IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/8/17

Guests: Gregg Jaffe, Shane Harris, David Priess, Ned Price

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thank you, my friend.  Appreciate that. 

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

Now, we know how it went.  The swearing in, the inauguration was on a Friday, January 20th.  We now know in retrospect that that inauguration took place against the backdrop of an open and active FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Russian attack on the election that made that inauguration possible.  And on the key question of whether the new president`s campaign had been in on the Russian attack somehow. 

So, we know looking back at that swearing in that that FBI investigation was happening in the background.  But that swearing happened on a Friday, Friday, January 28th. 

The very next week though, the whole thing started to shake and rattle, within the first week we now know.  So, the inauguration is Friday.  There`s the weekend.  Then the first Tuesday after the inauguration, the national security adviser got interviewed by the FBI. 

And when the FBI does that kind of interview, the agents who conduct the interview produce a written report about it.  It`s called a 302. 

So, swearing in was on Friday, then there`s the week, then the following Tuesday, national security adviser gets interviewed by the FBI.  The consequences of that interview are still ringing out like -- I mean, take your -- church bells, air raid sirens, I don`t know, depending on your metaphorical adjustment towards these things. 

All these weeks and months later, what happened in that FBI interview still resonating, because something in that FBI, the Tuesday after the inauguration that set off alarms at the Department of Justice, so much so that at the top levels of the Department of Justice, they didn`t even wait for the agents who had interviewed Mike Flynn to write up their 302.  They didn`t wait for those agents to write up their report. 


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Did you have the 302 with you when you were in the White House?  Did you show it to White House counsel and had you seen it at the time you went up to the White House? 

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  No.  The FBI had deducted interview on the 24th.  We got readout from the FBI on the 25th, a detailed readout specifically from the agents that had conducted the interview.  But we didn`t want to wait for the 302 because we felt that it was important to get this information to the White House as quickly as possible. 


MADDOW:  We did not wait for the 302 and we needed to get this information to the White House as quickly as possible. 

They didn`t even wait for the FBI agents who did the interview, who did the questioning, didn`t wait for them to write it up.  It is hard to overstate how unusual it is that the serving attorney general of the United States would personally take over something like this, would personally handle it, but that`s what happened here. 

Inauguration Friday, FBI questions the national security adviser on Tuesday.  Wednesday, those FBI agents go top brass of the national security division of the Justice Department and ultimately to the serving attorney general of the United States.  They go to those top officials with whatever it is that happened in that interview, and then the very next morning, not even one week into the new administration, the acting attorney general of the United States calls the White House and says, hey, we got a problem.  We have a big problem.  We cannot talk about this on the phone.  We need to meet on this personally and directly, now. 


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Ms. Yates, what did you tell the White House about Mr. Flynn? 

YATES:  I had two in-person meetings and one phone call with the White House counsel about Mr. Flynn.  The first meeting occurred on January 26th.  I called Don McGahn first thing that morning and told him that I had a very sensitive matter that I needed to discuss with him, that I couldn`t talk about it on the phone and that I needed to come see him, and he agreed to meet with me later that afternoon. 

I took a senior member of the National Security Division who was overseeing this matter to meet with me to meet with Mr. McGahn.  We met in his office at the White House which is a SCIF so we could discuss classified information in his office. 


MADDOW:  Again, it is remarkable here that this is not even one week into the new administration.  Swearing in was a Friday, this is the Thursday after the inauguration.  This is six days into the new presidency. 

And the serving attorney general, the acting attorney generally, has gone to the White House counsel`s office which has a sensitive compartmented information facility, a SCIF, where they can handle classified material inside that office.  This is two days after the FBI questioned the national security adviser, and now, it`s the acting attorney general, along with somebody you could reasonably include is the other senior career Justice Department person there, the person who was then serving as the acting chief of the national security division at the Justice Department.  We think that may have been who was with the acting attorney general there.  That person is a career Justice Department official who was only leaving that job now. 

But in that job, she has been overseeing all the Trump and Russia investigations, so it`s the -- we believe the head of the National Security Division at the Department of Justice, the acting attorney general, they go to the White House -- unbelievably senior people handling this personally.  We will not talk about this on the phone.  We will do this in person.

They go to the White House.  They go to the Office the White House Counsel.  This is the White House counsel, Don McGahn. 

Again, attorney general, we believe the national security division chief at DOJ, they rushed to the White House without even waiting for the FBI agents to write up their report on their questioning of Mike Flynn.  They rush to the White House to notify the White House counsel about what they have learned about the national security adviser Mike Flynn. 

And, you know, heading into today, everybody said -- everybody thought this was going to be testimony that would be kind of a letdown, right?  That we already knew everything Sally Yates was going to say, and so, they weren`t going to be any surprises. 

But right off the bat, she gives you that incredible timeline and that incredible urgency about how they went to the White House and how fast.  And then she said this, and no, I don`t think anybody has any idea what this means exactly. 


YATES:  So, I told them again that there were a number of press accounts, of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high ranking White House officials about General Flynn`s conduct that we knew to be untrue.  And we told them how we knew that this -- how we had this information, how we had acquired it and how we knew that it was untrue.  And we walked the White House counsel who also had an associate there with him through General Flynn`s underlying conduct, the contents of which I obviously cannot go through with you today because it`s classified.  But we took him through in a fair amount of detail of the underlying conduct, what General Flynn had done, and then we talked will you the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported. 


MADDOW:  We walked him through General Flynn`s underlying conduct, what General Flynn had done.  I cannot go through that with you today because it`s classified.  We walked him through General Flynn`s underlying conduct.  What underlying conduct?  What we had known before today, what at least had been reported before today is that Sally Yates, acting attorney general, became aware that Mike Flynn was not telling the truth about his contacts with Russian officials. 

Today, she said aside from him not telling the truth, his underlying conduct itself was problematic. 

What underlying conduct? 


YATES:  The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself. 

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  On January 24th, you just testified that national security advisor Flynn was interviewed by the FBI about his underlying conduct and that that underlying conduct was problematic because it led to the conclusion the vice president was relying on falsehoods.  What was that underlying conduct and are you convinced that the former national securities adviser was truthful in his testimony to the FBI on January 24th? 

YATES:  Again, I hate to frustrate you again, but I think I`m going to have to because my knowledge of his underlying conduct is based on classified information.  And so, I can`t reveal what that underlying conduct is.  It`s why I had to do sort of an artificial description here of events without revealing that conduct. 


MADDOW:  My knowledge of his underlying conduct is based object classified information so I cannot reveal what that underlying conduct is. 

But apparently she told the White House that underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself, in addition to the fact that he was lying about it. 

What was the underlying conduct? 

When the national security adviser was fired 24 days into the new administration, after what we know was an explicit warning from the outgoing president that Mike Flynn should not be hired as national security adviser, that there were serious concerns about him.  After he was hired anyway and then fired, the White House line on firing Mike Flynn is that he had to be fired because he lied to other people at the White House, particularly the vice president, about his contacts with the Russian government.  Well, now we know from the acting attorney general at the time that in addition to Mike Flynn lying about his contact with the Russian government, there was also something problematic about his underlying conduct, and it is something that cannot be discussed in an unclassified setting. 

What did he do? 

The other problem with the White House line on Mike Flynn that has never made sense is the timing.  I mean, if you -- if you want to know whether the White House has anything to hide here, whether they`re covering anything up here, then you have to ask whether their explanation for firing Mike Flynn makes any sense.

And part of it that makes no sense is why after this extraordinary in- person warning from the attorney general herself and a senior national security person at DOJ, after this extraordinary warning, they say we cannot discuss this on the phone.  You need to meet with me about this today.  I`m coming tot White House today.  Get the SCIF ready. 

After that remarkable warning, why is it that the White House didn`t do anything about Flynn for weeks? 


COONS:  Do you believe the administration took your warnings seriously when you made this extraordinary effort to go to the White House and in person brief the White House counsel on the 26th and 27th?  Do you think they took appropriate steps with regards to General Flynn as the national security advisory and given that he remained a frequent participant in very high- level national security matters for two weeks? 

YATES:  Well, certainly in the course of the meetings, both on the 27th and 27th, Mr. McGahn certainly demonstrated that he understood that this was serious.  So, he did seem to be taking it seriously.  I don`t have any way of knowing what if anything they did.  If nothing was done, then certainly that would be concerning. 

COONS:  So, you don`t know whether they took any steps to restrict his access to classified information, to investigate him further, up and until "The Washington Post" published information that made it clear that he had been lying to the vice president? 

YATES:  No, again, I was gone after the 30th.  So, it`s -- I wouldn`t know if any steps are being communicated to the Department of Justice, but I was not aware of any, no.

  COONS:  Had you not been fired, would you have recommended to the White House counsel that they begin further investigations into the national security adviser or that they restrict his access to sensitive and classified information? 

YATES:  Well, it`s a bit of a hypothetical, had I remained at the Department of Justice.  And if I were turned impression that nothing had been done, then, yes, I would have raised it again with the White House. 


MADDOW:  Had I still been will and had they done nothing to act on this information that I gave them about Mike Flynn, yes, I would have raised it.  If nothing was done and certainly, that would be concerning.  Had I still been there, yeah, I would have raised it again. 

Luckily, though, they got rid of her before she could do that.  The president fired Sally Yates the Monday after she had her two meetings with the White House about Flynn. 

So, the inauguration was on Friday, FBI interviews Flynn on Tuesday.  Department of Justice powwows about it, what are we going to do about that on Wednesday.  On Thursday, there`s that meeting at the White House.  On Friday, a follow-up meeting at the White House.  Following Monday, they canned her. 

So, when the White House did nothing in response to Sally Yates` warning, she was out of government by then, while Mike Flynn stayed on as national security adviser as if nothing happened. 

And that got Senator Al Franken of Minnesota slightly worked up today. 


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  And we have McGahn, doesn`t understand what`s wrong with this?  And then we have Spicer, the press secretary, saying the president was told about this.  The president was told about this in late January according to the press secretary. 

So, now, he`s got a guy who has been -- the former president said, don`t hire this guy.  He`s clearly compromised.  He`s lied to the vice president, and he keeps him on, and he lets him be in all these classified phone call -- let`s him talk with Putin.  President of the United States and the national security advisory sit in the Oval Office and discuss this with Putin. 


MADDOW:  We had known before today that whatever happened with Mike Flynn, the White House has been telling a story about him that does not add up, that does not make sense.  For example, just as one part of this, Vice President Mike Pence, he was the head of the transition, right?  He was the head of the transition when the transition was notified multiple times, including in person twice by Flynn`s lawyers, and in writing by Congress that Mike Flynn had taken foreign payments. 

Foreign payments to Flynn were also the subject of multiple contemporaneous press reports.  NBC News now reports that the Trump transition had direct knowledge of Mike Flynn`s payments from foreign sources, but nevertheless, Vice President Mike Flynn -- excuse me, Vice President Mike Pence, head of the transition, he proclaims that he was perfectly ignorant of that fact until weeks after Mike Flynn was fired. 


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let me say hearing this story today was the first I heard of it. 


MADDOW:  That is not credible.  And whether or not you care about what the vice president new about Mike Flynn, whether you care about that subject itself or not, the bigger question here is, why are they telling this lie about it?  Why are they lying about this stuff?  They are telling stories about Mike Flynn that make no sense, given what we now know about the facts. 

It is not good for the White House that they cannot come up with a story about Mike Flynn that has the benefit of being true.  And that was a problem for them before today.  It became a much bigger problem for them after today. 

I mean, before today, we knew they had inexplicably waited 18 days after being warned about Mike Flynn before they fired him.  Today, that delay became all the more inexplicable and even a little bit scary when we learned from Sally Yates what the quality of her warning was about Mike Flynn. 


YATES:  We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done.  And additionally that we weren`t the only ones that knew all of this that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn told them, and this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. 

And that created compromised situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.  We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.  To state obvious, you don`t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.s

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:  What did you think would have if he were, and how do you believe he would have been compromised? 

YATES:  Well, we had two concerns.  Compromise was certainly the number one concern.  And the Russians can use compromised material, information, in a variety of ways, sometimes overtly, and sometimes subtly.  And again, our concern was that you have a very sensitive position like the national security adviser, and you don`t want that person to be in a position where, again, Russians have leverage over him. 

You don`t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him.  Now, in terms of what impact that may have had or caused, I can`t speak to that, but we knew that that was not a good situation, which is why we wanted to let the White House know about it. 


MADDOW:  We wanted to let the White House know about it.  Assuming they would do something about it.  And then they did nothing with that information.  They let him stay on in his job as national security adviser after this extraordinary warning about the kind of leverage that Russia had over him, leverage that they could conceivably use to control him and thereby to influence the behavior of the national security adviser, who is the top security adviser to the president of the United States -- they held onto him, for 18 days until the whole thing ended up in the press, then they got rid of him. 

Most Republican senators on this committee today were mostly concerned about fact that this ever ended up in the press.  That was their biggest concern today, which is a remarkable thing in its own right.  But despite those guys, we know a lot more about this investigation, specifically about the still unexplained behavior of this White House when it came to this red-hot issue of their secret contacts with the Russian government. 

And that is bad news.  That is very, very bad news for this White House. 

And as soon as this hearing ended today, the White House floated the news that they are considering basically re-declaring war in Afghanistan, starting the war there all over again in its 16th year, which had the practical effect of shoving the headlines on this hearing today down toward the bottom of the page, at least at the "Washington Post."  And that is a cynical as I have felt about anything else in politics in many, many years. 

It has been 108 days of this presidency so far, that`s it, and already, we are at this level of cover-up and scandal. 

Stay tuned.



SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The question of shady business and financial ties that not only start out as bribery perhaps, or as highly favorable deals, secret deals with Russians, but that in turn can turn into compromise. 


WHITEHOUSE:  And it`s not just the carrot of I`m continuing to bribe you.  At some point, you have a stick over the individual of, I`m going to out the deal that we have unless you do this, correct? 

CLAPPER: That`s classic kompromat. 


MADDOW:  That is classic kompromat.  That`s one of the ways they get you.  They gave you sweet deal and then not only can they offer you more sweet deals if you do what they want, even better, they can threaten to go public with the details of the sweet deals you already did with them, the stuff you already took from them.  Kompromat, right? 

In general, hypothetically speaking, not talking about anyone in particular, we`re just describing the way it works.  It`s not about anybody specific, right?  Nothing -- well, maybe we are talking about something specific. 


GRAHAM:  General Clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern? 

CLAPPER:  Not in the course of the appropriation of the intelligence community assessment. 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

GRAHAM:  At all, anytime? 

CLAPPER:  Senator Graham, I can`t comment on that because that impacts the investigation. 


MADDOW:  So, there`s an investigation that apparently relates to Trump business interests in Russia?  An active investigation? 

I mean, just as a no comment to a reporter doesn`t mean yes or no in response to the reporter`s questions.  When someone says I can`t talk about that here, that`s really all that it means.  It doesn`t mean -- yes, you`re onto something and I`ll tell you something juicy about it in closed session.  It really just means, you`re asking me about matters that I cannot discuss without getting into classified material or with getting into talking about an ongoing investigation.  That is really all it means. 

Sometimes, it`s hard to believe that`s all it means though. 


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Isn`t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI? 

YATES:  And I can`t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.  Even though that part would not technically be classified, it`s an ongoing investigation and I can`t reveal that. 

GRAHAM:  Ms. Yates, do you have any evidence, are you aware of any evidence that would suggest in the 2016 campaign, anybody in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government or intelligence services in an improper fashion. 

YATES:  And, Senator, my answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information, and so I can`t answer that. 

GRAHAM:  All that means is, it`s classified.  It`s an ongoing investigation.  I can`t get into it, and so we don`t know. 

But if you were someone who was not only read in on this investigation, if you were someone who was cleared to look at the highest levels of classified information, how would you take this today?  Would you have seen this hearing differently than us generic bozos saw it? 

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff.  He`s the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and as such, he`s cleared to look up the most sensitive intelligence that we got as country.

Congressman Schiff, thank you for being here.


MADDOW:  I know you never talk about anything you can`t talk about.  But can you tell us if you learned anything today that you did not previously know? 

SCHIFF:  Well, I think we learned more myself included about the precise details that led up to Michael Flynn`s firing in the sense of the conversations that Sally Yates had with the White House, when those took place, the details about how often she went to the White House, what White House counsel had to say -- all of that I think was new to the public and also new to members of the committee. 

It`s one of the reasons why I think the open hearings are so valuable.  Yes, there are things they can`t share in open session, but there`s a lot they can.  And I think it`s very important for the country to understand as much as possible about this. 

And I think you put your finger on a lot of what`s distressing.  Here, we have situation where the acting attorney general warns White House counsel that they`ve got a problem with Mike Flynn, that the underlying conduct is problematic, that the lying is problematic, and what do they do?  They end up firing her.  And only later when it becomes public do they fire Flynn.

MADDOW:  In terms of that gap, that 18-day gap, Sheldon Whitehouse opened up his remarks today by noting the parallels of 18-minute gap on the Watergate tape, which was I thought artful. 

But there is this 18-day period.  We know that the House Oversight Committee asked the White House for documents related to Flynn`s time in the White House.  And they asked in a specific way, getting in a specific thing that they were looking at.  But we know that the White House responded by handing over zero documents. 

Is there a way to get at figuring out what was going on with that delay?  I mean, it is a remarkable thing for the acting attorney general to have warned about a national security threat, in effect, and the person of the national security adviser, the White House spokesman did say the president himself was informed of that information and still they kept him for nearly three weeks.  Is there -- as an investigator, is there any way to get at what was going on or what might have motivated that delay? 

SCHIFF:  Well, there certainly s.  You can obviously bring people from the White House before an investigative committee.  You can request documents from the White House.  On some of this, they`ll make a claim of executive privilege.  But there`s a lot that may not privilege. 

And even in cases where there is an executive privilege that the administration has claimed in the past, they have generally allowed themselves to waive that privilege when there`s a crime that may have been committed.  So, if there`s an issue whether Mike Flynn lied to the FBI during that interview, all we know publicly is that she was interviewed by the FBI, but we also know that he accepted money, he may or may not have been legally allowed to and didn`t report the receipt of that money. 

So, there are a lot of issues I think Congress really needs to delve into.  Some of those are plainly within the sphere of our investigation in the House Intelligence Committee, but, you know, there are a number of answers, you know, plausible answers to why it took 18 days.  It may be that as the White House would like to claim, they were doing their fact finding, or it may be the president was waiting of what Mike Flynn was doing or the president was approving of it, or the president was perfectly fine with Mike Flynn lying to the vice president, or the vice president misleading the country -- all of that was perfectly fine as long as the doing or the president was approving of it, or the president was perfectly fine as long as the public didn`t find out about it.

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

SCHIFF:  That certainly seems to be part of the answer.  But how much may also be involved in terms of the president`s own knowledge or others in the White House, it`s hard to imagine that Sally Yates conversation with White House counsel wasn`t shared broadly within the White House.  Those are things I think the public really has a right to know. 

MADDOW:  Especially with the White House itself admitting that the president was informed about the nature of that discussion. 

SCHIFF:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  I want to ask you about one thing that you actually singled out today.  You singled out these remarks from Sally Yates about Flynn`s underlying conduct.  I want to replay that piece from the hearing and get your comment on this. 


YATES:  The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself. 

COONS:  On January 24th, you just testified that national security adviser Flynn was interviewed by the FBI about his underlying conduct and that the underlying conduct was problematic because it led to the collusion the vice president was relying on falsehoods.  What was that underlying conduct? 

YATES:  Again, I hate to frustrate you again, but I think I`m going to have to because my knowledge of his underlying conduct is based on classified information.  And so, I can`t reveal what that underlying conduct is. 


MADDOW:  She will not reveal what the underlying conduct is, but she says that she explained to the White House that aside from separate apart from him lying to other White House officials and the vice president, the underlying conduct of General Flynn was itself problematic. 

Do you have any -- do we know what this is?  Do you know what this is and we`re just not allowed to know because it`s classified? 

SCHIFF:  Well, I`m under the same limitation that Sally Yates is.  So, I can`t go beyond what she had to say. 

But it stood out to me because most people I think viewing this have taken a certain perspective on Flynn`s lying to the vice president.  The vice president misleading the country, and, obviously, those false statements by the national security adviser highly problematic, the fact that he could be compromised by the Russians, highly problematic. 

But what Sally Yates also said is, the underlying conduct, the conduct about which he was evidently lying itself was problematic, and that is significant.  And, you know, hopefully, in time the investigation can declassify or reveal the conduct that concerned her or the administration can declassify it because I think as much as the public can be informed of these matters, they should be informed. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And to me that -- anyway, there`s a lot of headlines that came out of today, but the fact that separate and apart from whatever he was lying about, the thing he was lying itself was a problem in the eyes of the Justice Department is a new revelation for those of us who`ve been observing this as a people.

Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee -- thank for being here, sir. 

SCHIFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Appreciate it. 

All right.  Much more to come on the day`s other news and more of this.  Stay with us.  



SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI), JUDCIARY COMMITTEE:  If the president or someone close to him knew that a White House official failed to disclose work on behalf of a foreign government, and chose to cover that up.  Again, can you reiterate again the possible repercussions to this person?

YATES:  To the individual?

HIRONO:  To the individual.  Let`s say that the allegations are proven true.

YATES:  That they fail to disclose their activity and that the president covered it up, or the individual did?

HIRONO:  Let`s say the person knew or the administration knew and then the individual also covered it up?

YATES:  Well cover ups are bad.  That usually as evidence of intent, and so that`s something that we look at in making determinations about whether it`s something that should be criminally prosecuted.


MADDOW:  Speaking hypothetically, of course.  Cover-ups are bad. 

Today`s hearing was only the second time that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates has made any public comments since the administration fired here over the new president`s Muslim ban just days after she warned the new administration that their national security adviser Michael Flynn had been compromised by the Russian government. 

Today was the only second time she has very carefully made any public comments since she was fired.  The first time was back in March when she first broke her silence after being fired, it was to do a nice thing for one of her former colleagues.  It was to praise her deputy from the Department of Justice, Matt Axelrod.  Matt Axelrod also left the Justice Department roughly when she did. 

Sally Yates in March praised him for a, quote, remarkable combination of intellect, drive, judgment and integrity.  She said, quote, he had the most demanding job in all the Department of Justice, including managing many of the department`s most vexing and sensitive matters.  That was the first public comment of any kind she made after she was fired by the Trump administration. 

Second comment was today, her hours of very careful testimony alongside former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.  But because she took that step of speaking today, her deputy, Matt Axelrod, is willing to talk with us tonight about her testimony.  And about what he knows.  And he joins us here live for the interview, next.



GRAHAM:  How many people can request unmasking of American citizen of in our government?  General Clapper, how many? 

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I want to discuss unmasking.  You said I don`t know what you said to answer my question about if you were involved in any unmasking.  Were you involved? 


MADDOW:  Republican senators today at times had kind of a different focus, different interests that were not related to the topic of today`s hearing, which was the Russia investigation.

At one point, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, he became over it. 


CLAPPER:  I understand how critical leaks are and unmasking and all these ancillary issues, but to me, the transcended issue here is the Russian interference in our election process and what that means to the erosion of the fundamental fabric of our democracy, and that to me is a huge deal, and they`re going to continue to do it and why not?  It proved successful. 


MADDOW:  It approved successful, at least so far. 

Joining us now for the interview is Matthew Axelrod.  He served as principal deputy to former acting attorney general, Sally Yates.  Mr. Axelrod also left the Justice Department January 30th, the day his boss was fired. 

Matthew Axelrod, I know you are not in the habit of doing interviews.  Thank you for doing this one.  I appreciate you being here.


MADDOW:  You were right in the middle of everything at the Justice Department for the last 12 years, working two years as Sally Yates` principal deputy? 

AXELROD:  That`s correct. 

MADDOW:  So, you`ve seen a lot of -- you`ve seen a lot of critical, sensitive, classified matters in your time.  Can I just ask you how it felt you to today watching this hearing, watching her handle questions about this matter? 

AXELROD:  Sure.  I was gratified today that the American people got to see the woman I saw up close every day for two years.  Sally Yates, who is a paragon of character, integrity, judgment, she had a 27-year career at the Department of Justice and really exemplifies the best of the Department of Justice, following the facts and the evidence, and the law and doing the right thing.  I think folks who watched her testimony today got to see that in her and that`s what I saw every day working with her. 

MADDOW:  The administration, the president specifically, took a swipe at her before today`s testimony, essentially implying that she had leaked classified information to the press.  The administration more broadly has sought to portray her as an eager partisan, as somebody who has both personal politics that played into this and maybe some sort of personal grudge against the new administration or the president.  What`s your response to that? 

AXELROD:  Yes, that`s just not the Sally Yates I know and I think it`s belied by her 27-year record as an employee of the Department of Justice.  She served in leadership positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations as a career prosecutor.  She did profile public corruption cases.  One of the most high profile was against the Democratic mayor of Atlanta. 

She was introduced at her confirmation hearing by Senator Johnny Isakson, a conservative senator from Georgia, and John Lewis, congressman and also civil rights icon from Atlanta.  She`s not a partisan person.  And, by the way, she was confirmed by a wide bipartisan majority. 

She`s not a partisan person.  She`s a person who does the right thing by the book and plays it straight down the middle.  And I think that came through in her testimony today. 

MADDOW:  Watching this as an observer, I`m not a lawyer, I don`t have any inside information about the working of the Department of Justice, but it seemed to me that she was trying to underscore the gravity and the rarity and the seriousness of this visit to the White House, that the -- a senior career Justice Department official from the National Security Division, and the acting attorney general of the United States went in person to the White House to raise this alarm about somebody in a very sensitive national security position who they felt might be compromised. 

That to me -- the way I read that is she was trying to say this never happens.  This was pulling out all the stuff.  This was us really raising as bigger red flag as we could?  Is it fair to interpret it that way?  Is that true? 

AXELROD:  Well, I guess what I would say is I think that this is exactly what the American people would expect their acting attorney general to do in a situation such as this regardless of the party that nominated that person and the party that`s currently in the White House, right?  That`s what you want when there`s a serious situation, you want the act attorney general to take it seriously and to bring it to the White House`s attention as appropriate. 

There are rules as there should be, as to how contact between White House and the Department of Justice occurs.  And often, that contact occurs through the office of the deputy attorney general. 

Remember, at this time, Sally Yates was the acting attorney general, but she was also still the deputy attorney general.  So, it`s not extraordinary that she would be the one to have the communication.  I think what`s extraordinary in this circumstance, and as she testified today is what the communication was. 

MADDOW:  And the communication in this case was specific to the foreign ties of the national security adviser that he had been lying about? 

AXELROD:  I believe that she testified today, I believe what her testimony was, was that the communication was about her concern that the national security adviser was in a compromised position. 

MADDOW:  Actually, one last question that I think you`re not going to answer.  She, today, talked about the underlying conduct being itself problematic, in addition to any lies he might have told about his past behavior or statements.  What`s she talking about? 

AXELROD:  Yes.  So, obviously, the same rules that apply to classification that she`s bound by and the Congressman Schiff is bound by, I`m bound by as well.  And so, unfortunately, you`re right.  I`m not going to be able to answer that one, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  That was easy to see.

Matthew Axelrod who served as principal deputy to the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, which meant he was in charge of everything at the Justice Department for a significant amount of time -- thank you, sir.  I really appreciate it.  I really appreciate you doing this. 

AXELROD:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.  Certain vibe you get when you talk to people who don`t usually do TV interviews because it`s the last place they would like to be in life.  And for those folks, for people like Mr. Axelrod giving this kind of interview, I`m particularly grateful for their trust to do these Q&As.

We`ll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You are mandating people in Medicaid accept dying.  You are making a mandate that will kill people.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO:  No one wants anybody to die.  You know, that line is so indefensible.  Nobody dies because they don`t have access to health care. 



MADDOW:  Republican Congressman Raul Labrador at home in Idaho on Friday, trying to explain his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act to his constituents who are obviously not having it.  In trying to make his explanation, he said that no one dies from not having access to health care.  Congressman Labrador later explained that that comment, quote, "wasn`t very elegant."

Turns out Republicans have a lot of explaining that their constituents want to hear from them on this vote.  But now, Democrats are starting to do some of that explaining for them, in Republicans` home districts.  This is something that was sort of birthed on our show on Friday night.  It is now coming to fruition in at least a couple of districts around the country. 

We`ve got more on that.  It`s very dramatic, straight ahead.  


MADDOW:  Less than 36 hours after Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York voted to kill the Affordable Care Act last week, he had one other very exciting thing to look forward to, three separate town halls in his home district where he got the pleasure of explaining that vote to his constituents. 


REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK:  The standards and the requirements that are in there are to provide the innovation and flexibility for states to provide more health care, cheaper health care, and to implement innovative tools to do things on health care side, not just health insurance, but on health care side to promote lower health care costs on top of it.  So -- so -- 

TOWN HALL ATTENDEE:  Why should it matter?

REED:  What`s that? 

TOWN HALL ATTENDEE:  I am a type one diabetic.  I am a cancer survivor.  I pay a thousand dollars a month just for my insulin if I lose my insurance. 

We stood up and we said to the pledge to the flag of the United States of America.  Why should it matter what state I live in?



MADDOW:  Congressman Tom Reed in western New York facing his constituents on that vote.  Here was Republican Congressman Rod Blum of Iowa facing his constituents tonight. 


REP. ROD BLUM (R), IOWA:  You`re getting your health insurance through Medicare, nothing is going to change.  Nothing is going to change.  Nothing is going to change.  If you`re getting -- if you`re currently getting your health insurance through Medicaid, nothing is going to change. 



MADDOW:  Congressman Rod Blum of Iowa getting heartily booed tonight at a packed town hall in Dubuque, Iowa. 

Congressman John Faso is one of the Republicans who has declined to host a town hall meeting while home this week.  Tonight, some of his constituents, over 450 of them held a town hall meeting without him.  This is sort of a new form of protest in districts across the country, where if a member of Congress declines to show up to a town hall event, folks put up a cardboard version of that member of Congress so they hang an empty suit there in his or her place. 

But tonight in New York`s 19th congressional district, those constituents did actually get a real life member of Congress to show up.  It just wasn`t their member of Congress.  This was John Faso`s district, but John Faso`s constituents got Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney to show up.  He represents the district next door. 

Congressman Maloney told us on this show Friday night that if Congressman John Faso wouldn`t explain his vote to kill the Affordable Care Act to his constituents, then Congressman Maloney would.  And sure enough, tonight, he went to a neighboring district, went to John Faso`s district, and that`s what he did. 


REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D), NEW YORK:  This guy should not be on some milk carton, he is your congressman, right?  He should be here.  Don`t take this the wrong way.  I have my own district.  I shouldn`t be here. 

I love you all.  I will wave to you as I drive by to my district. 


MADDOW:  Congressman Maloney tonight filling in for Republican John Faso, answering questions from John Faso`s constituents about the new health care law.  The line to get into that event was out the door tonight.  Democratic Congressman Maloney is encouraging other Democrats to do this too.  If a Republican member of Congress won`t answer for their vote to kill the Affordable Care Act, then neighboring Democrats should go in their place.  Adopt a congressional district, where their constituents need answers. 

At least one other member of Congress has agreed to try it.  In Arizona, Congresswoman Martha McSally has been the target of a bunch of health care- related protests.  She represents the second district in Arizona.  So far, she has not agreed to a town hall during this congressional recess. 

But now that Democratic congressman from Arizona`s 7th district, Ruben Gallego, is stepping up to her plate.  He is going to answer her constituents` questions about her health care vote at a town hall tomorrow in her district, a town hall she won`t go to.  But that a neighboring Democrat will. 

So, there is a new congressional buddy system at work when it comes to that vote to kill Obamacare.  I don`t know who will get paired up next.  Watch this space. 

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


Good evening, Lawrence.


                                                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END