basically said that the former presidents of Colombia, they were just there at Mar-a-Lago with a member of the club.  So, it was just a quick hello.

But the Colombian -- the former Colombian presidents, they`re now making public statements right.  There they`re publicly thanking President Trump for the cordial and very frank discussion he had with them about Colombia and the region, a conversation they really did get to have with the president of the United States admittedly because someone paid the president of the United States $200,000 to get into his club, $200,000 minimum.

As "The Herald" puts it, quote, "The undisclosed meeting also raises a number of questions about the ease with which people trying to influence Trump can access him through membership in his club without fear of public disclosure.  A Mar-a-Lago membership costs two hundred thousand dollars for the initiation alone."

So, there`s a lot going on, right?  There`s normal and sometimes terrible politics in the states and in the capital.  We got word today that, quick, before the end of the first hundred days next week, they`re going to apparently try to repeal Obamacare again.  They`re also, quick, going to try to totally overhaul the tax code. Quick, an artificial distance measuring stick is upon us, do something.

There`s new news from the Trump Russia investigations tonight and from the Justice Department where the person overseeing those investigations at DOJ is leaving her post now.  A lot going on, there`s a lot to notice.

But we are still going to need this country when these guys are done with it, right?  And for the sake of who we ever want to be again, it can`t ever not be news.  It always has to be news when something really looks like bribery at the top levels of American government, when something really looks like you know bag of cash under the table of corruption, when it really looks like you pay money, you get access to the president, when it really looks like public officials are taking money in exchange for their official actions, and then getting thanked and rewarded for it down the road.

When that stops smelling bad to us, when corruption doesn`t seem like news anymore, then we do consign ourselves and the generations after us, to the kind of corruption we really have never tolerated before, not at this level of our national politics.

And so, to that end, we`ve got lined up next the biggest potential target of opportunity in terms of bribery that anybody has yet reported about our new administration.  It is the product of mind-bendingly thorough and difficult shoe leather reporting by some very good reporters, and one of the reporters who just wore through some proverbial shoes to break the story and joins us tonight.  That story is next.


MADDOW:  Four bedrooms, six bathrooms, 22 arched windows -- this penthouse apartment on Park Avenue in New York City has been for sale for just over a month now.  According to the breathless listing for it, this condo is, quote, "awaiting the most discerning buyer".  Impeccable finishes and details abound throughout this exquisite elegant residence, from the solid oak floors, to the handcrafted Italian brass door knobs and custom moldings.

All this can be yours if you are discerning enough and you have $35 million to spend.

But this is not just a New York apartment, it is also simultaneously your chance to slip $35 million into the president`s pocket.  And depending on your business, conceivably, that might get you something even more valuable than a handcrafted Italian brass doorknob.

The hand-carved doorknob place with the rounded at the top windows, it is a Trump property.  It`s for sale by Trump International Realty.

You will recall that the president chose not to divest from his businesses when he took over as president, instead he put his business interests like Trump International Realty into a trust and the beneficiary of the trust is him.  So, when the company makes money, he makes money.

Reporters from "USA Today" have just done some very painstaking but incredible and important work.  They track down exactly what that potentially means in terms of the presidency and his business interest going forward nobody had figured this out.  Before "USA Today" did the incredible leg work necessary to tell this tale, we didn`t know this information.

Here`s their lead, quote, "USA Today spent four months cataloguing every property Trump`s companies owned across the country.  Trump has never disclosed a complete unit by unit inventory of his company`s real estate holdings or sales, nor is he required to do so by federal law."

And they`re being modest about this, but what that means is that "USA Today", their reporters had to build this list unit by unit, city by city, across the country from scratch on their own with nothing to build on in terms of public disclosures.  What did they find?

Well, quote, "Reporters found that Trump`s trust and his companies own at least 422 luxury condos and penthouses from New York City to Las Vegas, 12 mansion lots on bluffs overlooking his golf course on the Pacific Ocean and dozens more smaller pieces of real estate.  The properties range in value from about $200,000 to $35 million each, that includes the doorknobs.

Unlike developments where Trump licenses his name to a separate developer for a flat fee, profits from selling individual properties directly owned by his companies, those profits ultimately enrich him personally and that`s important because now he`s president and those properties are for sale.  You could buy one, and thereby paid the president, well, anything you think he might want to be paid.

Quote, "The volume of real estate creates an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people corporations or foreign interests to try to influence a president anyone who wanted to court favor with the president could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay.  They could also buy in the name of a shell company making it impossible for the public to know who was behind the sales."

Even if the administration has decided it`s OK for the president to keep all his business interest going while he`s still president, everybody agrees that because of the clear language in the Constitution about this, he really can`t take any money from foreign governments or foreign officials the problem is thanks to these real estate holdings this these apartments and condos and lots and whatever that he`s got for sale.

That may very well already be happening.  This "USA Today" investigation finds that roughly half the sales he has made since becoming president they weren`t in named people you can check out to make sure they`re not foreign officials or foreign governments, they were LLCs which are common real estate thing to hide the identity of the person who`s actually making the purchase.

Quote, "USA Today`s review of sales of Trump owned real estate found dozens of transactions during and since the campaign involving buyers who have business in or connections with foreign countries or they were shielded by purchasing under the name of an LLC."

Now, so far, "USA Today" says none of the sales they reviewed appear to be above market value, but imagine someone wanting to pad the price a little bit, to pay the president a little bit because it`s nice for the president to owe you a favor or at least to think kindly about your interests because you once slipped him a few dollars or a few million dollars.

Remember the Russian potash oligarchs, the fertilizer king, remember this guy?  He`s the guy who bought that mansion from Donald Trump in Palm Beach that`s happened in the 2000s.  Trump got this property in Palm Beach in 2006 for just over $40 million.  He barely touched it, he never moved in.  But a couple years later, he sold it to the Fertilizer King, this Russian oligarch guy for not $40 million, but a hundred million dollars.  Donald Trump made a $60 million profit off that house for basically doing nothing which is nice work if you can get it.

And if you took $60 million off someone in a sweet transaction like that, you might reasonably be thankful to that person for all that free money, right?  But when the fertilizer king Palm Beach mansion thing happened, Donald Trump wasn`t president.  Now he is.  And right now, his many properties are yours to buy if you would like to give him money for any reason.

Hold that thought.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah bewildered a lot of people, surprised everybody, made national news this week when he announced he not only won`t seek re-election to his seat in Congress, he might just resign now, right away.

Why the rush, Mr. Chairman?  What changed?  What`s going on?

But while everybody has tried to figure that out, including why he might be leaving, and why and so much of a rush, and what it means for his seat in Utah, including for deep Democrat who is raising all that money hand over fist to run against him Catherine Allen.  While all that has been unfolding this week, Congressman Chaffetz also made news today for the day job he continues to hold for the minute, which is an important job he`s chairman of the House Oversight Committee in the House. 

House Oversight Committee in the House -- nice read.  Nice, Maddow.  Well done.  The House Oversight Committee, period.

Today in his role as chairman of that committee, Jason Chaffetz, signed on to this letter.  It`s a letter to President Trump`s lawyer and it seeks documents relating to a supposed plan from the Trump folks, that they said they would pay the U.S. Treasury back for any money that his hotels made from foreign government officials staying at his hotels while he`s president. 

It might seem like an obscure financial piece of the puzzle, but in the Constitution, bluntly, the president is prohibited from accepting money from foreign officials.  If foreign officials are staying at his hotels, well, that`s part of the constitutional problem with the president holding on to his businesses and continuing to financially benefit from them while he is still president.

So, this letter today from the Oversight Committee, it cites a "USA Today" report from March, in which a Trump organization spokesperson explains that the Trump folks were going to put off making that donation, that donation of their foreign profits until the end of the calendar year.  House Oversight Committee now doesn`t want to wait until the end of the calendar year, they say they want information on that by next month. 

Steve Reilly is an investigative reporter for "USA Today" who wrote that piece cited in the House Oversight letter.  Steve Reilly was also part of the team of reporters who spent four months examining Trump`s real estate sales across the country exhaustively which led to this really remarkable and groundbreaking piece today in this morning`s paper.

Mr. Reilly, thank you very much for being here.  Really appreciate your time tonight.


MADDOW:  Let me ask you first about the piece that you`ve got today.  You, as far as I can tell, and you guys are very modest in terms of what it took to with this together.  But reading between the lines, it seems to me like there was no unified public disclosure anywhere of all of the real estate for sale that`s currently held by entities that are associated with the president, whether it`s his trust or whether it`s a various companies.

Did you guys build that list from scratch and track all that down yourself?

REILLY:  Exactly, we did.  It was a -- it was an exhaustive process.  The background here is that President Trump while campaigning had disclosed the business entities in which he held positions and in which he held an ownership stake.  So, we had the names of the companies associated with President Trump`s business empire. 

What he wasn`t required to disclose and what we had to gather ourselves was the listing of real estate parcels which are owned by those business entities.  So, it took months for my colleagues, Nick Penzenstadler, John Kelly and I to essentially reference real estate data from New York to California and find all the parcels of real estate which are owned by those companies.  And as you pointed out, it`s hundreds of hundreds of properties worth more than $250 million, and it`s a just totally unprecedented and exceptional situation for the president to be tied to that much active real estate.

MADDOW:  And to that last point there, the newsworthiness here is really about the fact that these properties, by and large, are for rent, for sale right now, and simultaneously, the president is in a position to personally benefit from the sale or from rental income from these properties.  So, if somebody did want to funnel money to the president as a bribe or funnel money to the president to get his attention for some reason, this is a pretty direct way to do that.

REILLY:  Exactly.  Many of these properties are on the market.  They`re kind of sold on a staggering basis.  They`re not all for sale right now, but some are.  And it presents the opportunity.

Anyone or any organization can set up a shell company which would conceal their identities and make purchases and even if these purchases are made at market rate, it`s still a transaction that still benefits the president.  If you remember, President Trump`s set up a trust, however that`s not a blind trust, it`s a revocable trust.  He is the sole beneficiary of that trust and he can withdraw funds at any time.

So, it`s kind of going through a maze, the funds, before it reaches the president.  But it still has the same destination.

MADDOW:  And the thread time together this reporting from you and your colleagues today and your reporting from last month that was cited by the House Oversight Committee today is that there don`t seem to be any real protections on preventing the people who are giving the president money by this means about by preventing it from being foreign officials or foreign governments.  Obviously, there`s no direct evidence that we`ve got the government of China or Kazakhstan or something funding and funneling him money in this way.  But it seems clear, both from the hotel story and from this case, that there aren`t protections to stop him from being influenced by foreign entities through these processes, right?

REILLY:  That`s correct.  Last month, we asked the Trump organization about the mechanics of how they find out whether someone who`s staying at a Trump hotel is paying for that stay with foreign government money.  We were told there was a policy.  We were not allowed to see the policy, and that`s kind of what the House Oversight Committee is currently looking at and hopefully that`ll you know be aired before the before the public once they get the documents.

But the root of both situations is that foreign governments can conceal their identities or any foreign person can set up a shell company and do business with the president`s companies essentially in secret from the American public.

MADDOW:  Which is utterly, totally, completely unprecedented in American history.

Steve Reilly, investigative reporter for "USA Today" -- congratulations to you and your colleagues are having done this work and produced such a cogent pressy of what you found.  It`s really, really important work.  Thank you for being here.

REILLY:  Thanks so much.

MADDOW:  Support your local investigative reporter.

More to come tonight.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Some interesting new reporting at tonight.  It`s at the bottom of a almost unrelated other story.  But at the very end of some other reporting about the Trump-Russia investigation, CNN dropped this, quote, "Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyze various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the Russian attack on the United States election last year.  But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, U.S. officials say."

OK, tell me more.  As I say, CNN sort of dropped that in, at the -- at the end of an unrelated report.  They are not elaborating.  It`s obviously a big deal if true, both parts of it. 

The question of finding evidence of collusion is a big deal.  The question of whether or not it is rises to the level of prosecutable crime is also a big deal. 

We know that the FBI has a counterintelligence investigation underway into the attack on our election and potential Trump campaign collusion with it counterintelligence campaigns our investigations don`t always result in criminal prosecutions. 

But a counterintelligence investigation that was successful at finding those kinds of links in this kind of a case would obviously have to have big political consequences, even if nobody went to the pokey.

In terms of whether there is a criminal matter here, though, the FBI said that that is basically an open question depending on what they find.  Now, the FBI itself makes a recommendation as to whether or not there should be prosecution in criminal cases.  But the people who ultimately decide if crimes were committed, once the FBI has done the investigation, people who decide whether there`s going to be a prosecution, that`s officials at the U.S. Department of Justice.

And as we`ve reported last night the Justice Department official who has been leading, who has been overseeing the Russia investigations, she`s about to leave.  Mary McCord has informed people who she works with the Justice Department that she`s out.

By professional reputation, Mary McCord is an extremely competent career civil servant.  She`s got 20-plus years experience at the Justice Department.  She`s been serving in this current role as acting assistant attorney general for national security since October.

But again, she has now announced that she is leaving.  She says the time is right for her to move on to other opportunities.  Now as of now, the White House has not nominated anybody to replace her, but that is not only a super important job, that`s a super sensitive job given what she`s been overseeing and given the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is himself recused from overseeing any of those investigations.

Who they picked to replace Mary McCord is going to be very, very, very important to say the least.  As a parenthetical matter, might I also ask the question, Mary McCord, why on earth are you leaving that job right now?  Is it really the right time to be moving on to other stuff?

The other investigations into the Trump-Russia issue outside of DOJ`s purview are the two investigations that are happening in Congress, in the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.  Today, the House Intelligence Committee announced that they are again calling people in to testify as part of their investigation.

On May 2nd, they`re going to hear testimony behind closed doors from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.  He recognized both of them, they both testified in the open hearing that the intelligence committee already held.  They will bring them back now that same committee will hear from them behind closed doors so they can talk about classified matters.

And then also announced today, sometime after that May 2nd hearing, they will schedule, they say, another open hearing.  So, we finally get to hear from Sally Yates, testimony from former CIA Director John Brennan, former DNI James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, the one who reportedly went to the White House with disturbing news about the national security advisor having communication with Russian government officials that he was lying about.

These three had been scheduled to testify in an open hearing last month before the hearing was abruptly canceled by the committee chairman Devin Nunes.  Devin Nunes has since recused himself from this investigation.  We later learned that the administration tried to dissuade Sally Yates from testifying publicly at that open hearing.

But now, as of today, she has been reinvented to testify.  Her lawyer said last month that she wants to testify.  Now, we`re just waiting and watching like hawks for the House Intelligence Committee to set an actual date for that hearing.  All they said is that they`ll set a date for sometime after May 2nd, but they haven`t said it yet.

Watch this space.


MADDOW:  Imagine running for president as a hologram. 


MADDOW:  Oh, that`s not him.  It`s a hologram. 

The nation of France this weekend is holding round one of their presidential elections.  Eleven candidates.  If nobody clears 50 percent of the vote, the top two will go forward. 

By American standards, this is a relatively fabulous field of candidates, including the hologram guy. 

But the candidate most likely to be in the headlines of your local American paper about this election is the far right candidate Marine Le Pen.  She`s the head of party founded by her anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.  The party is called the National Front, the Front Nacional.  For years, it has been the fascist party of France. 

And although Marine Le Pen made a big deal of kicking her own dad out of the party a few years ago, she still carries on at least some of his legacy, particularly his virulently anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant stances. 

And today, the American president, Donald Trump, made what is basically his endorsement in the French presidential race.  Guess who he endorsed?  That story is next.


MADDOW:  Britain voted to leave the European Union.  Then, the United States elected Donald Trump.  Now, France is about to elect a new president on Sunday.  And one of the top candidates is a radical anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim crusading xenophobe whose party was led until recently by a Holocaust-denier who is her dad. 

Today, Donald Trump was asked about that candidate, Marine Le Pen.  He called her, quote, "The strongest on borders.  She`s strongest on what`s been going on in France."

Not technically an endorsement, but it`s an endorsement. 

Joining us now is Philip Crowther.  He`s White House and Washington correspondent for France 24 News. 

Mr. Crowther, thank you very much for being here.  I appreciate your time tonight.


MADDOW:  I know everybody is asking you who is going to win, who is going to win.  Let me ask you, what`s the smartest way for Americans to watch this?  What should we watching for on Sunday? 

CROWTHER:  You`ll be watching for two weeks, in fact, because you will be seeing 11 candidates going up across each other, 11 candidates all across the spectrum, from the far left to the far right.  And the two who get the largest amount of votes will go through to a run-off in two weeks` time.  Meaning that there will be a lot of speculation for two weeks.

You will have to see -- you will have to look out for how well Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, does in this first round of the election.  And also how well Emmanuel Macron does?  He is the centrist.  He is the one who might stop this shift to the far right in so many elections we have seen over the last few months, not just in Europe but, of course, here in the United States. 

MADDOW:  One of the interesting things about Macron is he does not represent a known political party.  He`s not just a centrist.  He is a real outsider to the party political system. 

How does that affect his chances? 

CROWTHER:  It gives him a better chance, in fact, because the established political parties are not doing so well so far, at least according to the polls.  There`s, of course, the two main parties, the Socialist Party, the Republican Party, that`s the right wing party, who are not doing all too well in the polls right now. 

Meaning in the run-up in two weeks` time, we might not see a candidate for one of those two main parties.  The fact that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, in fact, are outside the establishment gives them a better chance to make it through to the run-off. 

There is a similarity to the U.S. presidential election -- anti- establishment candidates look like they might make it through to the runoff.  It could be the far left leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who you saw as a hologram just a few minutes ago.  He could also make it through to that runoff. 

No one really knows exactly what will happen.  So, there will be a lot of speculation and that distinct possibility that France might elect a far right leader as its next president. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  In which case France pulling out of the E.U. would be the first things we would start talking about.  But it certainly would be the start of a very radical conversation. 

Philip Crowther, White House and Washington correspondent for France 24 News -- thank you for being with us tonight.  I appreciate your time. 

CROWTHER:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  That does it for us tonight.

In terms of watching the French elections on Sunday, I mean, there`s a bunch of stuff this weekend.  There`s the science march that`s going to be happening in Washington and around the country this week here in the United States.  The French election will be happening on Sunday. 

We`ll also be watching the continued legal wrangling around those Arkansas executions, which are scheduled again, a back-to-back execution scheduled for Monday night. 

This is the start of the weekend, but there`s going to be a lot of news this weekend.  So, no sleep for the wicked.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD".  Ari Melber, filling in tonight for Lawrence.

Good evening, Ari.