The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/9/2017

Guests: Matt Zapotosky, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elijah Cummings

Guest:  Guest: Matt Zapotosky, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elijah Cummings

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST:  That is "ALL IN" for this evening. 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend. 

Thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour.  What a day, huh? 

You have been seeing live images of a plane sitting on a tarmac now moving down a taxiway in Los Angeles.  This is a private plane of some kind.  It`s not unusual for federal agencies, especially big ones like the department of justice or the FBI to have private planes at their disposal. 

Director Comey was in Los Angeles for, I think, what was supposed to be a recruiting event today, an event that was canceled.  There was some logistical question once he was fired today by the White House as to what would physically happen to him in the immediate aftermath of his firing.  He was removed effective immediately. 

So, right now, he is no longer the director of the FBI.  What we believe that Director Comey is on that plane, which is now taxiing down the runway in Los Angeles, presumably they`ll be flying back to the east coast, presumably, the FBI headquarters in Washington.  He`ll be heading back to Washington.

But all of this is unscripted at this point.  All of this is unprecedented.  There are historical parallels to what happened today, but there`s never been anything like this before.  One instance previously in U.S. history in which an FBI director has been fired by as president. 

That was a very different circumstance.  It was President Bill Clinton at the time.  The FBI director who was fired was William Sessions.  There were, in effect, abuse of office concerns that had been documented against him by the Department of Justice.  Things like using a Department of Justice aircraft to fly to see his family.  Things like using department resources to build a fence around his house that didn`t seem to have any security purpose.  And maybe was just because he wanted a fence at this house. 

Those kind of concerns that led to Sessions leaving.  William sessions being fired by president Clinton in the `90s.  That`s the only precedent we`ve got for an FBI director being fired. 

We`re left as we watch these remarkable scenes and we wonder what`s going to happen next here with James Comey -- we`re left to find other context, other analogies that make this make sense. 

In 1972, there was a tape made in the Oval Office.  It was made on June 23rd, 1972.  In that tape, the then-President of the United States, Richard Nixon, and his chief of staff, H.R. Halderman, they talked about how they would cover up what they knew about the Watergate break-in, which the Nixon administration had orchestrated.  And there they were on tape talking about how to beat the investigation into it, how to cover it up. 

And that tape was released to the public on August 5th, 1974.  The Supreme Court had ordered the president to release that tape and ultimately, he relented and released that tape. 

By then, by the time that Watergate tape, that Oval Office tape was released, the Watergate scandal was quite ripe.  Impeachment proceedings were well under way already.  There were 11 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted against impeaching Richard Nixon. 

But when that tape came out, that August, all of the 11 Republicans on that judiciary committee had said they would not impeach Nixon.  They all said hearing that tape, that they would change their votes.  That they would vote to impeach. 

And three days after that tape came out, August 8th, 1974, the president of the United States resigned.  The reason those tapes ever came into the public domain is because of a man called Archibald Cox.  Archibald Cox was the special prosecutor who was brought in to investigate the Watergate case.  He was the one who demanded those tapes from the White House and the White House refused and then Archibald Cox subpoenaed those tapes and the White House refused and he brought the White House to court, and the court ruled against Nixon and told him to release those tapes and Nixon refused. 

And then what Nixon did is he came for Archibald Cox.  He told Archibald Cox to lay off about these White House tapes, and Archibald Cox looked the president in he eye and would not do that.  No, I`m not going to lay off. 

And so, President Nixon told the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox and the attorney general said no and resigned.  And so, then Nixon told the deputy attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, and the deputy attorney general, he, too, said, no, and he resigned.  Eventually he had to get the solicitor general to fire Archibald Cox and that became known as the Saturday night massacre. 

But Archibald Cox, yeah, he did get fired.  Ultimately, he did get fired but you know what?  He got the president fired, too.  He is the reason those damning tapes eventually had to be released.  And Nixon`s presidency was over less than three days after those tapes came out. 

So, fire the investigators?  Sure.  Nixon proved you can do that.  But Nixon also proved the consequences of doing that in the end for a president who has something to hide from those investigators. 

Today, President Trump fired the director of the FBI, James Comey.  And we will have reaction to that from a number of people who are in a position to know, or in a position to see how serious this is, what is likely to happen next here. 

But just put this in context for a second.  How do we get to this point tonight where we saw this private plane take off in L.A. for points unknown with a newly fired FBI director on board and nobody having any idea what`s going to happen next?  How do we get here tonight? 

It`s a very direct timeline.  New president was sworn in 109 days ago, sworn in January 20th.  Four days after he was sworn in, his national security adviser got questioned by the FBI.  We believe he was questioned by the FBI about his connections with foreign governments, specifically Russia.

Two days after that FBI interview, still, the first week of this new administration, the acting attorney general of the United States went to the White House to alert them that there was something wrong with the national security adviser.  That they were serious, national security concerns about the national security adviser, related to his contacts with the Russian government.  That first urgent warning to the White House from the acting attorney general came in the first week of this administration, came on the first Thursday that this new president was president. 

By the following Monday, she was gone, fired by the president, in a dispute over the constitutionality of his Muslim ban.  A couple weeks later, the national security adviser was gone.  Under circumstances that are, frankly, still murky and unexplained. 

Soon, though, we got word from the FBI director.  The FBI director announcing in an open hearing in the House of Representatives that the Trump campaign is the subject of an open, active counterintelligence investigation by the FBI to determine whether the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia in Russia`s attack on the U.S. presidential election last year.  There has never been anything like that in the history of the American presidency. 

And that announcement, an active counterintelligence investigation into the president, that lands like the bombshell that it is, the House Intelligence Committee hears that testimony on a Monday, on March 20th.  Then the following week, March 28th, they are due to hear from that acting attorney general who got fired a few days after she warned the White House that there was something dangerous and wrong going on with the national security adviser Mike Flynn when it came to his contacts with Russia. 

FBI Director James Comey announces the counterintelligence investigation of that hearing on March 20th.  Sally Yates was due to tell her part of the story.  The Mike Flynn part of the story just eight days later on March 28th.  But that did not happen. 

After the FBI director made his bombshell announcement at Devin Nunes` House Intelligence Committee hearing, Chairman Nunes got weird.  He decided to blow the whole thing up without explanation -- there has still been no explanation for this -- he canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  And he got himself thrown off the investigation altogether. 

A strange stunt at the White House where he claimed to be rushing secret documents to the White House, even though it turns out he got the documents from the White House in the first place.  Specifically, he got them apparently from one of his own former staffers and from a former protege of national security adviser Mike Flynn who had been left behind at the National Security Council, even after Flynn left and despite efforts by the new national security adviser to get rid of that guy. 

But Devin Nunes canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  Got himself taken off the investigation altogether.  He`s now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for potentially having disclosed classified information.  That was the House Intelligence Committee. 

Then, it went to the House Oversight Committee.  They decided they`d look into a very specific part of it.  They`d look specifically into Mike Flynn`s payments from foreign sources.  And despite their very narrow focus on just that piece of it, the House Oversight Committee appears to have stumbled on to something unexpectedly rich.  Their inquiries turned up the theory that Mike Flynn had apparently not disclosed his foreign payments from Russia, even though he`d been told explicitly and in writing that he needed to do that. 

The Department of Defense inspector general`s office announced that they had started an independent investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House remarkably -- remarkably refused to hand over any documents to the House Oversight Committee about Mike Flynn.  They would not hand over a single document, a single piece of paper about Mike Flynn. 

And that`s a -- an important stonewall there.  And the Democrats on that committee reacted the way you`d expect.  They were not happy with that refusal.  Democrats on that committee said their chairman, Jason Chaffetz, should demand to get those Flynn documents from the White House.  He should subpoena those documents from the White House if necessary to which Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz replied: I quit. 

At that point, Jason Chaffetz quit abruptly and with no notice.  He just up and bolted from Congress, altogether.  He announced he was leaving Washington.  Just as soon as his committee stumbled onto the Mike Flynn/Russia investigation and specifically the White House telling them, no, we`re not giving you a single document about it.  As soon as that happened, instantly, surprise, no notice.  Jason Chaffetz says: I quit. 

Something about the way this story has unfolded.  Something about the way this scandal is going freaks people out along the way. 

We`ve been seeing it already, but then you get to now.  Yesterday in the United States Senate, the former acting attorney general did finally testify, and now we know maybe why Devin Nunes was so not psyched to hear what she had to say. 

She testified in addition to giving us the tick tock about her warning to the White House, she testified that there was something about Mike Flynn`s underlying behavior when it came to Russia that was problematic from the point of view of the Justice Department.  Not just him lying about his actions, which is the purported explanation for why he had to go. 

She says in addition to him lying about his actions, there was something else problematic about his underlying behavior that he was lying about. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What was that underlying conduct?  We do not know what Mike Flynn`s underlying conduct was that led to this urgent, see me today, trip from the acting general attorney up to the White House to say you`ve got a problem here. 

We do not know what his underlying conduct was that was so problematic, according to the Justice Department, but we know the Justice Department has it.  They`ve got it, whatever it is. 

At that same hearing yesterday, the former director of national intelligence also said a couple of things that could have made the White House shiver its timbers over the last 24 hours.

Number one, James Clapper testified that when he previously asserted that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he says he was saying -- he wasn`t saying there was no such evidence, that there was no evidence of collusion, said he was speaking from ignorance.  He`d been walled off from.  He didn`t know about the ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation of that matter when he made that previous statement. 

So, to the extent the White House and president have been counting on James Clapper saying, I haven`t seen evidence of collusion, yesterday, he clarified, oh, but if there was evidence of collusion, I wouldn`t have seen it.  That was one. 

Second thing James Clapper said that may have freaked out the White House a little bit was this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the United States about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is this accurate? 

YATES:  I can`t answer that. 

FEINSTEIN:  General Clapper, is that accurate? 

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI:  Yes, it is, and it`s also quite sensitive. 

FEINSTEIN:  OK.  Let me ask you this. 

CLAPPER:  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The specifics are quite sensitive.  The question was, over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the U.S. about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is that accurate?  Yes.  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

So, confirmation yesterday from the former director of national intelligence when he was in a position to know because he was director of national intelligence then through 2016.  He confirmed yesterday that multiple European allies passed information to the U.S. last year about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Confirmed.  Gulp. 

James Clapper also had this to say when he was asked about the president`s business interests in Russia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  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 preparation of the intelligence community assessment. 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

GRAHAM:  At all?  Any time? 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Something about the president`s Russia business ties impacts an investigation.  And so, therefore, cannot be discussed in open session.  That was yesterday. 

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that they have sent a request to the Treasury Department to the financial crimes unit in the Treasury Department asking for information that agency may have about President Donald Trump, or associates of President Donald Trump. 

Now this is the office of the Treasury Department that, among other things, investigates international money laundering.  So, Senate intelligence told that office today at the Treasury Department that they want anything that they`ve got related to the president.  That request went into the Treasury Department as of today, right after the director of national intelligence said in an open hearing that Trump business ties in Russia cannot be discussed in an open hearing because they relate to an ongoing intelligence investigation.  That was today. 

And you know, day after tomorrow, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey was due to be back in the Senate in open session testifying on the Trump/Russia investigation.  That will not happen. 

Today, the president fired the FBI director at the direction, he says, of the attorney general.  And if that timeline of events that I just laid out doesn`t make it clear enough exactly what`s going on here and how desperate a moment this is for this White House, the piece of it that puts this in the category not just of another Trump scandal, not just of another law enforcement or national security firing that can`t be explained by this administration.  What puts this in the category of history tonight is whodunit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The staff recommended recusal.  They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.  I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation.  I believe those recommendations are right and just. 

Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.  That exact language of that recusal is in the press release that we will give to you.  I`ve said this, quote, I have no decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Recused.  I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relate in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.

In what world can you both be recused from an investigation and then take it upon yourself to fire the person who is leading that investigation?  The FBI director, by his own admission, by his own statement, in public, the FBI director was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and its potential ties with Russia.  The attorney general, despite that recusal, just fired the FBI director in the middle of that investigation. 

But, wait.  The justice department says they are not firing the FBI director over the Trump/Russia investigation.  They are firing him over another matter.  They say they are firing him over the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.  Specifically, his comments on the Clinton e- mail investigation that he made last July. 

Now what`s incredible, what`s literally not credible about that is that those comments from James Comey were made last July.  Why would they be firing him for that now?  Or what he did last July. 

I`ll also tell you there`s a Department of Justice inspector general inquiry into what he said last July.  What he said last year about the Clinton e-mail inquiry.  There`s an inspector general inquiry into that.  If the Trump administration were so concerned about that, presumably, they would wait for that inspector general inquiry to finish before they acted on it. 

So, if it`s about the Clinton e-mail investigation, it all sense -- in many senses of our timeline here, it makes no sense they`d be firing him now over that.  But, even if you think, despite the timeline, oh, that must be why they`re firing him, what is even more incredible about that assertion from the White House is that Jeff Sessions is also recused from anything related to a Hillary Clinton investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS:  With regard to Secretary Clinton and some of the comments I made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question.  I`ve given that thought.  I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, or could be otherwise connected to it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, could be otherwise connected to it. 

The FBI director was fired today without warning, suddenly, summarily, effective immediately.  FBI director fired today at the direction of the attorney general.  The White House says it`s over a matter related to Hillary Clinton that was raised during the campaign.  The attorney general is recused from matters related to Hillary Clinton that were raised in the campaign. 

The attorney general is also recused from matters related to the Trump/Russia investigation.  An investigation the FBI director is now leading, or was now leading. 

The Nixon White House had a case to make that the Oval Office tapes shouldn`t be turned over.  They had a case to make about that.  They had an argument.  They lost that argument.  They lost that case. 

And then they tried for a while to defy the law, to fire their way and intimidate their way into getting away with it anyway.  And it worked for a hot minute.  But it also laid bare what they had to be afraid of. 

Firing Archibald Cox was the first shovel into Richard Nixon`s political grave.  And it always, always works like that. 

Joining us now from "The Washington Post" newsroom is Matt Zapotosky, who covers the Justice Department for "The Post". 

Mr. Zapotosky, thanks very much for being here.  I know this is an incredibly busy day and night.  Thanks for being with us. 

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It is.  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So, I`ve covered the basics here in terms of the big picture, what`s happened, and what I see as the relevant timeline and context.  Can you update us on what else has happened today in terms of the new FBI acting director being appointed and anything else we expect to happen next? 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, just as I was sitting down, I was seeing that the deputy director had taken over leading the agency, Andrew McCabe, who really was mixed up in a lot of the same Clinton problems that Comey was that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general highlighted as reasons for his following. 

You know, what we`re really looking at now is what was going on in the Russia investigation at this moment and did that have any -- did that contribute here at all?  And we don`t know that.  I mean, the stated reason is this firing was related to the Clinton probe and how James Comey handled the Clinton probe.  And I think most people would agree he did not handle that well. 

But the timing is very weird.  We`re months away from that.  So why now?  And I think more importantly, what was going on in that Russia case as we speak. 

MADDOW:  And, Matt, in terms of the way this happened -- obviously, the deputy attorney general, the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, they published his recommendation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on this.  They also published Attorney General Jeff Sessions` letter on this.  Also the letter that President Trump wrote to Director Comey actually effectuating the firing her here. 

Is it a complicated factor that Jeff Sessions is supposed to be recused from matters released to ether Hillary Clinton, issues that were raised during the campaign like the e-mail concern, or to the Trump/Russia investigation itself? 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, that`s a really interesting point.  I mean, Trump is the one to fire Comey.  It isn`t Jeff sessions who fires James Comey.  But Trump relies on a recommendation from Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions relies on the word of his deputy attorney general who talks all about the Clinton case. 

Well, you raised earlier a great point.  Isn`t Jeff Sessions supposed to be recused from the Clinton case?  I mean, he said that when he took office and, look, Jeff Sessions on the campaign trail talked a lot about the Clinton case.  There were good reasons for him to be recused. 

It is an interesting issue.  How can he endorse those findings from Rod Rosenstein if he`s supposed to be, you know, recused from the case? 

MADDOW:  Matt Zapotosky, covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post" on what is a remarkable day to be covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post."  Your paper has done a lot to -- almost more than anything to increase our understanding of this as a country.  I`m sure you`re proud to be working there tonight but also incredibly busy. 

Thanks for being with us, Matt. 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

Joining us is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.  He`s on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will have to approve the next FBI director before he or she gets a full up or down vote in the Senate.  Senator Whitehouse also had a prominent role in yesterday`s hearing with the former director of national intelligence and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Senator Whitehouse, thank you for being here. 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  I`ve seen your written statement today, but let me just get your personal reaction to what happened today and how big a deal you think this is? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it`s a very big deal.  At one level, this is a story of Rod Rosenstein coming in and in an incredibly heartfelt and powerful and compelling memo going through all the things that Comey did wrong that violated prosecutorial protocol and summarizing it in a document that I think will live on in the department`s history and legacy as you don`t do this.  And that would be all very understandable. 

But then you have the problem of Jeff Sessions getting involved in this given his recusal.  And then you have it going up to the White House and the guy being formally fired by a president who he has said he is investigating.  And, of course, Don McGahn was the center of the hearing yesterday and White House counsel is probably involved. 

So it`s hard to know until we see where this began.  But certainly the passion of Rosenstein`s memo suggests there was an enormous amount of pent- up frustration and emotion about what Comey had done that basically exploded across the pages of that memoranda. 

MADDOW:  Can I ask you about that, though?  I mean, if this is about what Rosenstein`s memo is about, which is concerns about Comey`s behavior around the Clinton investigation, that`s the subject of the Department of Justice inspector general inquiry right now.  If that --

WHITEHOUSE:  It is, but it`s also something where the deputy attorney general who is running presumably a lot of the work the Department of Justice given the recusal, he needs to have confidence in his FBI director, and he could have said, looking at all of that, having been a career guy, look, this guy is breaking rule after rule after rule. 

Not only is he getting away with it, he`s inventing these retroactive justifications.  He`s talking about things that aren`t true.  He`s out of control.  He makes no sense.  We have to get rid of him. 

If that were where this began, then it`s a very different story than if it began in the fevered confines of White House counsel`s office or the Oval Office with them saying, my God, we`ve got to get rid of this guy and they`re getting really close to us.  And both would be true. 

MADDOW:  Why would the attorney general be able to make this recommendation to the president, a formal recommendation which they`ve made public if he`s formally recused from the matters they say was the basis of the firing? 

WHITEHOUSE:  It`s hard to explain. 

MADDOW:  Is it illegal? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I doubt it`s illegal.  I think that -- and particularly when you consider the 96 percent of the FBI`s business with the Department of Justice is not the stuff that he`s recused from.  So, one could say you kind of worked your way around this and that that wasn`t the basis.  But they are saying that it`s the basis.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WHITEHOUSE:  Put Sessions right back in the spotlight again. 

So, the combination, first of all, as you pointed out, the whole echo of Watergate is very strong here.  Second, you`ve got a president under investigation by an FBI director firing that FBI director.  Third, you`ve got a recused attorney general recommending to the president that he fire the FBI director, regarding the matter as to which he`s recused, and then underlying all of that this truly passionate, I think well thought through and sincere and real takedown of Comey`s behavior by a clearly infuriated and frustrated Rod Rosenstein. 

And how that all stacks up?  TBD. 

MADDOW:  The -- the thing I`m trying to ask you about is the timing here, because, obviously, you don`t have insight into why Rod Rosenstein acted when he did.  The timing of it related to the Russia investigation has a flashing red siren on top of it that is screaming suspicion in terms of the Trump/Russia investigation.  If this was driven by those things he put in his memo. 

If it was driven by the handling of the Clinton investigation, what explains them doing is today?  Especially given they know that we`d all see the connections to all the Russia --

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes, I don`t know -- 

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE:  Rosenstein hasn`t been there long.  So he comes in.  He takes a little time to sort out what`s going on.  He`s furious.  He`s building up. 

It could have been the straw that broke the camel`s back was Comey`s testimony and the public disclosure that he had testified falsely to Congress and God knows what the conversation was between Rosenstein and Comey about how the department was going to clean that up.  But whatever happened in that exchange might have been the straw that broke the camel`s back.  But in addition to the top down story of potential suspects and targets of an FBI investigation involved in getting rid of the director and a recused attorney general getting involved in the matter from which he`s recused, don`t forget this underlying piece -- which is that, in some respects, at long last, the department has said something honest and true about all of Comey`s misbehavior through all of this. 

MADDOW:  Whether or not it`s true about why they fired him? 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes.  But, clearly, that was piled up. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

WHITEHOUSE:  I mean, this -- that is a venting of emotion out of Rosenstein.  That`s a vindication of the department`s values against their abuses through this whole process. 

MADDOW:  The Deputy Director McCabe has now been named the acting director of the FBI.  Part of the reason he`s been in the news in the Trump era is because of that strange circumstance we had where the White House contacted the head of the Intelligence Committee in the House and the head of the intelligence committee in the Senate, both of whom are leading investigations into the Trump/Russia connection and told them to call reporters on the White House`s behalf to quash a story that said there had been contacts under investigation between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials. 

The person from the FBI who the White House credited for that -- credited basically with the impetus for those calls was Deputy Director McCabe.  Should he be recused because he`s already been involved in the White House doing public relations work essentially with members of Congress and with the press on that subject? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I`d want to know more before I made that call, but it`s certainly not a good sign.  I think the only good sign in all of this is the department through Rod Rosenstein going back to its basic principles and saying, look, we do not divulge derogatory investigative information about people we haven`t charged.  And then we do not go up to Congress and talk about that derogatory investigator information and we do not tell Congress that we`ve reopened investigations adding more derogatory investigative information about somebody still not charged.  That is prosecution and investigation 101. 

And Comey`s repeated violation of that and his repeated refusals to come clean and these wild assertions of trying to justify what he did, I think that that was sending off a lot of real alarms all through the department and this at least sets that part right. 

MADDOW:  While raising lots of other questions. 

WHITEHOUSE:  While raising so many, questions. 

MADDOW:  Senator Whitehouse, do you expect we`ll see more investigation with follow-up to Yates and Clapper?  Obviously, a lot of questions raised there that couldn`t be answered in open session. 

WHITEHOUSE:  Absolutely.  Lindsey and I are sitting down shortly to plot next steps. 

MADDOW:  Tell him I said hi and ask him if he`d like to be on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITEHOUSE:  I will do.

MADDOW:  Thank you sir.

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.

All right.  We`re going to bring in to the conversation now, Congressman Elijah Cummings, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

Congressman Cummings, thank you very much for being with us on short notice tonight.  I really appreciate you joining us. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Let me get your reaction to this news that the White House has fired the FBI director tonight on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

CUMMINGS:  Rachel, I was shocked.  But not really surprised. 

After hearing Sally Yates yesterday and, by the way, a -- that`s the epitome of a public servant, a person that I know well, phenomenal integrity, to come forth and say the things she said.  It`s interesting that today, now we move to this subject.  I thought she laid out a very clear case.

And I`ve got to tell you, Rachel, the timing is interesting.  It seems as soon as there is a situation where there is some negative evidence coming forward with regard to the president, suddenly, there is what I call a hocus-pocus move.  We then move to another subject. 

And this one is, without a doubt, not only explosive, but I think it also goes to the heart of our democracy. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Cummings, you have been very outspoken about the fact that the White House refused to hand over any documents, even a single page of documentation related to Mike Flynn`s vetting to be national security adviser and his tenure as national security adviser after your committee, you and Congressman Chaffetz asked them for information about Flynn`s tenure, and his vetting, his security clearance application process. 

What`s the status of that now? 

CUMMINGS:  Chairman Chaffetz, I asked him -- first of all, Rachel, we have still not gotten one single syllable from the White House.  That`s very unusual, particularly when you have a bipartisan request. 

And I`d ask Chairman Chaffetz about now subpoenaing those records and he has basically said he would not do that.  And that leads me to another point, Rachel.  President Trump, there is absolutely no accountability with regard to this president.  He basically seems to be able to do whatever he wants.  And our Republican friends are aiding and abetting that situation. 

We look at the emoluments situation.  Family members making all kinds of money, off the presidency and I could go on and on.  But the idea that the White House would not give us one syllable is very unusual. 

Normally what would happen if there was a dispute, we would get some documents and then we would walk -- sit down with the White House.  That is the Democrats and Republicans on the committee, and try to work out, you know, issues as to whether there`s executive privilege or whether there are problems that they say.  And usually, we`re able to get some documents. 

Let me tell you something, Rachel, if this were Hillary Clinton, the Republicans would be trying to impeach her right now.  I`m telling you.  Keep in mind that Chairman Chaffetz in a matter of maybe two or three weeks back a few months ago, before we went out of session, held six emergency hearings over a course of two or three weeks dealing with records, subpoenas, things of that nature trying to get more information from Secretary Clinton. 

And so, what I have said to the Republicans is that we are to act as a check and balance with regard to the executive branch.  We have a job to do.  This is not a Republican issue, a Democrat or independent.  This is an American issue. 

And I am hoping that they will come around.  But we don`t even know who the chairman of our committee is going to be.  Look what happened with Nunes.  I mean, that was a fiasco.  He -- running around, hiding documents, claiming he got them from somewhere else.  This is a major investigation. 

And so, going -- coming back to Comey, he was the one independent person who I thought would lead an investigation that might lead us to the kinds of facts we`re looking for. 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve called for immediate emergency hearings to hear testimony from him, from now former FBI Director James Comey and from the attorney general and from the deputy attorney general. 

Do you think there`s any chance that you`ll get that? 

CUMMINGS:  I think there`s a possibility.  I think basically, but, Rachel, come on now.  The only way we get that is people like the speaker of the house say that I`m going to put country before party and be a true leader.  That the folks over at McConnell, over at the Senate do the same thing. 

We have to have their cooperation.  Rachel, you know this.  They -- when we are not in power, that is Democrats are not in power, we don`t call for the -- we can`t call for -- we don`t have the power to do it, call for these hearings. 

So -- and we can`t make them happen.  But if the Republicans would stop circling the wagon around this president and circle the wagon around the United States of America, so that we can preserve our democracy, so that generations yet unborn might experience what I experienced as a young man coming up, that is a true democracy, then that will happen.  But until then, until they move off of that plateau that they seem to be on, not wanting to look into this and kind of backing off, whenever we seem to be getting close and new evidence comes forward, it will never happen.

So, then you`ll have a presidency where there is no accountability.  And as President Trump said during the campaign, and he was very, very clear, when he talked about Hillary Clinton saying lock her up, him along with Flynn, they said that nobody is above the law.  And they are absolutely right. 

There`s another thing.  One of the reasons why we want to bring everybody in, the deputy attorney general, and I know Rod Rosenstein because he served here in Maryland for over ten years as our U.S. attorney. 

But, Rachel, we`ve got Sessions who says that he recused himself.  Now, wait a minute.  Am I missing something?  You said you recuse yourself from anything to do with Hillary Clinton.  You say you recuse yourself from anything to do with Trump and -- President Trump and the Russians. 

Well, wait a minute now.  You now just, as I read the documents that were put forth by the president -- he says that the deputy attorney general and the Attorney General Sessions advised him to fire Mr. Comey.  That doesn`t sound like recusal to me. 

And one of the things we have to be about, it`s not just what we do.  It`s what we do says about us.  In other words, we want a transparent government.  We want one with honesty and integrity. 

And if anybody wants to know what that integrity looks like, all they have to do is look at Clapper and Sally Yates.  Those are the kind of people who will bring us to where we need to be. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee -- sir, thank you very much for being with us tonight.  I know you joined us on short notice.  I appreciate it. 

CUMMINGS:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  I want to bring in NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 

Michael, it`s great to have you here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Whenever I talk about Watergate or anything like that, I get my Michael Beschloss phone dialing hand just starts acting on its own.  For me, obviously, the -- I`m trying to find historical context here that helps me understand the magnitude of what this means. 

We only have one previous example of an FBI director being fired.  Under very different circumstances, William Sessions fired by President Clinton essentially over minor abuse of office claims.  The more salient precedent to me seems like, because of the active counterintelligence investigation into this president, seems to me like Archibald Cox who was the special prosecutor at Watergate. 

Is that how you are thinking about it?  Does that seem apt to you? 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.  You know, if you and I were talking back in October of 1973 at the -- on the evening that Nixon fired Archibald Cox, I would have said what I would say tonight that one of the cardinal principles of American democracy is no American is above the law, and that principle has been jeopardized tonight.  Same thing in October of 1973. 

Cox was conducting an investigation of Nixon with Watergate.  He was pressing for the Watergate tapes that Nixon had made that ultimately showed his guilt..  Nixon had told him stop doing this or else -- and the or else was he fired Cox.  The FBI was ordered to seal Cox`s offices.  Possibly confiscate the evidence that Cox had gathered and shut down the Watergate special prosecution force --

MADDOW:  They physically came to his offices. 

BESCHLOSS:  They physically came to his offices and sort of throw out some of the people working there and said we`re in charge now.  It had very much of an air of an authoritarian country. 

MADDOW:  And then was Nixon`s intention, obviously, he ended -- there ended up being another special prosecutor after Archibald Cox. 

That wasn`t Nixon`s intention to -- 

(CROSSTALK)

BESCHLOSS:  No, Nixon`s intention and look at the parallel tonight, Nixon`s intention was to shut down the investigation totally and not have another special prosecutor with a big staff that was looking into the Watergate scandal along with these tapes.  And what happened was there was so much outrage from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and across the country, there were demonstrations, people were very angry.  It was the first time that people said maybe Nixon seriously should be impeached. 

The outrage was so great.  The pressure on Nixon that Nixon felt compelled not only to appoint a new special prosecutor but to appoint a very tough guy, Leon Jaworski of Texas. 

MADDOW:  Who ended up taking it home.

BESCHLOSS:  Indeed, and ultimately, the tapes were sued for and the Supreme Court said, yes.  And as a result, they showed that Nixon had obstructed justice.  Had tried to stop the investigation of the Watergate break-in and had to resign. 

MADDOW:  Michael, the issue here in terms of finding historical parallel comes back to me to that point you made at the outset, the question of being above the law. 

The president now in terms of people who are in some way either directly connected or potentially connected to the Trump/Russia investigation who have been fired, or who have left.  Mike Flynn in some ways is seen as a potential villain in the Trump/Russia investigation.  He -- whether or not we ever find out about what he did, he certainly is in a position to potentially know if anything else broader than his own actions happened within the campaign.  He resigned. 

We sometimes describe him as having been fired but his resignation was accepted. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

MADDOW:  Sally Yates who warned the White House about Mike Flynn, she was fired by the White House over -- in a conflict over the Muslim ban. 

There was also shortly thereafter a strange action by the White House where all the U.S. attorneys were fired.  It`s within the power of the president to fire all the U.S. attorneys but they didn`t seem to have any replacements lined up, and there was reported -- there were reports that it was possible that some of the U.S. attorneys, particularly southern district of New York, U.S. attorney might have been involved in an investigation or two --

BESCHLOSS:  That is exactly right. 

MADDOW:  -- that touched on the administration.  Now, we got the FBI director being fired. 

That sort of a pattern, we describe that as a Nixonian pattern. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  Is -- is it?  Is it a Nixonian pattern? 

BESCHLOSS:  Sure, there is.  It`s a danger to democracy because you have a president who was obviously afraid of an investigation that might find connections between him and his entourage and the Russians that might endanger his presidency and you have to assume that these widespread firings are intended to squelch that investigation and also scare others in the government who might investigate other things that are connected to that. 

MADDOW:  The Nixon library today, did you see the tweet they put out that said fun fact.  Nixon ever even fired an FBI director. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, he did other things that were equally chilling to democracy. 

MADDOW:  But that is a fun fact. 

BESCHLOSS:  It is a fun fact. 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, thank you, my friend. 

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks for keeping your sense of humor.  I`m not sure we all have it. 

MADDOW:  It`s gallous humor at this point.

BESCHLOSS:  It`s gallous humor.

MADDOW:  Yes, it is.

Joining us now is Tom Brokaw.  He`s NBC News special correspondent, longtime anchor, of course, of "NBC Nightly News", White House correspondent during the Watergate scandal. 

Mr. Brokaw, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being here. 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you, Rachel.  It`s good to be here. 

I rarely disagree with my very close friend Michael Beschloss, but I -- to some degree I do tonight.  I think that the Saturday night massacre was an entirely different dimension.  We were very deep into Watergate at that point and it was a summary firing by the president of the United States who was under investigation. 

In this case as we`ve been hearing during the course of this day, Director Comey had a lot of self-inflicted wounds.  And so, they used that as a cover from the White House to go after him.  And as you said quite correctly, Attorney General Sessions put his name on that, even though he`d recused himself from that.  Nonetheless, Comey had made a number of mistakes, right up to the last 24 hours or so before we got to this place. 

So, the one thing I learned during Watergate, everybody take a deep breath.  Let`s deal with the facts as we know them and go from day-to-day to day and see how they stack up. 

The thing most interesting in the president`s letter to Comey today was this line: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation -- and then nonetheless, I would like to get rid of you.  He was plainly trying to make his case before the public which had nothing to do with why he was firing Comey, according to the outline.  So it`s very much on his mind. 

It`s a very complex situation as these almost always are, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  And, Tom, to that point, obviously, that jumped out of the letter just as a strange thing you wouldn`t expect to see in a letter like that.  Also, a very blunt assertion but the president given the fact that the FBI director has said in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee that there is an active counterintelligence investigation that includes the question of whether or not Trump`s campaign cooperated with Russia and their attack on the United States.

Is that -- do you think the president is trying to imply that investigation is closed or is that he trying to draw a distinction between an investigation into his campaign versus him personally? 

BROKAW:  I think what he has said repeatedly about the possibility of that investigation, it`s fake news.  That`s his favorite phrase these days.  He keeps throwing that out there.  Plainly, it was on his mind when he wrote that letter to get rid of the attorney general who was in charge of that investigation.  And this is not unusual. 

If you have known Donald Trump and how he operates, as most of us in New York have over the years, he has his own sphere of reality, as it were.  He always has a way of defending or defining what he was doing that may not have anything to do with the facts at all.  And so, we`re seeing that here again tonight. 

But, again, the important thing is, brick by brick, let`s see where this leads us and then act on that.  That`s the important thing.  There are a lot of troubling aspects tonight for the administration.  It`s a continuation of the chaos from the first day that he took the oath of office. And then, tonight, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and this firing of the attorney general during these circumstances. These are bricks that are beginning to stack up, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw -- Tom, thank you so much for being with us on this historic night.  I really appreciate you being here. 

BROKAW:  Always a pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

All right.  Joining us now is Matthew Miller.  He`s former Department of Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.

Mr. Miller, thanks for being with us.  Appreciate it.

MATTHEW MILLER, NBC NEWS JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST:  Of course.

MADDOW:  What was your reaction to this today?  I`ll preface it by saying, as soon as we heard that this news was breaking before it was actually confirmed by the White House, we started calling people who we know senior officials, senior Justice Department officials in previous administration, anybody who had been sort of at ranking, that kind of ranking limber of national security establishment to contact this. 

And so, because we were breaking by making our booking calls, and to a one, everybody was shocked to the point of disturbed.  Nobody said, oh, I knew it was coming or it happened today.  Everybody seemed absolutely floored by it. 

That was my -- our experience as a show in the moment.  What was your experience? 

MILLER:  It was the exact same.  I found out from a booker and I was immediately on the phone with Justice Department colleagues, former colleagues of mine who are all astonished.

I mean, this is -- I think this is a crisis for the country, but it is a tragedy for the Department of Justice.  If you look at Rod Rosenstein`s letter, you know, his memo, everything he laid out is right about Jim Comey.  Jim Comey did violate a number of department rules.

But there is one fundamental rule that Department of Justice that is more important than any other, that`s the independence of the Department of Justice and FBI to conduct investigations free from political interference -- free from political interference from the White House, from Congress, from anyone.  And this is just a flagrant act by the White House to try to shutdown that investigation. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the attorney general`s role here, that is -- obviously, we`ve got this memo from the deputy attorney general, from Rod Rosenstein.  We`ve got the letter from the president asserting that he`s not under investigation.

MILLER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  But in between there, we`ve got the attorney general, writing to the president and making this recommendation and the president saying, he is firing the director on the recommendation of the attorney general. 

The attorney general is recused, says he is recused from all matters related to the matters related to the Trump-Russia investigation, or to any matters related to Hillary Clinton that may have been arisen during the campaign.  Either from what it looks like, which is that this is about Trump-Russia, or from what they say it`s about, which is that this is about Hillary Clinton and the e-mails, he should be recused in either case. 

Are we just putting too much emphasis on the word "recused"?  Does it not really mean anything?

MILLER:  It`s supposed to mean something.

The entire process is a farce.  Both of those memos are a farce.  Look at the dates of the memos, both dated today.  Let me tell you, the way the Department of Justice works, it`s deliberate, it`s slow. 

If this was Rod Rosenstein`s idea, he would have worked on this memo.  He would have sent it up through the chain of command, to the attorney general.  They were going to slow deliberation. 

The fact that they`re both dated today, the same day he`s fired, all of it leads you to believe this was an outcome they predetermined.  You can imagine the White House saying, we need to get rid of Jim Comey we can`t control him.  They worked out a way with Jeff Sessions to do it, and Rod Rosenstein seems to have gone along with it. 

MADDOW:  Matt, in terms of the next steps here.  First of all, is there any remedy on the recusal issue with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what would be the appropriate response to something like that.  And what do you expect to have happen now with the deputy director of the FBI being elevated into the acting director role now?

MILLER:  In terms of remedy, there`s no immediate remedy, he can be investigated by the attorney general`s office, Jeff Sessions can for not following this recusal.  But the fundamental problem here is that Jeff Sessions cannot oversee the Justice Department while it`s -- you know, an investigation of the Trump campaign. 

And let`s be clear: even if with his recusal, Rod Rosenstein is meeting every day with Jeff Sessions, you can see how clearly these issues all become intermeshed just today with this firing.  Rod has to appoint a special counsel.  I think for other consequences, Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein need to be on the Hill by the end of the week explain how this happened, what they talked about with the White House, did the president request this, did he bring up the Russia investigation when he request it?  They need to say all of that on the record under oath to Congress. 

MADDOW:  Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesmen during the Obama administration -- Matthew, I appreciate -- I appreciate you being here. 

MILLER:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

I want to dip into some of the reaction tonight from Capital Hill.  This is a little bit of what Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had to say.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Earlier this afternoon, President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey.  I told the president, Mr. President, with all due respect, you`re making a big mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaking today in the Senate. 

It`s been interesting, the Democrats have responded in the way you just heard, the way we heard Sheldon Whitehouse speaking earlier.  Democrats have responded, I think, in large part by being shocked about the timing of this and the circumstances related to the Russia investigation, and I think they`re a little bit in all of the map in terms of the stated rationale for this firing, which has to do with Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation last year, which was a matter of active investigation by the Department of Justice inspector general. 

In terms of the Republican response, though, there`s also been some interesting Republican response, alluded to a moment ago by Tom Brokaw.  But we`ve been watching that come in over the course of the evening tonight, some Republican members of the Senate, Republican elected officials expressing their own levels of concern, or at least the need for more disclose sure about exactly what happened here. 

Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" here on MSNBC. 

Hi. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well --

MADDOW:  Hi. 

MITCHELL:  Take a deep breath, everyone. 

MADDOW:  Yeah. 

So, let me -- let me ask your -- not what your reaction was to this, but how big a deal this seems to you in the grand sweep? 

MITCHELL:  Huge.  Enormous. 

This was the investigation of the president and his colleagues, according to the FBI director himself.  The interesting thing as you`ve just alluded to is that Clinton world, and many other Democrats, have mixed feelings.  I`ve been talking to a lot of people tonight.  They have mixed feelings because they agree with many of the complaints laid out in Rod Rosenstein`s letter today. 

They agree that Comey broke so many of these procedures and rules.  They`ve been terribly concerned, you heard Hillary Clinton blaming her defeat on Comey, even those who don`t agree with her do blame Comey for contributing to that.

That said, there is tremendous distress because they believe, now, that this does jeopardize the investigation.  And the fact that you`ve got both Senators Warner and the Republican chairman of intelligence, Senator Burr`s comments were so interesting, this further confuses an already challenging investigation.  They`re acknowledging that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is the main actor here, already had a really hard job ahead of him.  And they were relying on Comey to back them up. 

They don`t have professional prosecutors.  There`s been a lot of criticism quietly and openly that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff was very good at going up the torture report, at following an email trail, at going through documents. 

MADDOW:  Dedicated full time staff who were investigators and lawyers. 

MITCHELL:  Full time staff.  But they are not trained to do a spy investigation. 

MADDOW:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  To go and find, you know, the source of the dossier and all of that and go to Moscow --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  But also to be clear: those on the torture report, those were full time investigators, people who were assigned just to that investigation.  In this case, it`s part-timers.  It`s all people who have other responsibilities. 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t hired up. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  They haven`t done it. 

MADDOW:  So the investigatory power here is in the FBI.  It`s not in the committees.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

And I`m told at headquarters today, tonight, agents are very loyal to Comey, despite all of his errors and other criticism of him, that they`re devastated by this.  And that there`s going to be a huge morale problem there.

And people are asking, what is recusal mean?  You just asked that question.  The fact that the new acting director of the FBI was also involved in briefing Reince Priebus inappropriately about a "New York Times" report. 

MADDOW:  Helping them manage public relations and the press around this story. 

MITCHELL:  Really?

MADDOW:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  And what does the FBI -- what does attorney general`s recusal really mean? 

MADDOW:  If he can fire the person who is leading the investigation. 

MITCHELL:  Why was he even involved in that. 

MADDOW:  From which he is supposedly recused. 

MITCHELL:  The whole thing is extraordinary, the way it was done.  He -- Comey was addressing the FBI agents.  He had come from a police briefing.  Miami, he was in L.A.  He was in the room addressing them in their control center.  It`s up on the TV screen, cable news breaking the story, he thought it was a prank. 

MADDOW:  Literally the TV screens are breaking the news behind him while he is speaking in front of a crowd and I think it was a joke. 

MITCHELL:  So, they did not give him a courtesy of waiting until he was back in D.C. tonight and letting him know personally. 

MADDOW:  I will say -- I hear from Democrats.  We heard it from Sheldon Whitehouse tonight.  They do have mixed feelings and the criticism about the handling of the Clinton investigation is one they have been articulating for months and they think it`s very consequential.  It may have been the difference in the response of the election. 

To me, it defies belief that this is the basis of this firing because of the timing, because there`s an active inspector general investigation underway, that they`re not waiting for the response to and because of the urgency and apparently, the alacrity with which it`s carried out all of a sudden at a crucial moment in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

MITCHELL:  And speaking of Russia, who is going to be at the State Department tomorrow and then possibly at the White House with the president, unless that gets cancelled?  Sergey Lavrov.  The Russians are in town witnessing this craziness, so what they have -- the string they first started pulling with the e-mail hack, has come completely unraveled in front of their own eyes. 

MADDOW:  NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell -- Andrea, thank you for joining us tonight. 

MITCHELL:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much. 

What a day to be alive. 

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

Our coverage of this incredible day and evening continues now with Lawrence O`Donnell, on "THE LAST WORD". 

Good evening, Lawrence.

  END

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

 

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST:  That is "ALL IN" for this evening. 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend. 

Thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour.  What a day, huh? 

You have been seeing live images of a plane sitting on a tarmac now moving down a taxiway in Los Angeles.  This is a private plane of some kind.  It`s not unusual for federal agencies, especially big ones like the department of justice or the FBI to have private planes at their disposal. 

Director Comey was in Los Angeles for, I think, what was supposed to be a recruiting event today, an event that was canceled.  There was some logistical question once he was fired today by the White House as to what would physically happen to him in the immediate aftermath of his firing.  He was removed effective immediately. 

So, right now, he is no longer the director of the FBI.  What we believe that Director Comey is on that plane, which is now taxiing down the runway in Los Angeles, presumably they`ll be flying back to the east coast, presumably, the FBI headquarters in Washington.  He`ll be heading back to Washington.

But all of this is unscripted at this point.  All of this is unprecedented.  There are historical parallels to what happened today, but there`s never been anything like this before.  One instance previously in U.S. history in which an FBI director has been fired by as president. 

That was a very different circumstance.  It was President Bill Clinton at the time.  The FBI director who was fired was William Sessions.  There were, in effect, abuse of office concerns that had been documented against him by the Department of Justice.  Things like using a Department of Justice aircraft to fly to see his family.  Things like using department resources to build a fence around his house that didn`t seem to have any security purpose.  And maybe was just because he wanted a fence at this house. 

Those kind of concerns that led to Sessions leaving.  William sessions being fired by president Clinton in the `90s.  That`s the only precedent we`ve got for an FBI director being fired. 

We`re left as we watch these remarkable scenes and we wonder what`s going to happen next here with James Comey -- we`re left to find other context, other analogies that make this make sense. 

In 1972, there was a tape made in the Oval Office.  It was made on June 23rd, 1972.  In that tape, the then-President of the United States, Richard Nixon, and his chief of staff, H.R. Halderman, they talked about how they would cover up what they knew about the Watergate break-in, which the Nixon administration had orchestrated.  And there they were on tape talking about how to beat the investigation into it, how to cover it up. 

And that tape was released to the public on August 5th, 1974.  The Supreme Court had ordered the president to release that tape and ultimately, he relented and released that tape. 

By then, by the time that Watergate tape, that Oval Office tape was released, the Watergate scandal was quite ripe.  Impeachment proceedings were well under way already.  There were 11 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted against impeaching Richard Nixon. 

But when that tape came out, that August, all of the 11 Republicans on that judiciary committee had said they would not impeach Nixon.  They all said hearing that tape, that they would change their votes.  That they would vote to impeach. 

And three days after that tape came out, August 8th, 1974, the president of the United States resigned.  The reason those tapes ever came into the public domain is because of a man called Archibald Cox.  Archibald Cox was the special prosecutor who was brought in to investigate the Watergate case.  He was the one who demanded those tapes from the White House and the White House refused and then Archibald Cox subpoenaed those tapes and the White House refused and he brought the White House to court, and the court ruled against Nixon and told him to release those tapes and Nixon refused. 

And then what Nixon did is he came for Archibald Cox.  He told Archibald Cox to lay off about these White House tapes, and Archibald Cox looked the president in he eye and would not do that.  No, I`m not going to lay off. 

And so, President Nixon told the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox and the attorney general said no and resigned.  And so, then Nixon told the deputy attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, and the deputy attorney general, he, too, said, no, and he resigned.  Eventually he had to get the solicitor general to fire Archibald Cox and that became known as the Saturday night massacre. 

But Archibald Cox, yeah, he did get fired.  Ultimately, he did get fired but you know what?  He got the president fired, too.  He is the reason those damning tapes eventually had to be released.  And Nixon`s presidency was over less than three days after those tapes came out. 

So, fire the investigators?  Sure.  Nixon proved you can do that.  But Nixon also proved the consequences of doing that in the end for a president who has something to hide from those investigators. 

Today, President Trump fired the director of the FBI, James Comey.  And we will have reaction to that from a number of people who are in a position to know, or in a position to see how serious this is, what is likely to happen next here. 

But just put this in context for a second.  How do we get to this point tonight where we saw this private plane take off in L.A. for points unknown with a newly fired FBI director on board and nobody having any idea what`s going to happen next?  How do we get here tonight? 

It`s a very direct timeline.  New president was sworn in 109 days ago, sworn in January 20th.  Four days after he was sworn in, his national security adviser got questioned by the FBI.  We believe he was questioned by the FBI about his connections with foreign governments, specifically Russia.

Two days after that FBI interview, still, the first week of this new administration, the acting attorney general of the United States went to the White House to alert them that there was something wrong with the national security adviser.  That they were serious, national security concerns about the national security adviser, related to his contacts with the Russian government.  That first urgent warning to the White House from the acting attorney general came in the first week of this administration, came on the first Thursday that this new president was president. 

By the following Monday, she was gone, fired by the president, in a dispute over the constitutionality of his Muslim ban.  A couple weeks later, the national security adviser was gone.  Under circumstances that are, frankly, still murky and unexplained. 

Soon, though, we got word from the FBI director.  The FBI director announcing in an open hearing in the House of Representatives that the Trump campaign is the subject of an open, active counterintelligence investigation by the FBI to determine whether the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia in Russia`s attack on the U.S. presidential election last year.  There has never been anything like that in the history of the American presidency. 

And that announcement, an active counterintelligence investigation into the president, that lands like the bombshell that it is, the House Intelligence Committee hears that testimony on a Monday, on March 20th.  Then the following week, March 28th, they are due to hear from that acting attorney general who got fired a few days after she warned the White House that there was something dangerous and wrong going on with the national security adviser Mike Flynn when it came to his contacts with Russia. 

FBI Director James Comey announces the counterintelligence investigation of that hearing on March 20th.  Sally Yates was due to tell her part of the story.  The Mike Flynn part of the story just eight days later on March 28th.  But that did not happen. 

After the FBI director made his bombshell announcement at Devin Nunes` House Intelligence Committee hearing, Chairman Nunes got weird.  He decided to blow the whole thing up without explanation -- there has still been no explanation for this -- he canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  And he got himself thrown off the investigation altogether. 

A strange stunt at the White House where he claimed to be rushing secret documents to the White House, even though it turns out he got the documents from the White House in the first place.  Specifically, he got them apparently from one of his own former staffers and from a former protege of national security adviser Mike Flynn who had been left behind at the National Security Council, even after Flynn left and despite efforts by the new national security adviser to get rid of that guy. 

But Devin Nunes canceled the Sally Yates hearing.  Got himself taken off the investigation altogether.  He`s now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for potentially having disclosed classified information.  That was the House Intelligence Committee. 

Then, it went to the House Oversight Committee.  They decided they`d look into a very specific part of it.  They`d look specifically into Mike Flynn`s payments from foreign sources.  And despite their very narrow focus on just that piece of it, the House Oversight Committee appears to have stumbled on to something unexpectedly rich.  Their inquiries turned up the theory that Mike Flynn had apparently not disclosed his foreign payments from Russia, even though he`d been told explicitly and in writing that he needed to do that. 

The Department of Defense inspector general`s office announced that they had started an independent investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House remarkably -- remarkably refused to hand over any documents to the House Oversight Committee about Mike Flynn.  They would not hand over a single document, a single piece of paper about Mike Flynn. 

And that`s a -- an important stonewall there.  And the Democrats on that committee reacted the way you`d expect.  They were not happy with that refusal.  Democrats on that committee said their chairman, Jason Chaffetz, should demand to get those Flynn documents from the White House.  He should subpoena those documents from the White House if necessary to which Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz replied: I quit. 

At that point, Jason Chaffetz quit abruptly and with no notice.  He just up and bolted from Congress, altogether.  He announced he was leaving Washington.  Just as soon as his committee stumbled onto the Mike Flynn/Russia investigation and specifically the White House telling them, no, we`re not giving you a single document about it.  As soon as that happened, instantly, surprise, no notice.  Jason Chaffetz says: I quit. 

Something about the way this story has unfolded.  Something about the way this scandal is going freaks people out along the way. 

We`ve been seeing it already, but then you get to now.  Yesterday in the United States Senate, the former acting attorney general did finally testify, and now we know maybe why Devin Nunes was so not psyched to hear what she had to say. 

She testified in addition to giving us the tick tock about her warning to the White House, she testified that there was something about Mike Flynn`s underlying behavior when it came to Russia that was problematic from the point of view of the Justice Department.  Not just him lying about his actions, which is the purported explanation for why he had to go. 

She says in addition to him lying about his actions, there was something else problematic about his underlying behavior that he was lying about. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What was that underlying conduct?  We do not know what Mike Flynn`s underlying conduct was that led to this urgent, see me today, trip from the acting general attorney up to the White House to say you`ve got a problem here. 

We do not know what his underlying conduct was that was so problematic, according to the Justice Department, but we know the Justice Department has it.  They`ve got it, whatever it is. 

At that same hearing yesterday, the former director of national intelligence also said a couple of things that could have made the White House shiver its timbers over the last 24 hours.

Number one, James Clapper testified that when he previously asserted that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he says he was saying -- he wasn`t saying there was no such evidence, that there was no evidence of collusion, said he was speaking from ignorance.  He`d been walled off from.  He didn`t know about the ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation of that matter when he made that previous statement. 

So, to the extent the White House and president have been counting on James Clapper saying, I haven`t seen evidence of collusion, yesterday, he clarified, oh, but if there was evidence of collusion, I wouldn`t have seen it.  That was one. 

Second thing James Clapper said that may have freaked out the White House a little bit was this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the United States about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is this accurate? 

YATES:  I can`t answer that. 

FEINSTEIN:  General Clapper, is that accurate? 

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI:  Yes, it is, and it`s also quite sensitive. 

FEINSTEIN:  OK.  Let me ask you this. 

CLAPPER:  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The specifics are quite sensitive.  The question was, over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the U.S. about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Is that accurate?  Yes.  The specifics are quite sensitive. 

So, confirmation yesterday from the former director of national intelligence when he was in a position to know because he was director of national intelligence then through 2016.  He confirmed yesterday that multiple European allies passed information to the U.S. last year about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Confirmed.  Gulp. 

James Clapper also had this to say when he was asked about the president`s business interests in Russia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  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 preparation of the intelligence community assessment. 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

GRAHAM:  At all?  Any time? 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Something about the president`s Russia business ties impacts an investigation.  And so, therefore, cannot be discussed in open session.  That was yesterday. 

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that they have sent a request to the Treasury Department to the financial crimes unit in the Treasury Department asking for information that agency may have about President Donald Trump, or associates of President Donald Trump. 

Now this is the office of the Treasury Department that, among other things, investigates international money laundering.  So, Senate intelligence told that office today at the Treasury Department that they want anything that they`ve got related to the president.  That request went into the Treasury Department as of today, right after the director of national intelligence said in an open hearing that Trump business ties in Russia cannot be discussed in an open hearing because they relate to an ongoing intelligence investigation.  That was today. 

And you know, day after tomorrow, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey was due to be back in the Senate in open session testifying on the Trump/Russia investigation.  That will not happen. 

Today, the president fired the FBI director at the direction, he says, of the attorney general.  And if that timeline of events that I just laid out doesn`t make it clear enough exactly what`s going on here and how desperate a moment this is for this White House, the piece of it that puts this in the category not just of another Trump scandal, not just of another law enforcement or national security firing that can`t be explained by this administration.  What puts this in the category of history tonight is whodunit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The staff recommended recusal.  They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.  I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation.  I believe those recommendations are right and just. 

Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.  That exact language of that recusal is in the press release that we will give to you.  I`ve said this, quote, I have no decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Recused.  I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relate in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.

In what world can you both be recused from an investigation and then take it upon yourself to fire the person who is leading that investigation?  The FBI director, by his own admission, by his own statement, in public, the FBI director was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and its potential ties with Russia.  The attorney general, despite that recusal, just fired the FBI director in the middle of that investigation. 

But, wait.  The justice department says they are not firing the FBI director over the Trump/Russia investigation.  They are firing him over another matter.  They say they are firing him over the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.  Specifically, his comments on the Clinton e- mail investigation that he made last July. 

Now what`s incredible, what`s literally not credible about that is that those comments from James Comey were made last July.  Why would they be firing him for that now?  Or what he did last July. 

I`ll also tell you there`s a Department of Justice inspector general inquiry into what he said last July.  What he said last year about the Clinton e-mail inquiry.  There`s an inspector general inquiry into that.  If the Trump administration were so concerned about that, presumably, they would wait for that inspector general inquiry to finish before they acted on it. 

So, if it`s about the Clinton e-mail investigation, it all sense -- in many senses of our timeline here, it makes no sense they`d be firing him now over that.  But, even if you think, despite the timeline, oh, that must be why they`re firing him, what is even more incredible about that assertion from the White House is that Jeff Sessions is also recused from anything related to a Hillary Clinton investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS:  With regard to Secretary Clinton and some of the comments I made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question.  I`ve given that thought.  I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, or could be otherwise connected to it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign, could be otherwise connected to it. 

The FBI director was fired today without warning, suddenly, summarily, effective immediately.  FBI director fired today at the direction of the attorney general.  The White House says it`s over a matter related to Hillary Clinton that was raised during the campaign.  The attorney general is recused from matters related to Hillary Clinton that were raised in the campaign. 

The attorney general is also recused from matters related to the Trump/Russia investigation.  An investigation the FBI director is now leading, or was now leading. 

The Nixon White House had a case to make that the Oval Office tapes shouldn`t be turned over.  They had a case to make about that.  They had an argument.  They lost that argument.  They lost that case. 

And then they tried for a while to defy the law, to fire their way and intimidate their way into getting away with it anyway.  And it worked for a hot minute.  But it also laid bare what they had to be afraid of. 

Firing Archibald Cox was the first shovel into Richard Nixon`s political grave.  And it always, always works like that. 

Joining us now from "The Washington Post" newsroom is Matt Zapotosky, who covers the Justice Department for "The Post". 

Mr. Zapotosky, thanks very much for being here.  I know this is an incredibly busy day and night.  Thanks for being with us. 

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST:  It is.  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So, I`ve covered the basics here in terms of the big picture, what`s happened, and what I see as the relevant timeline and context.  Can you update us on what else has happened today in terms of the new FBI acting director being appointed and anything else we expect to happen next? 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, just as I was sitting down, I was seeing that the deputy director had taken over leading the agency, Andrew McCabe, who really was mixed up in a lot of the same Clinton problems that Comey was that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general highlighted as reasons for his following. 

You know, what we`re really looking at now is what was going on in the Russia investigation at this moment and did that have any -- did that contribute here at all?  And we don`t know that.  I mean, the stated reason is this firing was related to the Clinton probe and how James Comey handled the Clinton probe.  And I think most people would agree he did not handle that well. 

But the timing is very weird.  We`re months away from that.  So why now?  And I think more importantly, what was going on in that Russia case as we speak. 

MADDOW:  And, Matt, in terms of the way this happened -- obviously, the deputy attorney general, the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, they published his recommendation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on this.  They also published Attorney General Jeff Sessions` letter on this.  Also the letter that President Trump wrote to Director Comey actually effectuating the firing her here. 

Is it a complicated factor that Jeff Sessions is supposed to be recused from matters released to ether Hillary Clinton, issues that were raised during the campaign like the e-mail concern, or to the Trump/Russia investigation itself? 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, that`s a really interesting point.  I mean, Trump is the one to fire Comey.  It isn`t Jeff sessions who fires James Comey.  But Trump relies on a recommendation from Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions relies on the word of his deputy attorney general who talks all about the Clinton case. 

Well, you raised earlier a great point.  Isn`t Jeff Sessions supposed to be recused from the Clinton case?  I mean, he said that when he took office and, look, Jeff Sessions on the campaign trail talked a lot about the Clinton case.  There were good reasons for him to be recused. 

It is an interesting issue.  How can he endorse those findings from Rod Rosenstein if he`s supposed to be, you know, recused from the case? 

MADDOW:  Matt Zapotosky, covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post" on what is a remarkable day to be covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post."  Your paper has done a lot to -- almost more than anything to increase our understanding of this as a country.  I`m sure you`re proud to be working there tonight but also incredibly busy. 

Thanks for being with us, Matt. 

ZAPOTOSKY:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

Joining us is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island.  He`s on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will have to approve the next FBI director before he or she gets a full up or down vote in the Senate.  Senator Whitehouse also had a prominent role in yesterday`s hearing with the former director of national intelligence and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Senator Whitehouse, thank you for being here. 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  I`ve seen your written statement today, but let me just get your personal reaction to what happened today and how big a deal you think this is? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it`s a very big deal.  At one level, this is a story of Rod Rosenstein coming in and in an incredibly heartfelt and powerful and compelling memo going through all the things that Comey did wrong that violated prosecutorial protocol and summarizing it in a document that I think will live on in the department`s history and legacy as you don`t do this.  And that would be all very understandable. 

But then you have the problem of Jeff Sessions getting involved in this given his recusal.  And then you have it going up to the White House and the guy being formally fired by a president who he has said he is investigating.  And, of course, Don McGahn was the center of the hearing yesterday and White House counsel is probably involved. 

So it`s hard to know until we see where this began.  But certainly the passion of Rosenstein`s memo suggests there was an enormous amount of pent- up frustration and emotion about what Comey had done that basically exploded across the pages of that memoranda. 

MADDOW:  Can I ask you about that, though?  I mean, if this is about what Rosenstein`s memo is about, which is concerns about Comey`s behavior around the Clinton investigation, that`s the subject of the Department of Justice inspector general inquiry right now.  If that --

WHITEHOUSE:  It is, but it`s also something where the deputy attorney general who is running presumably a lot of the work the Department of Justice given the recusal, he needs to have confidence in his FBI director, and he could have said, looking at all of that, having been a career guy, look, this guy is breaking rule after rule after rule. 

Not only is he getting away with it, he`s inventing these retroactive justifications.  He`s talking about things that aren`t true.  He`s out of control.  He makes no sense.  We have to get rid of him. 

If that were where this began, then it`s a very different story than if it began in the fevered confines of White House counsel`s office or the Oval Office with them saying, my God, we`ve got to get rid of this guy and they`re getting really close to us.  And both would be true. 

MADDOW:  Why would the attorney general be able to make this recommendation to the president, a formal recommendation which they`ve made public if he`s formally recused from the matters they say was the basis of the firing? 

WHITEHOUSE:  It`s hard to explain. 

MADDOW:  Is it illegal? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I doubt it`s illegal.  I think that -- and particularly when you consider the 96 percent of the FBI`s business with the Department of Justice is not the stuff that he`s recused from.  So, one could say you kind of worked your way around this and that that wasn`t the basis.  But they are saying that it`s the basis.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WHITEHOUSE:  Put Sessions right back in the spotlight again. 

So, the combination, first of all, as you pointed out, the whole echo of Watergate is very strong here.  Second, you`ve got a president under investigation by an FBI director firing that FBI director.  Third, you`ve got a recused attorney general recommending to the president that he fire the FBI director, regarding the matter as to which he`s recused, and then underlying all of that this truly passionate, I think well thought through and sincere and real takedown of Comey`s behavior by a clearly infuriated and frustrated Rod Rosenstein. 

And how that all stacks up?  TBD. 

MADDOW:  The -- the thing I`m trying to ask you about is the timing here, because, obviously, you don`t have insight into why Rod Rosenstein acted when he did.  The timing of it related to the Russia investigation has a flashing red siren on top of it that is screaming suspicion in terms of the Trump/Russia investigation.  If this was driven by those things he put in his memo. 

If it was driven by the handling of the Clinton investigation, what explains them doing is today?  Especially given they know that we`d all see the connections to all the Russia --

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes, I don`t know -- 

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE:  Rosenstein hasn`t been there long.  So he comes in.  He takes a little time to sort out what`s going on.  He`s furious.  He`s building up. 

It could have been the straw that broke the camel`s back was Comey`s testimony and the public disclosure that he had testified falsely to Congress and God knows what the conversation was between Rosenstein and Comey about how the department was going to clean that up.  But whatever happened in that exchange might have been the straw that broke the camel`s back.  But in addition to the top down story of potential suspects and targets of an FBI investigation involved in getting rid of the director and a recused attorney general getting involved in the matter from which he`s recused, don`t forget this underlying piece -- which is that, in some respects, at long last, the department has said something honest and true about all of Comey`s misbehavior through all of this. 

MADDOW:  Whether or not it`s true about why they fired him? 

WHITEHOUSE:  Yes.  But, clearly, that was piled up. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

WHITEHOUSE:  I mean, this -- that is a venting of emotion out of Rosenstein.  That`s a vindication of the department`s values against their abuses through this whole process. 

MADDOW:  The Deputy Director McCabe has now been named the acting director of the FBI.  Part of the reason he`s been in the news in the Trump era is because of that strange circumstance we had where the White House contacted the head of the Intelligence Committee in the House and the head of the intelligence committee in the Senate, both of whom are leading investigations into the Trump/Russia connection and told them to call reporters on the White House`s behalf to quash a story that said there had been contacts under investigation between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials. 

The person from the FBI who the White House credited for that -- credited basically with the impetus for those calls was Deputy Director McCabe.  Should he be recused because he`s already been involved in the White House doing public relations work essentially with members of Congress and with the press on that subject? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I`d want to know more before I made that call, but it`s certainly not a good sign.  I think the only good sign in all of this is the department through Rod Rosenstein going back to its basic principles and saying, look, we do not divulge derogatory investigative information about people we haven`t charged.  And then we do not go up to Congress and talk about that derogatory investigator information and we do not tell Congress that we`ve reopened investigations adding more derogatory investigative information about somebody still not charged.  That is prosecution and investigation 101. 

And Comey`s repeated violation of that and his repeated refusals to come clean and these wild assertions of trying to justify what he did, I think that that was sending off a lot of real alarms all through the department and this at least sets that part right. 

MADDOW:  While raising lots of other questions. 

WHITEHOUSE:  While raising so many, questions. 

MADDOW:  Senator Whitehouse, do you expect we`ll see more investigation with follow-up to Yates and Clapper?  Obviously, a lot of questions raised there that couldn`t be answered in open session. 

WHITEHOUSE:  Absolutely.  Lindsey and I are sitting down shortly to plot next steps. 

MADDOW:  Tell him I said hi and ask him if he`d like to be on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITEHOUSE:  I will do.

MADDOW:  Thank you sir.

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.

All right.  We`re going to bring in to the conversation now, Congressman Elijah Cummings, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

Congressman Cummings, thank you very much for being with us on short notice tonight.  I really appreciate you joining us. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Let me get your reaction to this news that the White House has fired the FBI director tonight on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

CUMMINGS:  Rachel, I was shocked.  But not really surprised. 

After hearing Sally Yates yesterday and, by the way, a -- that`s the epitome of a public servant, a person that I know well, phenomenal integrity, to come forth and say the things she said.  It`s interesting that today, now we move to this subject.  I thought she laid out a very clear case.

And I`ve got to tell you, Rachel, the timing is interesting.  It seems as soon as there is a situation where there is some negative evidence coming forward with regard to the president, suddenly, there is what I call a hocus-pocus move.  We then move to another subject. 

And this one is, without a doubt, not only explosive, but I think it also goes to the heart of our democracy. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Cummings, you have been very outspoken about the fact that the White House refused to hand over any documents, even a single page of documentation related to Mike Flynn`s vetting to be national security adviser and his tenure as national security adviser after your committee, you and Congressman Chaffetz asked them for information about Flynn`s tenure, and his vetting, his security clearance application process. 

What`s the status of that now? 

CUMMINGS:  Chairman Chaffetz, I asked him -- first of all, Rachel, we have still not gotten one single syllable from the White House.  That`s very unusual, particularly when you have a bipartisan request. 

And I`d ask Chairman Chaffetz about now subpoenaing those records and he has basically said he would not do that.  And that leads me to another point, Rachel.  President Trump, there is absolutely no accountability with regard to this president.  He basically seems to be able to do whatever he wants.  And our Republican friends are aiding and abetting that situation. 

We look at the emoluments situation.  Family members making all kinds of money, off the presidency and I could go on and on.  But the idea that the White House would not give us one syllable is very unusual. 

Normally what would happen if there was a dispute, we would get some documents and then we would walk -- sit down with the White House.  That is the Democrats and Republicans on the committee, and try to work out, you know, issues as to whether there`s executive privilege or whether there are problems that they say.  And usually, we`re able to get some documents. 

Let me tell you something, Rachel, if this were Hillary Clinton, the Republicans would be trying to impeach her right now.  I`m telling you.  Keep in mind that Chairman Chaffetz in a matter of maybe two or three weeks back a few months ago, before we went out of session, held six emergency hearings over a course of two or three weeks dealing with records, subpoenas, things of that nature trying to get more information from Secretary Clinton. 

And so, what I have said to the Republicans is that we are to act as a check and balance with regard to the executive branch.  We have a job to do.  This is not a Republican issue, a Democrat or independent.  This is an American issue. 

And I am hoping that they will come around.  But we don`t even know who the chairman of our committee is going to be.  Look what happened with Nunes.  I mean, that was a fiasco.  He -- running around, hiding documents, claiming he got them from somewhere else.  This is a major investigation. 

And so, going -- coming back to Comey, he was the one independent person who I thought would lead an investigation that might lead us to the kinds of facts we`re looking for. 

MADDOW:  Congressman, you`ve called for immediate emergency hearings to hear testimony from him, from now former FBI Director James Comey and from the attorney general and from the deputy attorney general. 

Do you think there`s any chance that you`ll get that? 

CUMMINGS:  I think there`s a possibility.  I think basically, but, Rachel, come on now.  The only way we get that is people like the speaker of the house say that I`m going to put country before party and be a true leader.  That the folks over at McConnell, over at the Senate do the same thing. 

We have to have their cooperation.  Rachel, you know this.  They -- when we are not in power, that is Democrats are not in power, we don`t call for the -- we can`t call for -- we don`t have the power to do it, call for these hearings. 

So -- and we can`t make them happen.  But if the Republicans would stop circling the wagon around this president and circle the wagon around the United States of America, so that we can preserve our democracy, so that generations yet unborn might experience what I experienced as a young man coming up, that is a true democracy, then that will happen.  But until then, until they move off of that plateau that they seem to be on, not wanting to look into this and kind of backing off, whenever we seem to be getting close and new evidence comes forward, it will never happen.

So, then you`ll have a presidency where there is no accountability.  And as President Trump said during the campaign, and he was very, very clear, when he talked about Hillary Clinton saying lock her up, him along with Flynn, they said that nobody is above the law.  And they are absolutely right. 

There`s another thing.  One of the reasons why we want to bring everybody in, the deputy attorney general, and I know Rod Rosenstein because he served here in Maryland for over ten years as our U.S. attorney. 

But, Rachel, we`ve got Sessions who says that he recused himself.  Now, wait a minute.  Am I missing something?  You said you recuse yourself from anything to do with Hillary Clinton.  You say you recuse yourself from anything to do with Trump and -- President Trump and the Russians. 

Well, wait a minute now.  You now just, as I read the documents that were put forth by the president -- he says that the deputy attorney general and the Attorney General Sessions advised him to fire Mr. Comey.  That doesn`t sound like recusal to me. 

And one of the things we have to be about, it`s not just what we do.  It`s what we do says about us.  In other words, we want a transparent government.  We want one with honesty and integrity. 

And if anybody wants to know what that integrity looks like, all they have to do is look at Clapper and Sally Yates.  Those are the kind of people who will bring us to where we need to be. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee -- sir, thank you very much for being with us tonight.  I know you joined us on short notice.  I appreciate it. 

CUMMINGS:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  I want to bring in NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 

Michael, it`s great to have you here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Whenever I talk about Watergate or anything like that, I get my Michael Beschloss phone dialing hand just starts acting on its own.  For me, obviously, the -- I`m trying to find historical context here that helps me understand the magnitude of what this means. 

We only have one previous example of an FBI director being fired.  Under very different circumstances, William Sessions fired by President Clinton essentially over minor abuse of office claims.  The more salient precedent to me seems like, because of the active counterintelligence investigation into this president, seems to me like Archibald Cox who was the special prosecutor at Watergate. 

Is that how you are thinking about it?  Does that seem apt to you? 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.  You know, if you and I were talking back in October of 1973 at the -- on the evening that Nixon fired Archibald Cox, I would have said what I would say tonight that one of the cardinal principles of American democracy is no American is above the law, and that principle has been jeopardized tonight.  Same thing in October of 1973. 

Cox was conducting an investigation of Nixon with Watergate.  He was pressing for the Watergate tapes that Nixon had made that ultimately showed his guilt..  Nixon had told him stop doing this or else -- and the or else was he fired Cox.  The FBI was ordered to seal Cox`s offices.  Possibly confiscate the evidence that Cox had gathered and shut down the Watergate special prosecution force --

MADDOW:  They physically came to his offices. 

BESCHLOSS:  They physically came to his offices and sort of throw out some of the people working there and said we`re in charge now.  It had very much of an air of an authoritarian country. 

MADDOW:  And then was Nixon`s intention, obviously, he ended -- there ended up being another special prosecutor after Archibald Cox. 

That wasn`t Nixon`s intention to -- 

(CROSSTALK)

BESCHLOSS:  No, Nixon`s intention and look at the parallel tonight, Nixon`s intention was to shut down the investigation totally and not have another special prosecutor with a big staff that was looking into the Watergate scandal along with these tapes.  And what happened was there was so much outrage from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and across the country, there were demonstrations, people were very angry.  It was the first time that people said maybe Nixon seriously should be impeached. 

The outrage was so great.  The pressure on Nixon that Nixon felt compelled not only to appoint a new special prosecutor but to appoint a very tough guy, Leon Jaworski of Texas. 

MADDOW:  Who ended up taking it home.

BESCHLOSS:  Indeed, and ultimately, the tapes were sued for and the Supreme Court said, yes.  And as a result, they showed that Nixon had obstructed justice.  Had tried to stop the investigation of the Watergate break-in and had to resign. 

MADDOW:  Michael, the issue here in terms of finding historical parallel comes back to me to that point you made at the outset, the question of being above the law. 

The president now in terms of people who are in some way either directly connected or potentially connected to the Trump/Russia investigation who have been fired, or who have left.  Mike Flynn in some ways is seen as a potential villain in the Trump/Russia investigation.  He -- whether or not we ever find out about what he did, he certainly is in a position to potentially know if anything else broader than his own actions happened within the campaign.  He resigned. 

We sometimes describe him as having been fired but his resignation was accepted. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

MADDOW:  Sally Yates who warned the White House about Mike Flynn, she was fired by the White House over -- in a conflict over the Muslim ban. 

There was also shortly thereafter a strange action by the White House where all the U.S. attorneys were fired.  It`s within the power of the president to fire all the U.S. attorneys but they didn`t seem to have any replacements lined up, and there was reported -- there were reports that it was possible that some of the U.S. attorneys, particularly southern district of New York, U.S. attorney might have been involved in an investigation or two --

BESCHLOSS:  That is exactly right. 

MADDOW:  -- that touched on the administration.  Now, we got the FBI director being fired. 

That sort of a pattern, we describe that as a Nixonian pattern. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  Is -- is it?  Is it a Nixonian pattern? 

BESCHLOSS:  Sure, there is.  It`s a danger to democracy because you have a president who was obviously afraid of an investigation that might find connections between him and his entourage and the Russians that might endanger his presidency and you have to assume that these widespread firings are intended to squelch that investigation and also scare others in the government who might investigate other things that are connected to that. 

MADDOW:  The Nixon library today, did you see the tweet they put out that said fun fact.  Nixon ever even fired an FBI director. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, he did other things that were equally chilling to democracy. 

MADDOW:  But that is a fun fact. 

BESCHLOSS:  It is a fun fact. 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, thank you, my friend. 

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks for keeping your sense of humor.  I`m not sure we all have it. 

MADDOW:  It`s gallous humor at this point.

BESCHLOSS:  It`s gallous humor.

MADDOW:  Yes, it is.

Joining us now is Tom Brokaw.  He`s NBC News special correspondent, longtime anchor, of course, of "NBC Nightly News", White House correspondent during the Watergate scandal. 

Mr. Brokaw, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being here. 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you, Rachel.  It`s good to be here. 

I rarely disagree with my very close friend Michael Beschloss, but I -- to some degree I do tonight.  I think that the Saturday night massacre was an entirely different dimension.  We were very deep into Watergate at that point and it was a summary firing by the president of the United States who was under investigation. 

In this case as we`ve been hearing during the course of this day, Director Comey had a lot of self-inflicted wounds.  And so, they used that as a cover from the White House to go after him.  And as you said quite correctly, Attorney General Sessions put his name on that, even though he`d recused himself from that.  Nonetheless, Comey had made a number of mistakes, right up to the last 24 hours or so before we got to this place. 

So, the one thing I learned during Watergate, everybody take a deep breath.  Let`s deal with the facts as we know them and go from day-to-day to day and see how they stack up. 

The thing most interesting in the president`s letter to Comey today was this line: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation -- and then nonetheless, I would like to get rid of you.  He was plainly trying to make his case before the public which had nothing to do with why he was firing Comey, according to the outline.  So it`s very much on his mind. 

It`s a very complex situation as these almost always are, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  And, Tom, to that point, obviously, that jumped out of the letter just as a strange thing you wouldn`t expect to see in a letter like that.  Also, a very blunt assertion but the president given the fact that the FBI director has said in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee that there is an active counterintelligence investigation that includes the question of whether or not Trump`s campaign cooperated with Russia and their attack on the United States.

Is that -- do you think the president is trying to imply that investigation is closed or is that he trying to draw a distinction between an investigation into his campaign versus him personally? 

BROKAW:  I think what he has said repeatedly about the possibility of that investigation, it`s fake news.  That`s his favorite phrase these days.  He keeps throwing that out there.  Plainly, it was on his mind when he wrote that letter to get rid of the attorney general who was in charge of that investigation.  And this is not unusual. 

If you have known Donald Trump and how he operates, as most of us in New York have over the years, he has his own sphere of reality, as it were.  He always has a way of defending or defining what he was doing that may not have anything to do with the facts at all.  And so, we`re seeing that here again tonight. 

But, again, the important thing is, brick by brick, let`s see where this leads us and then act on that.  That`s the important thing.  There are a lot of troubling aspects tonight for the administration.  It`s a continuation of the chaos from the first day that he took the oath of office. And then, tonight, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and this firing of the attorney general during these circumstances. These are bricks that are beginning to stack up, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw -- Tom, thank you so much for being with us on this historic night.  I really appreciate you being here. 

BROKAW:  Always a pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

All right.  Joining us now is Matthew Miller.  He`s former Department of Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.

Mr. Miller, thanks for being with us.  Appreciate it.

MATTHEW MILLER, NBC NEWS JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST:  Of course.

MADDOW:  What was your reaction to this today?  I`ll preface it by saying, as soon as we heard that this news was breaking before it was actually confirmed by the White House, we started calling people who we know senior officials, senior Justice Department officials in previous administration, anybody who had been sort of at ranking, that kind of ranking limber of national security establishment to contact this. 

And so, because we were breaking by making our booking calls, and to a one, everybody was shocked to the point of disturbed.  Nobody said, oh, I knew it was coming or it happened today.  Everybody seemed absolutely floored by it. 

That was my -- our experience as a show in the moment.  What was your experience? 

MILLER:  It was the exact same.  I found out from a booker and I was immediately on the phone with Justice Department colleagues, former colleagues of mine who are all astonished.

I mean, this is -- I think this is a crisis for the country, but it is a tragedy for the Department of Justice.  If you look at Rod Rosenstein`s letter, you know, his memo, everything he laid out is right about Jim Comey.  Jim Comey did violate a number of department rules.

But there is one fundamental rule that Department of Justice that is more important than any other, that`s the independence of the Department of Justice and FBI to conduct investigations free from political interference -- free from political interference from the White House, from Congress, from anyone.  And this is just a flagrant act by the White House to try to shutdown that investigation. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the attorney general`s role here, that is -- obviously, we`ve got this memo from the deputy attorney general, from Rod Rosenstein.  We`ve got the letter from the president asserting that he`s not under investigation.

MILLER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  But in between there, we`ve got the attorney general, writing to the president and making this recommendation and the president saying, he is firing the director on the recommendation of the attorney general. 

The attorney general is recused, says he is recused from all matters related to the matters related to the Trump-Russia investigation, or to any matters related to Hillary Clinton that may have been arisen during the campaign.  Either from what it looks like, which is that this is about Trump-Russia, or from what they say it`s about, which is that this is about Hillary Clinton and the e-mails, he should be recused in either case. 

Are we just putting too much emphasis on the word "recused"?  Does it not really mean anything?

MILLER:  It`s supposed to mean something.

The entire process is a farce.  Both of those memos are a farce.  Look at the dates of the memos, both dated today.  Let me tell you, the way the Department of Justice works, it`s deliberate, it`s slow. 

If this was Rod Rosenstein`s idea, he would have worked on this memo.  He would have sent it up through the chain of command, to the attorney general.  They were going to slow deliberation. 

The fact that they`re both dated today, the same day he`s fired, all of it leads you to believe this was an outcome they predetermined.  You can imagine the White House saying, we need to get rid of Jim Comey we can`t control him.  They worked out a way with Jeff Sessions to do it, and Rod Rosenstein seems to have gone along with it. 

MADDOW:  Matt, in terms of the next steps here.  First of all, is there any remedy on the recusal issue with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what would be the appropriate response to something like that.  And what do you expect to have happen now with the deputy director of the FBI being elevated into the acting director role now?

MILLER:  In terms of remedy, there`s no immediate remedy, he can be investigated by the attorney general`s office, Jeff Sessions can for not following this recusal.  But the fundamental problem here is that Jeff Sessions cannot oversee the Justice Department while it`s -- you know, an investigation of the Trump campaign. 

And let`s be clear: even if with his recusal, Rod Rosenstein is meeting every day with Jeff Sessions, you can see how clearly these issues all become intermeshed just today with this firing.  Rod has to appoint a special counsel.  I think for other consequences, Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein need to be on the Hill by the end of the week explain how this happened, what they talked about with the White House, did the president request this, did he bring up the Russia investigation when he request it?  They need to say all of that on the record under oath to Congress. 

MADDOW:  Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesmen during the Obama administration -- Matthew, I appreciate -- I appreciate you being here. 

MILLER:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

I want to dip into some of the reaction tonight from Capital Hill.  This is a little bit of what Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had to say.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Earlier this afternoon, President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey.  I told the president, Mr. President, with all due respect, you`re making a big mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaking today in the Senate. 

It`s been interesting, the Democrats have responded in the way you just heard, the way we heard Sheldon Whitehouse speaking earlier.  Democrats have responded, I think, in large part by being shocked about the timing of this and the circumstances related to the Russia investigation, and I think they`re a little bit in all of the map in terms of the stated rationale for this firing, which has to do with Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation last year, which was a matter of active investigation by the Department of Justice inspector general. 

In terms of the Republican response, though, there`s also been some interesting Republican response, alluded to a moment ago by Tom Brokaw.  But we`ve been watching that come in over the course of the evening tonight, some Republican members of the Senate, Republican elected officials expressing their own levels of concern, or at least the need for more disclose sure about exactly what happened here. 

Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" here on MSNBC. 

Hi. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well --

MADDOW:  Hi. 

MITCHELL:  Take a deep breath, everyone. 

MADDOW:  Yeah. 

So, let me -- let me ask your -- not what your reaction was to this, but how big a deal this seems to you in the grand sweep? 

MITCHELL:  Huge.  Enormous. 

This was the investigation of the president and his colleagues, according to the FBI director himself.  The interesting thing as you`ve just alluded to is that Clinton world, and many other Democrats, have mixed feelings.  I`ve been talking to a lot of people tonight.  They have mixed feelings because they agree with many of the complaints laid out in Rod Rosenstein`s letter today. 

They agree that Comey broke so many of these procedures and rules.  They`ve been terribly concerned, you heard Hillary Clinton blaming her defeat on Comey, even those who don`t agree with her do blame Comey for contributing to that.

That said, there is tremendous distress because they believe, now, that this does jeopardize the investigation.  And the fact that you`ve got both Senators Warner and the Republican chairman of intelligence, Senator Burr`s comments were so interesting, this further confuses an already challenging investigation.  They`re acknowledging that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is the main actor here, already had a really hard job ahead of him.  And they were relying on Comey to back them up. 

They don`t have professional prosecutors.  There`s been a lot of criticism quietly and openly that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff was very good at going up the torture report, at following an email trail, at going through documents. 

MADDOW:  Dedicated full time staff who were investigators and lawyers. 

MITCHELL:  Full time staff.  But they are not trained to do a spy investigation. 

MADDOW:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  To go and find, you know, the source of the dossier and all of that and go to Moscow --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  But also to be clear: those on the torture report, those were full time investigators, people who were assigned just to that investigation.  In this case, it`s part-timers.  It`s all people who have other responsibilities. 

MITCHELL:  They haven`t hired up. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  They haven`t done it. 

MADDOW:  So the investigatory power here is in the FBI.  It`s not in the committees.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

And I`m told at headquarters today, tonight, agents are very loyal to Comey, despite all of his errors and other criticism of him, that they`re devastated by this.  And that there`s going to be a huge morale problem there.

And people are asking, what is recusal mean?  You just asked that question.  The fact that the new acting director of the FBI was also involved in briefing Reince Priebus inappropriately about a "New York Times" report. 

MADDOW:  Helping them manage public relations and the press around this story. 

MITCHELL:  Really?

MADDOW:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  And what does the FBI -- what does attorney general`s recusal really mean? 

MADDOW:  If he can fire the person who is leading the investigation. 

MITCHELL:  Why was he even involved in that. 

MADDOW:  From which he is supposedly recused. 

MITCHELL:  The whole thing is extraordinary, the way it was done.  He -- Comey was addressing the FBI agents.  He had come from a police briefing.  Miami, he was in L.A.  He was in the room addressing them in their control center.  It`s up on the TV screen, cable news breaking the story, he thought it was a prank. 

MADDOW:  Literally the TV screens are breaking the news behind him while he is speaking in front of a crowd and I think it was a joke. 

MITCHELL:  So, they did not give him a courtesy of waiting until he was back in D.C. tonight and letting him know personally. 

MADDOW:  I will say -- I hear from Democrats.  We heard it from Sheldon Whitehouse tonight.  They do have mixed feelings and the criticism about the handling of the Clinton investigation is one they have been articulating for months and they think it`s very consequential.  It may have been the difference in the response of the election. 

To me, it defies belief that this is the basis of this firing because of the timing, because there`s an active inspector general investigation underway, that they`re not waiting for the response to and because of the urgency and apparently, the alacrity with which it`s carried out all of a sudden at a crucial moment in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

MITCHELL:  And speaking of Russia, who is going to be at the State Department tomorrow and then possibly at the White House with the president, unless that gets cancelled?  Sergey Lavrov.  The Russians are in town witnessing this craziness, so what they have -- the string they first started pulling with the e-mail hack, has come completely unraveled in front of their own eyes. 

MADDOW:  NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell -- Andrea, thank you for joining us tonight. 

MITCHELL:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much. 

What a day to be alive. 

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

Our coverage of this incredible day and evening continues now with Lawrence O`Donnell, on "THE LAST WORD". 

Good evening, Lawrence.

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