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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/11/17

Guests: Ron Wyden, Eric Swalwell

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.

HAYES:  You bet.

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

Buckle up -- I guess that`s the right thing to say.  It`s turning out to be sort of a chaotic night in the news.  The biggest developing story in the country tonight may be the biggest story yet of this presidency is the White House apparently abandoning all pretense when it comes to explaining the firing of FBI Director James Comey. 

As a country, we have obviously never before had a president whose campaign was the subject of an active FBI counterintelligence investigation, so there really is no historical prescription in terms of what you ought to do, in terms of what might count as normal behavior in that circumstance.  But still, for the last couple of days, even this White House, with it`s very unusual situation and with its unusual relationship to political norms in general, for the last couple day, even this White House appear to accept the basic principle that a president should not fire the person leading an investigation into his campaign because the president doesn`t like that investigation. 

I mean, for the past couple days the White House at least halfheartedly try to explain the firing of FBI Director James Comey as something other than what it looks like.  They produced a memo from the deputy attorney general saying the firing was about the FBI director`s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation last year.  They produced the vice president of the United States to assure people in his calm, steady way that the president only fired the FBI director because of grave concerns about the FBI director coming from within the Department of Justice.

The White House spokesman and his deputy told reporters that the firing was a DOJ decision, that it was all about the wishes of the deputy attorney general, that the memo from the Department of Justice was not written at the direction of the president, that the whole process was initiated by the Justice Department.  The president knew nothing about it until he saw that memo.  But when we saw that memo from the Department of Justice, it left him no choice.  Literally, that was the phrase, "no choice." 

For the last couple days, they at least made a half-hearted case that the president didn`t fire the FBI director because the FBI director is leading an escalating investigation into the Russia scandal.  The biggest story in the country now, what may be the defining story of this presidency at least thus far, is that now, they have given up on even those halfhearted attempts at pretense.  Now, they are just going for it.  It`s like a dare. 

Basically they`re saying now, yes, OK, you got us.  Yes, we fired the FBI director to kibosh the Russia investigation, we did.  What are you going to do about it? 


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR : Did you ask for a recommendation? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I did is I was going to fire Comey.  My decision.  It was not --

HOLT:  You had made decision before they came in the room? 

TRUMP:  I was going to fire Comey.  There`s no good time to do it, by the way.  They --

HOLT:  Because in your letter, you said I accepted their recommendation.  You had already made the decision? 

TRUMP:  I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. 

HOLT:  So, there wasn`t really -- 

TRUMP:  He made a recommendation.  He`s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy.  The Democrats like him.  The Republicans like him.  He made a recommendation.

But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it.  And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. 


MADDOW:  When I decided to just do it, when I decided to fire the FBI director, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing is a made- up story.  And so, I fired the FBI director who was leading the investigation into the Russia thing. 

A lot of people are looking at that admission from the president tonight in that interview with Lester Holt.  A lot of people are looking at that clip, that tape, that statement by the president as if what he said there was almost an accident.  I think the reaction to that broadly is oh, he accidentally blurted out the real reason why he fired the FBI director. 

But you know what?  And I do not mean this in a snarky way.  I mean this as an observation.  This president frequently sounds like he is just blurting something out accidentally.  That`s just the way he talks.  What he said there does not appear to have been an accident, because he said it calmly, he knew exactly what he was saying obviously.  He wasn`t being badgered into it.  He was riffing on his own terms. 

And he isn`t the only one who said that today.  This is the way the professional communications staff at the White House started talking about this matter today from the podium in the briefing room. 


REPORTER:  Just to clarify one thing you said.  You said the president has encouraged this investigation into Russia.  He wants to see it reach its completion sooner rather than later.  How he is encouraging if he just fired the man who was overseeing the Russia investigation? 

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There are multiple people that are part of this.  It`s not just the FBI.  You`ve got the House committee, the Senate committee. 

Look, again, the point is, we want this to come to its conclusion.  We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity, and we think that we`ve actually by removing Director Comey taken steps to make that happen. 

Thanks so much, guys. 


REPORTER:  Speaking of integrity, why not have an independent investigation then?  That`s what a number of attorneys general are asking. 


MADDOW:  Thanks so much, guys.  Got to go.  Got to -- 

By removing Director Comey, we have taken steps to make that happen.  That`s what she says there, right, because we want this to come to its conclusion.  We want this to come to its conclusion.  We think that we`ve actually by removing Director Comey taken steps to make that happen.  That`s why we removed director Comey. 

So, the White House today has just dropped the pretense about why the president fired the FBI director.  Yes, we fired him for the Russia thing.  We fired him to stop the Russia thing, to bring the Russia thing to an end.  What are you going to do about it? 

So, a lot of people are talking about obstruction of justice today, right?  If the president did do what he said he did, if he removed the director of the FBI because he wanted to affect the FBI`s investigation into his campaign and its twice Russia, that would be -- I mean, that is -- that`s the kind of example you might make up if you were teaching a low level class on obstruction of justice, and you wanted to give your young students a crystal clear example of what that might look like, right?  In a banana republic where things like that might happen. 

As far as that goes though, I mean, the remedy for obstruction of justice is committed by a president, there`s only one remedy which is impeachment.  I mean, obstruction of justice was the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.  It was the third article of impeachment against Bill Clinton. 

Even though the inspector general of the Department of Justice has now been asked by the House Oversight Committee to investigate the firing of FBI Director James Comey, any such investigation by the inspector general of the Justice Department, that would only cover the actions of Justice Department personnel.  It would not cover the actions of the president of the United States. 

If the president obstructed justice deliberately with this firing, if he fired the FBI director to affect the Russia investigation, really the only remedy for impeachment.  And raise your hand if you think this Republican Congress is going to take up impeachment proceedings against the president for obstruction of justice.  Really. 

But let me raise another matter here, something that has not been discussed elsewhere, but it is about the potential for political interference by the president, by the president`s closest advisers on the Trump/Russia investigation.  This one does not start in Washington.  Does not start at the White House.  This one starts where all the media information about this presidency and this scandal starts, which is in the aggressive free press that we are blessed with in this country.  OK. 

This spring, "The Associated Press" had two great scoops about the man who was the chairman of the Trump campaign during the time that Trump won the Republican primaries and collected the nomination.  Paul Manafort was the chairman, right?  He was the chairman through the spring and summer of 2016. 

Incidentally, when many of the meetings and contacts that are reported to be of interest to investigators allegedly happened between Trump associates and Russian officials.  The first big "A.P." scoop this spring on Paul Manafort landed on March 22nd.  "A.P." exclusive.  Before Trump job, Manafort worked to aid Putin. 

Quote: Before signing up with Donald Trump, Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to greatly benefit the Putin government.  In 2005, Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan that he would influence politics, business dealings, and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit Vladimir Putin`s government.  Manafort`s pitch memo for this contract said, quote: We are now of the belief this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success.

Quoting from "The A.P.", quote: Manafort pitched the plans to a Russian billionaire, a close Putin ally, with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006. 

So, that was "The A.P.`s" first big scoop on Paul Manafort this spring, which happened in March.  I remember when that story broke, I was in a cab on my way to work, and I read -- I laughed out loud when I read it on my phone.

And I read the headline and the lead of the story out loud to the cab driver who was driving me.  And he turned around like this with the wheel and looked at me.  I was like no!  It was almost the death of me, literally. 

But that was Manafort in March.  Starting in 2006 ending, who knows when, Donald Trump`s campaign chairman had an annual contract to promote the interests of Vladimir Putin`s government in countries around the world, including the United States.  Boom, from "The Associated Press".  That was in March. 

Then, three weeks later, they had this one, "A.P." exclusive, Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payment.  Now, this one didn`t cause any cab drivers to drive off the road.  This one did not have the same hair on fire effect as the on-the-contract to help Putin story.  But this one ended up being really important. 

This one closed the loop on the story that actually got Paul Manafort bounced off the Trump campaign in the first place.  It was "The New York Times" back in August of last year who reported that Paul Manafort appeared on a secret ledger in the Ukraine of what appeared to be earmarked payments from the Ukrainian dictator and his party who Manafort had worked for and who essentially looted that country`s treasury during his time in office. 

"New York Times" reported last August that Manafort was listed on this ledger of alleged secret payments from the kleptocratic dictator of Ukraine.  And after "The New York Times" reported his name appearing on that ledger, Manafort was gone from the Trump campaign less than a week later.  He denied ever receiving the payments, but they ousted him from the campaign. 

That was August.  It took until April -- it took a few months, but "The Associated Press" that Manafort he was not just on the ledger earmarked to receive payments, "A.P." reported in April that he did take those payments.  And that ends up being important for where we are now, because there have been all sorts of reports -- since Paul Manafort mysteriously left the Trump campaign, there have been all sorts of reports that Manafort`s money trail all over the world is proving to be very interesting to investigators. 

NBC`s own Richard Engel, you might remember, went to Cyprus, and was told in Cyprus that country`s unit for combating money-laundering in Cyprus had handed over information on Paul Manafort`s money to the U.S. Treasury`s Financial Crimes Unit.  There have been multiple reports that Paul Manafort has also ended up in a middle of an FBI investigation in Ukraine that`s basically an investigation of that country being a kleptocracy. 

It`s an investigation trying to find out what happened to all the money that Manafort`s client stole from the government of that country.  Where did all the money go?  There`s an FBI investigation into that.  Manafort has been reported to be tied up in that investigation. 

So, Manafort`s money trail, he denies all wrongdoing related to any of his overseas payments, any of his overseas political work.  But multiple reports over multiple months suggest that Paul Manafort`s international money trail is like life`s rich pageant for investigators.  And when that simple "A.P." story came out in April about him allegedly getting paid out of Ukraine, that story hit a nerve, right? 

There`s been all sorts of stories about his money.  But this allegation about his payments out of Ukraine, that`s what led him to quit the Trump campaign last August.  And then "A.P.`s" story in April that the payments actually happened?  That led him to do this. 

That same day, "The A.P." story came out, this story was everywhere.  Paul Manafort expected to register as foreign agent.  Manafort to register as foreign agent.  Manafort is now registering as a foreign agent. 

And at the time that happened in April, it made some waves, right?  I mean, you know, critics of the Trump administration chewed on that, right?  I mean, here`s yet another senior person from the Trump campaign registering retroactively as an agent of a foreign power. 

Mike Flynn had to register retroactively as a foreign agent after he resigned as national security adviser.  And now, Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had to do it too.  Amazing story. 

Except here is the thing.  Manafort never did it.  You can search yourself to see who is registered as a foreign agent.  It`s a good little forum.  I have it bookmarked on my phone.  It`s mobile-friendly. 

I do it every day.  Every day, I type into the search box Manafort, search.  And there is nothing new. 

Everybody thinks he registered as a foreign agent like Mike Flynn did.  Manafort never registered.  And here`s why this is important.  Investigations need source material, right?  Investigators need evidence.  They need open source material that they dig up on their own.  They need data and documents that they pry out of various agencies and out of individuals by various means. 

They may need intercepts and stuff like that, particularly if it`s a cloak and dagger investigation involving espionage, you know, foreign intelligence or something.  But really, what they need, really what they desperately want are witnesses, cooperating witnesses, people who were close enough or high ranking enough, well-placed enough that they know what happened.  And crucially, those people have to be willing to talk.  They have to be willing to testify about what they witnessed. 

In any investigation, cooperating witnesses often need incentive, right?  Why would anybody turn against these people they were close to now that they`re potentially in trouble, right?  If you`re close enough to these folks that you saw stuff that is now being investigated and potentially prosecuted, why would you turn against those people?  Why would you turn against those people who you used to be involved with? 

I mean, in this case, any people who were high ranking in the Trump campaign, they`re generally going to be pro-Trump, right?  Why would they become cooperating witnesses in an investigation of the Trump campaign?  They wouldn`t unless they had a real incentive to do it, a real reason to testify. 

And oftentimes, the threat of prosecution is that reason.  That`s the incentive.  Hey, we got something on you and we`re going to prosecute you for it unless you tell us what you know.  That`s the general pattern that investigators pursue, especially in big sprawling cases like this, right? 

So, when Mike Flynn had his lawyer come out and say, Mike Flynn has a story to tell and he would like to tell it, remember that?  Certainly, General Flynn has story to tell and he would very much like to tell it.  Remember that statement from Flynn`s lawyer? 

That was couched with a request for immunity from prosecution for Mike Flynn.  Today in "The Atlantic" magazine, you could see the White House shpilkes about that. 

Quote, I think he, meaning President Trump, is worried about Mike Flynn, said one source close to the White House.  Trump has questioned whether or not they should have fired Flynn.  They don`t know what Flynn is going to say. 

When Flynn did retroactively register as an agent of a foreign power after he was fired, that was a sign that, it wasn`t like, oh, it slipped his mind that he had been an agent of a foreign power before.  No.  That was a sign that he was talking to the Department of Justice. 

The Department of Justice has jurisdiction over the Foreign Agent Registration Act.  That was a sign he was talking to the Department of Justice with attention to his own legal misbehavior in terms of representing foreign governments without previously registering like he was supposed to do. 

And Mike Flynn registered and everybody thinks Paul Manafort registered.  But Manafort did not. 

In a statement, Paul Manafort said he consulted with federal authorities and had received formal guidance from those federal authorities.  The relevant federal authorities again would be the Department of Justice.  They oversee the Foreign Agent Registration Act.  Paul Manafort never registered, apparently thanks to the guidance he got from federal authorities. 

Federal authorities told him not to register?  You`re fine, you`re OK, buddy, don`t worry about it. 

I mean, given what`s been widely reported about him and his money, you think he might really have to be worried about it.  I mean, anything that can be used to prosecute a witness can be used as pressure on that witness to flip.  But in Paul Manafort`s case, the Department of Justice appears to be alleviating that pressure on him, not tightening it down. 

And it is happening very quietly.  Again, everybody thinks they made him retroactively register as a foreign agent.  They did not. 

Now, the head of the Justice Department is Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Jeff Sessions has made public statements to the effect that he`s recused from all Justice Department matters that may relate to the Trump campaign. 

That recusal is in question now because of his role in James Comey`s firing.  Senate Democrats wrote to the deputy attorney general today asking this, quote: Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any role in the investigation of Russia`s involvement in the 2016 elections and the Trump campaign because of his close relationship with the campaign and his own undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.  Yet, your memorandum is addressed to him. 

And according to public reporting, he participated in the decision to fire Director Comey.  Did you and Attorney General Sessions ever discuss whether it would be improper for him to be involved in the dismissal of the lead investigator of a politically sensitive investigation from which he was recused? 

Yeah, did you ever talk about that?  I mean, Jeff Sessions is already under fire for whether or not he is really recused from overseeing these investigations.  If you`re firing the lead investigator, you`re not recused from that investigation. 

After the Flynn foreign payment story came out, Jeff Sessions was asked if his stated recusal from Trump campaign matters would also involve him from being recused from matters involving Mike Flynn.  He said, yes, that would also involve him from being recused from matters involving Mike Flynn. 

But what about matters involving Paul Manafort?  Is Jeff Sessions keeping himself out of anything at DOJ involving Paul Manafort or not?  Is he recused from matters involving Trump`s campaign chairman? 

Because there are interesting questions about what`s happening with the Department of Justice and Paul Manafort, right?  Is Jeff Sessions involved in any work at the Department of Justice concerning Paul Manafort or is he recused? 

We can report tonight that the Justice Department will not say.  We started asking yesterday.  We asked throughout the day today. 

We have asked it five times in five different ways, including me making the request myself personally, multiple times in as many different ways as I could think of it.  They will not say whether or not he`s recused. 

He is recused on Flynn, they say.  He is recused on things related to the Trump campaign broadly.  They won`t say about Manafort. 

So, I started this by saying, buckle up, this is going to be chaotic.  There is a real question about as to whether or not the attorney general has taken back his recusal.  Whether he has decided to unrecuse himself from Department of Justice matters and FBI matters concerning the Trump campaign, and particularly, the Russia investigation.  There is a real question about that.  And that is bizarre. 

It is additionally bizarre that on the Trump campaign manager in particular, they will not say if he is recused or not.  Something strange is up about whether and how they are leaning on him as a potential corroborating witness.  The leverage they may or may not be exerting on him. 

But as the focus turns to obstruction of justice, watch the president knowing that the only remedy for that is impeachment.  Watch further down the chain, too. 

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Business ties.  Business ties.  Things have recently taken a turn in this investigation toward business ties. 


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? 

JIM CLAPPER, FORMER DNI:  Not in the course in the appropriation of the intelligence community assessment. 

GRAHAM:  Since? 

CLAPPER:  I`m sorry? 

GRAHAM:  At all, or anytime. 

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


MADDOW:  I can`t comment on Trump business interests in Russia because that impacts an investigation.  That was Monday. 

Senator Graham later told reporters, quote, I want to know more about Trump`s business dealings.  Yeah, you think? 

Tonight, speaking with "NBC Nightly News" with Lester Holt, President Trump has confirmed that he has hired what he call, quote, a tremendously highly- rated law firm, a tremendous firm, to send a letter to Lindsey Graham that affirms that President Trump has no business ties to Russia, for what that`s worth. 

On Monday this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked information about Trump and his top aides from the Treasury Department Financial Crimes Unit that`s known for his expertise in money laundering cases.  Quote, The committee wants to see -- excuse me, the committee wants to see any information relevant to its Russia investigation that the treasury agency has gathered, including evidence that might include possible money- laundering.  That`s according to a committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The committee`s request covers any potentially relevant information about Trump, his family, his businesses, and his associates. 

Yesterday, the same Senate committee subpoenaed Michael Flynn, or at least subpoenaed documents related to its Russia probe, documents he previously refused to hand over.  Federal prosecutors have also now reportedly issued grand jury subpoenas to Mike Flynn`s former business associates who worked with prior to him joining the administration. 

So, the focus on the president specifically and his family and his associates business ties that ramped up in a big way this week.  And who knows if that has anything to do with the White House decision to fire the FBI director. 

But for months, one senator in particular has been saying that business ties is the angle that investigators really ought to be zeroing in on.  In addition to being a member of the Senate intelligence committee, he`s also the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. 


SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), FINANCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:  I believe the key to a successful investigation is following the money.  The Treasury Department is responsible for other programs and investigations that may uncover suspicious financial activities by Donald Trump and its associates.  It is already a matter of public record that entities associated with Donald Trump have been the subject of millions of dollars of fines for willful, repeated, and long standing anti-money laundering laws. 

Information about Donald Trump`s finances, his family, and his associates may lead to Russia. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Senator Ron Wyden.  He serves on both the Finance and Intelligence Committees and who participated in today`s Intelligence Committee hearing that featured the brand new acting FBI director.

Senator Wyden, it`s really nice to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for your time, sir. 

WYDEN:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about this issue that you have been pushing I think harder than anybody else in Congress, the idea that the president`s finances and specifically his business ties are key, or sort of at the center of the bullseye in terms of figuring out if there`s anything actionable or anything serious to worry about in his ties with Russia. 

Why have you believed that all this time?

WYDEN:  I`ve always thought when you`re talking about shell corporations, property transfers, Donald Jr. said for years that an extensive amount of their portfolio involved Russia, that you had to follow the money. 

I will also tell you that we asked Clint Watts, the former FBI director, about this.  He said, you`re absolutely right, Senator.  You ought to be following the money but you also ought to know that you should follow the trail of the dead bodies, so that there is a real connection here to really getting out the question of conflicts of interests and making sure that the interests of the American people come first. 

MADDOW:  Senator Wyden, I don`t know much about the Treasury Financial Crimes Unit.  I know some of the, sort of, heroic stories of them tracking terrorist financing, about them tracking down people who are violating sanctions that have been put in place for national security reasons.  But you`ve now announced that you`re going to hold up one of the president`s nominees, the president`s nominee for undersecretary of the treasury until your committee gets these records from the financial crimes enforcement network at the Treasury Department. 

What does that part of the Treasury Department do and why do you think those records are so important? 

WYDEN:  Those records are so key because they are really going to finally illuminate some of these connections between the Trump organization, his associates, and the Russians.  As you know, there have been an extraordinary number of press reports -- for example, in the case of the dossier and I come back to the dead bodies -- there are reports of people who disappeared in connection with that. 

There is a real interrelationship between some of the charges and the serious allegations that are made.  And this whole question of getting access to the documents, and I`ve always thought it`s about the financial records.  As you know, I`m the sponsor of the legislation that require the president to disclose his tax returns.  Same thing when you`re not able to get the information about the way he conducts his business affairs, then you have some real questions when you see relationships with the Russians that his own sons admit to. 

MADDOW:  Senator Wyden, do we know for sure that the Financial Crimes Unit at the Treasury Department is investigating either the president himself or his campaign or people associated with him?  Do we know that for sure?  Is that public information or can you tell us whether or not that`s true? 

WYDEN:  I can`t get into all of the details, but I consider that the key place, Rachel, in order to get to the bottom of this.  I mean, obviously, we are learning more about this literally by the hour.  We`re getting on top of the financial records.  I think that`s essential. 

I think we had a slap-your-forehead moment this afternoon, this interview with Lester Holt.  By his own words, it seems to me, the president fired Mr. Comey to end the investigation.  So, we`re getting new issues presented to us really almost by the hour. 

MADDOW:  Senator Wyden, would you mind holding with me for just a moment?  We have to take a quick break.  But there`s something you highlighted today at this hearing that I have been very worried about.  You are the first person who got at whether or not it might be a real concern.  It`s about whether or not there is full cooperation with this investigation across the government.  Would you mind coming back with us in just a second? 

WYDEN:  Not at all. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Senator Ron Wyden is our guest.  He`s on both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Finance Committee.  He`s been a driving force, trying to make Trump-related business interests an area of focus.  That does appear to be an area of focus, at least in what we publicly know about these investigations as of this week.  Maybe that`s why everybody`s freaking out. 

Senator Wyden will be back with us in just a moment.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He made a recommendation.  He`s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy.  The Democrats like him.  The Republicans like him. 

He made a recommendation.  But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it.  And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. 


MADDOW:  The president tonight speaking with NBC`s Lester Holt, saying that when he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey, regardless of the recommendation from the Justice Department, he said to himself, this Trump- Russia thing, this is made up. 

Joining us once again is Senator Ron Wyden.  He serves in the Intelligence Committee and also on the Finance Committee.

Senator Wyden, I wanted to play that clip because you just referenced it before the break, saying that you found that troubling.  What did you find troubling about that, sir? 

WYDEN:  Well, what was really stunning about it is you`ve got the president speaking in his own words.  And it looks to me and the whole question of obstruction is a legal concept.  The president is saying that he fired Mr. Comey because he wanted to be done with the investigation.  And I think there are questions with respect to the technical definitions of obstruction of justice, but it sure looked like this firing was to make this entire investigation just go away.  He said it was made up and he wanted it to be done with. 

MADDOW:  If that`s the case, and I think that is not a farfetched assertion in part because of what we pointed out at the top of the show tonight, which is that from the White House briefing room, at the podium at the briefing room, they are also now making that same case.  White House spokeswoman today saying that they believe that the Russia investigation essentially will wrap up now, will come to a conclusion because they removed Director Comey. 

If that`s the case, if the White House is dropping any pretense now and basically saying, yes, we fired Comey because we don`t like the Trump- Russia investigation, what`s the recourse? 

WYDEN:  First of all, the president isn`t entitled to make the judgment when the investigation ends.  It`s our job to go where the facts lead.  That`s why we`re pursuing matters relating to following the money, that`s why we`re looking at a host of issues with respect to whether we have gotten truthful accounts of events to date. 

So, this is not something the president can just take as a matter of his own privilege to decide when an investigation ends.  We`re going to go where the facts lead. 

MADDOW:  Senator Wyden, one last question for you.  You had the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today.  It`s fascinating hearing for a lot of reasons. 

Probably the most contentious time in the hearing was a colloquy between you and the CIA Director Mike Pompeo.  You were asking him about whether he had advance notice of Sally Yates` warning to the White House about Mike Flynn, if he had any advance knowledge of the concerns that prompted that warning. 

I want to ask you what you were driving at there, knowing that you won`t tell me anything more than what you said in the hearing. 

WYDEN:  Well -- 

MADDOW:  I also want to ask you, though, if you have worries about the CIA and whether they are being forthcoming in terms of their part of this investigation? 

WYDEN:  Yes, I have real questions about whether the CIA director was straight with us with respect to Mike Flynn today.  I mean, the reality is, is that Sally Yates gave a very clear warning, and we`re talking about something -- this was the global threat hearing -- we`re talking about something where the national security adviser could be blackmailed. 

And in effect, the CIA director played down any conversations he might have had, say, in a daily brief with somebody he was sharing secrets with.  So, there are a lot of unanswered questions here, and I don`t really feel that in the public session, Mike Pompeo was straight with us with respect to what interactions he may have had with Mike Flynn who Sally Yates was concerned represented a real threat -- a blackmail threat. 

MADDOW:  Briefly, just following on that, sir, in terms of your own Senate Intelligence investigation and anything you may know about the other investigations, is there any indication that the CIA is not handing over documents, making materials available in a way that is forthcoming? 

WYDEN:  We have had some challenges.  I think it would be fair to say that the committee has had some real challenges to getting access to documents. 

Look, the reality is, until very recently, most of the information we were getting came from leaks, from tweets from the president of the United States and story of the day.  It`s gotten a little bit better, but we still have to pick up the pace. 

MADDOW:  Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

WYDEN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  I know that being on TV late at night is not your favorite thing in the world.  I appreciate you being here, sir. 

WYDEN:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

I told you to buckle up. 

All right.  Lots more ahead.  Stay with us.



REPORTER:  Just to clarify one thing you said.  You said the president has encouraged this investigation into Russia.  He wants to see it reach its completion sooner rather than later.  How has he encouraged it if he fired if man who`s overseeing the Russia investigation?

SANDERS:  There are multiple people that are part of this.  And it`s not just the FBI.  You`ve got the House committee, the Senate committee. 

Look, again, the point is we want this to come to its conclusion.  We want to it come to conclusion with integrity.  And we think we`ve actually by removing Director Comey taken steps to make that happen. 

Thanks so much, guys. 


MADDOW:  Thanks so much, you guys. 

That`s the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who recently appears to have taken reins from Sean Spicer at the White House today, saying by taking these steps to remove the FBI director, we think we have ensured that this investigation will come to its conclusion. 

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, member of the intelligence committee in the Senate, just told us even if the White House is just now admitting that the president fired the FBI director to influence the Russia investigation and to try to end it, Senator Wyden just argued the president doesn`t get to say when any of these investigations ends. 

Our next guest is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.  He`s introduced a bill to independent investigation into Russia`s attempts to undermine the election and anybody who might have colluded with that. 

The commission will be modeled after the 9/11 Commission.  So, that means it would have the power to issue subpoenas and to obtain documents and to take testimony.  This bill has the support of every member of the Democratic Caucus.  Today, it gained a vote of confidence from a Republican member of Congress, member of the House Freedom Caucus, Justin Amash, one of the most conservative lawmakers in the Capitol, one who has received a lot of pressure from his constituents on this issue. 

Joining us now is California Congressman Eric Swalwell. 

Congressman, thanks very much for being with us.  I really appreciate it. 

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA:  Nice to be back, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So, let me ask you first about these remarks from the president and the remarks today from the White House podium, from the White House spokeswoman, saying essentially that the Comey firing was about the Russia investigation.  It seems like a blunt dropping of pretense as far as I`m concerned.  I wanted to get your reaction. 

SWALWELL:  And the president mentioned the Russia investigation in the letter that he had his security guard hand-deliver to the director.  And so, this is a pattern of obstruction we`ve seen from the president, from the deceitful claim about President Obama allegedly wiretapping him, to tweeting at Sally Yates before she testified.  And now, this clear statement that they want this investigation to go away. 

And, Rachel, I`ll also just say -- members of Congress are home right now in their districts.  And I`ve spent the last week talking to five different Rotary Clubs.  And what I`ve heard from my constituents, and I think this is a good test going to a Rotary Club is that this stinks. 

You can`t fire guy who`s investigating you.  The American people just want this investigation to be an honest one that follows the evidence.  Right now, it doesn`t look like we`re getting a good investigation. 

MADDOW:  What`s the remedy if the president is technically or legally obstructing justice here?  If the White House does officially drop the pretense, they said, yes, we got rid of the FBI director because we wanted to get rid of that investigation or change the course of that investigation or end it, cut it short -- if they admit that, as far as I can tell, I`m not a lawyer, but as far as I can tell, the only remedy for that if it`s something committed by the president himself is impeachment, which seems like a pretty pie-in-the-sky idea with the Republican House.  What would the recourse be as far you`re concerned? 

SWALWELL:  Well, first, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, I think we need to get an assurance from the Department of Justice that it`s an honest investigation, not impeded by politics.  So, I would like to have the attorney general, as well as the acting FBI director before us to get those assurances, also to find out just what is the White House learning about this investigation.  It should be absolutely zero. 

And then, Rachel, in the House Intelligence Committee, we should also be allowed to continue our investigation.  And have the hearings that were promised and there were canceled.  And so, you know, before we get to the impeachment word, I think the I-word that most of us want to see is an honest investigation.  And right now, that`s threatened. 

MADDOW:  No matter what happens with the congressional investigation in either house, there is no prosecutorial consequence of that.  Any prosecuting decisions, any criminal behavior that was undertaken, that`s something that would have to be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. 

It seems to me, Congressman Swalwell, an open question as to whether or not the attorney general is actually recused from overseeing Department of Justice matters, including FBI investigations of the Trump campaign, including the Trump-Russia investigation.  He was directly involved in the decision to fire James Comey, which if they`re admitting it`s about the Russia investigation or if they`re saying it`s about the Hillary Clinton e- mail investigation, in either case, he is supposed to be recused from these matters. 

I wonder if there is confusion about that within the committee, if you have a take on that. 

SWALWELL:  It doesn`t seem very confusing to me, Rachel.  It looks like he is not recused.  His fingerprints are not only on this, his signature is on the letter. 

And so, when he told Congress that he is recusing himself from Russia, to me, that meant he would not be involved at all with the chief investigator of what happened with Russia`s interference.  And so, that`s a question that we have. 

I think we should know what all of his contacts were with anyone involved in the Russian investigation.  And then proceed from there. 

But, again, you talk to people at home.  They just want to know how this happened, whether any U.S. persons were involved, and how we can prevent it from happening again.  And that`s why I think an independent commission is the most comprehensive way is to get to the bottom of that. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Eric Swalwell from California, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.  Happy to have you here. 

SWALWELL:  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Hey, we just got new polling just out tonight.  It`s from NBC and Survey Monkey.  It shows that since President Trump fired the man leading the FBI investigation into Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia on Tuesday night, since the firing of James Comey, a majority of Americans have concluded that it was not appropriate for the president to fire James Comey. 

Americans also in this new poll say they feel less confident now that the FBI investigation into the Russia connection will be conducted fairly. 

And look at this.  Only one in four people believe the Trump administration`s initial story that Comey was fired because of his handling into the Clinton e-mail investigation.  You can see that in the polls.  You can see that and hear it in visceral reaction from voters around the country.  Congressman Swalwell was talking about seeing that in action. 

We`ve got really interesting evidence of it in action, coming up next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you support an independent investigation into Russia -- 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Has any evidence been represented to you of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign during the election? 

REP. TIM WALBERG (R), MICHIGAN:  The last question first.  No.  Not at all.  In fact, that`s one thing that the president called me on saying three times he`s already said there is no -- 



MADDOW:  Congressman Tim Walberg`s town hall in Michigan this morning.  He is not alone in facing that kind of reception. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Today`s firing of James Comey, will you advocate for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump`s ties to Russia? 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Trump`s ties to Russia? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  We have oversight committees in the House, in the Senate, they`re working their course. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What is it going the take, Congressman?  What is it going to take for you and your fellow Republicans to open your eyes and realize what is going on? 

We need an independent prosecutor.  We need a bipartisan select committee to investigate this. 

When are you going to open your eyes?  We all see it.  You don`t see what`s going on?  You don`t see it?  When are you going to decide to be an American and not a politician? 



MADDOW:  Willingboro, New Jersey, last night.  Congressman Tom MacArthur`s town hall lasted five hours. 

And it`s not only Republicans facing that this week.  Protesters at Chuck Schumer`s office last night in New York calling for an independent commission to investigate Trump in Russia.  Same thing happened at Dianne Feinstein`s office in San Francisco today. 

The country`s response to this is palpable. 

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


Good evening, Lawrence. 


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